Rocky Balboa and Determination

I just watched the sixth installment of the Rocky series, where Rocky, an "old man" comes out of retirement and fights the world champion. In doing so, he teaches us something about determination. At one point in the movie, in a conversation with his son, he reveals part of the source of his incredible determination. "Can you take the hit and keep moving forward?" he asks.

Stallone himself has demonstrated he can take a hit and keep moving forward. His career is a demonstration of the principle. He wrote the first Rocky movie only because he couldn't get work as an actor. Then he pitched the movie and insisted he act the main role. The story was good, so they shot the picture and reluctantly agreed to let him act the main role. That's how he got his break in the movie business: By taking the hit (repeated rejection as an aspiring actor) and moving forward toward his goal.

The real question is, of course, what makes it possible to take a hit and keep moving forward? Is it willpower? Determination? Even if it is, does that explain how it's done? What makes it possible to remain determined in the face of setbacks? That's the important question. The answer is: Your explanatory style. That is, your style of explaining setbacks to yourself. Learn more about that here.

What you believe about a setback makes all the difference. If you believe the setback cannot be overcome, you will be defeated. If you believe "where there's a will there's a way," you will not give up.

And you cannot convince yourself to believe something if you don't believe it. No matter how many times you repeat it to yourself, if you don't really believe it, you can't make yourself believe it. But you can look into your own thoughts and discover something you believe that you've never realized was false until you really took the time to look at it, and in uncovering such a thing, your beliefs change, and when they do, your determination recovers naturally. Learn exactly how to do that here.

The principle Rocky repeats in the movie is, "Nothing's over until it's over." When you can dig up and reveal the flaws in your own pessimistic thoughts about a setback, that principle will become your belief, not by trying to believe it, but by finding out what pessimistic, defeatist ideas you believe that aren't true. This process sounds difficult to do, but it is not. It takes a little work, but it is completely worth it.

If you have a difficult goal, or you feel stuck, this is crucial information. It can get you unstuck. It can keep you from getting demoralized. It can allow you to take the hit and keep moving forward.

But even when you go through the trouble of straightening out your thinking, you will accumulate pessimistic beliefs again. Why? Because the media, communication, your own brain, and reality all function as if they had a negative bias. The world is full of demotivators, as Zig Zigler puts it. In the movie, Rocky encounters each of these:

1. Media: News commentators make fun of him. They make it clear he can't possibly fight this fight. He risks death, and for sure he can't win.

2. Communication: The judges don't want to grant him his fighting license. His son and his best friend are against him at first and don't want him to fight. They think he's going to lose, and they tell him so.

3. His own brain: He knows he is "old." He has his doubts about his ability. But he really wants to fight in the ring again.

4. Reality: Because of the way reality is rigged, setbacks and weaknesses are more noticeable and memorable than victories and strengths. The memories of failure, heartache, and mistakes tempt Rocky to think pessimistically.

Those are the four ways pessimism worms its way into our minds. But of course Rocky rises above them, and goes on to fight. And he does it with that beautiful humbleness he has made famous. A Shaolin priest couldn't do it better.

If you would like some inspiration, and if you would like to see a realistic demonstration of crushing pessimism, see the movie, Rocky Balboa.

Adam Khan is the author of Slotralogy: How to Change Your Habits of Thought and Cultivating Fire: How to Keep Your Motivation White Hot. Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.

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