From Biceps to Box Office: The (Unofficial) Schwarzenegger Guide to Crushing College

Rob Humbracht

Think you've got nothing in common with Arnold "The Governator" Schwarzenegger? You're not alone. Most of us can't bench press a small car or drop iconic one-liners like "I'll be back." But hold on to your protein shakes; we're about to dive into some Arnold-inspired life strategies that are as applicable to you as they are to a seven-time Mr. Olympia. No gym membership or Austrian accent required.

The new Netflix documentary about his life is well worth a watch. But what can you apply to your college life? Ah, glad you asked! Let's flex our mental biceps and dive into the Schwarzenegger playbook, chapter by chapter.

Chapter 1: Total Immersion

An Austrian body builder enjoying his organized desk area.
A non-specific Austrian body builder enjoying his immaculate office settings.

Arnold's Situation: Imagine this: Arnold Schwarzenegger is sleeping in the gym, not because he's homeless, but because he's that obsessed with sculpting his body. He practically inhaled dumbbells for breakfast and did push-ups as a nightcap. This was no casual "Oh, I should work out" approach. While most of us summon the willpower to hit the gym, Arnold removed the need for discipline by making the gym his home. In his world, the path of least resistance was a bench press, and discipline became an afterthought.

WWAD (What Would Arnold Do): Eliminate friction and bathe in the world of your chosen discipline. You know what I'm saying? Live it, breathe it, become one with it. For Arnold, the gym was his second home—or first, if you consider the sleeping arrangements.

Example: You're a student, and let's be honest, are you the Mr. Universe of studying? If your notes are the equivalent of a one-pound dumbbell, it's time for an upgrade.

Recommendation for your life: Time to engineer your "Learning Palace." First off, grab a trash bag and get ruthless with those disorganized materials cluttering your desk. Anything that isn't actively making you smarter needs to go. Next, put your phone on "Do Not Disturb" or, better yet, toss it into another room. Now, equip your study space with tools that make you feel like Einstein—think a whiteboard for jotting down quick ideas, a dedicated notebook for each subject, and maybe even a motivational poster or two. It's about creating an environment where your brain goes, “Ah, time to crush it,” instead of “Oh, look, another TikTok notification.”

Chapter 2: Choosing an Unconventional Life

An Austrian body builder playing table tennis.
An ecstatic Austrian body builder kicking butt at a table tennis match.

Arnold's Situation: Arnold Schwarzenegger was hardly the first guy to lift a dumbbell, but he was one of the few farm kids from Austria to turn bodybuilding into a career, a lifestyle, and later, a global phenomenon. He didn't have to reinvent the wheel; he just had to be “relatively unique.”

WWAD: So, what's the lesson here? You don't need to shatter the mold, but you can definitely twist it. The magic happens when you find something that makes you stand out, not as a Marvel superhero, but as a compelling character in the story of your own life.

Example: I've never met an architecture student who doubles as a stand-up comedian, a pre-med who captains the table tennis team, or a coder who can recite Chaucer. But that type of contrast is a great way to be memorable. Why blend in when you can stand out? Why be just another face in the lecture hall when you can be the relatively unique character who blends two seemingly unrelated worlds into one unforgettable persona?

Recommendation for your life: Alongside your career trajectory, carve out space for  "signature quirk." To unearth your quirk, take a moment to reflect: jot down the hobbies or interests that energize you, those things you can speak about for hours. Which of these are uncommon or atypical among your peers? That's likely your golden ticket to 'quirkdom'. Not only will the quirk keep you sane, but it'll also make you unforgettable in a crowd.

Chapter 3: Seek Out Your Tribe

An Austrian bodybuilder participating in a study session.
Another non-specific Austrian body builder participating in a fruitful study session.

Arnold's Situation: Arnold wasn't a lone wolf; he was part of a pack of equally iron-pumping obsessives. These were the folks who gave him spotter support at the gym and life support when things got tough.

WWAD: Find your tribe, and you'll find your podium.

Example: Feeling overwhelmed in your challenging courses? Maybe you're searching for a study group that's as dedicated as you. Or maybe you’re bouncing around student organizations. One feels like a resume factory, another like a social club. Where do you belong?

Strike up conversations with a few members or leaders in the organizations that interest you. They'll give you an unfiltered look into what the org is really like and whether it aligns with what you're looking for.

Recommendation for your life: Shop around for your tribe with a "try before you buy" mindset. Seek smaller sub-groups: larger organizations often have sub-committees or smaller project teams.

The right tribe provides a support system, giving you resources like shared notes, insights into professors' quirks, study group opportunities, and a sounding board for those 2 a.m. existential college crises. They challenge you, keep you accountable, and celebrate your successes, ensuring you not only survive college but thrive in it.

Chapter 4: The Art of Schmäh

An Austrian body builder shows off his schmah abilities in a lab room.
Yet another Austrian body builder beaming with confidence at a research lab.

Arnold's Situation: Ah, the magical power of schmäh—otherwise known as "bullshitting your way to success." Arnold had it in spades. He persuaded himself, and consequently everyone else, that he was the real deal long before he actually was.

WWAD: Convince yourself first. The world will follow suit.

Example: You're the youngest in a research lab, surrounded by PhDs. Is it imposter syndrome, or are you just ahead of the curve?

Recommendation for your life:

  • Deploy the Small Wins Strategy - The theory here, as articulated in "The Progress Principle" by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer, is that achieving small, manageable goals can snowball into burgeoning confidence over time. So what should you do? Break your tasks down into bite-sized goals and celebrate each mini-victory like it's a big deal—because it is.
  • Master Self-affirmation and Positive Self-talk - Here's the scoop, according to Shad Helmstetter's "What to Say When You Talk to Yourself": The way you talk to yourself when no one is around can shape your public persona. Your action step is to remind yourself of your past successes, your inherent strengths, and your core values whenever the gremlins of doubt start whispering.
  • Embrace the Growth Mindset - This strategy comes straight from Carol S. Dweck's "Mindset: The New Psychology of Success." The theory proposes that skills and intelligence can be developed through hard work and dedication. Your play here is simple but powerful: View each challenge as an opportunity to learn and each failure as a necessary step in your growth journey.

By combining these strategies, you're not just wishing for success, you're planning for it. Choose your weapon, and let the schmäh begin!

Ultimately, a focus on intentionality is a sign that you’re receiving truly constructive criticism.

Chapter 5: Harness Your Shortcomings

An Austrian body builder gives a speech in front of a class.
One more Austrian body builder confidently delivering a speech for in front of his peers.

Arnold's Situation: In the realm of acting, Arnold faced a minor hiccup—his English was, let's say, unique. But did that stop him? Heck no. Instead of blending into the sea of American accents, he leaned into his distinctiveness. He hired a voice coach to refine, but not eliminate, his unique way of speaking. Arnold transformed what many saw as a liability into his own personal brand, making lines like "I'll be back" iconic precisely because of the way he said them.

WWAD: What's your stumbling block? Own it. Don't just identify what you're struggling with; develop a tangible plan to either improve in that area or use it to your advantage in a unique way.

Example: Public speaking makes you queasy? There are SO MANY ways to overcome this common phobia, but to name a few:

  • Open your speech by jokingly acknowledging your fear of public speaking. A little humor can break the ice and make both you and your audience more comfortable.
  • Turn your speech into a Q&A session or interactive workshop. This will take the attention off you and involve the audience more, making the experience less intimidating for you.
  • Consider recording portions of your speech and incorporating them into a live presentation. This can take the edge off and allow you to communicate clearly without the immediate pressure of an audience.

Recommendation for your life: Acknowledge your weak spot and make a plan to overcome the weakness while staying true to what you’re good at. You've got this.

In Conclusion

Arnold Schwarzenegger's life is more than just a list of achievements; it's a playbook. Sure, we can't all be the Terminator, but you know what? We can take a page from his life to become the heroes of our own narrative. Because remember, you're not a T-800 model—your programming can always be upgraded. Time to pump up your life. Until next time, I'll be back.

- Rob

P.S. Feeling ambitious? Try out our "Arnold's (Unofficial) Guide to Crushing College", a handy calendar for giving yourself an Arnold-themed challenge every day of the month!

Download Arnold's Unofficial Guide to Crushing College
An unofficial Arnold-inspired weekly calendar of activities to challenge yourself in college.