Zig Ziglar Defines Success with These 3 Tenets

UPDATED: September 10, 2022
PUBLISHED: September 10, 2022
Zig Ziglar Defines Success with These 3 Tenets

Few have had as great an impact on as many people as Zig Ziglar. As a sales trainer, motivational speaker and bestselling author, Ziglar helped millions of individuals improve not only their perspective on life, but, more importantly, their results.

After a bumpy start, Zig Ziglar built a wildly successful career in sales. But the more he learned about selling and personal achievement, the more interested he became in motivational speaking. He wanted to help others attain the success he enjoyed. In 1970, while in his early 40s, Ziglar made a career shift and began to speak full time. Over the course of his career he engaged thousands of audiences and sold millions of books and audio programs, including the best-selling See You at the Top: 25th Anniversary Edition, which sold more than 1.5 million copies, and the audio program How to Stay Motivated. But exactly how many lives did Ziglar touch? “We began counting the number of people Zig has impacted and had to stop at 25.5 million people,” said a spokesperson with the Zig Ziglar Corporation.

With his unique cadence and strong southern drawl, Ziglar admonished people to be specific about what they want to achieve, to be purposeful in their approach to personal development, and to help as many others as possible along the way. And though he was a dyed-in-the-wool believer in the power of positive thinking, there is nothing secret about his philosophy on achieving success. “Positive thinking won’t let you do anything,” Ziglar said. “But it will help you do everything better than negative thinking will.” His constant message was that success requires full engagement and hard work. When combined with an unshakable positive attitude and character, success is inevitable. Here are a few more of Ziglar’s tried-and-true strategies:

Live a balanced, focused life

Success is never about acquiring what you want in one area of life, but in every area of life. Reminiscent of 1 Corinthians 13, Ziglar asked audiences to consider the fallacy of one-sided success. Take a moment and ask yourself these questions:

  • If I earn millions of dollars, but destroy my health in the process, is that success?
  • If I become the best in my industry, but neglect my family and friends, is that success?
  • If I acquire great wealth and notoriety, but compromise my integrity and faith to do so, is that success?

The obvious answer to each of these questions is “no.” Success isn’t one-sided. Our achievements aren’t fulfilling when we neglect or destroy our relationships, health or faith.

Through the years, Ziglar’s axiom was, “You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help enough other people get what they want.” But what exactly do people want? What do you want? Getting clear about your goals and desires, after all, is the first step to achieving them.

Ziglar said there are eight basic things people want to feel successful. “People want to be happy, healthy, reasonably prosperous and secure; they want to have friends, peace of mind, good family relationships and hope,” he said. With a focused goal to continually improve in each of these areas, we can enjoy life to the fullest.

You are here for a reason. That purpose is to get everything out of you that is humanly possible so you can make your contributions to mankind,” Ziglar wrote in See You at the Top. “Goals enable you to do more for yourself and others, too.” He also noted that goals must be specific: “You’ll never make it as a ‘wandering generality.’ You must become a ‘meaningful specific.’”

Goals give us a target and bring meaning to our mission. Without goals, life simply happens. But when we have a target, we can move with purpose, helping us achieve more. “People often complain about lack of time, when lack of direction is the real problem,” Ziglar said. “Time can be an ally or an enemy. What it becomes depends entirely upon you, your goals and your determination to use every available minute.”

Action  → Don’t confuse activity with accomplishment. You must have specific, clearly identified objectives. In the How to Stay Motivated audio program, Ziglar advised listeners to write down everything they want to do, be or have. Once you’ve created your list, pick five things you want to accomplish this year and outline a plan for each by defining daily, weekly and monthly targets. Then get started!

Take a (mental) bath every day

Getting motivated to improve in any one of these eight areas of life is relatively easy. But staying motivated enough to maintain the behaviors required to realize real change is challenging.

Ziglar illustrated the point by recounting the story of going to the gym on Jan. 2 one year. Normally, finding a place to park wasn’t an issue, nor was finding an empty workout bench or treadmill. But on his first visit of the new year, he was forced to park at the back of the lot and had to wait in line to use the equipment. When he questioned the trainer at the front desk about the influx of patrons, he was told not to worry and that things would go back to normal in about three weeks. Sure enough, before three weeks had passed, there were once again plenty of vacant spaces in the parking lot and several empty workout benches.

We are easily motivated to start a life-improvement project, but staying motivated takes work. Ziglar commented that people frequently complain to him that the effects of motivational seminars, books and audios don’t last. His response: “Neither does bathing; that’s why we recommend it daily.”

In his Christian Motivation for Daily Living audio program, Ziglar referenced a study that indicated 80% of what our minds take in each day is negative. Be it from talk radio or what Ziglar referred to as the “income suppressant” (aka the television), or the gripes and sour attitudes of our friends, co-workers, family members and acquaintances, we are inundated with negative thoughts, comments and messages. We can spend a full day at a motivational seminar or sales conference and get pumped with enthusiasm. But, as soon as we step out into the “real world,” the onslaught of negativity is akin to having someone dump garbage into our freshly cleaned mind.

“If I were to come into your home with a pail of garbage and dump it on your living room floor, we would have problems—fast,” Ziglar wrote in See You at the Top. “The person who dumps garbage into your mind will do you considerably more harm than the person who dumps garbage on your floor, because each load of mind garbage negatively impacts your possibilities and lowers your expectations.”

To offset the negativity and to stay motivated to reach our goals, continual affirmations and belief-building messages must be part of our daily routine. That’s why, in addition to practicing positive self-talk, Ziglar recommended listening to and reading motivational materials repeatedly and regularly. “You are what you are and where you are because of what’s gone into your mind,” he said. “You can change what you are, you can change where you are, by changing what goes into your mind.”

Action Block out 30 minutes a day (at a minimum) to read or listen to a positive, inspiring or motivational message. Doing so will help you stay committed to your goals and bolster your belief in your ability to achieve them.

Help others get what they want

If helping others get what they want is the true path to success, sales is the ideal profession. “People buy because they either need or want something,” Ziglar wrote in Ziglar on Selling. “If we can give persons a reason for buying and an excuse for buying, the chances that they will buy improve rather dramatically.” The key, he explained, is developing an attitude of curiosity and a sincere interest in your prospect’s needs. With those needs clarified, you can then offer a solution that satisfies both you and the customer.

Once, at a conference, author and keynote speaker Bob Burg pointed to Ziglar, a fellow panelist for the event, and shared how this master motivator and successful salesman had impacted his life. Early in his sales career, Burg attended one of Ziglar’s “Secrets of Closing the Sale” seminars. At the end of his presentation, Ziglar pitched his sales training program, which was available for purchase at the back of the room in cassette format.

As he made his way down the aisle to the sales table, a few of Burg’s co-workers tried to stop him. “They said, ‘You can’t afford Zig’s program—none of us can.’ And I said, ‘Exactly, that’s why I’m going back there to get Zig’s program… so one day I’ll be able to afford Zig’s program and anything else I want,’” Burg said. Burg said he “devoured” the program, listening to it repeatedly. The 16th time he listened to the audio, he heard a key point that he then incorporated into his sales presentation. Immediately, he began to close more sales. “I’ll tell you what, that product that I couldn’t afford to buy, but bought anyway, made me hundreds of thousands of dollars through the years. I owe so much to this gentleman because he allowed me to provide more value to more people than I would have been able to without being equipped in that way,” he said.

Action Commit today to become others-focused. With your spouse, your children, your prospect and your peers, keep the question, “How can I help you?,” as a primary focus in the relationship.

If you want to be happy, healthy, reasonably prosperous and secure, and if you want to have friends, peace of mind, good family relationships and hope, it makes sense to listen to this motivational master’s positive message of personal responsibility. Millions credit their achievements to what they’ve learned from Ziglar, a man who created a successful life by helping others do the same.

This article was published in August 2010 and has been updated. Photo courtesy of the Zig Ziglar Corporation