The Power of Intention: Arnold Forges His Destiny

I recently finished reading Arnold Schwarzenegger’s autobiography “Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story.” There were many things I enjoyed about this book. For one thing, Arnold is an excellent writer (especially for a famous person not primarily known for writing). He brings to life the many people, places, and projects he encounters with vivid and well-constructed descriptions that paint a clear picture and are quite enjoyable to read. Also, he gives deft and insightful observations of his own mindset as he progresses through his life and career.

Arnold comes across as highly intelligent, as a fundamentally fun-loving, happy individual with a positive attitude about life. Yet there is one quality that stands out above all else: Arnold’s total conviction that he will succeed in each endeavor he takes on, and his absolute willingness to do whatever it takes (while behaving more or less in the realm of ethics, as far as I can tell) to do so.

Obviously this attitude has served him well, by and large.*

As I did in my first post about the book, I’m posting some of the passages that really stuck out for me, with some comments of my own:

Arnold Transforms Himself into a Movie Star…From the Inside

p. 176:

  • No free lunch! Arnold is being cast for Bob Rafelson’s “Stay Hungry,” but Rafelson makes Arnold work for it: “I wasn’t being hired just because [Rafelson had] watched me win Mr. Olympia and I got along with his movie-star friends. I had to earn it, which was what I liked to do.” COMMENT: As usual, Arnold takes on each new challenge with positivity, feeling entitled to nothing. This continual willingness to learn and grow was a big key to his success.
  • Burning bridges. Rafelson also asks Arnold to slim down to 210lbs from 240 for the camera. In order to do this, Arnold has to let go of his body building champion status: “I couldn’t have it both ways. So I was forced to make the decision I’d been leaning toward anyway: to retire from [body-building] competition.” COMMENT: I appreciate how smartly Arnold assesses his options and chooses to go in a new direction to further his dreams.

pp. 178-180:

  • Acting lessons. Arnold is taking acting lessons with Eric Morris in preparation for his movie part. Morris says to Arnold, “You feel yourself as being the kind of guy who doesn’t experience emotion, but don’t delude yourself. Not paying attention to it or dismissing it doesn’t meant that it is not part of you. You actually have the emotion because I see it in your eyes when you say certain things. You can’t fool a fooler.”
  • Getting Uncomfortable. During his group acting lessons, Arnold’s teacher “didn’t hesitate to push or embarrassed me.” COMMENT: in both of these examples, I like how Arnold is candid about being called out and asked to grow. Throughout the book, he describes how he never backs away from challenging learning experiences.


  • Changing the Mental Image. Arnold is shedding his bodybuilder body and self-image to become an actor: “First I had to redo myself mentally–Let go of the 250-pound image of Mr. Olympia that was in my head. I started visualizing myself instead as lean and athletic. And all of a sudden what I saw in the mirror no longer fit. Seeing that helped kill my appetite for all protein shakes and all the extra steak and chicken I was used to. I pictured myself as runner rather than a lifter, and changed around my whole training regimen to emphasize running, bicycling, and swimming rather than weights.” COMMENT: Again, it is truly impressive how Arnold lets go of his former image as a body-builder (and a world champion, no less!) to redesign himself from the ground up to the person he now wants to become. It’s also very revealing that it starts with changing his mental image.

p. 186-9:

  • Pivoting back! While filming “Stay Hungry,” with all the mental and physical re-conditioning for acting, “Pumping Iron” gets going, which requires Arnold to compete once again to be Mr. Olympia. Which means he has to put on weight and be the body builder once again!
  • Having it all. Since Arnold goes back to compete in Mr. Olympia, he is now straddling the two worlds of body-building and movies. “I felt that even though I was on the trajectory to launch an acting career, I owed too much to bodybuilding to reject it […] I would pursue my acting career at the same time.” COMMENT: I love how Arnold finds a way to play big in both fields simultaneously, to have his cake and eat it too.

pp. 199-200

  • Eyes on the prize. Arnold finally has a quality agent. “His phone was ringing for me, but with the wrong kinds of offers. He was searching for leading roles where I might fit, and in the meantime, we were turning down lots of junk. Somebody asked me to play a bouncer. They wanted me to play a Nazi officer, a wrestler, a football player, a prisoner. I never took those jobs because I would say to myself, ‘This isn’t going to convince anybody that you’re here to be a star.'” COMMENT: Way to go, Arnold! Don’t settle.
  • F-U money. Arnold observes that some of his acting peers were not so lucky: “I was very glad I could afford to say no. With the income from my businesses, I didn’t need money from acting. I never wanted to be in a financially vulnerable position, where I had to take a part I didn’t like. I saw this happen all the time to the actors and musicians who worked out at the gym. An actor would complain, ‘I’ve been playing this part as a killer for three days, and I’m so glad it’s over.’ ‘If you hated it, why did you do it?’ I’d ask. ‘They gave me two thousand dollars. I have to pay for my apartment.'” COMMENT: This is probably the smartest way to do anything in life. If you don’t need something, you can be choosy about what you take on. Arnold could afford to do this in his acting career because he was already financially independent.

p. 279:

  • Arnold the Businessman: “I saw myself as a businessman first. Too many actors, writer, and artists think that marketing is beneath them. But no matter what you do in life, selling is part of it. You can’t make movies without money. Even if I had no publicity obligation in my contract, it was still in my interest to promote the movie and make sure it made as much money as possible. I wanted to be involved in the meetings. I wanted everyone to see that I was working very hard to create a return on the studio’s investment. I felt it was my responsibility to pump up the grosses.” COMMENT: Arnold is no slouch when it comes to promotion. Nor does he shy away from it as if he’s above it (or too scared to do it). This he literally making his own success at every step.


  • No mere muscle man. As an actor, Arnold always sees himself rising to the top, and intelligently assesses how he will do this: “It was very clear, of course, that I would never be an actor like Dustin Hoffman or Marlon Brando, or a comedian like Steve Martin, but that was okay. I was being sought as a larger-than-life character in actions movies, like Clint Eastwood and Charles Bronson, and John Wayne before them. Those were my guys. I went to see all their movies […] I wanted to be in the same league and on the same pay scale. As soon as I realized this, I felt a great sense of calm. Because I could see it. Iust as I had in bodybuilding, I believed 100% that I’d achieve my goal. I had a new vision in front of me, and I always feel that if I can see it and believe it, then I can achieve it.” COMMENT: This is the power the moves mountains… clear, aligned thinking in the direction of what you want. Arnold is a master.


  • An ambitious plan. “My plan was to double my salary with each new film. Not that it always worked, but most of the time it did. Starting from $250,000 for “Conan the Barbarian,” by the end of the 1980s, I’d hit the $100 million mark in pay.” COMMENT: Again, I am impressed by his ambitious career plan, which obviously was backed by the conviction to deliver.
  • The world’s your oyster! Arnold’s attitude about promoting his movies is always international: “In Hollywood, you get paid for how much you bring in. What is the return on investment? The reason I could double my ask was the worldwide grosses. I nurtured the foreign markets. I was always asking, ‘Is this movie appealing to an international audience? For example, the Asiam market is negative on facial hair, so why would I wear a beard in this role? Do I really want to forgo all that money?'” COMMENT: While I certainly can relate with the artists who forgo riches to be true to their artists self, I do admire Arnold’s focus on the bottom-line. There are worse things than entertainers who give their audiences truly great, fun experiences while also getting rich in the process.

p. 338:

  • “Humor was what made me stand out from other actions leads like Stallone, Eastwood, and Norris. My characters were always a little tongue-in-cheek, and I always threw in funny one-liners.” COMMENT: I thought about this and realized, ‘No wonder I always liked Schwarzenegger more than those other guys.’ He was funny!

pp. 362. A Winning Pitch.

  • Arnold, Danny De Vito and Ivan Reitman go to the executives to pitch the movies “Twins:” they would do it for no salary, but 37.5 percent of the film’s profit into perpetuity. p. 374 “Twins has been worth more than $35 million to me alone.”

p. 424 Wise Financial Advice.

  • “I always felt that the most important thing was not how much you make, but how much you invest, how much you keep. I never wanted to join the long list of entertainers and athletes who wiped out financially. It’s a staggering list.” COMMENT: To me, this is pure wisdom.
  • “No matter what you do in life, you have to have a business mind and educate yourself about money.” COMMENT: Preach, brother preach!

*One very notable exception to Arnold’s stunning track record of success is his break up with his longtime wife Maria Shriver. He addresses this in the book in what appears to be an honorable way, owning his mistakes as best he can while conveying his continuing commitment his family (and to his estranged wife).

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