10 Powerful Lessons I Learned from a Master of Visualization

Having a Clear Vision of Your Future Success Is the Ultimate Unfair Advantage

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“Have a vision, trust yourself, break some rules, ignore the naysayers, don’t be afraid to fail” — Arnold Schwarzenegger

Since I was 11, I’ve always been a fan of Arnold Schwarzenegger.

I watched all the movies, had all the bodybuilding magazines, and I read all the interviews with Arnold. I had the nutrition shakes and I even had a Joe Weider weight set…in my bedroom.

The problem was, I was 11.

There was no way in hell I was going to add an ounce of muscle to my skinny frame! Not that it deterred me from trying.

The bodybuilding thing turned out to be a phase, though I probably stunted my growth somewhat for trying at such a young age.

I did continue to lift weights and play sports but the interest in Arnold waned a little, until years later when I read his book, “Total Recall”.

There was one thing in the book that really stood out to me: it was his capacity for building and refining a highly detailed vision of his life, and himself.

This same capacity for vision allowed Steve Jobs to create a company that revolutionized 6 industries and changed the world.

A vision drove Mark Zuckerberg to connect all of us on social media and enabled Sergey Brin and Larry Page to organize all of the world’s data in Google.

Arnold was a champion bodybuilder, a multi-millionaire business owner, the biggest action star in film and two-term Governator of California. He was also an immigrant that first arrived in the US with no money, no job and no grasp of the English language. Talk about disadvantaged!

He did have one thing on his side: Vision.

Arnold is clearly very successful. He became the best, or at least became highly successful in more than one arena of competition. He amassed a net worth estimated to be close to $800 Million dollars. It’s almost as if he packed several lifetimes into one.

Most people have “dreams”. Fewer people turn those dreams into a detailed vision and fewer still are the people that create goals from that vision.

The smallest minority of people will act on those goals and turn the vision into truly massive results by taking relentless, massive action. Arnold is one of these rare individuals.

If you want to build wealth and achieve your goals, it starts with a vision of who you want to be and what you want your life to be.

Here’s how you create, refine and leverage your vision to create the life you really want:

1. Install a New Operating System

“You’ve got to have a vision of what you — not your mother or father — want to do.” -Arnold Schwarzenegger

Everyone is programmed to some extent, to see the world a certain way. Some of it is from your parents, teachers, friends, the media and the environment you grew up in.

All this programming creates an “Operating System” for your brain.

Just like how an operating system controls how a computer runs and understands inputs, your own operating system controls how you operate in the world.

To reach your full potential, you need to make sure your operating system does what you want it to do.

If how you think and see the world is not in line with your goals you will never get there.

If your ideas about the world are not your own, you may reach your goals and discover they were never your goals to begin with.

Arnold aligned his vision with exactly what he wanted out of life. It wasn’t what others wanted for him and what others thought his life should be; it was his life and his own vision.

2. Believe That Your Vision Can Manifest into Physical Reality

“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 Schwarzenegger

Humans are unique on this earth. We have the power to visualize something in our mind and turn it into reality.

All of the man-made inventions in the world, the art and the science, began as an electrical signal moving across the synapses in someone’s brain. It didn’t exist prior.

This fact is hard to grasp for many people. On one hand people accept this as how things happen, yet on the other, it seems almost impossible.

An idea- an electrical signal- in your own (or someone else’s) mind can create your physical reality.

The mind is both the enabler and the limiter in your life. Used properly, it is the ultimate creator; used improperly, the ultimate destroyer.

Arnold understood this concept and his belief in it solidified when he began practicing transcendental meditation. The anxiety he had about bodybuilding competitions faded away.

In his mind, he had already won the bodybuilding competition. The vision was so clear to him. He saw himself on stage accepting the trophy to thunderous applause.

All that was left was for his vision to manifest, and it did, to the tune of 7 Mr. Olympia titles.

3. Find the True Purpose in Your Vision

“Dig deep down and ask yourself, who do you want to be? Not What, but Who.” -Arnold Schwarzenegger

Being Open

If you’re like most people, your life purpose has been identified in phases. Most of those phases present you with what society thinks your life should be about.

When you were in high school, you had an idea of what your life was about. From college to your early 30s, you had another idea. As you get older, your life changes, priorities change, and your idea of what your life should be also changes.

But are these ideas really of your own choosing?

You might have spent a lot of time thinking about “What” you want to be in these different phases, but have you given much thought to “Who” you want to be?

“Who” you want to be requires an open mind. It requires a search within and signals from without.

Arnold’s parents wanted him to be a police officer and live the simple Austrian life but he was already looking for a way out of Austria.

His mind was not focused on what he would “do” in Austria; it was open to finding out who he really was, not who his parents wanted him to be.

He had read an article about Reg Park, a fellow bodybuilder and eventual mentor and friend of Arnold’s. After reading about Reg Park’s success and life, a light bulb went on in Arnold’s mind.

His life purpose was suddenly laid out in front of him. He was going to be the best bodybuilder of all time.

Because he was not choosing a pre-defined life purpose, he was open to allowing the universe to present him with options.

Your purpose often fills you with emotion. It hits you like lightening when you recognize it. You feel it in your bones.

Meditation (Arnold practiced transcendental meditation) can free up headspace for you to be introspective and journaling can help you organize your thoughts and get them onto paper. It is a process of deep self-analysis and introspection.

Being open to the search for true purpose instead of “picking” one off the shelf is critical.

Drilling Down

Using your journal, think about what the meaning of your life is. Why are you on this earth? How do you want to live your life? Who do you want to be and how do you want to be remembered?

Break your life into quadrants. These are mine below. You can customize the names of each quadrant as needed. Everyone’s list is unique to them:

  • Family & Friends
  • Personal Development
  • Spirituality
  • Finances
  • Professional / Career
  • Marriage
  • Fun
  • Giving
  • Physical Environment
  • Health & Fitness

Next, list out the things that matter most to you under each quadrant.

Think about the goals and experiences you want from each quadrant. Write down what would be needed to achieve those goals or experiences and why those things are important to you.

Once you have this, you are almost ready to craft your vision statement.

4. Find Your Motivation

“For me life is continuously being hungry. The meaning of life is not simply to exist, to survive, but to move ahead, to go up, to achieve, to conquer.” -Arnold Schwarzenegger

The road to defining your vision and executing on it is not an easy one. It’s going to take motivation to stay the course.

For Arnold, it was his idol, Reg Park.

Reg came from humble beginnings just like Arnold and achieved his dreams. This made Reg a massive source of motivation for Arnold.

When you go after your biggest dreams and goals, and I mean, really go after them, you’ll discover there are going to be some dark days. You need something to help get you through that.

Finding mentors and inspirational figures that have done similar things or even different, yet equally amazing things, can be an endless source of inspiration for you.

For me, it wasn’t just Arnold, but other larger than life figures that have, and continue to inspire me. Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and my own grandfather, are constant sources of inspiration along with many others.

Their stories remind you that many before you have faced the darkness, doubt and pain that you may experience along the way. They also remind you of what’s possible despite it all.

5. Design Your Vision: Make Sure It’s Big Enough to Scare You

“…You have to shoot for the top, you’ve got to go and really have big goals, and think big, because then you’re gonna get big; then you’re gonna go and achieve big things.” -Arnold Schwarzenegger

Now that you have your goals and experiences listed out for each quadrant of your life, and you have your motivation, you’re ready to craft your vision.

Pick a time frame. I personally like to use 5 years.

Write out your vision for yourself and your ideal life. A journal is usually best for this as you can update it yearly and track your progress, but even a napkin will do. The main thing is to write it down. To start brainstorming, you can think about what one ideal day would look like for you and go from there.

Once you are done, your vision statement will provide a detailed view of what your ideal life would look like in 5 years (or whatever your time frame). It will contain the most important quadrants of your life along with the top goals and experiences for each quadrant and how you will achieve them.

Remember: Think BIG!

When Arnold decided the time was right for him to transition from bodybuilding into acting, he had a clear vision of himself and his life.

“I’m going to be the number-one box-office star in all of Hollywood.”

People thought he was nuts. They said:

  • You’re too big and bulky.
  • You have a big gap between your teeth.
  • You’re accent is too thick.
  • You’re name is unpronounceable.
  • You can’t act.
  • Big guys aren’t popular now, its the little guys like Dustin Hoffman that are bringing in the audiences.

But then…

In 1977, he won a Golden Globe for best acting debut in a motion picture for his role in Stay Hungry. The rest is history.

Once again, the vision manifested into reality.

6. Refine Your Vision

“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 power lifting; I was going to Hollywood. The vision became so clear in my mind that I felt it had to happen.” -Arnold Schwarzenegger

Arnold was famous for his ultra-detailed vision.

Even as a young man, he had a vision of whom he would be and what he would be doing to get there.

In his early vision, he would become the best bodybuilder of all time, break powerlifting records, be a successful businessman, be the highest paid movie star and possibly get into politics.

As he got older and started seeing some success, he doubled down on refining the vision.

It got to the point that in his vision of winning bodybuilding competitions, he could see what individuals in the crowd were wearing, where the stage lights were, the sound of crowd, and every detail was thought out.

This act of refining the vision is what solidifies it in your mind. It makes it believable and real. After a while, the vision becomes almost indistinguishable from reality. It is no longer just a thought. It feels like destiny.

7. Develop Focus

“If you want to be a champion, you can’t have any kind of an outside negative force come in and affect you…if somebody steals my car outside my door right now, I don’t care. I can’t be bothered with it. I trained myself for that.” -Arnold Schwarzenegger

Arnold was a champion bodybuilder. He was training to win competitions. He realized early on that winning was not just training the body, it was training the mind.

Pretty much all the top champions in any sport recognize the importance of the mental game. It takes immense focus to win.

This is no difference if you want to be the best in any vocation and if you want to achieve your biggest goals.

You will need to develop a powerful focus on what is most important at any given moment.

You will need to be able to block out distractions and anything that might get in the way of your success.

This takes training and practice and this is yet another area where meditation can help.

Various kinds of meditation can help you to recognize distraction and avoid loss of focus. It can also help you to recover once your mind becomes distracted and bring your mind back to focus.

Arnold was a master at controlling his mind and staying focused. He was also a master at using various forms of psychological warfare against his opponents in competition -breaking their focus.

8. Decide to Live as Though It Already Happened

“Create a vision of who you want to be and then live into that picture as if it were already true.” -Arnold Schwarzenegger

When you create your vision and then play it over and over in your mind, when you refine that vision so that it closely mimics reality, it can have a powerful effect on your subconscious.

Humans tend to underestimate the power of the subconscious mind. What you focus on is what the subconscious seeks.

If you focus with great clarity on a vision that shows your goals as already having been achieved, your subconscious works behind the scenes to turn that vision into reality.

More specifically, living as though you have already become the person you want to be- the person that could achieve those goals- helps you manifest those goals into physical reality.

9. Get to Work, Play to Win

“When you’re out there, partying and horsing around, someone out there, at the same time, is working hard. Someone is getting smarter and someone is winning. Just remember that.” -Arnold Schwarzenegger

Too many people play “not to lose”. This is partly human nature. Humans want predictability and safety. We want to be taken care of. We want to feel secure.

The irony is, to achieve big things, you need to short circuit human nature, step out of your comfort zone and “play to win”.

When you are playing to win, you don’t want to be taken care of. You don’t need security. You don’t desire predictability.

You want opportunity.

Opportunity gives you more venues in which to compete. Opportunity gives you more chances to win. Taking massive action on your goals creates opportunity.

Arnold competed in many different venues, from powerlifting, to acting to politics. He didn’t try to “compete” in any of them. He came to WIN.

He learned this lesson early on- the hard way- after his loss to Chet Yorton at the 1966 Mr. Universe. Arnold realized that he imagined himself coming fully prepared to compete, but not fully prepared to win.

Arnold lost.

Competing is not enough, you need to visualize yourself winning.

10. Love the Process

“There are no shortcuts — everything is reps, reps, reps.” — Arnold Schwarzenegger

Bodybuilders by nature lift a lot of weight and do many reps, over and over again, until they are in excruciating pain and collapsing on the floor. This is what it takes to win because only the last few reps do anything to build muscle.

The last few reps are the one’s that few people want to do because of the pain. So they don’t. But those last few reps are what create the most growth.

Arnold took that element of repetition from his training and applied it to every area of his life.

In business he knew that making sales was the lifeblood of the business. He would prospect and pitch potential customers for his concrete business, non-stop.

When he would practice his lines for a film or a political speech, it was reps, reps, and reps- practicing over and over for days.

You can apply this same concept to whatever it is that you need to succeed in. Don’t have a preconceived number of how many times you need to do something or practice something in order to find success.

Remember that it’s always the last few reps that really create the growth. You need to be willing to do more reps than anyone else to win. And remember, you’re playing to win!


Before you start learning how to build wealth and change your life, you need to have a crystal clear vision for your life.

If you put in the time and really work at designing and committing to your vision, you can do some amazing things. If you do this, you will have done what 99% of the population never does.

If you want extraordinary results, you can’t do what everyone else is doing, you need to do things differently. It all starts with building your vision.

I didn’t really start making great strides towards my goals until I started to visualize them as already having been achieved.

The best way to have a future you want, is to design your vision today, then manifest that vision through massive action.

The future is yours for the taking. What does your future look like?

Make it Happen

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Related Posts: If you liked this article you might also like “10 Amazing Life Lessons From a Book About Death”.

Originally published at medium.com

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