I just heard on NPR today that the Zig Ziglar has died at the age of 86. If you don’t know who Zig Ziglar is, let me begin by telling you how I first heard of him.

I had just graduated from college and moved to Fort Meyers, Florida to continue my martial arts training. I was staying in the living room of a student I had met and have since become close friends with, and I had just begun teaching at Mr. Wedlake’s martial arts school. I was also working at a bike shop on Fort Myers Beach in the daytime, before classes started. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do professionally, but I did know that I wanted my own martial arts school. Working for my teacher gave me the vision that it was possible to teach martial arts full-time without being distracted by “a real job”.

While in Florida, my father thought he would help me out so he emailed me two cassette tapes and told me to listen to them. It was one of the best things he ever did for me, a young adult. One of these cassettes had the name Zig Ziglar on it with the word “goals” on the other side.  On my way to the martial arts school, I popped the cassette into the player of my Dodge Aries K, nicknamed Blue Thunder, and was immediately enthralled.

Up to this point, I’d never heard any type of motivational speaking outside of church or my dad’s other favorite speaker, Leo Buscaglia, on PBS. Leo spoke mainly about love while the Zig was talking to me about hopes, dreams and what I would make with my life. It was exactly what I needed at that point in time because these were the questions I sought to answer as I wrote in my journal sitting under a palm tree beside the pool in our apartment complex.

Zig gave me the idea to put up visual reminders of my goals everywhere through his “Jockey shorts” story.  He was looking at a magazine and saw a picture of a model wearing jockey shorts. He thought to himself that he wanted to look like the guy in the ad, and not like himself, so he ripped out the picture and put it up on his bathroom mirror.  That way he could look at the picture every morning for inspiration and to remind himself of the goal he was working toward. He even went so far as to put his weight in a new book he was publishing.  The catch was that the weight he wrote down in his book was about 46 pounds less than he currently weighed.   Because he made it public, it forced him to actually lose the weight before the book came out.   Long before scientists like Roy Baumeister studied willpower and came to the same conclusions, Zig was using such proven strategies to achieve his goals.

I went through Zig’s goal setting process for all parts of my life:

  1. state  your goal
  2. set a completion date
  3. list the knowledge you will need
  4. to list the groups you will work with
  5. list the obstacles to your goal
  6. list the steps you will have to take to achieve your goal, your plan of action
  7. state why you want your goal, “what’s in it for me?”

One of my goals was to open a martial arts school, but I realized Florida was not the place, Colorado was what I wanted and chose to live.  As soon as I got my own room (when Ozzie realize I wasn’t going away we found a two-bedroom apartment in the complex and moved), I hunted down a map of the state of Colorado, bought a really ugly Colorado Rockies hat and put up posters of snowboarders and a No Fear poster of a rock climber on my bedroom walls.   I researched all I could about the state of Colorado, narrowing down my choice to Boulder County.   I sketched out what my school would look like and made a 3-D drawing of the interior, which I also put on my wall. I didn’t have a school or a business, but according to Zig what I needed and what I could have was a plan. I began spending my free time in the library and checked out every book I could on how to open my own business. I bought a giant three-ring binder, and without any help laid out every aspect of the martial arts school and how to run it I could. I created a massive business plan in my spare time. Oddly enough, when I presented this plan to David Macy he rented me the space for my first school on the strength of my business plan alone.

Zig was a phenomenal speaker who got his start as a door-to-door salesman selling cookware. He began motivating other salesman and eventually generalized his lessons to the rest of life. Zig is famous for his quote, “you can have everything you want if you help enough people get when they want.” As far as guiding principles go, this is one of the best because it begins with service to others instead of greed and selfishness. It  acknowledges that each of us has our own needs and desires, but the best way to fulfill them is to help other people first, to give before we receive. A bonus of following this advice is that research has shown that helping other people makes us happier than the actual goals we’re striving for. The real gold is in building strong relationships.

Looking back, the first thing I realized was that Zig’s lessons, speeches and principles could have come directly out of the martial arts and, like most speakers, he referenced martial arts training regularly. His reasons to develop commitment, perseverance and optimism rang true with me; true to his word, zig “sold me” on having goals and never quitting until I achieve them. I can personally attest to the power of his teaching and how it can create a better, more meaningful life. I base my school on these same values and teaching the strategies that make everything work.

Second, was that my father was insightful enough to refer me to Zig, right when I needed it the most. If you’ve ever had someone recommend anything to you when it could help you the most- and you took their advice – then you know the power of which I speak.  We all need teachers, coaches and mentors to guide us and give us a different perspective.  None of us succeed alone, nor can we always see what is in our best interests, which is why we also need wise advisors and trusted opinions.

Third, was the idea that motivation wears off and that disciplined action is what is needed for long-term success. Success is about much more than just feeling good, it really is about doing what you know you need to do when you feel the worst. Motivational speakers get a bad rap because they pump everyone up and move the show onto the next town, leaving everyone feeling good for a while but without the discipline to take the necessary steps and follow through once the speaker is gone. Sometimes we all need to be pumped up, but what we really need to do is get to it– now.

Zig Ziglar is dead but we can all benefit from his expertise through his speeches and writings. I’m thankful for that, I’m thankful that he chose to share his expertise and I’m thankful for my father for exposing me to Zig Ziglar.

Rest in peace.