3 Brain Secrets Behind the Rule of 3

Have you ever noticed how many things come in threes? From the three little pigs to the three wise men to the three branches of government, we’re just wired to expect things to come in sets of three. It’s not a new phenomenon; it’s been around for hundreds of years. Legend has it that Christopher Columbus (who sailed with three ships) saw three hills on a little Caribbean island and decided to name the island Trinidad after the Spanish word for trinity. Coincidence?
“Omne trium perfectum” (Latin for the rule of three) suggests that things that come in threes – not only make an impact, but they also have sticking power in the brain.
  • Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness
  • Three blind mice
  • Three-ring circus
  • Goldilocks and the three bears
  • Genies grant three wishes
  • Blood, sweat and tears
  • Earth, Wind and Fire
  • Location, location, location
  • Sex, drugs and rock & roll
  • Peace, love, and sushi
Okay, that last one might not be a thing, but it should be. Anyway, you get the idea. There are countless threes from fairy tales to rock groups to cultural concepts. Studies show people prefer 3 choices over 4 or 5. Three choices offer just enough variety – not too many, not too few… just enough to make us feel as if we’re making a sound decision. There is a wealth of research demonstrating greater sales when consumers are presented with three purchase options compared to just two or more than three.
Steve Jobs applied the Rule of 3 in nearly every presentation and product launch. In 2007 Jobs introduced the first iPhone as the “third” of Apple’s revolutionary product categories (the first two were the Macintosh and the iPod). When he introduced the first iPad in 2010, it was the “third device” between the iPhone and computer. The iPad would come in three models giving consumers a choice of 16, 32, and 64 GB of storage. A year later, Jobs introduced the iPad2 as “thinner, lighter, and faster.” Those three words identified the product as much as the name. Even today, Apple continues to use the power of 3. Browse their website. You’ll find all kinds of examples.

The rule of three influences learning, decision-making, memory, and even our sense of humor. And, it all comes down to the way the human brain processes information.

Three Brain Secrets Behind the Rule of Three
  1. The human brain has evolved to recognize patterns, perhaps more than any other single function. Our brain looks for shortcuts to process logic, remember facts, and make judgments, but pattern recognition is its deep core capability and the fundamental basis for intelligence, language, creative thought and innovation.
  2. Three is the smallest number of elements required to create a pattern. A single instance could simply be chance. The second instance could be considered coincidence or serendipity, but the third instance is perceived as a pattern.
  3. The combination of the pattern and the simplicity makes it easy to understand, easy to remember, and easy to pass on to others.
Want to put the power of the rule of three to work for you?  Try this simple challenge:
  1. Begin every day by writing down three things you absolutely want to accomplish. Really… write them down.
  2. Refer to them throughout the day at least three times.  Maybe once in the morning, once at mid-day and then again before you wrap up.
  3. Look back at your handwritten list at the end of the day and celebrate your accomplishments with circles, stars, smiley faces… whatever visual representation you like.

Veni. Vidi. Veci!


Melissa Hughes, Ph.D.
Melissa Hughes, Ph.D.
Dr. Melissa Hughes is a neuroscience geek, keynote speaker, and author. Her latest book, Happier Hour with Einstein: Another Round explores fascinating research about how the brain works and how to make it work better for greater happiness, well-being, and success. Having worked with learners from the classroom to the boardroom, she incorporates brain-based research, humor, and practical strategies to illuminate the powerful forces that influence how we think, learn, communicate and collaborate. Through a practical application of neuroscience in our everyday lives, Melissa shares productive ways to harness the skills, innovation and creativity within each of us in order to contribute the intellectual capital that empowers organizations to succeed with social, financial and cultural health.

SOLD OUT! JOIN OUR WAITING LIST! It's not a virtual event. It's not a conference. It's not a seminar, a meeting, or a symposium. It's not about attracting a big crowd. It's not about making a profit, but rather about making a real difference. LEARN MORE HERE



  1. Great post, and so, so true! I worked for a CEO who lived by this rule. Every time he spoke, he talked in “threes.” I consciously or unconsciously picked it up in my communications.

    Couldn’t resist. remember my parents playing a Frank Sinatra album where he say this song.

    Three coins in the fountain,
    Each one seeking happiness.
    Thrown by three hopeful lovers,
    Which one will the fountain bless?
    Three hearts in the fountain,
    Each heart longing for its home.
    There they lie in the fountain
    Somewhere in the heart of Rome

salon 360°