Muhammad Ali is really not who comes to mind when thinking about weak-minded people. As one of the greatest sportsmen who ever lived, he is the embodiment of a winner’s mindset. He seemed invincible in the ring, and even later, when he fought his very personal fight against Parkinson’s disease, his whole body shaking from the uncontrollable convulsions, he still somehow appeared unshakeable in his demeanour. This kind of mindset was just who he was.
The Muhammad Ali mindset
And yet, even a champ like him has affirmations that he told himself to reinforce those mindsets. Recently I was listening to Tim Ferriss’s podcast, in which he interviewed Cal Fussman, writer-at-large for Esquire Magazine (you can find the entire podcast here, it is worth it!). Cal met Muhammad Ali in 2003 to write a piece about him and extract some wisdom from him. What he mentions to Tim Ferriss is that Muhammad gave him a full list of affirmations, attitudes and life lessons that he learned and embodied over the years (check it out here). To Ali, the first one was the most important:
God will not place a burden on a man’s shoulders knowing that he cannot carry it.
Now, when I heard this, my first reaction was ‘come on Muhammad, you can do better!’. I myself am not religious and the idea that a man as great as Muhammed Ali believes that he is no more than a pack mule for God’s will, destined to carry whatever load he decides to put on him, made me a bit sad. Someone like Ali should have a higher opinion of himself, i thought.
Ali’s mindset is based on his life
But then I pondered over this quote some more, and the bigger picture emerged. I started to see how it fits into the mindset of the champ. Ali’s life was a life of constant struggle. He engaged in many fights, in- and outside the ring. He fought for the civil rights movement, he fought against the war in Vietnam and he fought back when he has banned from professional boxing for three years. After his active career, he soon had to accept the fight against Parkinson, and bravely fought it for more than three decades before finally giving in.
So this was not a life that he could just live without any worries. It was a life of many burdens. And the important part was never what mindset Ali needed to adapt to shoulder these burdens, but that he did so at all.
Mindset is not important. Important is the action that result from it. The right mindset does however build the foundation to any courageous endeavour. Mindsets are like a script that is running in the background and that nobody sees, but that allows to create amazing outcomes. And if telling himself that God chose to put heavier burdens on him because he knew he could handle it is what made Ali so great and allowed him to accomplish everything he accomplished, then he chose exactly the right mindset to support his vision.
How to have the mindset of a champ yourself
The wisdom here comes not from Muhammad Ali’s mindset itself. What exactly he told himself is secondary. The real insight comes from the fact that Ali knew of the importance of the right mindset in the first place. You have to have the mindset that you are destined for great things; you have to have the mindset that you will embrace struggle; you have to have the mindset of a winner. That is the only way you can win.
So if you want to learn from Muhammad Ali’s mindset in order to think like a champ as well, don’t pay too much attention to what exactly it was he told himself. He would have told himself anything that makes him endure his struggle. Find whatever motivates you, whatever allows you to power through. And then keep repeating it to yourself. Make it your mantra. This is how you become a champ.