Treat Your Life Like a Movie and Yourself Like the Hero
“If you treat the world as a movie of your life, and you treat yourself as the hero of that movie, it makes the world a much more pleasant place to deal with.”
In an interview with Tim Ferriss, Naval Ravikant mentions the book Illusions by Richard Bach. In the autobiographical novel, a messiah-like character teaches Bach about the many illusions humans create and fall for as part of their everyday reality. At one point, the duo goes to see a movie and ends up discussing films as a metaphor for life:
“You can hold a reel of film in your hands,” he said, “and it’s all finished and complete — beginning, middle, end are all there that same second. The film exists beyond the time that it records, and if you know what the movie is, you know generally what’s going to happen. But in order to get caught up and swept away in it, you have to put it in a projector and let it go through the lens minute by minute… any illusion requires space and time to be experienced.”
The idea here is that, whether you believe in free will or not, whether you know where it’s going or not, the only way to truly experience your life is to live it one minute at a time.
The messiah in Bach’s story argues that most of what humans do is driven by a desire for learning, joy, or both. Applying the minute-to-minute presentness of watching a movie to life itself can help us satisfy those desires even when we’re in uncomfortable situations.
Focusing on the next minute, the next task, the next meal shifts our attention from what’s not working to what we can do with what we’ve got. In Søren Kierkegaard’s words: “Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced.”
In the interview, Naval then outlines more benefits of treating yourself as the star of your own “life movie:”
You take a very positive view towards everything. You’re like, “I’m sitting here on a train and I’m acting all bored. When, really, in the movie of my life, something interesting would be going on. In the movie of my life, I’d be talking to the person next to me. So why don’t I just talk to the person next to me?”
Every scene in a movie serves a purpose. Chances are, every moment of your life does too. But sometimes, you have to dig a little to find it. Asking, “What’s the purpose of this scene?” is the first turn of the shovel.
In movies, things are always happening because the hero makes things happen. That’s why they’re inspiring. At the same time, we often wait in our own lives for something to happen to us. Instead, we too could get up from our seat and take initiative — like by talking to that person on the train.
Naval says the movie metaphor can even help you handle adversity with more patience, curiosity, and resolve:
Even when you get pissed off at people, you say “Oh, that’s the villain. Awesome. The villain has entered the scene. This is the foil who now I am going to counter-balance against, and I’m going to learn something in the process. Let’s see if this is the chapter where I win or where I lose, and then maybe I’ll win down the road.”
Most people don’t have bad intentions. They just want different things than we do, and we happen to square off as our paths cross. Alan Watts once wrote:
When the curtain goes down at the end of the drama, the hero and the villain step out hand in hand, and the audience applauds both. Because they know that the hero role and the villain role are only masks.
When you obsess over winning, overcoming, or beating the other person, your perspective narrows and your mood turns sour. When you see the obstacle as part of something bigger, you can focus on learning. You know something else is coming — the adversity is just a stepping stone.
Finally, pretending you’re the star of your life can lead to more ethical behavior, Naval says:
If it’s a movie, that means there are hundreds of thousands or millions of people watching. So what would the hero of the movie do? Would the hero behave badly or would the hero behave well? Well, hopefully, the hero would behave well. There’s no such thing as a part of the movie where the hero does something terrible and the audience kind of overlooks it.
In How to Be a Positive Leader, Gretchen Spreitzer shares a question you can use to achieve an effect similar to staying accountable to “your viewers:”
If the consequences of my decision were on the front page of The New York Times tomorrow, would I still make the same decision?
We only cut corners when we think no one’s watching. But someone is always watching. Our friends, partners, kids, they learn from our example. Playing the hero in a movie they’re all a part of can help us set a better one.
Treat your life like a movie and yourself like the hero. You’ll be more present, positive, and resilient. You’ll seek joy and education in all things, take more action, and face adversity with a more long-term perspective. You’ll act with more integrity, and the spirit of the experience will make you happier.
Treating your life like a movie is a great way to fulfill your potential. It’s your movie, after all. Like Naval says, “you want it to turn out well.”