Here’s the No. 1 skill successful people have, says Arnold Schwarzenegger: ‘Most people aren’t so lucky’

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Being curious and being a good listener are a big part of how to effectively utilize your relationship with other people in pursuit of your goals.

I don’t mean that in a manipulative way, only practically.

When it comes down to it, people are resources. But it’s only when you learn to soak up what those people tell you — not just let it go in one ear, out the other — that you truly begin to make yourself useful to others and become a resource yourself.

The most valuable skill: Asking good ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions

In the gym, if I saw someone trying a new training technique that didn’t make sense to me, I would ask them about it because maybe it would help me. When I saw the great bodybuilder Vince Gironda do the side-lying triceps extension at his gym, for instance, I admit I thought it looked like a little Mickey Mouse with the tiny dumbbell he was using.

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But instead of dismissing it entirely because Vince didn’t come from a heavy lifting background, I tried it. I did 40 sets during my next arms workout, which I had learned was the best way to see how a new movement impacts my body, and my outside triceps shook the whole next day.

The exercise was so effective, I had to ask Vince about it: How did you come up with this exercise? Why does this work better than other similar movements? How should I best incorporate it into a workout?

My questions served multiple purposes. The answers, if they made sense, would alleviate any of my doubts or concerns. By being curious, I showed humility and made myself an ally to Vince, which made it more likely that he might share other valuable training techniques.

But most important of all, asking good “how” and “why” questions about something you’re interested in increases the chances of information sticking in your brain and connecting with other related bits of information — making all of it more useful to you when it’s time to put it all to work in service of others.

That’s why I loved being governor more than any job I ever had. It was an opportunity to soak up all this information about the way our society runs while being in a position to use that information to help millions of people.

I was learning nonstop. The more I learned, and the more questions I asked of the people who were teaching me, the more I understood how things were connected and the better leader I became.

Of course, I was lucky. As a governor, even if I wasn’t naturally curious, I could make people explain things about the way the state worked until it made sense to me, no matter how long it took.

Most people aren’t so lucky. They don’t have the power to make others explain the world to them. They have to try to figure it out for themselves, which can be very intimidating and very discouraging without support.

This, I believe, is one of the reasons so many people feel stuck in their lives. They live in a world they don’t fully understand. The world is what it is, and they are who they are, and it’s just something they have to accept and deal with.

Maybe they were born into a life in which others were rich and they were poor, or others were tall or smart of physically gifted and they were the opposite of those things — and no one explained to them that while there are some circumstances you can’t change, there are others that you can change by being curious and by being a sponge, and then using the knowledge you gain to craft a vision for yourself.

Arnold Schwarzenegger is an Austrian-born bodybuilder, actor, businessman, philanthropist, bestselling author, and politician. He served as the thirty-eighth governor of California.

Excerpt from “BE USEFUL: Seven Tools for Life” by Arnold Schwarzenegger, published on October 10th, 2023 by Penguin Press, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright(c) 2023 by Fitness Publications, Inc.

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