Arnold Schwarzenegger is a man who has traversed a very unique path; he came to America from Austria at age 21 with practically nothing, built himself from the ground up and became successful in a variety of diverse, seemingly unrelated fields.
After winning the Mr. Olympia bodybuilding title seven times, he went on to become a famous Hollywood actor, California’s governor and founded a think tank at the University of Southern California.
He is a prime example of success requiring more than talent in just one field or knowledge about a single industry — it requires the right mindset. My favorite Schwarzenegger quote “Pumping Iron” discusses what it takes to become the best at whatever it is you choose to do:
"This last two or three or four repetitions, that's what makes the muscles grow. That's what divides one from a champion and one from not being a champion. If you can go through the pain period, you make it to be a champion. If you can't go through it, forget it. And that's what most people lack: having the guts — the guts to go in and just say... 'I don't care what happens.' I have no fear of fainting in the gym... I threw up many times when I was working out. But it doesn't matter, because it's all worth it."
Although some may consider this to be an extremist mindset, truthfully, if you want to be the best, you must consistently push yourself to your maximum capacity. If you’re not putting your all into achieving your goals, you’ll never be as good as you truly could be. This is true when Schwarzenegger discusses weightlifting and bodybuilding, but the idea extends much further.
Neuroplasticity is a concept that explains how neurons in your brain make physical connections and changes as you learn. The stages of learning can be described as follows:
1. Unconscious Incompetence
Not only do you not know how to do something, but you are not presently aware that you don’t know how to do it.
2. Conscious Incompetence
You are aware that you don’t know how to do something.
3. Conscious Competence
You know how to do something, but you need to be fully focused while you’re doing it. Think about the first few times you drove a car, rode a bike, or played a sport — you were able to do the task, but you were not attuned to every single source of information that was presented to you.
4. Unconscious Competence
All of the different patterns, motions and concepts you have learned blend together in a seamless behavior. You can now focus on perfecting your craft and fine-tuning smaller details. If you practice enough, you will achieve this habitual stage in learning.
As you begin to learn something, neurons from one part of your brain will extend their axons to literally make connections with other neurons, just as you figuratively “make the connections” in your mind. More solidified memories are usually the result of constant repetition that causes these connections to form, creating long-term potentiation (LTP) or long-term memory.
In other words, the more you work at something, the more likely you will be to achieve unconscious competence. From the point of unconscious competence, you will be much more adept at comprehending smaller details. The more aware you are of these smaller details, the closer you are to achieving mastery in your field.
The “pain period” that Schwarzenegger discusses is when you are most likely to expand your horizons and grow as an individual. It isn’t until we push ourselves to our limits that we find what we are really able to accomplish. The closer we get to reaching our capacities, the more connections we make, which provides us with the opportunity to actually expand the scope of what we can achieve.
When I first pursued the pre-med path, I faced many hurdles — I started having absolutely no clue how to be successful and my GPA quickly plummeted to the borderline of academic probation. Becoming a doctor is all I ever wanted, and after two consecutive semesters of lackluster performance, I had to decide whether or not to quit or stay on course.
I knew that if I gave up on my dream, I would live my life with a sense of perpetual regret, always second-guessing what could have been. So I kept at it; I tried a numerous ways to enhance both my mindset and my performance, and eventually, I started to see some improvement. I kept pushing the envelope further and went on to drastically improve my grades, develop a business, start a cancer-prevention organization and score highly on the MCAT. Yet, I still know I could be doing much more.
Armed with this knowledge, appreciate the fact that achieving remarkable success is something that every single person is capable of doing. This isn’t a factor that some people have and others do not. This is something that you currently possess, have always possessed, and likely will always possess. The only factor is you; are you willing to go through the pain period?