3 Lessons from Arnold

If you had to pick a SuperMentor – anyone, living or dead, real or fictional – to guide you as a mentor through 2018 – who would that be?

My pick: Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In fact, I spent the last two weeks of 2017 in his company. At least – in the company of his ideas and stories. I was listening to Total Recall (Arnold’s autobiography) audiobook – and therefore spent 23 hours in the presence of this famous bodybuilder, actor and politician.

In case you’re curious what lessons you can take from Arnold: Here are my top three. Note: Blockquote text is quoted from the book.


Setting and visualizing goals

In the past couple of years, I was somehow discouraged from setting specific goals for myself – I would stay with “I’ll just go in this direction and let’s see what happens next”.

Arnold’s autobiography however made me really curious to try again with specific goals for a year. Here’s how Arnold goes about it. Maybe you can try it too:

I always wrote down my goals, like I’d learned to do in the weight-lifting club back in Graz. It wasn’t sufficient just to tell myself something like “My New Year’s resolution is to lose twenty pounds and learn better English and read a little bit more.” No. That was only a start. Now 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.

The key insight for me was that setting goals so specific was not a constraint for Arnold. It gave him freedom. Goals so clearly defined already became a reality for him. From the moment he wrote them down, he did not have to worry about whether he would achieve them or not. He simply knew he would and he only had to figure out the “how”.

Overcoming obstacles

Sometimes things in our lives don’t turn out the way we imagined. Sometimes even Arnold was not getting what he wanted. Often he would hear: “What you want to do is not possible.” But he would not give up so easily. One of his favorite lines is:

As is so often the case, something that is impossible slowly becomes possible.

Let’s start with a rather banal example – dating and cultural differences. As Arnold came to California, he noticed that the girls reacted differently than they had back in Munich where he lived before. Once when he approached a girl in California, she asked him: “What sign are you”? This left him puzzled, because – as you might have expected – the bodybuilding champion was not really into horoscopes. He shared this with his pals in the gym and one of them gave him this advice:

“Man, you got to say, ‘I’m the best sign.’ Try that.”

It took only a few weeks before another situation came up. I was talking to a girl at lunch, and she asked, “What sign are you?” And I said, “What do you guess?” “Well, what?” “The best!” So she said, “You mean . . . Capricorn?” “Yes!” I exclaimed. “How did you know?” “I’m telling you, it’s amazing because that fits so well with me, and I get along so well with you, I mean, this is like, wow!” She was excited and so happy.

Often a typical reaction of a guy would be: “Oh come on, horoscopes are nonsense!” But for Arnold did not complain. He got to work.

So I started reading up on the zodiac signs, all the characteristics associated with them, and how they match up together.

Obviously, it was not only picking up girls where Arnold showed his determination. When he was aiming for his first Mr. Universe title, he spent long hours every day in training. But from the people established at the top of the European bodybuilding scene he learned that even a perfect performance might not be enough.

Wag and Dianne felt that the best way for me to have a good shot at the Mr. Universe title was to became better known in the United Kingdom. Bodybuilders did that in those days by getting on the exhibition circuit—promoters all over the British Isles would organize local events, and by agreeing to appear, you could make a little money and spread your name.

This is the tricky thing with competitions decided by a jury rather than by score, time or distance. Often I see people at different levels in Toastmasters speech contests complain: “Oh, they gave it (the 1st place) to Mark only because he is around for five years. Everybody knows him, so of course they voted for him.” Well, it’s true that the judge’s form says “Judges will consciously avoid bias of any kind…”. But well, it’s human nature to prefer what is familiar. You can either complain about it – or you can do something about it. Arnold went for the second option.

Making a name for yourself in bodybuilding is a lot like politics. You go from town to town, hoping word will spread. This grassroots approach worked, and the enthusiasm it created would eventually help me to win Mr. Universe.

As he became world’s #1 bodybuilder, Arnold shifted his focus to Hollywood. He wanted to use his domination in bodybuilding as a springboard to a leading movie role. The problem was – most directors in Hollywood at the time had no idea what bodybuilding was.

It frustrated me that bodybuilding shows were never advertised to the general public. That seemed totally wrong. I mean, what did we have to hide? People complained that reporters were always negative about bodybuilding and wrote stupid stories. Well, that was true, but who was talking to the press? Had anyone ever sat down and explained what we were doing? So Franco and I decided that if bodybuilding in LA was ever going to break out of its little shell, we had to promote it ourselves.

Arnold and his friend Franco went to organize a spectacular contest in order to promote not only himself, but the whole sport. The Mr. International competition was a big success – the world’s top bodybuilders came to compete and people from all walks of life (not only bodybuilding) came to see it. Invitations to TV shows followed soon.

Straight talk

How often do you say what you really think? And how often you don’t?

One of the most attractive aspects of the autobiography was the feeling that saying what he thought was exactly what Arnold was doing, even if the topic was slightly controversial. One example for all – Arnold’s response to the fact that he is often criticized for his starring in violent movies:

I kill people on screen because… it’s great entertainment! And contrary to the critics, I don’t believe that violence on screen creates violence on the streets or violence at home. Otherwise, there would be no murders before the movies were invented. And by the way, the Bible is full of violence.

You can’t really say that Arnold is politically correct – while at the same time, he remains classy. In my eyes, this is the perfect balance.


Of course, if you like Arnold, the book will make you happy. It’s both useful and fun to read (or in my case, listen to). It made me laugh aloud many times (often in the metro or on the street).

And if your choice of a “SuperMentor” for 2018 would be different from mine, take a moment to think – who would you pick? And what lessons for the coming year would you take?


Featured image (link) by Nate Mandos from Cowtown, California (Mirrorcle World) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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