Instagram I @schwarzenegger

SELF-HELP IS a much maligned genre but if anyone can redeem it, it’s surely Arnold Schwarzenegger, or Arnie, or Arnold, as you prefer, a larger-than-life figure who has accomplished so much, worn so many hats, and is still as hungry to succeed today as he was 70 odd years ago as young boy back in Graz, Austria.

Bodybuilder, actor, politician, actor again, and now enterprising self-help guru with the release of his new book, Be Useful: Seven Tools For Life by Arnold Schwarzenegger (Penguin Books), the 76-year-old is better positioned than most to drop pearls of distilled wisdom.

This book has the potential to become the definitive text for gym bros and ambitious entrepreneurs alike, but to be honest has applications for anyone who wants to level up. Here’s a look at some of the more salient lessons learned from a very public, extremely performative life.

Carve out some you time

The 90 seconds rest between sets on an incline bench press is not solely for mainlining Rogan or Ferris on double time. This is potential “sacred” thinking time, says Arnie, who used to get his on chairlift-journeys out on the slopes, but these days finds steam and bubbles more conducive to unlocking moments of brilliance. “I create space for inspiration by taking a Jacuzzi every night,” he writes. “There’s something about the hot water and the steam, about the hum of the jets and the rush of the bubbles.” It was here, with a jet nuzzling his overworked traps, that Arnie “got the idea for my speech to the American people after the [Capitol Hill attack] of 6 January 2021”, in which he compared the steel in the sword he wielded in Conan the Barbarian to democracy: “The more it is tempered, the stronger it becomes.” Trust us, that level of insight is simply not possible without a dedicated roam around the kingdom of your skull. Do you need bubbles and steam to provoke such wisdom? It doesn’t hurt.

Recognise that change is hard

As a bodybuilder, Arnie has a keen appreciation and respect for how difficult it can be to force change. Stressing muscle fibre and sculpting sinew is predicated on the notion that you can graft progress against resistance to create an idealised version of yourself. But there’s something harder than change, Arnie says: “Living a life you hate. That’s hard.” So, quit that job, get out of that relationship that’s not working, stop posting clap-backs in comment threads. Whatever it is that’s holding you back, your life will look better if you approach it as you would a burpee complex or sandhill run—a challenge you can meet.

Dream huge

Arnie quickly realised Austria was too small a canvas for a man so hungry to succeed and with so much to express. Naturally he set his sights on conquering the US, “the No 1 country in the world, as the world’s greatest democracy”. We all bang our heads on the sides of the fishbowl from time to time. Does this mean you should book a one-way ticket to LA and slum it in a decrepit sharehouse with the countless other Aussies hoping to crack fame and fortune in the City of Angels? Or venture to New York, like Arnie did, where you know if you can make it there you can make it anywhere? Possibly. You can always return home with your tail between your legs, move back in with your parents and start over here while you talk shit about LA and how it just wasn’t for you.

But the more universally applicable take-out is to remove the blinkers, loosen your grip on the reins of your imagination and reach beyond your grasp. The world is your fishbowl.

Visualise your goals

Arnie is plundering self-help lore with this one but hear him out. The man who would become known as the ‘Austrian Oak’ saw himself preening on a podium with a crowd chanting his name long before it actually happened. He saw his four-syllable surname on movie posters, even when simple-minded Hollywood producers wanted him to go by “Arnold Strong”. “I could see plain as day that Schwarzenegger looks fucking great all by itself in big letters above the title of a movie.” Have faith that yours looks equally formidable on the top of a PowerPoint preso. See it, do it, done it.

Eliminate your weaknesses

Even one of the best bodies of all time had its flaws. Arnold’s was his calves. “If you want to be great, you’ve got to deal with your calves. Calves are basically the biceps of the legs.” Arnie was early on this one. On the open savannah of the gym floor, it’s shocking how often a gargantuan rig is let down by spindly pins.

What to do? Personally I avoid wearing low-cut socks when I wear shorts, which is precisely the opposite of what Arnold did in his efforts to confront and remedy his feeble lower limbs. “To be the best in the world, I cut the legs off all my sweatpants so I couldn’t avoid seeing the mirror while I worked out.” A year later, his calves were as jacked as the rest of him and he was on his way to the first of his seven Mr Olympia titles. Meanwhile, I’m still cowering in long socks on hot days.

Pain is gain

As you would expect, Arnie puts a lot of stock in pain and hardship as a stimulus for wholesale slaying. “It wasn’t fun to squat 600 pounds until I couldn’t breathe and wanted to puke. I was smiling because I was feeling the pain of the work.”

Similarly, anything less than total commitment in the gym hints at wider character flaws, someone likely to come up short in other, totally unrelated areas of life. “The person who is OK doing four sets of 10 shitty half-reps on the pulldown machine is more likely to sloppily change their baby’s diaper or forget their partner’s order.” If this sounds to you like a withering assessment based on flawed logic, then you’ve probably just outed yourself as a shallow-repping weakling.

Failure equals success

Wrapping the pain is gain maxim back around on itself, Arnie sees failure to complete a set as a sign “you did the work”. This is essentially bro science 101 but sounds better in an Austrian accent—the audio version of this book is going to kill it. “When failure is a positive part of the game you play, it’s much less scary to search for the limits of your ability,” writes Arnie. Good advice, no smart-arse comments to make on this one.

Own your failures

While you’re busy fucking up all over the place, you should also grow a pair and take responsibility for all these failures. After his 2005 special election the Governator’s approval rating plummeted to a paltry 33 per cent. So, what did Arnie say? What do you think he said? “[I take] full responsibility for its failure. The buck stops with me.” No, not as coolly emphatic as “I’ll be back” but similarly resolute.

Improve yourself, help others

Think self-help is a one-way path toward self-absorption? A battlefield that frames your success and gains at the expense of others? Arnie anticipates your cynicism and cold cocks you with this rhetorical forearm shiver: “Outside direct athletic competition, it’s almost all bullshit. Life isn’t zero-sum. We can all grow together, get richer together, get stronger together. Everyone can win, in their own time, in their own way.” The reason you should seek to improve yourself, Arnie believes, is so that you may be better equipped to help others. This, like much of the wisdom in Be Useful, makes sense; it’ll probably make dollars, too.


The Roman Empire TikTok trend: an explainer

Hugh and Deb are done. Why do we care?