Total Recall by Arnold Schwarzenegger is an amazing autobiography from an amazing individual. I read the book several years ago but decided to ‘re-read’ the book because I find Arnold’s life fascinating. One story inspired me to write this article.

Arnold was set to compete at his first Mr. Universe competition. He had put in the work, but since it was his first Mr. Universe competition and he was young, he thought the best result he could achieve was placing in the top few. During the competition, although he didn’t think he initially had a shot at winning, there was a buzz as word spread about this newcomer who was huge from Europe (that was Arnold). One on one with the eventual winner, Bill Pearl, Arnold came runner up in the Mr. Universe competition in 1967.

Being second was great for Arnold, who was around 20 at the time. As he reflects on that first Mr. Universe competition he competed in, he thought Bill was more toned with greater definition, and had better ‘fluid’ movements in posing. What strikes me is that Arnold learned a valuable lesson being runner up in the competition: he had failed to set a clear vision for what he wanted, which was to be Mr. Universe.

Other examples from Arnold’s life

In his book, Arnold recalls seeing a winner from the body-building competition become a Hollywood star, playing Hercules in the movies. He knew he could take a similar path: become a body-building champion and then transition to Hollywood. He also saw that many of those bodybuilders would try to become movie stars, but failed because they depended on making movies. When those bodybuilders’ sole source of income was the movies, they would take on roles that were not the best roles they could take.

Arnold was different as you likely know. He had a clear vision for how bodybuilding would translate into becoming a movie star. And then when he moved to the U.S., he and his friend, while bodybuilding, would make money on the side (doing bricklaying and masonry work). He used the money he earned to purchase an apartment building and was well-off well before he transitioned to Hollywood. Finally, when he started in Hollywood, his vision was to become the biggest action star in Hollywood.

The impact of a clear and bold vision

I believe the lesson learned from Arnold’s stories was not that he set big and bold visions (which he did), or that he did achieve everything he set out (again, which he did), but that setting a bold vision will motivate and push you to achieve more than you think you can.

How many times have you gone into a project, exam, or competition, thinking that as long as you pass or as long as you make it into the top 4, you would be happy with your achievement? I’m sorry to say that is negative thinking. Your thinking is limiting every single activity you do.

If you think passing is fine on an exam, you will do the bare minimum to study. You will put in fewer hours. You will read over your notes while watching TV. Maybe you will decide you don’t need a full night’s rest before the exam. You’ll go into the exam, zipping through it at lightning speed, perhaps making careless mistakes or not reading the questions carefully. You want to get through it as quickly as you can because you want it to be over.

Contrast that with having a clear vision for acing the exam. There’s likely a background motivation for you: the exam is part of a course you need to get into medical school. Or it’s an exam where if you do well, it will mean a 4.0 GPA for you. Now you think to yourself: you are going to get 99% on the exam. You set a plan to study, well in advance of the exam. You read over your notes, re-reading and re-writing them so that you understand them clearly. The TAs and professors hate you because they spend all of their time explaining concepts to you. You get a full night’s rest. You carefully read through the questions and check over your work to make sure you don’t make careless mistakes.

Do you see the difference one clear and bold vision makes for your work?

Setting a clear and bold vision

In simple terms:

  • Ask yourself what the best result could be out of any situation
  • Tell yourself that is the result you will achieve
  • Prepare as well as you can with that result in mind

Google’s vision statement is “to provide access to the world’s information in one click”. And they align all of its projects and activities with that vision. When you have a clear and bold vision for what you want to achieve, you know exactly what to do, but you know what not to do. Google does not enter the food industry to sell food. That’s not providing access to the world’s information in one click. Google does not build homes. Again, what does that have to do with providing access to the world’s information?

Ways to use the vision in your life

You might say to yourself “I’m not a bodybuilder” or “I’m not a huge billion-dollar organization”, why would I need a vision? Or maybe even “okay, setting a vision is great, but how do I use it in my life?”


One way is through journaling. For example, in the five-minute journal, every morning you set an affirmation of what you are. This is an easy way to create a bold vision for what you want to achieve. For years, for example, my affirmation was that I was going to be a bestselling author. I haven’t achieved that vision yet but every day with that vision in mind, I write, reflect on my writing, improve my writing, read and take in information from valuable sources, and think about what my take is on the world.

Daily affirmations

Another way, if you don’t journal, is through daily affirmations. For example, Scott Adams had some issues with his vocal cords and was unable to speak. Every day, he would repeat, in his head, the affirmation that he would speak again. After some time, he could speak, in part, because of his affirmations and the belief that he could speak again. Norman Vincent Peale suggests standing in front of the mirror and telling yourself that you are going to have a positive day. Another affirmation I have found useful is telling yourself before you go to bed, how amazing and restful you will be in the morning. Do affirmations work? Even if they don’t (but I believe they do), it’s only a few minutes out of your day to repeat the affirmations to yourself.

Setting intention

Finally, one more way I learned through Brendon Burchard’s High Performance Habits, is to set your intention before any activity you do. Setting an intention differs slightly from creating a vision (which would likely be more bold and strategic) and is like having a daily affirmation, except before an important meeting or critical activity (family time), you would pause, reflect on your day so far, and then set an intention for how you want the next activity to go. As an example, Brendon, when he gets home from work, sits in his car for a few minutes and resets himself. He then sets an intention for how he wants to spend the time with his family: be present, be engaged, be mindful. This reset and intention is a fantastic way of disconnecting yourself from other things in your life that could affect your immediate future. How many times have you had a stressful or bad meeting at the end of your workday and then taken that stress and anger with you to your family at dinner? Or got into an accident while coming home and then freaking out at your spouse who wants to spend money on home improvement?

What do you have to lose? Why not expect to see the best results possible in everything that you do? To borrow a line from Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, author of the best-selling The Power of Positive Thinking: ‘you can if you think you can’!