Zig Ziglar passed away nearly two weeks ago at the age of 86. I’ve been meaning to get up a post about Ziglar because I first encountered his personal brand of positive thinking at a time of my life when I wasn’t positive about much. In fact, being positive used to be something I never put much stock in. I had no truck with optimism, instead finding it easier traveling the paths of cynicism and negativity. When appraising any situation, I always saw a glass that was half empty.
Ziglar was part of a pantheon of 20th century positive-thinking gurus that included Dale Carnegie, Norman Vincent Peale, Napoleon Hill, Og Mandino, and W. Clement Stone, to name just a few. All of these men believed that people had the ability to change their circumstances as a result of the power of the mind and their attitudes.
I first learned about Ziglar and his positive messaging while a student at an independent, fundamentalist Baptist Bible College named Hyles-Anderson College. As a student at this school, I was required to be engaged in some activity related to what was referred to as “soul-winning.” I joined the Fishermen’s Club, headed by George Godfrey, a serpent-like man who also taught at the college I was attending.
Godfrey believed that success in winning souls came with having a positive attitude (and of course, the power of the Holy Spirit) and he pushed a series of $3 duplicated cassettes upon us every Saturday morning at Duff’s Restaurant where we loaded up on eggs, sausage, bacon, pancakes, and even grits, before spending the Saturday seeking souls, but often having doors slammed in our faces trying to carry out the Great Commission.
Like many married preacher boys at Hyles-Anderson, Monday through Friday meant a mix of theology and practical lessons on church-building (“build your own personal mega-church in 10 easy steps”), then a mad dash back home, grabbing a quick bite, getting a peck on the cheek from my honey, then zipping off to work. At that time, all I could land with my limited work experience and the region’s widespread unemployment (the rate in northwest Indiana was close to 14 percent) in 1983 was a crappy security job in Chicago. I used those commutes up the Dan Ryan and into the city to put into practice Godfrey’s prescription for positivity and always had a cassette playing, listening to the likes of Ziglar and a bunch of others, like Mandino, Hill, etc. on the cheap cassette player in my ’74 Plymouth Scamp.
I think our brains are powerful organs that are underutilized. What we think about influences how we act, see the world, and carry on with others. There’s also a great deal of myth and misinformation perpetuated about the mind by salesmen.
There is a lot to be said in favor of the “if you believe it, you can achieve it” way of thinking. Where most people fall short in this thinking, IMHO, is their misunderstanding that thoughts on their own, metaphysically (like magic), can conjure the physical out of thin air. Like Larry Hagman (RIP) in “I Dream of Jeannie.” Rub the lamp and a female genie appears. I might be wrong, but I don’t believe that brain waves can circumvent science, especially the laws of physics.
Of course, in a world of casino capitalism and pitchmen, even the ones pushing lies and pseudo-reality continue doing a brisk business. Consider how many positive thinking charlatans there are, men like Joel Olsteen and Benny Hinn, and a woman like Joyce Meyer, who has been pushing her own version of false religion for decades. They’re part of a heavenly host of hucksters, twisting traditional teaching and serving their personal god, which is money, and facilitating their own trademarked spiritual mind fucks.
Maybe the reason that Ziglar is the only one of the group from nearly 30 years ago that still resonates is that his shtick with a religious veneer was different than that gaggle of snake oil pitchers. He was funny, self-deprecating and his positive suggestions were never smarmy and misleading. In fact, he believed that thinking positively was important, but so was rolling up your sleeves and outworking your competition, possibly equally important. I may not always succeed in seeing my class as half full, but I’m positive I will outwork you.
Adopting a positive approach can be efficacious if, and this is important—you recognize that you need one more step—the pragmatic planning piece.
Believe it and have a vision—but also have a development plan in place and be willing to work your ass off towards reaching your goal. Magical thinking will never get you to where you want to go.