English Arabic Chinese (Simplified) Chinese (Traditional) Esperanto French German Hindi Latvian Luxembourgish Malayalam Maltese Norwegian Portuguese Russian Spanish Tajik

Think Like A Champion - Inside The Mind Of Arnold

Bill Dobbins

During his spectacular career in bodybuilding, in themovies and as Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger succeeded in part because of his ability to accurately assess situations in which he found himself and outsmart and outthink his opponents. Sometimes it seemed he was a grown-up in a world of children, a Great Dane in a pack of poodles. 

How was he able to do this? How exactly does Arnold’s mind work? I’ve known him since 1975 and worked on three-book projects with him, so I’ve had ample time to observe Arnold and how he deals with the world. Read on for some insights into his thinking process and psychological makeup. Arnold’s approach to life is not only valuable when it comes to achieving a variety of life goals but also the basis of the work ethic he followed in order to achieve maximum results when it came to diet and exercise.


A key factor in understanding Arnold is that he isn’t somebody who lives primarily inside his own head. He isn’t particularly introspective or consciously analytical. This doesn’t mean he isn’t intelligent; far from it. His mind is working all the time, but it isn’t the internal workings of his mind that interest him. He isn’t that interested in examining his own thought processes in detail. Rather, Arnold focuses his attention on the outside world, on what’s going on around him—who people are, what they are thinking and feeling, and how that is going to influence what happens in any given situation.


There are different ways of looking at reality. An introspective, inner-directed individual may well be most concerned with reality on the; philosophical level, or with questions of what might be, should be, or could be. Arnold’s approach to understanding reality is much more practical. He wants to know what makes things happen, what will make a difference to the outcome of a situation or what won’t, what’s important and what isn’t.

Arnold doesn’t waste time on inessentials. He only cares about what works. This has made him a success in bodybuilding and in the movies, and it has earned him a reputation as an astute and honest businessman. In business, Arnold negotiates hard but always sticks by his agreements. Otherwise, he has observed, you just make trouble for yourself. And Arnold is too clever for that.


Watching Arnold preparing for a bodybuilding competition, I was always struck with how honest he could be about his own physique. He’d look in the mirror and see exactly what his weak points were. Yet he could do thiswithout any lessening of his overall self-confidence.

Whether by instinct or experience, Arnold came to understand that self-confidence based on ignorance of your weaknesses is no path to success and victory. Instead, the successful man of action is ideally somebody who is not overly self-conscious nor introspective (as Arnold isn’t). He has a healthy—even tenacious— grasp of what counts and what doesn’t count (as Arnold does). And he accepts that nobody’s perfect—that you have to do the best with whatever you have—and can assess his strength and weaknesses as clearly as possible and then take whatever steps are necessary to make the best use of those qualities.


Life, to Arnold, is a series of goals. In Arnold’sNew Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding, he compares having a specific goal in mind to being the captain of a ship. A ship’s master would never leave port, he points out, with no destination in mind, intending to simply sail aimlessly around in the ocean. He’d have a definite destination and charts to show him how to get there.

Arnold believes that life should involve the same kind of planning. He admits that all the while he was winning bodybuilding contests, he was intending at some point to become a movie star. He went on to become one of the most bankable stars of his day. After that, Arnold set his sights on a political career. He succeeded and was soon the “Governator” of California. Time and time again, Arnold has demonstrated that when he has a future goal in mind — he always makes a plan to achieve it.


When Arnold was winning one Mr. Olympia title after another, he was also making a lot of money in real estate and engaging in a variety of other activities. How did he do this without harming his competitive career? Because of his ability to compartmentalize his life and concentrate and focus on each aspect of it in turn.

When Arnold trained, he trained. His mind and his attention were on his workouts.Once he left the gym, he left the training behind him and turned his attention tobusiness, real estate, collecting art, social activities, or whatever else he was involved with. Too many bodybuilders aren’t able to do this. They don’t concentrate. They think about what’s happening in the rest of their lives when they’re in the middle of a workout and letheir minds dwell on bodybuilding when they’re supposed to be doing something else.


Whenever I’ve gone to Arnold’s house, I’ve been struck with how neat and tidy his home always was—a place for everything and everything in its place. And I  realized  that  this ability to  keep  his  life  well-organized had played a part in Arnold’s success in  bodybuilding.

He told me, for example, that he used to sit down at the beginning of each month and write out a training program for the next 30 days. At the end of the month, he’d evaluate how well that program had worked for him, make whatever adjustments he felt would be beneficial, and incorporate them into the next month’s workout program.

He kept careful track of each workout, as well. For example, in his early years in the sport, Arnold used to keep track of every set he did in the gym. Of course, when I first watched Arnold training back in 1975, there was no evidence of this kind of careful planning. His workouts seemed unplanned and spontaneous. But this seeming spontaneity was deceptive. He was only able to train this way because of the experience he’d gained after years and years of evolving and developing a “master plan” that taught him what kind of training worked best for his individual physique.


I’ve eaten many meals with Arnold over the years, but I can rarely remember a time when he ate more than I did. Arnold is not indifferent to food, but he is not ruled by his appetite. He drinks, but isn’t a drinker. He loves to ski, but during his competitive bodybuilding career, when the simplest skiing accident could have cost him the Mr. Olympia title that year, Arnold kept off the slopes. The same is true of motorcycles. He enjoys riding his Harley nowadays (“The reason I like Harley-Davidsons is because they are so American!”), but while he was a competitive bodybuilder, he stayed away from them. The pleasure of riding wasn’t worth the risk of an injury that could have slowed down or even ended his bodybuilding career.


Arnold has always been good at making  money.  He likes to live well, to have the wherewithal to live as he likes, buy what he wants and travel as he pleases. Yet, at the same time, making money and acquiring possessions are not that important to him. They are a by-product of success, not the standard by which success itself is measured.

Arnold has nice clothes, but he doesn’t dress extravagantly. He likes exciting cars and buys some interesting and expensive ones from time to time. But most of the time he drives his fashionable but practical Hummer. He owns an expensive airplane, but charters it out when not using it to pay for its upkeep. The last thing Arnold would be likely to do is to try to impress you with what he wears or what he drives.


Arnold’s self-confidence and ability to thrive on success comes about in large part because he knows and seems always to have known how to enjoy life. Arnold demonstrates that you can be serious without acting serious all the time. Sometimes, life isn’t a lot of fun. Sometimes it’s hard work and heartbreak, problems and challenges. But these moment-to-moment difficulties shouldn’t interfere with the fundamental enthusiasm for living, for being alive and being able to experience the senseof your own existence. This is where the deepest enjoyment of living comes, and if you’re in touch with those kinds of feelings, as Arnold could tell you, you usually end up having a lot of fun as well.