Posted on Jan 07, 2020, 4 p.m.
The following is a motivating interview about setting goals and creating healthy habits that is published in the Ladder with Arnold Schwarzenegger, actor, businessman, best-selling author, philanthropist, former professional bodybuilder, the 38th Governor of the State of California, and the co-founder of Ladder:
What's the one ritual you practice/follow every day?
Rituals is a heavy word. I refer to them as habits and routines. For me, a habit or routine is something you do without thinking. The first few hours of my day require no brainpower. I wake up at 5, have my coffee and read a couple of newspapers to make sure I know what’s going on. At 6, I ride my bike to the gym and I train for an hour. Then I ride my bike to breakfast and have my oatmeal with berries and walnuts. After breakfast, it’s time for work, so I normally head to the office and have a chocolate plant protein shake. The rest of my day from that point forward depends whether I’m working on an upcoming movie or meeting about redistricting or environmental work or business deals. For the first few hours after I wake up, I love that I don’t have to think about it; I just do it.
What ritual brings you the most happiness?
There are so many routines that bring me happiness. But, having dinner with my kids and catching up on all of their success, and getting together with my family on Christmas or Easter stand out. I also love getting my 25 days of skiing every year and going with my friend Jim Cameron on our weekend motorcycle ride. Another habit I picked up over the years is giving back. I am so happy going to the Hollenbeck Center in East LA at Thanksgiving and Christmas and spending a few hours to hand out turkeys and toys. Or, going to visit kids in an after-school program. I’ve found that nothing makes me happier than giving back and seeing the smiles on other people’s faces.
Do you use rituals to help you achieve your goals?
They are the blueprint for success because the more things you can do automatically the more you can achieve every day. You don’t think about breathing or eating, you just do it. You don’t think about putting on clothes before you go out. You don’t think about recharging your car when it’s low. I make as many things in my life as automatic as possible. And even when I have a big speech or a movie coming up, I know how many reps I have to do of rehearsing the scenes so that I feel comfortable that I know exactly what I have to say and don’t bumble around. The mind can play terrible games on you, so the second you start thinking, “Should I go to the gym today? Should I practice my speech?”, you’re giving yourself a chance to not accomplish your vision. But, if it’s automatic to you because you know exactly what you have to do to achieve your vision, you have a better shot at success.
What was a big setback in your life? What did you do to come back from it?
My heart surgery last year is what most people would consider a setback. I expected an easy outpatient procedure but woke up to find out they had split my chest open and performed open-heart surgery. Anyone who has had open-heart surgery can tell you it isn’t an easy comeback. But, Terminator was starting to film 3 months later. So I was lucky: I had my vision. I had to be ready to do stunts. After heart surgery, you start out in the hospital with lung exercises and short walks. I counted those reps and marked them off. The walks got longer. Then, the doctors said I could go to the gym if I didn’t lift heavy, so I just did very light weights to get my body used to the motions again. I was 100% ready to fight when I got to set. The key was having the vision and counting every rep that took me to get to the vision.
What advice would you give to anyone that feels unable to reach the next level of success?
First, you need to know your vision. No matter what you are doing, if you don’t envision the end result, the work is going to feel very hard. If you know where you want the work to get you in the end, you feel good doing it. Spend the time to figure out that vision. And after that, everything is reps, reps, reps. I knew in my bodybuilding days it would take 5 hours a day of training to be successful. So that became automatic. I never thought about “should I just train two hours today?” I knew the blueprint, so I just did it. Once you have your vision and your blueprint, the more you can automate, the more you will succeed. Recently, I was with former Mexican President Vicente Fox, who rose from being a delivery truck driver for Coca Cola Mexico to the President of the company in 9 years. And, of course, he eventually became President of Mexico. While we were talking at lunch, he told me he always knew where he would end up when he started his job. It was all about his vision.
Who has inspired or influenced any of your rituals?
So many people. My dad had me get up at 6 in the morning to do push-ups and knee bends to earn my breakfast. To add insult to injury, Reg Park, my hero, who was Mr. Universe and then got into movies, invited me to train with him in South Africa. I was 19, and suddenly he knocked on my door and I looked at my watch and thought it must be broken because it said 4:45. We had cornflakes with protein powder, which was how we charged up in the old days before we really knew about supplements. By 5:15 we were squatting. I never thought the human body could do things that early. But Reg, my hero, taught me. I learned about waking up and getting the training out of the way at the crack of dawn from him. I took this so far that when I would film a movie like True Lies where we had night shoots. I would train when we had a break at “lunch,” which was midnight, or during our break at 3 am. Or, if that didn’t work, I’d go straight to the gym when I finished working at 6 am before I went to bed. I learned the body and the muscles don’t care about what my watch says.
What's your favorite quote of all time?
I hate picking favorites so I’m going to cheat. “If not me, who? If not now, when?” A lot of politicians have used it throughout history, but my favorite is Mikhail Gorbachev. Think about what he did. He spent his life rising up under Communism and then became the Mayor of Moscow and the head of the party and the President, and he looked around and said, “This 75-year-old system that we’ve been pumping up doesn’t work for the people.” Think about that. He was part of the system but he saw the need to dismantle it to improve the people’s lives. Whenever you face a major challenge or goal, it’s the best thing to ask yourself. If not me, who? If not now, when? There is always later but just do it now. Another quote I love is from Nietzsche. “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” It always gives you hope. Maybe you got fired from a job and you realize you needed to get out of there and work on your true passion and the job was holding you back. A few years ago a friend of mine was told, “You’re not a good actor and we can’t represent you.” He was devastated, but now he’s a great representative of talent and he’s making a ton of money.
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This article is not intended to provide medical diagnosis, advice, treatment, or endorsement.