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She moves on to a concept outlined in her book, which—shockingly—is titled, Get Motivated: Overcome Any Obstacle, Achieve Any Goal, and Accelerate Your Success with Motivational DNA. In order to motivate anybody—whether an employee, client, spouse or child—you must discover the drives, needs and awards that inspire them to action, she explains. People are either driven by productivity or relationships, they need either stability or variety, and they respond to either internal awards such as personal satisfaction or external ones like salary or recognition. Once you discover people's inclinations, she says, "you unlock the ability to perform like champions."
And here's when the real sermon comes out—in the form of a rap. "The real superstar is Jesus Christ," she says. "He's the way, he's the brightest light and the highest high...Here's my rhyme and the bottom line. Give your life to God while there's still time." This is met with thunderous applause, though for some reason—perhaps because the seminar's overtly religious theme isn't advertised and has been criticized in other cities—she explains that she's about to talk for three minutes about the spiritual side of success and gives those uninterested in the expansion of her Christian rap the chance for an early break.
"The greatest motivation you will ever experience," she says, "is having a relationship with a living God who loves you. That's what changed my life 28 years ago. I said, 'Lord Jesus, I need you. Forgive me for the wrongs I've done and make me into the person you want me to be. Amen.' The very moment I made that affirmation, the chains came off and all the addictions were gone."
It's past 3 p.m. by the time Zig Ziglar, "America's No. 1 Motivator," makes his appearance. The seminar, with its Bush administration star speakers, is already a throwback, but Ziglar's presence is an irrefutable and nostalgic window into a bygone era. In his 80s and unstable after a 2007 fall that left him with short-term memory problems, Ziglar is helped up onto the stage by his daughter. She asks him a couple of friendly questions, interview-style, and then turns the show over to prerecorded video of her father when he was still in his prime. There he is on the big screens, pacing stages and punctuating his sing-song sermons with air-punches and one-liners. "The more things you have that money can't buy, the more you'll have things that money can buy!" he shouts in one clip that, judging from the teased bangs and baggy rayon blouses in the audience, was filmed in 1988. "If you complain about problems, you just make them worse," he says in another. "You've got to understand that problems are in your head, and the solutions are there too."
Always fond of old-timey analogies, in one clip he actually yanks out a miniature metal water pump, plunks it down onto the podium and pumps away with a showman's furor. "If you pump long enough and hard enough, a big reward will follow the effort, and once that water starts to flow you'll have more than you could possibly imagine," he says, his face turning red as he works the metal lever. "Too often, people quit. When you follow through on a consistent basis, I'm gonna see you not just at the top, but over the top!"
Another more recent segment shows his son asking him about people who "pooh-pooh the whole motivational thing, say it doesn't last?" The question is an obvious prompt for one of Ziglar's favorite quotes: "Well, no, it won't last, but neither do bathing and eating. But if you do them every day, you'll live longer and smell better."
Similar tenets can be found in the relatively new academic and clinical field of "positive psychology," which happens to be the title of a popular class at Harvard and includes a growing body of research on the neuroscience of happiness. Optimism is generally accepted to make for more success and better health, but some experts say that in certain situations—surviving the death of a spouse or facing the loss of one's home and livelihood, for instance—simplistic advice that hinges on "staying positive" can be useless or even damaging. "It's not helpful to give people the idea that they should be walking around being cheerful when they're in great pain," Jacobs, the California psychologist, says. "Positivity can get a little Pollyanna-ish. The question is, are you thinking constructively, taking action on your own behalf and doing everything you can given the circumstances?"
Nanci Pradas, a clinical psychologist and former executive vice president of myselfhelp.com, agrees. She echoes Ziglar to say a healthy mindset and productive life are the results of daily practice and constant cultivation of positive thought and action, but she also says it's misleading to tell people that if they merely "think positively," good things will happen. "Then people think worse about themselves because they're not finding employment or being successful," she says. It's constructive if a motivational seminar spurs people to take action toward their goals, she adds, but no one should expect some sort of "magical" change.