Have you ever noticed that when writing or reading something, there is often a list of three to describe something? Such as: being a leader is about who you are, how you influence, and how you engage in culture.
This is called The Rule of Three. It is a writing principle that suggest lists of three are more humorous, satisfying, and effective than any other number. There are three little pigs, three musketeers, and three billy goats gruff. Think about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Vidi veni vici. Stop, drop, and roll.
If we look, we see the Rule of Three everywhere, from adjectives to advertising. Have you ever been writing a paper or a story and you have a list of two and it just feels like you need one more? For some reason, there is something satisfying about threes.
When I think about The Rule of Three, I think about systems thinking. I wonder if the reason we connect with lists of three is because there are three systems we use to think. Engaging with a triad awakens our entire self just by number association. There is an inherent significance to threes: it is both “third time is a charm” and “three strikes and you’re out”. Maybe this is a hint that the three systems are the complete way to consider the life we are faced with.
System One is patterned thinking. It is the things that are so familiar to use, we barely notice we are thinking them. Like driving a car or tying a shoe, it is subconscious habit born from the familiarity of repetition. System Two is deliberate thinking. When our system one doesn’t know something, we step into system two. It is about learning and growing and problem solving with intention. System three is about tapping into the transcendent arena that seems almost beyond us. We call this God. It is something that informs you that seems to come from beyond yourself.As we engage in systems two and three, our system one is transformed. New changes adopted and repeated in systems 2/3 lead to new patterns.
This is the cycle of change. The way we adapt, learn, grow. No wonder advertisement and entertainment tries to hint at this. They try to simulate the progression of our souls. They try to replicate the way we retain information and the way it seeps into the very depths of us.
However, The Rule of Three is only a hint of the satisfaction it alludes to. Our systems are not necessarily engaged just because of insinuation. We need to be aware of the three systems, the things we are thinking about, and how they fall into each category of thinking.
Take a look at how often you encounter The Rule of Three. It is in this blog post. It is in the music you listen to (“Baby, Baby, baby, ohhh”). It is all around us. And you feel a connection to it because you want to learn. You want to grow. You want to engage with the deepest parts of you. There is something about a list of three that is satisfying because it awakens the, possibly dormant, reality that there are three systems of thinking available to us. And they are calling out to be engaged through intention, purpose, and joy.