How To Be A Successful Man: 10 Lessons from Arnold Schwarzenegger

Do you lack determination and direction? Perhaps you feel that your life isn't going the way that you hoped it would?

Whenever I've been faced with those inevitable life-crushing dilemmas, I've always gone back to the man who epitomizes determination, charm, humor, and success.

A man who demonstrates time and time again that nothing can stop him.

That successful man is Arnold Schwarzenegger.

As an inspiration to us all, there are plenty of things we can learn from him, but these are the 10 most important lessons to make you a successful man:

  • Have a strong drive and determination
  • Don’t put “can’t” in your vocabulary
  • See yourself as a work in progress
  • Be an inspiration
  • Visualize your success
  • Be positive
  • Be appreciative
  • Visualize your dream
  • Be strong
  • Be charming

Sound good? Let's get started.

1. Arnold’s Drive and Ambition

Arnold's story is inspiring and driven, with obstacles smashed at every hurdle.

A man forced into the military by an indifferent father who wanted nothing more than to crush Arnold's dream of becoming a bodybuilder.

A man who escaped from his military base, took a train in the dead of night to compete in a bodybuilding competition. And won.

Only to sneak back into the same military camp. Like he'd never been gone.

All while his colleagues slept off an exhausting day's toil.

As a role model for the modern man, Arnold demonstrates the respectful, single-minded entrepreneurialism of the most successful business people on the planet. He’s a successful man because he’s driven and determined.

If you want to know how to be a successful man, you couldn't find a better role model than Arnold Schwarzenegger.

2. How to Be Successful Like Arnold

What we face may look insurmountable. But I learned something from all those years of training and competing. I learned something from all those sets and reps; when I didn’t think I could lift another ounce of weight. What I Iearned is that we are always stronger than we know.

Do you look back and see times when you were told that you weren't good enough and that you should just give up?

Do you ever look back and realize that whenever you didn't succeed it was because you accepted what that? Even though you knew that your could do it?

The mind is the limit. As long as the mind can envision the fact that you can do something, you can do it - as long as you really believe 100 percent.

Arnold's father told him that he should give up - in fact, sending him into the military was his father’s way of forcing him to be like everyone else - “normal”, unremarkable, obedient.

The worst thing I can be is the same as everybody else. I hate that.

But that just made him more determined. He entered a bodybuilding competition in Stuttgart - that competition was a 26-hour journey from his cell in solitary.

But crossing borders to actualize his dream wasn’t an obstacle that was going to beat him.

He turned up at the competition and had to borrow a pair of trunks. He was new to competitions and driven by ambition - but for all of his enthusiasm, he was unprepared on a practical level.

He knew that if he could just get there; if he could stand in front of the judges and perform, he would excel.

And, of course - against the odds - he won.

Failure is not an option. Everyone has to succeed.

He knew that he could win, and this is what is special about Arnold Schwarzenegger's character.

He could visualized himself with that trophy. And nobody telling him otherwise could break his resolve.

And when he won, he realized that he wasn’t dreaming.

He had visualized his dream and made it a reality.

I welcome and seek your ideas. But do not bring me small ideas. Bring me big ideas to match our future.

Successful men aren’t afraid:

  • Think big and be fearless in your aspirations. Learn to listen to the positive you; silence the negative you. We’ve all got our natural doubts - they’re a product of the past. Now is all that is important.
  • Move forwards. You can never move back, so leave the past to the past and forget about it. The past isn’t important.
  • We have control over the present. The present defines the future. The past slows us down and fills us with doubt. The present is in your control.

3. "Can't" Is Not in Arnold's Vocabulary

Schwarzenegger's story is full of obstacles. But his unique, devil-may-care tinge of confident humor disarms his adversaries in an awesome show of commitment.


He points a metaphorical gun into the face of challenge and strides over obstacles like the super-heroes he so often portrays on the silver screen.

His private life is driven by a focused mindset. It has taken him from humble beginnings to becoming one of the most successful, inspiring men for other men to follow.  

Becoming a successful man requires tenacity:

  • Expect obstacles - no-one ever achieves anything without having to work hard.
  • Recognise “can’t” as a challenge; not a full-stop. When people say that you can’t do something, question it - and (as long it’s not dangerous and life-threatening) find new ways of overcoming that obstacle.

4. Why Arnold?

I’ve always admired Arnold. He’s played bad guys, but he’s never taken himself too seriously.

With a Herculean physique, he stormed into our lives, demonstrating that manliness was part iron-man, part comedian, with a massive dollop of resolve, single-mindedness, and staying power.

He has achieved many things in his life, but he has never been one to sit on his laurels.


Arnold first won the Mr. Universe contest in 1967. At the age of 20, he was the youngest man to claim the title. He won three more times.

He moved to America in 1968, winning his first Mr. Olympia competition in 1970. He won the title seven times.

Arnold, like so many icons of the 1980s, has mastered the art of reinvention.

When it seemed that he was likely to become typecast as the robotic, unkillable machine, he reinvents himself as the Kindergarten Cop - never afraid to show the pussycat hiding beneath the lion's exterior.

His single-mindedness is grounded in more than just mere grit and determination, however.


In his early years, Arnold's upper body developed well from his training, but his legs were very thin. He cut his pants up the thigh and walked around like that - exposing the legs that he was so ashamed of. Everyone laughed at him, calling him "the man with the chicken legs." This ridicule drove him to focus on building his legs.

This ability to display his vulnerability is his true strength. In a world that often considers vulnerability as a weakness, we can all learn something from Arnold's humorous take on the strong man.

Every successful man has a clarity of vision in themselves:

  • See yourself as an evolving work-in-progress. Putting limits on what you can achieve will only ever stifle you.
  • Be man enough to recognise your flaws. Don’t hide them from the world because they’re part of you - and they can help you learn and grow.

5. Arnold, the Inspirational Speaker

As an inspirational speaker, Arnold delivers down-to-earth common sense, but always with a cheeky nod to his playful humor.


Just remember, you can’t climb the ladder of success with your hands in your pockets.

He knows how to craft an inspirational phrase: funneling his ambition, determination, and self-belief in a way that any NLP guru would recognize.

What he says, he does.

He's not just an Action Hero - he's the hero of action. The ultimate "doer."

And that's why he's the perfect role model for the modern man who feels emasculated by a world that increasingly negates male strength as a virtue.

His battles made him stronger.

He climbed the ladder.  He didn't sit at the bottom looking up.

Every successful man focuses on action:

  • Get things done. Set your sites on a goal and work towards it incrementally. Every day is a step forward.
  • Do it, don’t plan it. Not to say that you shouldn’t have a plan, but don’t spend your entire day fine-tuning the plan. Allow yourself to discover the plan along the way. As long as you have a goal, the plan will write itself.

6. His Story

From a young age, Arnold defied the norms of his Austrian heritage; fighting against the expectations of a traditional, super-strict father who tried everything to deter and thwart Arnold's ambition.


Arnold's goal was to become the most muscular man on the planet.

But 1950s Austria wasn't quite ready for such an ambition.

Ridiculed by his friends, and an embarrassment to his father, Arnold's objective got him sent into the military for some lessons in reform.

But the world makes way for the determined person, and you can’t reform the stubborn.

Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strengths. When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is strength.

Stifled by the expectations of a formal society, Arnold was determined to pursue a more adventurous life - wanting more than the simple life that he’d been born into.

His goal forced him to push his body to the max. He wanted nothing less than to be a world champion.

The punishment for escaping the military camp was up to a month in solitary confinement. And, sure enough, Arnold found himself in solitary on more than one occasion.

Locked in a cell and forced to spend time tortured by his own ambition, he found himself consumed with self-doubt.

Why wasn't everyone else around him preoccupied with a passionate drive? He believed his destiny was to win Mr. Universe; to make movies; to make millions of dollars?

What was wrong with him? He thought he knew how to be a successful man, but doubt crept in.

And then he found his role model: Reg Park became Mr. Universe. Why couldn't he?

And this is what is so inspiring about Arnold’s resolve:

He had a role model. He knew what success looked like. He could visualize his goal.

Successful men can see their success:

  • Visualise what success looks like for you. It’s a powerful affirmation. If you can’t picture what success looks like, you’ll falter along the way.
  • Be specific about what you want and have a realistic understanding of how to get it. You want that job: research the role, align your skills to the specifics of the job, write your CV to demonstrate that you have those skills, send off the application, and don’t stop researching the job until you’ve had that interview and you’re sitting at your new desk on the first day of your new job.
  • Know that you can do it. Tell yourself you can do it. Because you can. Don’t limit yourself with modesty. Saying out loud that you can do it is the first step to getting it done.

7. How to Be a Positive Man

Schwarzenegger saw his future self with total clarity. His future self was Mr. Universe. Away from the shackles that were trying to thwart his ambition.

From an early age - in his head - he was a movie star. And a millionaire.

Creating that level of clarity of vision is the first step to finding your own drive in becoming a better man.

Visualize what success looks like for you, and you have a roadmap to victory.  

This young boy who grew up surrounded by people who were trying to dampen his ambition is now the Governor of California.

Arnold is true testament to the idea that you CAN do it.

I want to be the best built man in the world. Then I want to go to America and be in movies. I want to be an actor.

His use of language is positive and precise.

I knew I was going to be a bodybuilder. It wasn’t simply that either. I would be the best bodybuilder in the world - the greatest; the best-built man.

Arnold speaks in terms of what can be done. And when he talks of things that can’t be done, it’s always with a solution - a resolve.

Self-doubt never stopped Arnold. Self-doubt is natural. And it’s only crippling if you can’t see beyond the now.

Some examples of the pay-off for Arnold’s positive attitude:

  • Arnold’s first job in America was as a bricklayer. He set up a business with a fellow bodybuilder, Franco Columbu. They used the profits from the business to sell fitness and bodybuilding related equipment.
  • Arnold’s first acting role was in the theater - he played Hercules in New York in 1970. His first movie role was as a gangster deaf-mute hit-man in The Long Goodbye (1973).
  • He was told in his early acting career that he had no chance of success. They said that his body was “too weird”, his name was too long, and his accent was too strong. But in true Arnold form, he took this as a challenge.

Life is for embracing - not shutting down and giving up. If you want to know how to be a  more successful man, look no further.

Never give up. Even when the world laughs in your face.

The mind is the limit. As long as the mind can envision the fact that you can do something, you can do it - as long as you really believe 100 percent.

8. Visualize Your Dream


Arnold had the total strength of his convictions because he could see himself in the winning position. He knew what it looked like.

He backed his belief and vision with tireless work. He wasn't one of those guys who turn up at an X Factor audition under the delusion that they're a winner, without having the talent to back it up.

He worked hard - pushing himself physically and mentally to the absolute limit to get what he wanted. He didn't just turn up, expecting the world to fall in love with him with minimal effort.


  • The world owes you nothing; but you can offer the world you.
  • Anything worth achieving requires dedication and hard work. Be prepared to work your butt off.
  • The world makes way for the determined person. So be prepared to show the world your determined actions, because actions change the world; not words.

9. How to Be a Strong Man

Arnold has physical strength - we all know that. He has driven his body to the limits in the pursuit of perfection. But that type of physical strength actually comes from mental strength.

We're not all built like Herculean Adonises. But we don't have to accept that we can't be better than what we are now.

The last three or four reps is what makes the muscle grow. This area of pain divides the champion from someone else who is not a champion. That’s what most people lack: having the guts to go on and just say they’ll go through the pain; no matter what happens.

​We don’t need the Herculean physique to embody the drive of the strong man.

Learned helplessness is the giving-up reaction; the quitting response that follows from the belief that whatever you do doesn't matter.

We have to be tryers. Tryers who never give up; who keep going when others have fallen by the wayside.

The destination of strength needs to be earned.

I knew I was a winner back in the late sixties. I knew I was destined for great things. People will say that kind of thinking is totally immodest. I agree. Modesty is not a word that applies to me in any way. I hope it never will.

There would be no physical strength without mental resolve. And no-one has ever been a success without the unstoppable determination to succeed.

Well, you know - I’m the forever optimist.

From a young age, we’re told to be humble, polite, and charming. And Arnold is all of these things. But ambition isn’t for the humble. It’s for the driven.


  • Strength is as much about vulnerability as it is about determination. There’s a difference between strength and arrogance. Arrogance is an unrealistic sense of self. Strength is never being afraid to get it wrong.
  • If you fear getting something wrong, you’ll never get it right. Getting things wrong is a valuable learning experience.
  • Never fear failure. We’ve all failed. But it’s how we deal with that failure that determines our mettle.

10. How to Be Charming, the Arnold Way

Charm is an enigma, while strength is tangible. Charm is openness, approachability, leadership, respect, and discipline; wrapped in an attractive package that people flock to.

On accepting an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from the University of Southern California in 2017, Arnold displayed a self-deprecating manner that poked fun at his acting ability.

His humbleness is part of his strength, and this is the fine line between total self-belief and arrogance.

Arrogance is a flaw because it’s the refusal to look at oneself with humor and to take other people’s opinions and feelings into account.

Humbleness, balanced with self-belief is attractive. It makes us feel like we could approach that person and shake their hand. To share our insecurities with them, just as they share their own insecurities as a strength.

Being a strong man isn’t about being impenetrable. It’s about having the charm, good humor, and strength in your own position with the ability to help others.

Arnold stated, during his Doctorate Acceptance speech that the route to success is:

  • Come to America
  • Work your butt off.
  • Marry a Kennedy.

Laughing at himself is Arnold’s true strength and the source of his eternal charm.

My friend, James Cameron, and I made three films together: True Lies, The Terminator, and Terminator 2. Of course, that was during his early, low-budget, art-house period.


  • Charm is as important as talent. In many cases, the ability to charm is all you need.
  • Be a good person and good things will happen.
  • Smile. You don’t smile because you’re happy, you’re happy because you smile.
  • Recognise when to listen. The world loves a listener.
  • Take yourself too seriously to your detriment. Achieving great things comes in unexpected shapes and sizes. Be prepared to adapt to the way achievement evolves.

Some interesting facts about Arnold

  • He defied the obstacles laid out by his father to win his first bodybuilding championship at the age of 19, sneaking over the border on a train.
  • His father was a member of the Nazi Party in 1938 and fought during WWII on their behalf.
  • He won a Golden Globe for New Male Star of the Year in 1976 for his role in Stay Hungry.
  • Arnold married Maria Shriver - niece of President John F Kennedy - in 1986. The marriage lasted for 25 years. They have four children together.
  • He was immortalized on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1987.
  • He took care of his nephew, Patrick, after his brother’s death. Arnold helped Patrick immigrate to the US.
  • He had an operation in 1997 to replace a heart valve. He later broke six ribs in a motorcycle accident in LA, touting his injuries as more painful than heart surgery.
  • He saved a drowning man in Hawaii in 2004 while on holiday.
  • He was one of the founder members of the Planet Hollywood restaurant chain, along with Bruce Willis, Sylvester Stallone, and Demi Moore.
  • Kindergarten Cop is his personal favorite of all of his movies.
  • He has an estimated net worth of between $100 and $200 million.

11. Summary

We can all learn a lot from Arnold Schwarzenegger. He has battled to achieve his objectives by keeping his self-belief in the face of adversity.

His resolve comes from an ability to see the end-game - to recognize what success looks like and to keep trying and never stop until he has achieved his objective.

Arnold’s strength comes from his mental strength - his ability to manifest a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we tell ourselves that we’re not good enough, we’ll never achieve.

On the other hand, if we tell ourselves that we're good enough, and we work hard enough, we have a realistic chance of success. The key, here, is the work that we're prepared to put in.

Arnold has never given up but has known when to walk away. After Conan The Destroyer (the sequel to Conan The Barbarian) was a box-office flop, he resolved to avoid making unnecessary sequels.

Of course, the Terminator series of movies are the exception here. But he used those sequels to re-invent himself, along with the character he had originally played; bringing a fresh angle on the classic first movie.

This leads us to another learning point - never rest on your laurels. Success is transient: allow one ambition to follow another. It keeps us strong, young, charming, and relevant.

Don’t just sit there. Do something positive. Visualise your success story and keep that in your head at all times. And never let an obstacle stop you.

So when you’re thinking about how to be a successful man, remember these lessons from Arnold:

  • Have a strong drive and determination
  • Don’t put “can’t” in your vocabulary
  • See yourself as a work in progress
  • Be an inspiration
  • Visualize your success
  • Be positive
  • Be appreciative
  • Visualize your dream
  • Be strong
  • Be charming


Use the comments box to share how Arnold's story has inspired you to follow a dream. Or perhaps following his story has helped to clarify your goal. How about sharing that goal?  

Whenever your life feels directionless, give yourself a goal, Be prepared to work until you drop. And make a difference.

Be more Arnold.

Author: Mike is a personal development staff writer for C&W.

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2 comments on “How To Be A Successful Man: 10 Lessons from Arnold Schwarzenegger”

  1. Arnold was on my gym's wall in college. A picture of him showing his arms in a wing span pose and a blank expression on his face. Like it or not a bodybuilder has EARNED their body. What have you done with yours? Every day is a gift to do something great whatever you think GREAT is, don't waste it.

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