I don’t read a lot of autobiographies but I’m glad I picked up Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Arnold is candid and outlines his successes and failures openly and tells his story with great detail throughout the book.
This book was recommended by my NLP trainer and I can understand now why he speaks so highly about this book. If you are studying the habits and practices of successful people then this is the book you should start with.
I listened to an audiobook version of this which was partly read by Arnold and the rest by Stephen Lang. I love this book so much that I intend to get a copy in hardback. It definitely made it into my list of favourite books of all time.
The book begins from his childhood days in Graz, Austria to his return to acting after serving as Governor in California. While his life story is definitely fascinating, I found myself becoming more in awe of Arnold as a person; his focus and determination to succeed is definitely his winning characteristic.
Lessons from Arnold Schwarzenegger
Arnold imparts many valuable lessons in Total Recall. Here are some of the key points I learned and quotes that I liked from reading the book:
Envision and internalize your goals
Arnold envisioned himself reaching his goals and developed a strong mental image of this success. This is a technique that is often practised by successful people.
In the book Arnold speaks about how he was motivated and inspired by a magazine article covering the story of Reg Park and how Reg’s story had helped to crystallise a new vision for him; to get to America and get into the movies through bodybuilding.
“In weeks that followed, I refined this vision until it was very specific. I was going to go for the Mr Universe title; I was going to break records in powerlifting; I was going to Hollywood; I was going to be like Reg Park. The vision became so clear in my mind that I felt like it had to happen. There was no alternative; it was this or nothing.”
Arnold also practised writing down his goals. He made it very specific “so that all those fine intentions were not just floating around. I would take out index cards and write…” because “knowing exactly where I wanted to end up freed me totally to improvise how to get there.”
He understood that any limitations he set for himself was only in the mind.
“The limit I thought existed was purely psychological. Now that I’d seen someone doing a thousand pounds, I started making leaps in my training. It showed the power of mind over body.”
Have great mentors
He appreciated the importance of having great mentors to look up to and be surrounded by people who understood and supported his goals fully.
“I grew up poor too. But I had a fire inside of me to succeed and two parents who pushed me and taught me discipline. I had a strong public school education. I had after-school sports with coaches and training partners who were role models. I had mentors who told me, “You can do it, Arnold,” and then made me believe it. They were around me twenty-four hours a day, supporting me and making me grow.”
Arnold also surrounded himself with successful people in the field that he wanted to excel in.
“When I wanted to know more about business and politics, I used the same approach I did when I wanted to learn about acting: I got to know as many people as I could who were really good at it.”
His father taught him discipline and he believes discipline and routine is one of the keys to success.
“My dad’s answer to life was discipline. We had a strict routine that nothing could change: sports, exercises were added to the chores, and we had to earn our breakfast by doing sit-ups. In the afternoon, we’d finish our homework and chores, and my father would make us practice soccer no matter how bad the weather was. If we messed up on a play, we knew we’d get yelled at.”
Be strong physically and mentally
His father also instilled that one needed to be strong not just physically but also mentally.
“My father believed just as strongly in training our brains. Visiting another village, maybe, or seeing a play. Then in the evening, we had to write a report on our activities, ten pages at least. He’d hand back our papers with red ink scribbled all over them, and if we had spelt a word wrong, we had to copy it fifty times over.”
His friend Fredi taught him the concept of training like a Gladiator. Be strong in mind and body. A concept which he has adapted as part of his life.
“The idea of balancing the body and the mind was like a religion for him. “You have to build the ultimate physical machine but also the ultimate mind,” he would say. “Read Plato! The Greeks started the Olympics, but they also gave us the great philosophers, and you’ve got to take care of both.”
Understand your business and market yourself
When he first came to America, Arnold committed to many classes to improve himself. His education did not stop there. For any pursuit he went in to, be it business or politics, he would learn about it as much as he can.
“Over the next two or three years, I did research. Every day I would look at the real estate section in the newspaper, studying the prices and reading the stories and ads. I got to where I knew every square block of Santa Monica. I knew how much the property values increased north of Olympic Boulevard versus north of Wilshire versus north of Sunset. I understood about schools and restaurants and proximity to the beach. I knew every building in town. I knew every transaction: who was selling, at what price, how much the property had appreciated since it last changed hands, what the financial sheet looked like, the cost of yearly upkeep, the interest rate on the financing. I met landlords and bankers. The math of real estate really spoke to me. I could tour a building, and as I walked through it, I would ask about the square footage, the vacancy factor, what it would cost per square foot to operate, and quickly calculate in my mind how many times the gross I could afford to offer and still be able to make the payments.”
Arnold also stressed the importance of making people aware of what you do
“No matter what you do in life, selling is part of it.”
“Don’t overthink. If you think all the time, the mind cannot relax. The key thing is to let both the mind and the body float. And then when you need to make a decision or hit a problem hard, you’re ready with all of your energy.”
“By not analyzing everything, you get rid of all the garbage that loads you up and bogs you down. Turning off your mind is an art. It’s a form of meditation.”
Work on your flaws
“It’s human nature to work on the things that we are good at. It’s so satisfying. 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.”
Never go into a competition to compete
“I never went to a competition to compete. I went to win. Even though I didn’t win every time, that was my mindset. I became a total animal. If you tuned into my thoughts before a competition, you would hear something like: “I deserve that pedestal, I own it, and the sea ought to part for me. Just get out of the fucking way, I’m on a mission. So just step aside and gimme the trophy.” I pictured myself high up on the pedestal, trophy in hand. Everyone else would be standing below. And I would look down.”
Believe in yourself
One of my favourite quotes from the book is “If you don’t believe in yourself, then how will anyone else believe in you?”
But it’s not enough to just believe in yourself, you need to start acting and treat yourself like a leading man.
“The only way you become a leading man is by treating yourself like a leading man and working your ass off.”
Do what you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life
Arnold pursued goals that he was passionate about and that meant that everything was always exciting and fun.
“I loved the variety in my life. One day I’d be in a meeting about developing an office building or a shopping centre, trying to maximize the space. The next day I’d be talking to the publisher of my latest book about what photos needed to be in it. Next, I’d be working with Joe Weider on a cover story. Then I’d be in meetings about a movie. Or I’d be in Austria talking politics with Fredi Gerstl and his friends. Everything I did could have been my hobby. It was my hobby, in a way. I was passionate about all of it. My definition of living is to have excitement always; that’s the difference between living and existing. I seldom saw my life as hectic.”
Make full use of your time
“The day has twenty-four hours. I once gave a talk in a University of California: “as a student I’d 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.”
Don’t be discouraged by rejection
“Lucy gave me advice about Hollywood. “Just remember, when they say, ‘No,’ you hear ‘Yes,’ and act accordingly. Someone says to you, ‘We can’t do this movie,’ you hug him and say, ‘Thank you for believing in me.”
Learn to disconnect
“Hearing them talk about the need to disconnect and refresh the mind was like a revelation. “Arnold, you’re an idiot,” I told myself. “You spend all this time on your body, but you never think about your mind, how to make it sharper and relieve the stress. When you have muscle cramps, you have to do more stretching, take a Jacuzzi, put on the ice packs, take more minerals. So why aren’t you thinking that the mind also can have a problem? It’s overstressed, or it’s tired, it’s bored, it’s fatigued, it’s about to blow up – let’s learn tools for that.” They gave me a mantra and taught me to use a twenty-minute meditation session to get to a place where you don’t think. They taught how to disconnect the mind, so that you don’t hear the clock ticking in the background or people talking. If you can do this for even a few seconds, it already has a positive effect. The more you can prolong that period, the better it is.”
Compete where there is less competition
“Because there was so little room at the top of the ladder, people got intimidated and felt more comfortable staying on the bottom of the ladder. But, in fact, the more people that think that, the more crowded the bottom of the ladder becomes! Don’t go where it’s crowded. Go where it’s empty. Even though it’s harder to get there, that’s where you belong and where there’s less competition.”
Other Favourite Quotes from the Book
- If I can see it and believe it, then I can achieve it.
- What is the point of being on this earth if you are going to be like everyone else?
- You’ll get more from being a peacemaker than a warrior.
- The more knowledge you have, the more you’re free to rely on your instincts.
- My definition of living is to have excitement always; that’s the difference between living and existing.
- You have to build the ultimate physical machine, but also the ultimate mind.
- I decided I wouldn’t be an amateur ever again. Now the real game would begin.
- I find it valuable to work with people who I can also be friends with.
- No one gets up in the morning and says I’m going to be difficult today or I’m going to derail the movie or I’m going to be a bitch.
- To think that a once scrawny boy from Austria could grow up to become Governor of California and stand in Madison Square Garden to speak on behalf of the President of the United States that is an immigrant’s dream. It is the American dream.
- Centrist does not mean weak. It does not mean watered down or warmed over. It means well balanced and well-grounded.
- No one can put me in a mould.
- Life is much richer when we embrace the multitudes that we all contain.
- Forget Plan B.
- You need reps. The more you do it, the better it is. There are no shortcuts.
- Don’t blame your parents. They have done the best for you. If you have been left with problems, those problems are now yours to solve.