The Mindset of a Champion (Arnold Schwarzenegger)

Arnold Schwarzenegger giving a talk on how to be a champion
Austrian-American politician, filmmaker, and former bodybuilder, Arnold Schwarzenegger

Arnold Schwarzenegger is known for many things. His former status as Mr. Universe, his role as the main character in the Terminator series, and his charming Austrian accent. He is also known for his in-your-face style that every competitive athlete and gym junkie can appreciate. Arnold has the success for people to trust what he’s saying and the passion to inspire them to take action. I’ve transcribed a YouTube compilation in which Arnold talks about the mindset of a champion–having a clear vision, an unwavering self-belief, and an insane work ethic.


When I used to do seminars on how to become a champion, I would always ask people, why do you want to be a champion? Or what do you want to accomplish? Why are you training? And if a guy would get up and he would say “Well, I want to train because I think that if I get muscular and I feel like I’m getting the kind of definition, then I maybe can enter a bodybuilding competition.” I said “Sit down. Because if you think this way, you’re going to be a loser. You’re never going to make it. Because there’s no maybe. You’ve got to get up and say ‘I want to be a champion. And I’ll do whatever it takes.’The amount of hours it takes, the posing, the this, the that, the visualization. Looking at training footage, looking at motivational books, reading this and that. Whatever it takes. I will do it. That’s the answer I want to hear from you.

You can detect right away those that are going to be shaky and that will fall behind and that will not go all the way, and those that are very hungry. And that hunger you have to develop because you have to create a goal for yourself whatever that may be. A short-term goal, and a long-term goal. You got to go after it and if you do not see, and if you do not believe it, who else will? . .

Experiencing pain in your muscles and aching and just then go on and go on and go on. And those last 2, 3, or 4 repetitions, that’s what actually makes the muscle then grow. And that divides one from a champion and one from not being a champion. If you can go through this pain period, you make it to be a champion. If you can’t go through, forget it. And that’s what most people lack–is having the guts, the guts to go in and just say “I go through and I don’t care what happens.” You know? If it aches and if I fall down, I have no fear of fainting in a gym because I know it could happen. I threw up many times while I was working out. But it doesn’t matter because it’s all worth it. . .

Every one has a problem with time, but the day is 24 hours. And we sleep 6. Now I know there are some out there “Woah, woah, woah. I need 8.” But I say just sleep a little faster because the bottom line is we have 6 hours of sleep, 24 hours available, so you have 18 hours now available. Do your work, your family, your hobbies. And also to learn something new or to do something new, which could easily be that you want to learn a new language. Or that you want to read–as a new year’s resolution–I have to read a book every day. Or you say I’m going to go and reshape my body. So you’re going to go and take this hour out of your schedule, “I’m going to train an hour every day.”

So this is for most people a huge challenge, but it is totally doable. And I can tell them because the kind of things that I did when I came to this country. I went to school, I was working construction, I was working out 5 hours a day. I was taking acting classes from 8 o’clock at night to 12 midnight. I was doing all of those things. I wanted to make sure that out of the 24 hours in the day that I don’t waste one single hour. Those hours are too precious. I just want to tell people don’t give me this thing, “I have a difficult time–I don’t have time for this.” None of that. You have time. You make the time.

I had this need of coming to America. I mean when I started learning about America at the age of 10, taking geography lessons. I learned about America, I remember photos in the textbooks but also in super 8 mm film footage that they showed in the classroom. About the Golden Gate Bridge and the Empire State Building and the six-lane highways. I said, “What am I doing here in Austria with these little roads. I want to go and be a part of the big deal.”

So I always had this desire that the only way I would get to America–because in those days it wasn’t common for you to buy yourself a ticket, no one could afford that–I had to kind of accomplish something big that takes me to America. And then I read about this guy Reg Park, who won Mr. Universe three times and then became a star in Hercules movies, and then was in Italy filming, and then in Hollywood filming. I felt that could be the ticket. I should become Mr. Universe, I should become a second Reg Park.

Of course, no one really bought into that. My parents thought it was totally insane, but I think my parents really thought that there was something terribly wrong with being that driven. Because I would come home at lunchtime and instead of having lunch I would do 200 sit-ups. And at night I would go to the stadium and I would be lifting weights. I would come home at 10 o’clock at night and I would be continually lifting weights. So it was like this insanity and in the military I would continually lifting weights no matter how the training was, and how tough the basic training was, I would always then lift weights afterwards. . .

I think the most important thing is that we have a very clear vision of where we go. A goal–where do we go. Because you can have the best ship in the world, you can have the cruise line but if the captain does not know where to go, that ship will drift around the world, and out in the sea and will never end up anywhere. This is exactly the way it is in real life. If you don’t have a goal. If you don’t have a vision, you just drift around. And you’re not going to be happy. This is why it’s so important to have that vision.

Now I created that vision in Austria because I grew up after the Second World War. Austria, right along with Germany, lost the Second World War. The problem was everyone was so depressed that we lost the war, there was alcoholism everywhere. There was depression, there was a terrible economic situation. There was famine, there was starvation, and all of those things. Also, it was kind of a little place and narrow. I felt I wanted to get out of there. I wanted to escape. And I couldn’t see myself really doing work there. And to stay there, to work in the factor, to work in the farm or even to follower in my father’s footsteps and become a police officer. I couldn’t see that either, but that’s what my parents wanted me to do. But that’s not what I saw, this was the vision of my parents, but not mine. . .

You got to work your butt off. If you think that you’re going to accomplish something really special and be the best at anything in the world, and you think you can do it without working, you’re making a big mistake. Because no matter what I did, if it was in bodybuilding or in acting or if it was in the political arena–it always took a lot of lot of work. You have to put out, and you have to sometimes make a lot of sacrifices. If you’re not willing to work hard, forget about it. It’s another rule that is very important. . .

Don’t be afraid to fail because if you’re afraid to fail, then you’re always holding yourself back because you’re afraid that if you go all out, you may fail. In weightlifting, we learn that very quickly. The only way that you can break a record is if you’re willing to fail. You put more weight. You tried. Sometimes you may not be able to lift it which has happened to me many times. But eventually when you train hard enough, you will lift it. Don’t be afraid of failure, I mean, how far can you fall?

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