In most movies, the hero eventually has to confront his worst enemy: himself. This encounter with one’s own limitations is a mainstay of narrative fiction, and for good reason.
Because it’s so extremely hard to change your own behaviour.
A recent newsletter from by Michael Bungay Stanier (whose wonderful blog The Possibility Virus is well worth checking out), directed me to a fairly disturbing article called Three Keys to Change. The article describes most people’s inability to change their unhealthy lifestyles, even in the face of dire medical prognoses.
The prospect of dying in the near future due to fairly simple lifestyle habits such as smoking, overeating, lack of exercise, etc., is not enough to motivate most people to change. Even after extensive surgery, most people continue to live as they did before, often with fatal consequences.
You undoubtedly know people who have behaved in a way that everyone (including themselves) knew would ruin their lives? Disastrous infidelities, catastrophic overspending, debilitating social behaviour, you name it.
That’s how hard it is to change, even when you’re aware of the negative consequences of your behaviour.
That’s the basic human dilemma which so many films deal with, either explicitly or as the subtext: I know what to do, I just can’t seem to get myself to do it.
Which is why you need to know this aspect of your main character: What simple behavioural change are they avoiding even though they’re aware of the consequences? A change which could mean the difference between life and death, or at least happiness and misery, fulfilment and bitterness, and so on?
The easiest way to find examples of this phenomenon is, as always, just look around you.
And if you're really brave ... look in the mirror.