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Conquering the World with Superhuman Self-Belief:
Lessons from History's Greatest Achievers
“He who says he can and he who says he can’t are usually both right.”
- Henry Ford
This quote has always resonated with me about the importance of self belief.
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Most times if someone believes they can accomplish a given task or goal, they are likely to put in the required effort necessary to achieve their objective. At the same time, when someone doubts their ability to succeed they often fail to put forth that which is needed to accomplish difficult things. Therefore, it is no surprise then that our beliefs and attitudes have an important impact on our actions and outcomes.
Without the ability to visualize epic goals, the chances of noteworthy accomplishments significantly decrease. Perhaps, that is why incredible self belief is a trait shared by many of history’s greatest entrepreneurs, inventors, and even conquerors.
In most ways, I do not consider myself to be unusually gifted. However, I do believe I have developed a powerful self belief which has been an indispensable part of my greatest achievements.
I also wholeheartedly believe that you can develop the same thing for yourself.
Becoming Alexander the Great
Alexander III of Macedon, better known as “Alexander the Great,” was born in 356 BC and at the age of 20 took his rightful place as ruler of the ancient Greek kingdom. Over the course of his leadership, he built an empire that stretched from the Balkans to Pakistan. This led to the beginning of the Hellenistic Age, when the influence of Greek culture was spread throughout the vast amount of territory he had successfully conquered. Indeed, thousands of years later he is still hailed as one of most important figures in world history.
One of the most impressive feats he accomplished took place in 331 BC when he led his army of 50,000 soldiers to a decisive victory over King Darius III and his Persian army that totaled over 250,000 combatants. The Persian Empire had ruled the Mediterranean for more than two centuries when the two armies met at Gaugamela. In this critical battle, the Persians outnumbered the Macedonians by more than five to one, and Darius had flattened the terrain in an attempt to give a greater advantage to his horse-drawn chariots.
Despite the odds, Alexander skillfully led a “pawn’s sacrifice” by directing one thousand of his men to draw out his opponent's right flank, then launched a perfectly timed counter of his cavalry forces to crush the Persian centerline. From there, Alexander’s troops thoroughly routed their enemy and effectively ended the war.
Though Alexander died prematurely in 323 BC from a mystery illness, the impact he made at such a young age cannot be understated. Indeed, given his extraordinary exploits, some consider Alexander to be history’s first great action hero. But how did he become imbued with such a strong power of belief in himself? One that allowed him to attempt a previously unthinkable stratagem and rally thousands of loyal followers to his cause?
From the time he was a child, Alexander was raised to believe that he was a progeny of ancient gods and heroes. His mother Olympias was a driving influence in fortifying the idea that he had a divine birthright and was destined for great things. He also had an impressive father in King Phillip II, who was instrumental in building Macedonia into a military power, successfully setting a model for daring conquests of neighboring territories. His father is said to be the one who first dreamed of invading Persia, but when he was assassinated in 336 BC, it became Alexander’s obsession.
We obviously cannot choose our parents and set up an ideal homelife as a child, as Alexander himself enjoyed. We can however, as we grow older, choose those we keep closest to us.
The famous motivational speaker Jim Rohn once opined:
“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”
Therefore, the people you spend the most time with can have a dramatic influence on your attitude, behavior, and the ultimate course you set for your life.
In fact, Harvard’s premier social psychologist Dr. David McLelland estimates that:
“the people you habitually associate with determine up to 95% of your success or failure in life.”
If that is true, then think about the people you currently surround yourself with. Would you characterize those closest to you as having positive or negative personalities? How much do they influence your own perspective?
As you possess the ability to actively construct your social environment, look to people you admire, can learn from, or who encourage you to strive for better results. Since we become more like those we choose to spend our time with, it is possible to accelerate personal growth by learning from those we most want to be like. This can be a critical component of you building a stronger, more self-confident outlook on life and your own abilities.
However, it was not only self-belief that powered Alexander's confidence. He learned the importance of education at an early age, as Phillip arranged for him to be tutored by Aristotle himself, who infused the young prince with a powerful mixture of logic, reason, culture, and philosophy. This extraordinary base of knowledge prepared him to face the challenges he set for himself with more self-assurance and a more worldly vision.
While most of us may never have the chance to learn at the feet of one of history’s most renowned educators, we do have something that Alexander did not. That is access to centuries’ worth of literature, art, music and much more, literally at the tips of our fingers.
Use this amazing opportunity to learn, and make sure to schedule daily time to read and expand your mental horizons. The smartest people that I know are more interested in learning than they are in being right. The more knowledge you have, the bigger your dreams can be.
Another principle we can learn from Alexander’s upbringing, for those of us who are parents, is the priceless value of showering our children with positive reinforcement and encouragement and stressing the importance of an excellent education. Providing a child with that type of advantage may ultimately be the most important thing you can do to prepare them for the challenges that they will experience as they grow up.
Why We Need to Think Big
Alexander had the audacity to believe he could conquer the entire world. That is how he had the force of will to inspire his men to follow him and galvanize them in his endeavor. It is also why he is still studied today as a model of leadership and success.
The ability to think big is truly a key element to extreme success. I like how the author Marc Winn defines it when he says:
“‘Thinking big’ means being able to dream and visualize what you can achieve on an audacious scale: with no limits on your thinking. It is about being open-minded, positive, creative and seeing opportunity in the big picture.”
When you choose to focus on easy goals, you subliminally lower your own expectations, not to mention the eventual outcomes. Instead, if you set a high bar in terms of a challenge, you will naturally stretch yourself in new ways to build the capacity for greater achievements. Therefore, it is critical that you look for ways to challenge yourself if you desire personal growth.
How can we train ourselves to think big?
First, start with the important questions:
If you could change any one thing in the world, what would it be?
If you had unlimited time or resources, what would you hope to accomplish?
What is something uniquely important, I could contribute to the world?
When you take the time to answer these questions honestly and completely, it starts to lay the groundwork for chasing your dream.
Secondly, it is important to start to shift your mindset from one that focuses on why something can’t be done to one that screams “You can do this!”. Relentless negativity produces fear and doubt, limiting the potential of all you are truly capable of. When you think big and look at your goal as a challenge to be solved, you start to generate a plethora of ideas, solutions, and creative ways to attack a problem. Thinking outside the box in turn allows you to pursue a bolder course in life where anything is possible.
Thirdly, practice the art of visualization. Give yourself the freedom to let your imagination go wild. Imagine all the possibilities of choosing to go in a new direction. Take the time to mentally rehearse every aspect of what you are setting out to master. That includes not only the rewards and benefits, but also the challenges and obstacles that might impede your progress. The more clearly you define your vision, the more likely you are to accomplish it.
Arnold Schwarzenegger – The Triple Threat
Another great example of someone who possesses extraordinary self-belief is Arnold Schwarzenegger. With his singular focus being to make his goals into reality, he is arguably one of the most successful individuals to ever walk the planet. And none of it happened by accident.
Consider his resume. In 1970, he reached the pinnacle of professional bodybuilding by being crowned the youngest ever champion of the prestigious Mr. Olympia contest at the age of 23. Schwarzenegger went on to capture the championship for six straight years before announcing his retirement and cementing his legendary status in the sport.
While he likely could have continued to dominate, he had other challenges in mind and moved on to pursue his dream of being an actor in Hollywood. In fact, he became one of the world’s greatest action stars, mixing in some notable comedic roles as well, as he secured top billing in a slew of box office hits that included The Terminator, Conan the Barbarian, Predator, Kindergarten Cop, and Twins, all together grossing almost 4 billion dollars in ticket sales.
Still not content with his achievements, Arnold decided to use his considerable charisma and political know-how in public service and became the Governor of California in 1993.
It is a notable accomplishment for one to reach the upper echelons of success in one profession, let alone three, but Schwarzenegger did just that. His incredible track record can be traced back to having a clarity of vision from an early age, which gave him a target to hone in on. One of the most insightful sections in his autobiography, Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story, talks about how he left his home in Austria at the age of 21 to come to America in search of fame and fortune.
While he was already a renowned bodybuilder at the time and still trained diligently, he had even greater aspirations and dedicated the time necessary to achieve those goals. Not only did he put in 5+ hours a day in the gym to push his body to its ultimate physical limits, but he worked construction jobs to pay his bills, took college classes to improve his English and business savvy, and participated in acting workshops to further his quest to conquer Hollywood.
Did he have the time? Would it have been easy to make excuses? Of course, but that’s not the way you accomplish big dreams. That takes sacrifice and hard work. The point he likes to make is that there are 24 hours in a day, and we all have those same hours. So really it comes down to creating a game plan for using that time as efficiently as possible. And it all starts with the vision.
Self Belief Can Be Your Super Power Too!
When you wholeheartedly believe something is achievable, you have already won half the battle. Steve Jobs once famously said:
“Life can be much broader, once you discover one simple fact, and that is that everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.”
The truth is, he’s absolutely right.
Self belief can be equated to inner strength, and when you possess that, you gain ownership of your own journey and discover opportunities to develop new strengths, skills, and understandings about life itself.
In his best-selling book Talent is Never Enough, John C. Maxwell talks about how talent alone is not the only thing that determines your success. One of the keys he focuses on is the idea that belief lifts your talent. Studies have shown that when it comes to achievement, there is actually a greater correlation with self-confidence than there is to actual IQ.
In one important section, Maxwell notes that:
"only with belief in yourself will you be able to reach your full potential. If you want your talent to be lifted to its highest level, then you don't begin by focusing on your talent. You begin by harnessing the power of your mind. Your beliefs control everything you do. Accomplishment is more than a matter of working harder or smarter. It's also a matter of believing positively. You will become on the outside what you believe on the inside."
A fascinating study by the Association for Psychological Science demonstrated that you must possess self-belief to learn from past mistakes. Participants in the study had their brain activity measured to see what happened when they made a mistake with puzzle sequences, and then again when they fixed the error. What the researchers learned was that the participants who believed they could learn from their mistakes improved significantly after correcting their error, while those with little self-confidence struggled after encountering failure. The lesson to be learned is that self-belief is an important psychological process that positively affects your brain circuitry and at the same time allows you to handle setbacks with more grace and self-assurance.
Speaking from my own experience, when you can master the power of self-belief, you are well equipped to tackle new challenges. You are no longer risk averse, but instead become excited about the possibility of braving the unknown. I liken it to coming to a fork in the road and instead of being perplexed by which path to choose, knowing that whatever direction you head in, it will prove successful. This is when you are truly free to think big, as you are confident that every road will lead to your own success.
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