“In the foundation of every building or house that I have built, I have a barbell plate”
These are the words of the late Ray “Thunder” Stern , a legend in professional wrestling, bodybuilding, and entrepreneurial success.(1) In fact, dare I say; in a world inundated with advice on how to be successful, nothing compares to the now out-of-print book Power of Thunder, co-written by Mr. Stern and Robert Wolff, Ph.D. In it, Ray Stern highlighted and explained his principles for success in such a manner that ‘authentic and effectual’ are the most forthcoming words of distinction when comparing it to the countless books on the self-help shelves today.
And yes, the symbolic ritual within the context of edifice development was explained. Mr. Stern, a real estate investor and pioneer of the fitness industry, cemented a big barbell plate in the foundation of the buildings and homes he developed. “I do this as a testament that anything and everything I have in life, I owe to bodybuilding”, wrote Mr. Stern.(2)
But what is it about fitness and bodybuilding that can provide such a template for life success? How can the ability to make positive and lasting changes to your physique translate to practical lessons of wisdom in goal setting and achievement?
Regardless of one’s personal aspirations or definition of success, physique improvement can provide a microcosmic blueprint for bringing dreams into reality. It does so with such eerie precision as to even warn us of the pitfalls of attempted shortcuts. Example: who among us long-term bodybuilding enthusiasts hasn’t witnessed the neophyte muscle-builder who thinks steroids are the key to physique improvement? The fleeting benefits and oft-resulting dependence on such drugs can have detrimental long-term outcomes on even the appearance of one’s physique. Expanding this observation out to context, it seems reminiscent of a life success principle from the words of Ray Stern: “Being great in whatever you do takes time. Short-term gain always equals long-term pain and don’t let anyone tell you differently.”(3)
Goals: The First Page in Your Success Blueprint
In order to achieve anything worthwhile, we must have a vivid internal representation of what we want. A vague idea will not generate optimal results. If we drift through life with day-to-day thoughts such as ‘I’d like to be more muscular’ or ‘I want to lose some body fat’, our odds of identifying a strategy for accomplishment and our resolve to carry it out will fade as fast as the ambiguous images in our minds. Conversely, when our goals are specific; ‘I want eight percent body fat; I want seventeen inch biceps; I want a fifteen inch ratio between my torso measurement and my waistline, our chances of making these things a reality goes up exponentially.
This practice can then be carried over to other contexts of your life. In fact, when you get good at setting specific goals for your body, this skill will likely be etched into your subconscious mind for effective retrieval when you need it elsewhere—career, health, relationships, etc.
A Powerful Strategy: The bulk of Your Blueprint
Nothing will extinguish motivation to achieve a goal faster than an ineffective strategy with no clue as to where to find or how to develop an effective one. In the gym, it usually happens like this: The beginner reads that he or she should work the biceps once per week. The generic routine this individual is given recommends doing some well-rounded selection of exercises for a reasonable number of sets of six to ten reps. It encourages this person to increase exercise weight when possible and to work out with “intensity” (with no real definition of this fuzzy term). Oh, and let’s not forget good form; it’s to be used on all biceps exercises.
But what’s wrong with this picture? Well, nothing for the first few weeks. But all it takes is a slight, undetectable negative variable to throw the unsuspecting natural trainer into the clutches of a progress plateau. Maybe his or her set numbers are just slightly too high for the number of rest days provided – a factor not only tied to individual genetics, but variables in weekly sleep patterns and stress levels as well. Another possibility: a reaction to unsatisfying progress leads the trainee to inadvertently train harder with the plateau having been brought on by inadequate recuperation. When this becomes perpetual, it’s a recipe for motivation-sapping frustration.
The solution to this is to develop what I call a powerful strategy, not just an effective one. A strategy becomes powerful in its effectiveness when it’s designed in such a way as to provide flexibility and micro-feedback. Flexibility means the structure of your workout and recovery system lends itself to small adjustments that can make a big difference. Micro-feedback means it’s structured in such a way that you can easily see from one workout to the next whether you’re on track to your goals. The feedback is a tool applied to the building blocks of flexibility. Any workout in which this feedback isn’t observed and responded to is a waste of time. Well, only if you’re a person who likes to enjoy rewarding results as opposed to going through motions.
How important is flexibility and attention to feedback in establishing an effective strategy to achieve our goals? Let’s look at the words of Ray Stern in Power of Thunder: “The real winners in business, bodybuilding, sports or whatever, are those who have a big dream or goal, yet have many plans that they can use in order to achieve it.”(4)
Visualization: Your Homing Device
The legendary Arnold Schwarzenegger said he visualized his biceps being giant mountains on his arms. Ray Stern wrote “Think, think, think about your goals and dreams and never stop believing…”(5)
Visualization, practiced and utilized for physique improvement, is a skill of achievement that can be transferred to any area of life you’d like to improve. Even better, it becomes easy-to-use and a more effective tool the more it’s practiced. Better still, when we visualize a goal and accompany that internal representation with positive emotion and excitement, our chances of reaching it go up dramatically. All this really requires is a few minutes of quiet time each day. When a window of time is used regularly to play your goals out in your mind, the subconscious will work out many of the details, even while you’re sleeping. That’s why this tool acts as a homing device in guiding us toward what we want.
So what specifically should you visualize and emotionalize? The very last step that will tell you your goal has been accomplished. If it’s gaining ten pounds of muscle, see yourself standing in front of the mirror and on the bathroom scale with those contoured slabs of meat on your frame. If it’s losing twenty pounds of unwanted fat, visualize the new and leaner you in the mirror. Maybe it’s a job promotion; see your boss sitting you down in his or her office and telling you of your advancement as you feel the positive charge of emotion that this will elicit from you.
Bodybuilding and Fitness: The Ultimate Success Practice Ground
Bodybuilding, along with any type of physique improvement, represents the rawest form of merging the world of your desires with the power to make them happen. It’s just you, your body, and some equipment. The results you get depend upon how well you utilize your mind and an outer strategy to mold something better than what you started with. If you really ‘get it’ – really hone in on the formula for success within this elementally pristine context – you can ingrain the ‘success mindset’ into your physiology.
When I sadly learned that Ray ‘Thunder’ Stern passed away in March, 2007, I saw a quote by his wife, former fitness model Debi Lee, that seemed poignantly revealing: “… He was a very unusual man with visions and the energy and know-how to make things happen”(6)
Judging by words in his book, these are attributes that he would likely credit to his passion for bodybuilding. They are characteristics not elusive to the rest of us, should we be as observant and receptive as Ray Stern to the inherent wisdom and powerful lessons that bodybuilding can offer us.
(1) Stern, Ray. Wolff, Robert. Power of Thunder Wolff Creative Group, Calabasas, CA. 1994 (Page 126) (2) Stern, page 126 (3) Stern, page 84 (4) Stern, page 109 (5) Stern, page 64 (6) Oliver, Greg. Ray “Thunder” Stern dead at 74 Slam Wrestling, March 2007(Paragraph 21)