Creed II and Extrinsic/Intrinsic Motivation: Part 1
Creed II, AKA “Baby Creed Vs. Baby Drago"… Best movie ever! (I’m a Rocky tragic. I routinely cry during these films). Fortunately, the majority of critics shared my appreciation of the movie's themes. For me, the most fascinating of these themes was the distinction between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation and the utility they offer, particularly as we're getting close to the time for new year’s resolutions.
The film introduces us to the combatants Baby Drago (Viktor) and Baby Creed (Adonis), and what motivates them. In Viktor's case, he fights to redeem his family name after his father’s loss to Rocky (which, in Rocky IV, ultimately led to the fall of the U.S.S.R hahaha). Adonis, on the other hand, wants to be recognised as the greatest fighter of his generation. Clearly both fighters are extrinsically motivated; i.e. the motivation is dependent on something external (here, it’s accolades). As the movie progresses, we learn that the two fighters also have deeper, more personal motivations. Viktor aims to win his mother's love and Adonis wishes to avenge his father who was killed by Papa Drago in Rocky IV. These “deeper” motivations are deceptive as they seem as though they are intrinsic, i.e. it appears the motivation comes from an internal drive. However, a closer examination reveals that they are still external, as Viktor wants his mother’s approval and Adonis wants his father’s approval. When the two men fight, Viktor, who is physically superior to Adonis, wins easily. *oops, spoiler alert*
The reason Viktor won was simple: he had the physical upper hand as well as enough motivation to overcome his enemy. It’s important to understand that, for Viktor, his opponent was not much of an adversary. This means he didn’t need much motivation to overcome him. Herein lies one of the many issues with external motivation; it often works (you read that right). It often works, so people have the belief that they have enough motivation to last, even when times get tough. The question now becomes, 'do extrinsic motivators provide you with enough drive to overcome the insurmountable?' If what happened to Adonis in this fight was anything to go by, the answer is clearly no! The fundamental flaw with external motivators is that we are not in control of them, we are subjected to them. They are not ‘within us’. This can play out in a few different ways.
(At this point, I want to make it clear that I’m not making the case that extrinsic motivation is ‘bad’. I only wish to highlight its limitations)
Let’s say Adonis won the fight, what would have happened to his motivation? It would have disappeared. He attained what motivated him to fight, what reason is there to continue? Given the fact he got what he wanted all along many of you may be asking, “why is this an issue? He doesn’t need to continue”. That’s correct, to a certain degree. The best way to answer the question you're probably asking is to look at a real life example. Tyson Fury wanted to become the world heavyweight champion ever since he was a baby (his father named him Tyson after the former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson). A few years ago, Fury, a massive underdog, beat Wladimir Klitschko to become the undisputed lineal world champ. Money, fame and accolades, everything Fury ever wanted.
What happened next? Absolute joy and everlasting peace? No. Drugs, alcohol and every other way you could abuse a human body, which culminated in suicidal depression. Why is this relevant? Well, Fury got what he wanted all his life, so what reason did he have to continue? (Literally. He asked himself, “why am I now alive?” “to be or not to be” etc etc). As we can see, if you internalise an extrinsic motivator so that it becomes the driving force in your life, if/when you attain it, you no longer have a driving force… for your life… and then what? Ask Tyson Fury. What Fury did to bounce back was rediscover his internal motivation but that’s for part II. Let’s get back to Adonis and play out another scenario.
Again, let’s say Adonis won, is it clear cut that the public would embrace him as the greatest of his generation? Would he have felt like he avenged his father? Of course not, people would perceive his victory in whatever way they want, and it is a cliché to say vengeance wouldn’t satisfy his desire for revenge. In this scenario he “wins” and still doesn’t get what he wants. As a famous writer once said, “There are two tragedies in life. One is to lose your heart's desire. The other is to gain it.” By examining what happened to Viktor, the bitter truth of this quote and the issue with external motivation becomes even more evident.
Viktor the victor (hehe) of fight 1 gets what he wants and does not become suicidal like Tyson Fury. Success! While attending a banquet thrown in his honour by his countrymen and mother (accolades and approval), he begrudgingly accepts boxing shorts that are emblematic of Russian culture (this is weird as the film suggests he is Ukrainian, but never mind). After receiving this gift and seeing his mother at the banquet, he storms out. “We don’t need her” Viktor shouts at his father, Ivan reassures him that they do. Viktor is beginning to learn that he is in the worst possible place a person who wishes to achieve a goal can be; his external motivation is at odds with his internal motivation. Getting what externally drove him only served to highlight the fact that he internally wants something else. He becomes confused and angry as his motivations begins to wane. He thinks getting angrier is the same as being more motivated and this is a big mistake (more on this in part II...)
As you can see, the reoccurring theme across all these scenarios is that if you’re focused on external forces there is no guarantee you will get what you want, and even if you do it could still go pear-shaped. Deep down we all know this to be true about external motivation. So when times get tough and you look to an external force to get you through it, just like Adonis in fight 1, you will be found wanting.
In Part II I will look at the role internal motivation played in Viktor and Adonis’s second fight