What I Learned from Arnold Schwarzenegger or Tales I Tell My Students

I am not a particular fan of Arnold Schwarzenegger, however one day I happened to turn on CNN and see him being interviewed by Piers Morgan. I was intrigued by what I heard.

We all know who Mr. Schwarzenegger is and something of his incredible career path (world champion body builder for many years running, famous actor, filmmaker, politician, businessman and now actor once again) but most of us don’t know much about how he got there. How does someone coming from what he describes as extremely humble beginnings make such a success of himself? During the interview he made the following points:

He had a talent for having a vision that was so real to him that he felt he could turn it into reality. (OK, lots of people can do that.)

He realized it was going to take a lot of work and he was willing to do it. (We all know that it takes lots of work to achieve success.)

He was full of determination. (So what else is new?)

Well here’s what was new for me. He wasn’t full of the “grim determination” that we hear of so often – he was full of HAPPY determination. While his colleagues in the gym went to train with sour faces, “huffing and puffing,” he, however, couldn’t wait to get to the gym, do more 400 pound squats, the next 40 chin-ups, the next 500 sit-ups. During his training he actually had a smile on his face. Why? Because, he said, every little bit of this training would bring him one step closer to realizing his vision.

What conclusions can we draw from this?

That having a vision of what you want to achieve is essential to success is obvious. But the attitude you have toward what you are doing in every moment to achieve it is even more important. Mr. Schwarzenegger lived well while he was training – he didn’t suffer as most people assume one has to do to achieve great success. He was genuinely happy. How many of us can say the same thing? How many of us faced our technical exercises, theory classes, tests, and auditions with a happy attitude? I mean ALL THE TIME?

We can learn a lot from Arnold Schwarzenegger and so his story is one of many that I tell my students. I could limit myself to talking about Yehudi Menuhin, Jascha Heifetz or other violinists whose stories might not mean much to them, but they all know who THE TERMINATOR is. They can also imagine how much work he had to do to develop his muscles. It’s visually obvious that it’s not just a question of talent or luck – a phrase we use to dismiss the success of many hard-working people – but that he had to do a lot of grinding, grueling, mind-numbing exercises to get to the level of an international body builder which led to his acting and political careers.

Now don’t think I propose to my young students that they visualize themselves playing Paganini caprices or debuting as soloists with the New York Philharmonic – I have to be reasonable as not everyone really wants to or is able to become a professional violinist. But I can ask my students to set a small goal, to remember that every little bit of practice they do will bring them one step closer to that goal and to BE HAPPY to do it.

I ask them to remember that nowhere is it written in stone that we have to be miserable when we practice. While we can’t always control what life (or our violin teacher) gives us, we can control our attitude – we can decide to be happy or unhappy. After all, how much easier is it to do something you really want to do with every fiber of your being than to do something you hate even if it helps you to achieve your goal? And how much better will you do something that you like than something you don’t?

While I don’t expect my students (or even myself) to adapt to this way of being immediately, it is useful to them to think they have some control over their likes and dislikes and that few things in life are absolutely negative or positive – they are that way only if you perceive them as such. And perceptions are subjective and can be changed. Students are often surprised to know that they can change a dislike into a like if they want to and this is empowering even for small children who know they have little control over their lives. When I assign them what they could think is an annoying study, I tell them the positive things they will learn from it that will help them to sight-read a Vivaldi concerto with minimal worry about the position changes, for example. I tell them to practice the more onerous things with a smile on their faces a la Schwarzenegger (which isn’t so easy when you play the violin) because science tells us that we can actually fool our brains into being happy just by physically making the motions of a smile (even if we only hold a pencil in our teeth). I don’t tell them they have to like something, just that they will get farther with it and be happier if they do. The choice is theirs.

Lots of people are willing to do the work that Mr. Schwarzenegger did to achieve his visions, but I’ll bet there are few who are as happy as he was while he was doing it. Thank you Arnold. You have changed my teaching. If you can get to where you are with a smile on your face, surely my students can conquer Bach minuets the same way!

Post Author: Eloise Hellyer

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7 March 2016

7 thoughts on “What I Learned from Arnold Schwarzenegger or Tales I Tell My Students

  1. Ester

    E’ davvero così semplice…
    Grazie Eloise, in questo articolo hai espresso meravigliosamente un aspetto importante della nostra autorealizzazione.
    Grazie ;-)


    1. Eloise Hellyer Post author

      Thanks so much for this – I didn’t know it existed! Now I know why he’s so good at so many things – he plays the violin!!!

  2. Edith Felker

    Inspiring! Love the photo post and there is, no doubt, some truth that Arnold is so successful because he played the violin.


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