I am the greatest, I said that even before I knew I was.” ~ Muhammad Ali
From the moment a 12 year old kid called Cassius Clay, Jr. first laced up a pair of boxing gloves, he no doubt knew that he was destined for greatness in both the sport and in life. Always supremely confident in his own abilities, Muhammad Ali – as he later became better known – deservedly earned himself the nickname ‘The Greatest’.
Whether you’re a fan of boxing or not, Ali’s legendary fighting spirit and positive attitude are an inspiration for anyone wanting to achieve great things.
So, what can we learn about greatness in life from the words of wisdom of the ‘fighting philosopher’?
Ali was – and still is – the master showman, both inside and outside the ring. The pre-match hype he generated was as entertaining and eagerly anticipated as his bouts. He could deliver a mighty punch to an opponent with a well aimed verbal jab.
Here are 9 of Muhammad Ali’s best quotes on greatness:
1. You’ve Got to Have a Vision
“Champions aren’t made in gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them- a desire, a dream, a vision. They have to have the skill, and the will. But the will must be stronger than the skill.”
Ali always had a laser-focussed dream in mind – to become the best boxer in the world. Every minute spent training and every strategic punch thrown during a match was designed to make this vision a reality.
Having a vision for your future defines what you want to become and the things you want to achieve. Your vision also allows you to develop the actions you need to take to get there. A clear vision helps keep the momentum going when difficult circumstances threaten to derail the dream.
Knockout point: Ask yourself what your ‘ideal’ future looks like. Use this as a starting point to plan practically how to achieve this vision for your life. Dream big.
2. You’ve Got to Set Goals
“What keeps me going is goals.”
Working towards challenging goals directly helps an athlete perform better in their sport, and Ali set himself many tough goals on his way to the top.
Goal setting is the process that helps you to be clear on what you want, decide upon an action plan to help achieve it, take the necessary steps, and to focus your time and energy on reaching your targets.
Knockout point: Work out the goals you want to achieve and develop an action plan to reach them.
3. Don’t Quit the Preparation Stage
“I hated every minute of training, but I said, “Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion”.”
Ali spent many gruelling hours losing blood and sweat in the practice gyms, learning the moves and tactics of boxing. He saw training as a tough but necessary part of his quest to be No. 1.
We’d all love to achieve overnight success in our efforts, but this rarely happens. Success doesn’t come easy. It takes hard work and preparation to gain the skills needed. But investing the time now will pay off in the long run.
Knockout point: Develop a training schedule and stick with it for the long term whether you want to achieve success in losing weight, becoming fitter, gaining a promotion at work, or whatever.
4. Meet Challenges Head On
“It’s lack of faith that makes people afraid of meeting challenges, and I believed in myself.”
In the days before the legendary “Rumble in the Jungle” match, the older Ali was seen as the underdog to his younger and stronger opponent, George Foreman. After an exhausting duel, Ali was declared the winner. He’d tackled the fight head on.
It’s often a temptation to give up on doing something difficult because we see it as being too tough to achieve. Many people throw in the towel before even giving it a try. But it’s really only by pushing ourselves that we grow in confidence and develop the skills needed to be successful.
Knockout point: Be brave enough to face up to the more demanding tasks you’ve set yourself – as well as the easy ones. Start with smaller challenges and once you tick them off as ‘done’, move on to even greater ones.
5. Have the Courage to Take Risks
“He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.”
No one could accuse Ali of playing it safe when he stepped inside the ring.
Most of us have our own ‘comfort zone’, a familiar place where we limit what we do to only those things we know we can do successfully.
If you fear failure you will never take the risks needed for excellent performance. As you apply goal setting to your life and see the achievement of these goals, your self confidence will grow, helping you to take even bigger risks.
Knockout point: If it’s something that you aren’t sure about doing, think: “What am I going to lose if I take the risk?” and “what could I gain from just doing it?” Then, weigh up which course of action benefits you most.
6. Don’t be Afraid of Losing
“I never thought of losing, but now that it’s happened, the only thing is to do it right. That’s my obligation to all the people who believe in me. We all have to take defeats in life.”
While Ali lost only 5 matches in his amazing career, everyone was shocked that such a ‘winning machine’ could lose at all. It’s ironic that Ali’s very last fight was a loss by unanimous decision.
In today’s success obsessed society, we’re programmed to be terrified of losing. Losing is bad. Losing is to be avoided at all costs. Losing is for losers!
Yet, in reality, you can’t ever know the full experience of winning if you’ve never lost.
Knockout point: See failure as the opportunity to identify areas where you can improve your skills and performance for the future.
7. Believe in Yourself First
“I figured that if I said it enough, I would convince the world that I really was the greatest.”
Your own self belief is the key to successful life change, achievement, contentment, and happiness. When you believe that something is possible and within your power to get, you are much more likely to put in the time and effort required to make it happen.
Knockout point: Work on building your self belief by reflecting on your past successes and achievements, however minor they might appear to others. What strengths did you show that helped you do those great things? You did it before, so you can certainly do it again.
8. You’re Free to be What You Want
“I know where I’m going and I know the truth, and I don’t have to be what you want me to be. I’m free to be what I want.”
The pressure to conform to other people’s standards is enormous. Parents, friends, the media, and society all set goals for you, based on what they want. Often they do this by ignoring your own needs, desires and ambitions. But, regularly following someone else’s suggestions on what to do with your life will leave you unfulfilled, as will trying to fit in with their idea of who you should be.
Knockout point: Never let other people limit you. Your dreams belong to you and you alone.
9. The Power of Positive Affirmations
“It’s the repetition of affirmations that leads to belief. And once that belief becomes a deep conviction, things begin to happen.”
Negative internal thoughts are the enemy of success. That nagging little voice of self doubt always appears when you’re on the verge of great things. Thankfully, with practice, it’s possible to reprogram our mind and replace the destructive messages with more positive ones.
Knockout point: If you tell yourself that ‘you can’ enough times, one day you’ll start to believe it. When that happens, there will be no stopping you!
Which of Muhammad Ali’s motivational quotes inspires you the most? How could you apply them to your own life today?