Legends: Brian Tracy
“You can’t hit a target you can’t see,” Brian Tracy is fond of saying. What he means
is that if you don’t have a crystalclear goal, you simply can’t gauge your progress toward it. This is just one
example of Tracy’s trademark style—he deals in deceptively simple, sensible statements that hold a world of wisdom.
Tracy has no time for excuses and no patience for whiners. For any reason a person who imagines that he or she can’t
succeed—“It’s too late for me,” “I’m too old,” “I don’t have the necessary
education and experience,” “I don’t have any money to get started”—Tracy has an answer: “Don’t
give me any of that.” If there’s one thing he knows for sure, it’s that your starting point doesn’t
matter. It’s all about the goal you’ve set your sights on, and what you’re honestly prepared to do to get
His own life is a testament to his no-frills, no-excuses, no-nonsense philosophy of success. From a trouble-making kid from
a poor family to a wandering, struggling laborer, he made a dramatic shift in beliefs and attitude that propelled him to rise
to a top sales position and beyond.
After mastering sales, he went on to successful careers in a variety of fields and industries, eventually attaining the rank
of chief operating officer of a $265 million development company. Over the last 30 years, he’s worked to distill his
vast life experience into a foolproof system for success. His goal today, as head of Brian Tracy International and Brian Tracy
University, is to pass on to others everything he has learned from a lifetime of study, trial, error, passion and old-fashioned
Fascinated by Success
Tracy was born in Vancouver, British Columbia, in 1944, one of four brothers in a poor family. His father didn’t always
have work, and he never had work that paid well. Brian and his brothers got their clothing from charities, and while his parents
were upstanding people with good values, they worried to no end about money. From the time he could remember, young Brian
was deeply curious about why other families were enjoying a higher quality of life without being plagued by money worries.
In the first chapter of his book Maximum Achievement, Tracy writes about how his parents always seemed to be telling
themselves the same thing, over and over again, like a mantra: “We can’t afford it, we can’t afford it,
we can’t afford it.” He frequently reminds his audiences that people become what they think about most of the
time. Studies of self-made millionaires have revealed they think about financial independence more than anything else. Like
many people who lived through the Depression, Tracy’s parents thought about the opposite—poverty—most of
Tracy didn’t put all of this together overnight, though. Before he could become an expert on success, he had to experience
plenty of his own failure and dejection in childhood, adolescence and into adulthood. By his own description, he was “a
behavior problem” as a kid, earning countless detentions at school and even getting suspended and expelled multiple
Eventually he flunked out of high school and started working as a dishwasher. This began a pattern of drifting from one low-paying
job to another, barely making ends meet, and sometimes not at all. In the back of Tracy’s mind, he constantly puzzled
over the question he had asked himself since childhood: Why do some people fail while others succeed?
After years of wandering, vaguely assuming his life was the result of external forces over which he had no influence, Tracy
woke up. He realized that if his life was ever to be any different, he was the only one who could do anything about it. If
he wanted answers, he would have to actively seek them out. “The turning point for me came when I was working as a construction
laborer, and it was realizing that I was responsible for my own life,” he says.
Shortly after that, Tracy got his first job in sales, and after a rough start, he began to apply his curiosity about success
and failure to his floundering selling strategies. He read everything he could about sales, and he quizzed successful salespeople
about what they were doing so he could emulate their practices. He set the goal of becoming a better salesman and then pursued
it wholeheartedly by seeking out knowledge and trying out different approaches. He quickly climbed the ranks to become the
No. 1 sales manager at his company.
In the following years, Tracy capitalized on multiple business opportunities, taking on more responsibility and setting increasingly
loftier goals for himself. He accepted challenges in sales, management, real estate development, business theory and marketing.
In every instance, his innate curiosity served him well as he read prodigiously and became an expert on the subjects and industries
If you suggest this type of dedicated learning to the average person, chances are, the reply will be something like, “But
I don’t have time for that.” As usual, Tracy has a rebuttal: “Never let your car be moving without you learning
something.” He’s referring to the fact that most everyone drives and every book or seminar imaginable is available
on audio. “Read, listen, continuously learn and grow. I read for three hours a day for 50 years, somewhere between 6,000
and 7,000 books. You can learn anything if you really want to.”
A Student of Achievement
Tracy’s voracious reading wasn’t limited to his professional interests. He read about world history, economics,
psychology, personality, marriage and parenting so he could have a better understanding of the world and his place in it.
He also read the best writings on success: “Starting when I was 23 or 24, I read all the classics, Napoleon Hill, Claude
Bristol, Orison Swett Marden. I laid a foundation for myself in success literature.” Over the last three decades, Tracy
has earned a place among the aforementioned greats. In 1981, he decided to start compiling everything he had learned into
a comprehensive system for achieving success and happiness. “I went to some seminars that were really quite poor, full
of fluff,” he says. “I thought, ‘I can do better than this.’ ”
The first program he offered was entitled The Inner Game of Success, a two-day seminar that went through various
incarnations as Tracy developed his message. For a time, it was called the Phoenix Seminar, which later became an audio best-seller
entitled The Psychology of Achievement.
“I was on fire with the ideas in the seminar. I had an intense desire to share them with others,” Tracy writes.
“I knew these ideas worked, and I was convinced that anyone who would apply even a small part of this system could bring
about rapid, positive changes in his or her life.”
Since 1981, he has authored or co-authored more than 45 books, including Goals!, Maximum Achievement, Eat That Frog,
Time Power, Reinvention and The 100 Absolutely Unbreakable Laws of Business Success. He has also produced training
kits, online courses, video seminars and audio lessons on countless topics, from sales and entrepreneurship to strategies
for a happy, lasting marriage. In his speaking career, he has addressed more than 4 million people in audiences worldwide.
The Importance of Clarity
In his books and presentations, Tracy often emphasizes that clarity is vital to success. You must be crystal-clear about
your goals in order to move toward them. But you must also cultivate clear self-perception and level-headedness so your emotions
don’t cloud your judgment. “Problems come from rash or bad thinking,” Tracy says. “Negative emotions
cause your brain to shut down and you make bad decisions. But if you canthink clearly and act well, you can be effective in
sales or anything else.”
Tracy advocates a better way of responding to negativity of any type, whether it’s doubt, disappointment, frustration
or anger. “When you get upset, that’s when you must accept responsibility. The starting point for controlling
your life is controlling your emotions. Many people think that emotions are uncontrollable. The way we explain things to ourselves
determines the emotional component. So you deliberately decide to interpret things to yourself in a positive way.”
Tracy gives an example of this strategy: “Think about being stuck in traffic. One person becomes upset and agitated,
while another person is totally calm and inclined to use the extra time to relax or listen to something educational. It’s
the exact same situation. But it’s the way you think about being stuck in traffic that determines your experience.”
Much of Tracy’s message is designed to help people lay a foundation for thinking clearly, rationally and positively
about their goals. But that’s only the beginning, he says. “When you think positively and constructively, you
activate your creative mind. That’s true. But work is the vital part of the equation that so often gets left out when
we’re talking about goals and positive thinking. Sometimes when you discover a concept like goal-setting, you can get
really carried away with it. You can set goals and be really clear about them, and you can focus on them all the time, but
if you don’t add the hard work, nothing at all will happen. Period.”