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What It Takes to Succeed According to Arnold Schwarzenegger

What It Takes to Succeed According to Arnold Schwarzenegger
“It all sounded great in the script, and it was doable — just a matter of reps, reps, reps.” — Arnold Schwarzenegger

Arnold as Mr. Universe with muscles on his muscles

When Arnold Schwarzenegger was a teenager, he started lifting weights in the Athletic Union in Graz, Austria.

On the wall next to where they lifted weights, each athlete listed exercises like ‘Dead Lift’, ‘Bench Press’ ‘Clean and Jerk, ‘Shoulder Press’ and so on.

The athletes chalked a row of hash marks next to each exercise, each one representing a set.

After an athlete completed the reps comprising a set, they marked an X through the first line.

To complete a session, the athletes, including Arnold, had to mark an X through each of the five or six lines.


I get exhausted just thinking about it.

But not Arnold.

In his biography Total Recall, he writes:

“This practice had a huge impact on my motivation. I always had the visual feedback of ‘Wow, an accomplishment. I did what I set out to do. Now I will go for the next set, and the next set.”

Arnold applied this mentality of completing reps and sets to find success as a bodybuilder, actor. He even completed his ‘reps’ to campaign for Governor of California.

Arnold Bled Into His Creative Works

By Chris Yarzab — http://www.flickr.com/photos/chrisyarzab/5698222882, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18072380

There’s a famous scene in Terminator 2 where Arnold drives down a Los Angeles drainage canal on a Harley.

He pulls out a shotgun, fires it, spins and re-cocks the weapon, fires again and so on, until he reaches a chained gate with a padlock. Then, the Terminator shoots the gates and drives through.

Arnold practised using a weapon and bike for this scene hundreds of times for weeks beforehand. He worked through his reps and sets so much that he tore the skin off his fingers. He writes:

“I couldn’t wear a glove because it would get stuck in the gun mechanism, and I tore the skin off my hand and fingers practicing a hundred times until I mastered the skill.”

He Applied the Same Mindset to Politics Too

The Governator

While governor of California, Arnold prepared for a big campaign speech by renting a studio.

Always the professional, Arnold visualised his audience and put in the work.

He delivered his speech over and over for three days. Each time, he marked his reps on the front page.

Here’s the thing:

If you’re worried your book, album or business idea isn’t good enough, work through your reps.

Arnold bled into his stunts, and you can bleed into your early drafts, rough cuts and minimum viable products.

If you finish more writing projects, your command of the language will grow.

If you terminate more rough cuts, you’ll become better at finding better hooks.

And if you validate more ideas, you’ll find it profitable fits for your customers faster.

‘That’s Alright for Arnold, but What if I Fail?’

So the reviews are in.

So your work sucked.

So your book, album or business idea wasn’t any good.

Learn from it.

Then, move on.

I don’t mean to be harsh.

But, Arnold didn’t let failure get him down.

In 1979, he played a supporting role in The Villain alongside Kurt Douglas.

Do you remember that film?

Neither does anyone else.

Arnold says:

It flopped totally at the box office when it came out in 1979, and the best thing I can say about it is that I improved my horse-riding skills.

He went right back to work, and three years later, he hit the big time with Conan the Barbarian.

Learning From Failure

If you’re anything like me, you’ll have far more failures to your name than successes.

I failed to build a career as a news journalist.

I failed to hold down a well-paying contract with a magazine I read.

I failed to turn a well-paying freelance job into a profitable permanent job.

Failure — it’s tough.

On good days, I felt restless, and on bad days I felt depressed by my lack of progress.

But then I remember to learn from my writing mistakes and put in the reps.

Whether you’re writer, musician or entrepreneur, remember the work is its own reward.

I’ll be honest.

The prospects of becoming Arnold Schwarzenegger famous for your work are slight. That said, you can still find success on your terms.

There’s nothing stopping you publishing a book, releasing an album or validating a business idea that delights your 1,000 true fans.

So put in your reps.

At the very least, you’ll be able to afford some new pants or a gym membership.

Arnold would be proud.

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