An Interview with the Great Zig Ziglar

By Malcolm Fleschner

This interview with the great Zig Ziglar appeared in the April 1997 issue of Selling Power magazine. Read on to learn the personal tips that put him at the top of his field and created success for a lifetime.
rZig Ziglar has helped millions find the ability and drive to succeed. For more than 30 years this motivational marvel has wowed audiences around the world with his simple, yet penetrating insight into personal achievement. His books have been translated into 32 languages while his name recognition among Americans hovers at an astounding 36 percent.

Ziglar’s message transcends mere motivational speaking. While he believes that attitude plays a key role in determining success, Ziglar stresses the importance of balancing a positive attitude with the hands-on abilities necessary to accomplish our dreams. As always, Ziglar has a ready anecdote to illustrate his point.

“When I was in the seventh grade I went out for the boxing team. I weighed a whopping 82 pounds. I was very confident because I had enjoyed a certain amount of success as a playground gladiator. The guy I was going to spar with weighed about 62 pounds and I just knew I’d kill him. What I did not realize was that he had been on the team for two years already. It took him about three seconds to figure out that the straightest distance to my nose was a left jab. Two seconds later he figured it out again. And again and again. Since more than my feelings were getting hurt I decided I was too busy for the boxing team.

“But then the coach took me aside and started teaching me some fundamentals. Within a couple of weeks I was able to hit my opponent once in a while. I quickly learned that the hitter had more fun than the hittee. After about three or four weeks I was actually winning. And the point here is that when I went into the ring the first time I had a great attitude, I was positive, optimistic, enthusiastic and highly motivated, but I was about to get killed. When I added the skill to the attitude my effectiveness went way up. Neither attitude nor ability alone will get you there – you need them both to be successful.”

Besides attitude and ability, Ziglar’s recipe for success includes many additional ingredients. Part of the problem facing many people, he says, is that they lack a clear destination in life. And without a destination in mind it’s nearly impossible to find your way. By contrast Ziglar can enunciate a clear definition of success.

“Many people are mistaken in equating success solely with money,” he says. “To me, success means getting a reasonable amount of the things money will buy and all of the things money won’t buy. Money is not the most important thing, but when you need it there are few substitutes. So while I like the things money can buy, I love what money won’t buy. It bought me a house but it won’t buy me a home. It would buy me a companion but it won’t buy me a friend.

“Then the second part of what success means relates to when you’ve dealt with the physical, mental and spiritual aspects of life. If I made millions and destroyed my health in the process, or neglected my family, that’s not success.”

Unlike some speakers who talk a good game but fail to live up to the ideals they espouse, credibility is not an issue for Zig Ziglar. If he talks the talk, he walks the walk, too. When he tells an audience that physical fitness will increase their energy, help them perform better and improve their lives he’s speaking from experience.

“Twenty-five years ago I made a decision to do something about physical fitness,” he says. “Since then I’ve been eating sensibly and exercising regularly. Today my exercise regimen includes vigorous walking 5-7 times a week, a 20-minute routine involving push-ups and stretching as well as weightlifting. Now at age 70 I can stay on the treadmill five minutes longer than I could when I was 45. That means that I have more documented energy today than I did 25 years ago. Does that enable me to be more productive? Of course it does. Do I have more fun at it? Absolutely.

“Now some people say, ‘I have been smoking and drinking for 35 years and it has never hurt me.’ But what they don’t know is how great they could have been had they abstained from those things from the start. So right now I’m more enthusiastic than ever about exercise and diet because I have so many plans. And to be able to reach my other goals I have to reach my physical goals, too.”

Anyone who has seen Zig Ziglar speak can attest to his enthusiasm and vigor. This bountiful energy helps Ziglar maintain a travel schedule that would daunt many a newcomer to the motivation field. Surprisingly, whether he has given the same talk 5 or 500 times Ziglar always dedicates at least three hours to preparing for each show.

“The majority of that time I will simply be giving the talk mentally. But this is essential, because it frees up my creative side. My left brain is so totally trained on that area that it frees my right brain to be creative. And I guarantee you that there will be some creative thoughts, ideas or a release of information as a result of combining these things that will make a difference. And that is the way creativity works.”

Despite his phenomenal success, the result of hundreds of thousands of appreciative and satisfied customers, Ziglar still hears the familiar refrain that motivational speakers fail to produce long-term results. In a way, he says, he fully agrees.

“A reporter once asked me how I responded to the charge that motivation is not permanent,” Ziglar explains. “I said, ‘Absolutely right!’ It is not permanent. Neither is bathing. But if you bathe every day you’re going to smell good. In my seminars I explain that 15 minutes a day of motivation from a good audio cassette or a book can make a tremendous difference in your life and give you a motivational lift every day.

“As a matter of fact, until just recently one of the mysteries that had plagued me for a long time was why we get approximately 200 times as many testimonial letters from people who have read my books or listened to my tapes as from people who saw me appear in person. And while we get tremendous responses from the speeches, I discovered the reason for this discrepancy from a study done by Stanford University. They found that 95 percent of the people who believe in the concepts we talk about – who know they need to have goals, the right attitude, the applicable skills – they are unable to implement this philosophy because they don’t have the resources to follow through. They don’t have the tapes or the book to refer to and follow up with repetition. And that study’s results reinforced what I have always believed: that repetition is the mother of learning and the father of action, which means it is the architect of accomplishment.”

Ziglar and his family suffered their greatest personal adversity when his daughter, Suzy, died tragically after a protracted battle with pulmonary fibrosis. While he admits to enduring extraordinary turmoil over the tragedy, Ziglar says that he emerged from the experience with a renewed faith and positive outlook on life. The result was his book, Confessions of a Grieving Christian (scheduled for publication in 1998).

“What I wanted to share in the book,” Ziglar says, “is that there is a hope that goes beyond anything we can possibly expect. In fact it’s more of a journal in that I share my thoughts and feelings as I felt them, especially as they remind me of her. In Dallas recently we had some snow, and my other children and wife and I all started weeping because Suzy had a passion for snow. If she saw one snowflake she would tell everyone that she was going into her snow dance to produce six to eight inches of snow. So the snow brings back that memory. The book encourages people to let the tears flow and to give people credit for good intentions when they say they know how you feel. Because nothing compares to losing a child. In the natural order of things she was supposed to come to my funeral, not the other way around. So I encourage people, don’t deny your grief, let the tears flow, but look to the source of all joy and know that God is really in control.”

Goal setting from the master

Everyone formulates goals. Yet surprisingly few people embrace a goals program encompassing the areas of life that can yield sustainable dividends. Zig Ziglar can help you change all that. Follow his six-step lesson plan for developing a long-term goals program and you’ll be on your way.

1. Balance your objectives

Write out everything you want to be, do or have. Sit on this list for a couple of days, then write next to each item in one sentence why you want to be, do or have that. If you can’t do it in one sentence it’s not a realistic objective for now. Draw a line through it. This should reduce your list to a manageable number of items. That’s important, because you can’t have everything right now that you want.

2. Evaluate your list

Look at the list and ask yourself, “If I had, did and tried all of these things would I be happy, healthy, prosperous, secure and have friends, strong family relationships and peace of mind?” In other words would your life be in balance? If you answer no, then you need to break down the list some more.

3. Separate into threes

Divide your list into short-range goals that can be accomplished in a month or less, intermediate goals, that may take up to a year and long-range goals in excess of a year. Now look over your list and make sure it is equally balanced among the three. Eliminate goals in the area that is overloaded.

4. Ask five key questions

For each item on your list, ask yourself, (1) Is this really my goal? Do you want that car because it’s best for you or because your neighbor has one? These goals must be for your fulfillment, so that’s an important question. (2) Is it morally right and fair to everyone concerned? If you want a new shotgun but your daughter needs braces you may not be able to have them both. (3) Will reaching this goal take me closer to or farther away from my major objective in life? That ski weekend may look enticing but if you have the chance to break a sales record then you should consider the long-term gratification that the award will bring as opposed to the short-term pleasure of a ski trip. (4) Can I emotionally commit to reaching this goal? We make decisions based on emotions. So you need to acknowledge that the emotional commitment is just as important as the intellectual commitment. (5) With this plan of action can I realistically see myself reaching this goal? Can you visualize yourself there? It’s very important that you believe in yourself enough to visualize it ahead of time.

Asking these five questions should reduce your list even more so that you’re ready for the next step.

5. Run the goal test.

Write your goals down again, then look at each one and consider what the benefits are of reaching that goal. Next, ask yourself what obstacles stand in your way. With these obstacles in mind, what do you need to know to get there? Identify the people, groups and organizations that you need to work with in order to get there. Then write down your specific action plan, from step 1 to step 100, if necessary, that will bring you to what you’re trying to accomplish.

6. Set a date

A lot of people set dates without considering the demands of the situation. So you should set a realistic date for accomplishing this goal that takes into account all the factors you have determined in step five. Out of this process, Ziglar says, you should wind up with a balanced list including both your large-scale and less ambitious goals.

“The big goals should be out of reach,” Ziglar explains, “but not out of sight. That is critical because the long-range goals help you overcome short-range frustration. Keeping one eye on the distant goal helps you move beyond these obstacles.

“Then some goals must be daily because that gives you a sense of accomplishment along the way. I recommend that at the end of every day you look back and write down what you accomplished that day and a comment about how it made a difference in making your dreams a reality. You will stave off negative thinking and denial and wind up with a daily chart that leads directly to a successful outcome.”