How Arnold Schwarzenegger Used a Vision To Achieve Greatness - And You Can Too

Growing up in rural Austria, Arnold Schwarzenegger had very little chance of achieving fame or fortune. His parents were poor and his father was set on Arnold joining the military, then becoming a police officer like him. Arnold, however, had a different idea. [1]

As a child, he picked up a magazine with Mr. Universe, Reg Park, on the cover as the star of the new movie, Hercules. As Arnold read through the magazine, the whole plan began to unfold for him. He was going to follow Reg Park’s footsteps, become a body-building champion and a huge movie star.

To his family and friends, this idea was incredibly…stupid. Body-building was not a big thing back then – especially in a little Austrian village. But, despite their disbelief, Arnold began training like a mad man, always keeping his vision in mind.

Eventually, though, Arnold had to follow his father’s wishes. And at the age of 18 he was sent off to the military. Arnold was devastated by this fate, but he still held on to his vision.

When he entered the military, he still told himself, “okay Arnold, the goal is to become a body building champion and a movie star. Now whatever it takes to get there, I will do.”

So after 8 hours of military training, when all of the fellow cadets were completely exhausted, Arnold made sure that he did an extra 3 hours of strength training at night. Then he woke up early to get in his push-ups, chin-ups and sit-ups before the mandatory 5am run.

Everybody around him would make fun of his dream. They would scoff at the work he was putting in and do their best to get him out of his fantasy world. But Arnold tuned them all out. He had the vision and he was going to make it happen.

Then he finally got the chance he had been waiting for. He had been invited to the Junior Mr. Europe competition in Stuttgart, Germany. So he snuck out of the military base at night, boarded a freight train and arrived the morning of the competition.

There, Arnold put on a show. He seized his moment, generated huge cheers from the audience and won first place in the competition.

That victory was the starting point that launched the massive success that was to follow. Arnold fulfilled his vision by winning the top prize in body-building 6 years in a row, and followed that by becoming the most famous action star of the 20th century. All because he never lost sight of his vision.


Humans have a unique ability to see the future before it actually happens. We can visualize how we believe the world will be and begin to take action to make it happen.

Throughout history, we have seen many visionaries take ideas that are decades ahead of their time and believe in them so strongly that they have literally changed the world. From Henry Ford, to Steve Jobs we have seen visionary people completely revolutionize the way our world works.

But what separates these visionaries from the rest of us? And, more importantly, what can we do to find our own visionary calling? 

There is, in fact, a science behind becoming a visionary in any field. And Arnold Schwarzenegger's story shows how each step of seeing a vision through to completion is achieved. 

1. Inspiration

With any vision, there must be an initial spark that gets everything going. For Arnold Schwarzenegger, that spark was the magazine with Reg Park on the cover. He was able to see that Reg Park came from humble beginnings, yet still built himself into the most muscular man in the world and became a movie star. 

This inspiration not only gave Arnold the plan for his vision, but it also helped keep him going through the tough times. When he hit rough points in the journey where everyone was telling him to give up, he could turn to Park’s story and remember that he wasn’t crazy. It really is possible. [1]

This type of inspiration causes the activation of the part of our brain that is responsible for our long-term goals. It gives us a rush of willpower to persevere through challenges and pursue our dreams. You may have felt this happening after hearing a motivational speech or reading an inspiring story. The more we can find this inspiration during tough times, the better our chances of seeing our vision through to fruition. [2

2. Deliberate Practice

Inspiration means nothing if it is not followed by action. The world’s top visionaries have always spent thousands of hours practicing and improving their craft. Arnold did not just believe he could be the world’s most muscular man, he dedicated himself to 3 hours of training every day on top of what he was already doing in the military.

Researchers have shown time and again that the top performers in any field have accumulated at least 10,000 hours of deliberate practice.  This is roughly equivalent to 10 years in their field before they become an expert. [3]

Deliberate practice is not simply about getting experience, it is about consistently pushing yourself beyond the boundaries of your current abilities within your domain. To become a true visionary, you must be willing to learn and grow through hours and hours of practice.


There is, perhaps, no more painful journey than in becoming a world-class athlete. Imagine just how painful it was for Arnold to get up every single day and exercise for hours on end. Constantly pushing himself through pain and trying to get stronger. 

Yet, elite athletes like Arnold do not see this this as painful. They fall in love with the process of getting better. Every day is a new challenge to see if they can lift more, become stronger and get one step closer to becoming a champion. Sure, some days are harder and more boring than others. But by falling in love with the process, they are not nearly as bad as they could be.

To see your vision through to completion, you must learn to fall in love with the process to get there. It may be hard, it may be painful, and it may be boring, but there is inherent happiness found in making progress towards any goal. [4]

4. Small Wins

Winning the Junior Mr. Europe competition is not that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things. There have been plenty of winners since Arnold’s time that haven’t accumulated nearly the same amount of fame or fortune that he has. Yet, if Arnold had not won the competition, he may not have become the Arnold that we know today.

When it comes to seeing our vision through, small wins are more important than the actual result [5]. They are signs that we are on the right path. That if we can accomplish them, we may really be able to accomplish the huge goal we see at the end of the journey. Arnold’s small win at the Junior Mr. Europe competition proved to everyone, including himself, that he was not crazy. He really could become a bodybuilding champion.

What are some small wins you can attain in the process of achieving your vision that will prove that you are on the right path? Seek these victories and enjoy them. They are important stepping stones on the way to achieving any vision. 

5. THE Vision IS a Journey, Not a Destination

All of the great visionaries of our time are on a journey that never ends. They constantly evolve their vision and take it one step further. Arnold did not stop when he won the top prize in bodybuilding. He went on to win it 6 times in a row. Then he took that success to the next level when he was cast as Conan the Barbarian.

He then continued to learn and grow as his journey took him to becoming the most famous action star of the 20th century. Which, of course, he followed up with becoming the two-term governor of California. Even today he has not stopped. He is now leading the largest organization in charge of after school programs in the country.

All great visions are never finished. Even when it looks like you have accomplished what you had originally set out to do, you must embrace the fact that there is still more to be done. No matter how much you accomplish, there will always be another step that you can take on your journey.


There is one downside to having a strong vision. When we use it to visualize the future, rather than take action, we can fall into a trap. Our brains are so good at visualization that we can see our future selves with the results that we’re trying to get extremely vividly.

When we visualize our future selves, we can get a false sense of reward as if it has already happened for us. And when we get that sense of reward we can lose the motivation to actually take action toward it. [6

We are especially susceptible to making this mistake when we first set out to accomplish our vision. Most people get inspired to make a "big change" in their lives, then set an unrealistic plan to accomplish it. Then they lose hope when they realize how much work they need to do.

Vision serves as a great motivator to keep you going when you're working toward your goals, but can set you up for failure if you're not careful. The most important thing is to make sure that you use your vision to take action.


A vision is powerful. Arnold Schwarzenegger was surrounded by people who could not possibly imagine the wild success that was about to come for him. So they did their best to get Arnold to think "realistically". Luckily, Arnold's vision was so strong that he was able to tune these people out and stick to his plan.

Many visionaries follow the same path as Arnold. It all begins with a powerful spark of inspiration, but it must be followed by a lot of long hours of relentless work. After that, you will start accumulating small wins that prove that you are on the right path to making your vision become a reality. But always remember, no matter how high you climb, there is always another peak out there somewhere. True greatness is a journey without an end. 


  1. Arnold Schwarzenegger's Amazing Motivational Story. (2012, September 27).
  2. McGonigal, K. (2012) The Willpower Instinct: How Self-control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It. New York: Avery.
  3. Ericsson, K., Krampe, R., & Tesch-Römer, C. (1993). The Role Of Deliberate Practice In The Acquisition Of Expert Performance. Psychological Review, 363-406.
  4. Winfrey, O. (2015). How Progress Equals Happiness.
  5. Duhigg, C. (2012). The power of habit: Why we do what we do in life and business. New York: Random House.
  6. Fishbach, A. & Dhar, R. (2005) Goals as Excuses or Guides: The Liberating Effect of Perceived Goal Progress on Choice. Journal of Consumer Research 32.3 : 370-77.