Book Notes #21 – Be Useful

by | Jan 29, 2024

This is a helluva book. So much value packed into each page.

I feel like Arnold Schwarzenegger wasn’t just motivating me but giving me practical tips on how to become the best version of myself.

The book is well organized into seven thematic, instructional chapters replete with personal examples, brutal truths, and can-do optimism.

Arnold is upfront on his personal transgressions and admits that he “blew up” his family.

In this winter season of his life, he finds it rewarding to help people on their own personal journeys. And his daily newsletter and this book are initiatives to do just that. He has become a de facto “self-help guy.”

This point resonates with me. I never want to be known as the self-help guy. I think of many life coaches and strategy gurus as semi-charlatans. What have you succeeded at? Then maybe I’ll seek out your advice. Sure, not every practitioner is a good teacher and vice versa. But I’ve come across plenty of phony self-help guys.

But I trust Arnold because he has proven himself. And in my own small way, many folks ask for my input & guidance because I feel like I’ve done a thing or two.

Arnold titled his book “Be Useful” because that’s the best advice his father ever gave him. When you help other people, good things happen.

Be Useful: Seven Tools for Life
By Arnold Schwarzenegger


Have a Clear Vision

Most people feel that life is just happening to them. They don’t have a vision or know to have a vision.

It’s about having a vision and then developing a daily rhythm with little goals to you to your desired end state. These little goals snowball into weekly and monthly goals.

“The happiest and most successful people in the world do everything in their power to avoid bad decisions that confuse matters and drag them away from their goals. Instead, they focus on making choices that bring clarity to their vision and bring them closer to achieving it. It doesn’t matter if they’re considering a small thing or a huge thing, the decision-making process is the same.”

Arnold cites walking as an important tool in finding inspiration. These days he has a ritual of using the Jacuzzi every evening.

“If you can’t find what you’re looking for, at least give it a chance to find you.”

Arnold had a vision to become the best body builder. He did it.

Then he had the vision to become a movie star. He did it.

He wanted to be a leading man:

“What they didn’t know, but I could see play as day, was that Schwarzenegger looks f*cking great all by itself in BIG letters above the title of a movie.”


During his bodybuilding days, Arnold took a lesson with a ballet instructor who showed him to concentrate on the movements before poses.

“What you have to realize is that people are watching you all the time.”

This made him focus on those transitions so that the body building judges would be impressed with those in-between movements, too.


Never Think Small

Arnold’s most lucrative movie was Twins. He was trying to transition from action hero to leading man, and he wanted to do a comedy. But nobody would take a chance on him. So he made an irresistible offer that he and Danny DeVito wouldn’t take a fee but only participate in the backend royalties. The film eventually was made. Arnold and DeVito made out like bandits.

“What I’m saying is, if you’re going to do it, do it. Not just because going all in might be the thing that guarantees your success, but because not going all in will absolutely guarantee that you fall short. And it’s not just you who will suffer as a result.”

“If you only aim for the smaller goal, the big goal is automatically out of reach.”

Arnold makes a compelling case to never have a Plan B.

“There is no plan B. Plan B is to succeed at plan A…Nothing good has ever come from having a plan B…Plan B is dangerous to every big dream.”



Work Your Ass Off

This one resonates with me. There are no shortcuts. You have work your rear end off.

“If there is one unavoidable truth in this world, it’s that there is no substitute for putting in the work. There is no shortcut or growth hack or magic pill that can get you around the hard work of doing your job well…Eventually, those people either fall behind or get left in our dust, because working your ass off is the only thing that works 100 percent of the time for 100 percent of the things worth achieving.”

When he was preparing for his role in Terminator (becoming a killing machine), he blindfolded himself until he could shoot the stunt gun without blinking when he fired the gun.

Arnold invokes his bodybuilding days by talking about the importance of good reps (repetitions). Doing a good rep is better than the lazy and distracted ones. When you give maximum effort, you get the results that you want. Someone who does a lazy rep is probably going to be half-assed in other parts of their life, too.

When he was making Conan, Arnold had to learn how to jump from rocks and actually bit a dead vulture on every take. He had to get stitches in his back. The director told him that “Pain is temporary, this film will be permanent.”

“That’s the beauty of pain. Not only is it temporary, which means you don’t have to deal with it forever, it tells you whether you’ve begun to give enough of yourself in pursuit of your dreams.”

Muhammad Ali said that he didn’t start counting his reps until they hurt.

Arnold broke his leg skiing before his inauguration as California’s governor. He thought about delivering his speech sitting down, but he decided to deal with the pain and show the citizens that he would stand for them.

Arnold is a “Follow through fanatic.” He believes in closing the loop.

I like this Jimmy Dean quote:

“Do what you say you’re going to do, and try to do it a little better than you said you would.”

When people tell him that they’re busy, he asks them to show them their screen time. How much time do you waste on social media?

If something matters, you make the time.

“When you’re chasing a vision and working towards a big goal, there’s nothing more energizing than making progress.”

Sell, Sell, Sell

You have to learn how to sell. That’s a critical life skill. If people don’t know about you, your dreams, then it’s going to be hard to achieve it.

Don’t say: “I will be a great bodybuilder.” Say: “I can see myself as a great bodybuilder.”

He likes this saying: “See it, believe it, explain it, achieve it.”


Shift Gears

Arnold tries not to focus on the negative because that can be a waste of time and energy. He tries to find the positive in whatever situation he’s in, even if he’s in a tough one.

Arnold didn’t have a hot shower until he was a teenager. He thinks his tough childhood helped toughen him up for what was to come. His dad would tell him, “Why don’t you chop some wood instead. You can get big and strong that way and at least then you will have done something for somebody else.”

“How many minutes a day do you allow yourself to read articles and social media posts that piss you off but have nothing to do with your life?…We just talked about how full your daily schedule is and how you need to protect those precious few hours you have every week to do the work of achieving your vision.”

“My answer to them is simple. Learn from your mistakes and then say, ‘I’ll be back.’”

It’s called WD-40 because it was the inventor’s 40th try. It’s called “Water Displacement 40th Formula.”


Shut Your Mouth, Open Your Mind

Listen more, talk less.

“When you’re curious and you’re humble enough to admit that you don’t know everything, people like that want to talk to you. They want to help you.”

Dalai Lama says: “When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learning something new.”

Break Your Mirrors

Arnold doesn’t believe the world is zero sum. We can prosper together. We can all win. There is abundance to life.

The culminating activity for becoming an Eagles Scout is to be of service to your local community.

He mentions how giving back can become an addiction.

“Giving back is also known to produce a neurochemical called valopressin, which is associated with love.”

Also known as “helper’s high.”