What We Can Learn From This Icon

Is there anyone on planet Earth who doesn’t know who Arnold Schwarzenegger is? Probably very few; such is the level of popularity and success that this icon has achieved.

Born in the small city of Thal in Austria, Schwarzenegger arguably rose to the very top of every field he decided to apply himself to.

In bodybuilding, he was a three time Mr. Universe and seven time Mr. Olympia winner; an unprecedented feat.

In acting, sure he never won an Oscar, but through his roles in movies such as the Terminator, Predator, and Conan, he became the biggest action movie star of all time.

And in politics, a field not many thought he would succeed in, he was elected the Governor of California; a position he used to push through many of his personal initiatives in areas such as the environment and public health.

Throughout it all, Schwarzenegger was also a successful businessman. Not many people know that by the time he landed his first starring role in Hollywood, he was already a millionaire from investing in Californian real estate using his bodybuilding winnings. Today, Schwarzenegger has an estimated net worth of $300 million.

To be sure, Schwarzenegger is a flawed individual, especially in his personal life, where his failings were highly publicized. But to ignore his tremendous success in light of some of his failings would be foolish; Schwarzenegger has a lot to teach us about success.

A few years ago, Schwarzenegger published his autobiography: Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story which details many of the lessons in this post. Here’s what we can learn from the man.

Nine Success Lessons We Can Learn From Arnold Schwarzenegger

 Arnold Schwarzenegger Success Lessons Infographic

Lesson #1: Believe 100% in Yourself

Self-belief is the most important ingredient for success. If you don’t believe in yourself, why should anyone else believe in you? Without the belief that you will be able to achieve your goals, there is no way you’re ever going to get there.

This does not mean blind belief, but rather the kind of belief that arises when you truly know yourself, what you want in life, and what you are capable of. Schwarzenegger’s father wanted him to become a soccer player, but deep down he knew he wanted to become the greatest bodybuilder of all time.

Arnold Schwarzenegger also believed that he could make a difference to the people in California, no matter what others said. As he said “Impossible was a word I loved to ignore when I was governor.”

Entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk also sums up the importance of self-belief, stating that without self-belief, the deck is simply too stacked against you. If you are against yourself, how can you ever win?

Lesson #2: Define Your Goals

If you don’t know where you are going, how can you ever get there? Schwarzenegger believed in SMART goals; goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time sensitive. As he says in his book:

“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.”

Some people don’t like setting goals; worrying about how they would feel if they failed to achieve them. Schwarzenegger believed in the opposite; clear goals revealed a clear purpose and allowed him to focus all his energy on achieving them instead of wandering aimlessly.

Lesson #3: Work Hard, Then Work Harder

The saying ‘work hard’ is almost a cliché at this point because it’s repeated so often. But just because it’s a cliché doesn’t make it any less true. You won’t get anywhere without hard work, a point that Schwarzenegger emphasizes over and over again.

Schwarzenegger applied the simple weight lifting philosophy to his life: Reps, reps, reps. To him, everything was about repetition. Reps equaled hard work. As he said:

“Everything is about either reps or mileage. If you want to be good at skiing, you have to get out on the slopes all the time…On the movie set, the only way to have your act together is to do the reps. If you’ve done the reps, you don’t have to worry, you can enjoy the moment when the cameras roll.”

So ask yourself, how many ‘reps’ are you putting in each day toward achieving your goals? Schwarzenegger made use of the full 24 hours in the day, something each of us has, toward this.

 “As a student I trained five hours a day, gone to acting classes four hours a day, worked in construction several hours a day, and gone to college and done my homework, and I was not the only one. In my classes at Santa Monica College and at UCLA extension school there were people who were also working full time jobs.”

Lesson #4: Don’t Let Your Mind Hold You Back

We are more powerful than we know. Much of our actual limitations are not actually real limitations as defined by the laws of the universe. Instead, they are limiting beliefs; our own self-imposed limits on our potential as a result of negative experiences. If we want to reach the limits of our true potential, we have to banish these limiting beliefs from our minds.

Here, Schwarzenegger tells a story of witnessing an event in the gym that helped overcome some of his own limiting beliefs.

“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.”

 Lesson #5: Ignore the Doubters

On your path to success, there will always be naysayers and doubters who try to keep you down. Some may be doing it out of genuine concern, but others will do so because of the crab in the bucket mentality. When one crab tries to climb out of the bucket, the other crabs pull it down.

Schwarzenegger had many doubters on his way to the top. From those who doubted that the skinny kid from Austria could become the world’s greatest bodybuilder, to those who said he would never be a movie star because of his accent, or those said he could never be a politician.

“It was very difficult for me in the beginning – I was told by agents and casting people that my body was ‘too weird’, that I had a funny accent, and that my name was too long. You name it, and they told me I had to change it. Basically, everywhere I turned, I was told that I had no chance.

 You realize you have to pay no attention to the naysayers. When you learn those lessons in sports, you can apply those lessons for the rest of your life.”

Lesson #6: Don’t be Afraid to Fail

The road to success is paved with failure. When you strive as high as Schwarzenegger did, there are bound to be failures along the way. Not all of his movies were box office successes; many of them were utter failures.

Schwarzenegger tells people that when you fail, contrary to what you may feel, most people actually don’t notice. The whole world is not focused on your failure. When his movie The Last Action Hero flopped, he said “You tend to assume that the whole world is focused on your failure.”

When you fall, pick yourself up, learn from your mistakes, and try again.

Lesson #7: Leverage Your Quirks

Many people, despite what they say, are actually afraid to stand out from the crowd. When you stand out from the crowd, you invite judgment and criticism, something that is hard for many to deal with. So instead of openly displaying their unique traits, they hide them to try to blend in with the crowd.

Schwarzenegger didn’t fall into this temptation. He had always wanted to stand out; and to do it in his own way. He did not change or shorten his name to be more Americanized. He maintains his Austrian accent till today. He did not slim down to get a more Hollywood-friendly physique.

Because Schwarzenegger embraced his quirks, he turned them into some of his greatest assets. These quirks allowed him to stand out from the crowd and achieve the level of fame he has today.

Lesson #8: Stay Hungry

Many a successful person has fallen victim to the lure of complacency. Having achieved some success, they lose the drive that got them there in the first place and soon find themselves overtaken by hungrier rivals.

Arnold Schwarzenegger himself always stayed hungry. After achieving success in one area, such as bodybuilding, he quickly moved on to the next challenge, never letting himself settle for less. Here’s his philosophy:

“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.”

Lesson #9: Give Back

The final lesson that Arnold Schwarzenegger imparts may just be the most important; not to you, but to everybody. And that is giving back to the community once you’ve achieved success. While many look at Schwarzenegger as the embodiment of the self-made man and the American dream, he emphatically denies this.

“I am not a self-made man…. Like everyone, to get to where I am, I stood on the shoulders of giants. My life was built on a foundation of parents, coaches, and teachers; of kind souls who lent couches or gym back rooms where I could sleep; of mentors who shared wisdom and advice; of idols who motivated me from the pages of magazines and personal interaction”

By acknowledging the important roles that others played in his success, Arnold Schwarzenegger then understood the importance of giving back. Its importance is the ultimate payoff: a meaningful life. He sums it up:

“Help others and give something back. I guarantee you will discover that while public service improves the lives and the world around you, its greatest reward is the enrichment and new meaning it will bring your own life.”

Arnold Schwarzenegger Is Only Human, Just Like You

When you look at the lives and achievements of august individuals such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, it is normal to compare and contrast our lives with them. However, comparison is the thief of joy. The only thing that matters is becoming the best version of you. And by implementing the success lessons that Arnold Schwarzenegger used in his own life, you can.

About the author

Kevin Abdulrahman

Motivational Speaker to Fortune 500 Companies and Public Speaking Coach to thought leaders and CEOs.


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