Muhammad Ali’s Powerful Guide to Punching Through the Wall

“I’ll be floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee.”

“I wish people would love everybody else the way they love me. It would be a better world.”

“A man who views the world the same at fifty as he did at twenty has wasted thirty years of his life.”

I’m guessing Muhammad Ali doesn’t need a long introduction. As an amateur he won the Olympic Gold. He then went on to become a three-time World Heavyweight Champion.

And in 1999, Sports Illustrated and the BBC named him as “the Sportsman of the Century”.

But what can we learn from one of the best boxers of all time?

Well, here are five tips from Muhammad Ali on how to break through the barriers in the world and in your mind.

1. Take a risk.

“He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.”

To get what you really want you will pretty much always have to take risks. Of course, that can be scary.

So how can you overcome this, take a leap and take the risk? I don’t have some simple and easy solution. But I do have a few tips.

  • Really, really want it. When you really want it simply becomes easier to push through the inner resistance you feel. You are so motivated to achieve whatever it is you want that the risk may be scary but smaller than your desire.
  • Ask yourself: what’s the worst that could happen? We often build big, negative fantasies in our heads of what may happen if we do something. Huge scary monsters. But probably 90 percent of what you fear never comes into reality. This is of course easy to say. But if you remind yourself of how little of what you feared throughout your life that has actually happened you can start to release more and more of that worry from your thoughts.
  • Detach from the outcome. When you are actually doing and taking the risk in real-time detach from the outcome. Just focus on what’s in front of you. Things will become easier. You’ll create less inner anxiety and pressure for yourself. And you will perform better because you are totally focusing on what’s right in front of you and not weighing yourself down with a lot of self-created negativity and doubts.

Every time you take the leap and take a risk – even if things might not go your way that time – you can build confidence in yourself. By getting more experiences where you took action instead of sitting on your hands it will over time becomes easier to start moving in the direction you desire and take a chance.

2. Steer clear of self-sabotage and creating inner obstacles.

“It isn’t the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it’s the pebble in your shoe.”

This is a big problem because often you don’t even know that you are for example self-sabotaging. You think that the thought loops that spinning around in your head is reality. But you can’t predict the future. But you are so stuck in your thoughts that you believe them as if they where the absolute truth.

Again, one way to gain a sober perspective is to ask: what’s really the worst that could happen? And then you can make a plan to handle that worst case scenario if it were to come into reality.

Another important thing here is to do what you think is the right thing in life as much as you can. Why? Because when you do that you start to build an image of yourself as someone who deserves the good things that come to him/her. Self-sabotage comes from thinking that you on some level simply aren’t worthy of what you want. So you sabotage for yourself along the way to get yourself back into the place or level of success you feel you deserve. So you have to make yourself feel more deserving.

Doing the right thing isn’t always easy. But you choose to go and work out instead of lying on the couch and watching TV. You choose to be kind instead of petty or judgemental. You choose to take a chance instead of not taking it. And a lot of the time you might not do the right thing. But by just increasing the number of times you do it during your week little by little you can really change how you view yourself. And over time this habit can become stronger and stronger.

Now, another essential thing to avoid self-sabotage and creating mind-monsters is this…

3. Keep your self-talk positive.

“It’s the repetition of affirmations that leads to belief. And once that belief becomes a deep conviction, things begin to happen.”

“I am the greatest, I said that even before I knew I was.”

“I’m so fast that last night I turned off the light switch in my hotel room and was in bed before the room was dark.”

If you are always negative and down on yourself it will be a lot more painful and sometimes pretty much impossible to achieve what you want. Keeping the self-talk in your head positive is essential. You can make that easier to by following the tips above.

Another helpful thing is just to be mindful of how you think about things. To say “Stop!” and cut off negative thought threads before they become strong. Just cut them off as often as you alert enough to do so. And replace them with more positive thought spirals by asking yourself questions like “What’s awesome about this?” and “What can I learn from this?”.

Keeping your self talk positive may seem cheesy or uncool. But beating yourself up all the time is far worse and really not helping you at all.

Plus, the thing is that your self-talk is contagious. Because how you talk to yourself affects how you feel. And as we know from bumper stickers, enthusiasm (and any other feeling) is contagious. And as we know from Ali, this self-talk can also start to seep out into what you say out loud too.

As you interact with people, there is always a social feedback loop. People tend to treat you as you see yourself and as a reaction to how you make them feel. Someone with very positive self-talk will probably be perceived as confident and positive and therefore be treated a certain way. Someone who thinks s/he is a loser and is always down on him/herself may be met with sympathy but also irritation or simply that people tend to avoid that person.

And since people and support is essential to just about any success you may desire your self-talk – and how you talk out loud – becomes very important.

Now, the social feedback loop is about what you really feel about yourself. Not that you repeat affirmations all day that you don’t believe in. So you need to start doing the right thing too, because positive real-life experiences have a deeper impact on how you feel about yourself than just making the self-talk more positive. At least in my experience.

4. Don’t make a big deal out of it.

“It’s just a job. Grass grows, birds fly, waves pound the sand. I beat people up.”

So you create a more positive self-image by doing the right thing and keeping your self-talk more positive. But it’s also a good thing to not go overboard. To not grow a huge ego and come off as arrogant or well, like a jerk.

This may be a bit counter-intuitive but not making a big deal out of what you are good at have some big benefits.

  • Less defensiveness and negativity. I could for instance create a big ego around the fact that I have many readers on this blog. And that would feel awesome for a while. But sooner or later my head would become too big and I would come off in negative way. And if people would question what I am saying I would start to feel more and more threatened and nervous. Because I would have a big image to live up to and defend each day. I think it’s a lot easier to keep the self-talk positive but also just be a guy who knows some stuff, has done some things and write about all of that.
  • Makes the doing easier and more enjoyable. If you think it’s a big deal then it becomes a big deal. And things become unnecessarily hard and complicated. You start to create monsters in your mind again. Your ego may want you to think that it’s big, big deal because it means that you are a big, big deal too. That effect is enjoyable but makes the doing harder and less fun after a while as the inner pressure starts to ramp up.

5. Use your emotional leverage to succeed.

“Only a man who knows what it is like to be defeated can reach down to the bottom of his soul and come up with the extra ounce of power it takes to win when the match is even.”

If you are here or have an interest in personal development then you have probably hit a point sometime in your past where you said “Enough of this! Something has to change”. Or you felt like you hit rock bottom. Now that isn’t fun. But as Ali says, it’s also there you can find that extra motivation and power to push through.

If you were unhealthy and overweight you feel like you never want to go back to that again. If you didn’t get anything done, procrastinated all day and felt like crap you don’t want to go back to that. If you were buried in a mountain of debt you want to never go back to that place or headspace again.

When you have had enough you will find a way to change your life. And I’m not saying that you should be driven by a fear to never return back to where you were. But to simply remind yourself of how it where back then when things get tough. And realize that yes, it may be hard right now. But it is temporary. And it’s definitely better than it used to be.

Your worst times may not be fun at all when they are happening. But later on they can be some of the most helpful and powerful experiences of your life.

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About the Author

Henrik Edberg is the creator of the Positivity Blog and has written weekly articles here since 2006. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Gothenburg and has been featured on Lifehacker, HuffPost and Paulo Coelho’s blog. Click here to learn more…

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Hey Henrik,

    I just found your blog today and what a fantastic blog it is! I love Muhammad Ali and I love that you used him as an example for your post here today.

    Hearing that Ali said to himself that he was the greatest before he even believed it is dead on to what I am seeing in my own life. The power of affirmations is there but most people fail to see its effectiveness and soon give up. I am proof that you can change your life just by changing the conversations in your head. The affirmations change your beliefs and that’s where the secret is… changing your beliefs.

    “Champions are not made in the ring, they are acknowledged there.” ~ Not sure who said this but it’s a great one.

  • that’s an interesting post :)

  • Thanks for sharing. He has always been an inspiration to me, and it was interesting to see some of these things. I think that one of the hardest things for me is “Detaching from the outcome.”

    I find it difficult to practice non-attachment.

  • Wonderful post! I really liked the part about taking risks. Successful people become successful because they do what others are unwilling to do. They take risks and continue to learn from the successes and failures of those risks.

  • Hello Henrik.
    Mohammed Ali was an incredible man and an incredible marketer.
    He created a mystic about himself. He was never negative, he took risks and he kept improving.

    We all need to listen to these tips and use them for our dreams and goals.


  • Wow, I like these ideas of how to acheve greatness! I think what you present here are good tools to get yourself on the way… using them correctly tunes you in on being positive and outcome-independent. That is the real power that lives in all of us, after that you should be able to drop the “triggers”, like affirmations and such, and make it your emotional lifestyle :)

  • Very important and useful things are pointed here. Especially I like the point about positiveness, it really works and helps in our lives.

    Thanks Henrik, for sharing!

  • Thanks for the added insights, guys! :)

  • Howdy Henrik,
    Those perspectives of Ali are great. No wonder he became a great boxer and most loved too. What really struck me here in your post is our response is always our responsibility. After all what will gonna happen to us will always depend on our choice and we will always be the one who will be affected. Thanks for the insights, eh.

  • Hello Henrik,

    I enjoyed your tip on having positive self talk. There is much we can learn from people like Muhammad Ali or those who have created successful lives. They learn from their negative experiences rather than be defeated by them. Great sharing!

  • If someone focused solely on the topic of this article they could thoroughly change their life. Thanks for the post!

  • Hi Henrik,
    I just found your blog today and I just wanted to say that it’s really inspirational and has given me loads of food for thought- thanks.

  • Another great article of inspiration from the man who knows how to beat things up :)

  • “It isn’t the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it’s the pebble in your shoe.” – love it. It is too often that we beat ourselves up and out of success that’s so close. Got to stay positive and keep the big picture, your objectives/goals in mind.

    Thanks Henrik

    To Your Success!