8 Success Lessons From Arnold Schwarzenegger
The man who set bodybuilding records, played Terminator, and presided over the state of California has accomplished meteoric success throughout his career, each time defying the odds, the experts, and conventional wisdom.
Arnold Schwarzenegger came from a poor childhood in Austria to become Mr. Universe by 21 and a millionaire by starting multiple successful businesses.
That was before he became a huge movie star and, later, Governor of the seventh largest economy in the world.
I recently read his autobiography, Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story.
Like his previous books and films, this book was stuffed with outrageous stories and lessons on success. They are outrageous because few people tackle their dreams with such specificity, boldness, and self-discipline.
Here are 7 outrageous lessons on success I learned from the Terminator himself, including quotes from the book.
1. Start early—before everyone else does
If you can get up 2-3 hours before everyone else (5 AM instead of 7 AM, for example), you will have a huge advantage in productivity before the day even begins.
“Reg would wake me up at five o’clock each morning; by five thirty we’d be at his gym…working out. I never even got up at that hour, but now I learned the advantage of training early, before the day starts, when there are no other responsibilities and nobody else is asking anything of you.”
In the early morning hours, you are responsible only for yourself. Use this time to work on a project, read a book, do some sprints, or write down your ideas in solitude. Here are some ideas on how to start the day and work fast.
2. Human achievement is unlimited
We all have limiting beliefs, where we doubt ourselves based on assumptions and what others tell us. Most of the time, it’s all in your head.
“I’d worked my way up to three hundred pounds of weight in calf raises, beyond any other bodybuilder I knew. I thought I must be near the limit of human achievement. So I was amazed to see Reg doing calf raises with one thousand pounds. ‘The limit is in your mind,’ he said…The limit I thought existed was purely psychological…It showed the power of mind over body.”
If the laws of physics allow it, it’s possible. Remember that as you consider whether a limit or obstacle is real. It’s very likely a mental myth, and you can easily crush these by flipping around your limiting beliefs into a positive self-talk scripts.
3. Focus on your flaws
For as much as we want to maximize our strengths, Arnold also believed in total self-awareness—especially of your weak points.
“It’s human nature to work on the things that we are good at…To be successful, however, you must be brutal with yourself and focus on the flaws. That’s when your eye, your honesty, and your ability to listen to others come in. Bodybuilders who are blind to themselves or deaf to others usually fall behind.”
The point isn’t to wallow in self-pity but to use your self-awareness for positive change. Don’t nitpick every perceived flaw. Do be authentic, transparent, and open to feedback.
See yourself. Hear others.
4. Disciplined space, disciplined life
You’ve probably heard that making your bed sets the precedent for the rest of your day. Arnold believed that self-discipline could be automated and effortless by keeping your living space tidy.
“Our place was immaculate. We vacuumed regularly; the dishes were always done, with nothing piling up; and the bed was always made, military style. We were both into the discipline of getting up in the morning and straightening up before you leave the house. The more you do it, the more automatic it becomes, and the less effort it takes.”
Setup a reminder on your smartphone to make sure everything is clean and organized before you leave the house. Or try one of these habit automation techniques.
If you establish this habit, your productivity and mood for the day will skyrocket.
5. Let your dreams drive the details
Arnold’s thinking on achieving big dreams was simple. Write down your specific intention. Then you’ll figure out how to get there.
“I always wrote down my goals [and] I had to make it very specific so that all those fine intentions were not just floating around. I would take out index cards and write that I was going to:
- get twelve more units in college;
- earn enough money to save $5,000;
- work out five hours a day;
- gain seven pounds of solid muscle weight; and
- find an apartment building to buy and move into…
Knowing exactly where I wanted to end up freed me totally to improvise how to get there.”
Notice that Arnold didn’t write down his every day to-do lists. Instead, he focused on the big picture. What are the specific big things I will accomplish?
Then he wrote them down and figured out the details. He assumed success was inevitable and worked to overcome every obstacle to these goals.
According to this infographic, only 3 in 10 people write down their goals, but they achieve more than the 7 other people combined.
6. Ignore the nay-sayers and solve problems
After buying his first investment apartment building—when everyone else was buying houses—Arnold was confronted by one of many nay-sayers throughout his life:
“Seeing me pull off a $215,000 deal left my old friend Artie Zeller in shock. For days afterward, he kept asking how I had the balls to do it. He could not understand because he never wanted any risk in his life…Problems were all he could see…I laughed. ‘Don’t tell me any more of this information. I like to always wander in like a puppy. I walk into a problem and then figure out what the problem really is. Don’t tell me ahead of time.’”
This is a very subtle but sophisticated insight. Everyone likes to tell us what the problem is, including customers. Yet figuring out what the problem really is, and then solving it, is how you truly help people and provide value. And providing value leads to success.
7. Stay hungry
When he was being screened for the lead bodybuilder role in the movie Stay Hungry with Jeff Bridges, Arnold had to lose 30 pounds. This meant he had to retire from competition after 12 very successful years. But it was time for his next big move.
“I liked the idea of staying hungry in life and never staying in one place. When I was ten, I wanted to be good enough at something to be recognized in the world. Now I wanted to be good enough at something else to be recognized again, and even bigger than before.”
The takeaway here is to avoid complacency. The second you feel too comfortable is the second you want to change things up and go for your next big dream. Successful people continuously move the bar, setting ever higher standards of achievement.
8. Be outrageous
This list wouldn’t be complete without a lesson to just be outrageous. Arnold has said that “being outrageous is my way to succeed.” In other words, find your own way. Be different—not for the sake of it but because your unique way of doing things will help you stand out.
One way Arnold stood out was to turn down any acting job that wasn’t a lead role:
“I felt that I was born to be a leading man. I had to be on the posters, I had to be the one carrying the movie. Of course I realized that this sounded crazy to everybody but me. But I believed that the only way you become a leading man is by treating yourself like a leading man and working your ass off. If you don’t believe in yourself, then how will anyone else believe in you?”
Stop following everyone else, and be skeptical of the so-called experts. Ignore what others think, even if it sounds crazy. In every opportunity Arnold Schwarzenegger pursued, he went straight for the top:
- Instead of competing in Mr. Europe, he went for Mr. Universe.
- Instead of buying a house, he bought an apartment building.
- Instead of taking a supporting role, he held out for leading man.
- Instead of running for mayor, he ran for Governor.