Ep. 127 – Dr Denis Waitley – The Psychology Of Winning

Steve: Welcome to all of our Becoming Your Best podcast listeners, where ever you might be in the world today. This is your host Steve Shallenberger and we have a very special guest and friend on our show today and I am as excited as I’ve ever been to have somebody here. He’s wonderful. He’s a one of a kind individual with a life of inspiring others, including me, and helping people all over the world to reach their fullest potential and dreams. Welcome, Denis Waitley.

Denis:  Hey Stephen! Great to be with you. It’s a real honor and a privilege to be on your podcast and I hope we can shed some more light to your audience which you do so well on Becoming Your Best.


Steve: Well thank you so much. Well yes we’ll just go ahead and get right into it and before we get going I’d like to just give a little background of some of the things that Denis has done and generally his nature which is amazing. He is inspired, informed, challenged and entertained audiences for over thirty five years. I know that because in 1983 and 1984  in one of my first companies where we had 700 sales reps that were going all over the world – Denis was one of the individuals that we invited to speak to and train all of these young sales reps. There were going all over, and they were energetic of full of energy but Denis and along with the number of his friends Zig Ziglar, Earl Nightingale, Ira Hayes –  I mean these are some really cool people who changed our lives and Denis was one of those. And so we’re just part of that but he has done that all over the entire world. He’s spent many years in China , hopefully will have the chance to have them tell us a little about that experience, in India, United States. Recently he was voted business speaker the year by the Sales and Marketing Executives Association and the by Toastmasters international and inducted into the international speakers hall of fame. He’s had over ten million audio programs sold in fourteen different languages. This is just great! I actually pulled Denis a number of your books off my bookshelf again this morning. I’ve read that many times –  The Psychology of Winning, The Seeds Of Greatness and it goes on. His audio album The Psychology of Winning is the all time best selling program on self mastery. He’s a graduate of the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis and a former navy pilot. He holds a doctoral degree in human behaviour. Denis we’re so excited to have you with us!


Denis: Well thank you Steve. It’s really great to be with you. You know it’s been a wonderful journey. I’m still out there. You know people say,  Well, you’re long past retirement age and I said well retire – by its very definition means to go to bed or tired for the last time. If you’re retired it seems tired again. So  I’m re inspired and retried instead of retired and I think that’s one of the secrets that we all learn from people like Billy Graham and people like you know George Burns. You can name them and they seem to live longer because they’re engaged in learning and they have the curiosity of a child that doesn’t end when you finally stop earning. So I think you’re yearning should and learning should continue regardless of your no longer earning.


Steve: Well that is a great way to put it. All of a sudden,  that great voice a Denis Waitley is coming back and we just kinda lean forward to listen to all those great quotes that you have. That’s an inspiration for me , like I’m already past retirement ,but I am no where compared – I think Denis is like a 184 at least.

Denis: It seems like it. You know, Steve, I’ve been doing eulogies for all of my contemporaries and that’s not, of course something that you look forward to. So, I did the eulogy for my friend, Jim Rone, Eulogy for my friends Zig Ziglar, for Wayne Dyer, Eulogy for my friend Steven Covey and even for Robert Schuller and Billy Graham was a friend of mine. I don’t like to drop names like that but as I look at it them, I say to myself, “Wow, I’m so fortunate to still be out here.” But I have a cousin in England, Jack Reynolds ,who’s 106 and he holds the Guinness Book of Records for the highest, longest, zip line journey for the oldest person. And it shows him at 106,  shouting and yelling as he’s going down this is a blind over the mountain in England and I asked him how do you live so long and he said,” I look forward to being a 107.”


Steve: Well that’s great you know just recently Denis I’ve had the opportunity in just the last few months to be with the number of longevity in health doctors just on a retreat or different circumstances – one in Singapore there. Dr Oz was one of them. Another, Dr Mao is his name and then the third Dr Foruhy – they’re amazing but they talk about, and there among the world’s leaders on health and longevity. They all reflected a number of things in common that we can do to extend healthy living: stay fit,  get adequate sleep. One of the ones I like the Dr Oz said was your heart needs to have a reason to keep beating.


Denis:  Well that’s good, that’s a very good.  That’s when I have learned that too because I studied Prisoners Of War for my doctoral dissertation and I found that no American prisoner escaped during the Korean War from a minimum security camp but many of them escape from maximum security camp and that’s because leaders always want to get home, or get to where they’re going and people who feel that they’re victimized and have no way out or no way forward, then don’t live as long and that’s what happens to many service people and coaches when they retire . If they retire and do nothing and have nothing really going on, you know we all say why don’t we just play golf and fish. Well I like to eat what I catch and I don’t like to kill fish necessarily but I do like taste of a fresh fish and I don’t play golf anymore because why would I run my self esteem on a want like that.


Steve: That’s great. Well there’s so much we can talk about that I think today let’s start talking and I hope you don’t mind and for the benefit of our audience, I’d like to start off talking about The Psychology Of Winning. This is a wonderful book and I am going to read just a small portion out of it. It’s an introduction and then perhaps Denis can tell us about what inspired him, what led to him write The Psychology Of Winning, and how was it been impactful in your life and others? So let me read this clip first. This is where he talks about true winning. True winning however is no more than one’s own personal pursuit of individual excellence. You don’t have to get lucky to win at life nor do you have to knock out other people down or gain at the expense of others. Winning is taking the talent or potential you were born with and have since developed and using it fully towards a goal or purpose it makes you happy. Winning is becoming the dream of yourself that would fulfill you as a person with high esteem. And winning is giving and getting in an atmosphere of love, cooperation, social concern and responsibility and that is why I’ve been so inspired about Denis because not only does he set it out there but then he’s he says now here are some things that we need to do the will help us realize those dreams. So how did it all happen? What led to The Psychology Of Winning.


Denis:  Well, that you know, of course a long journey, but as things always start in childhood – so as a little boy, I grew up during World War II – a dysfunctional family. My father left home when I think I was 9 years old when he left but he went to war and then he and my mother broke up and my mother became very bitter because they weren’t spending his checks home and so she became disillusioned with life and was fairly negative it and as a way of combating that disillusionment I rode my bike about ten miles over to my grandmother’s house every Saturday because she was an inspiration. So she and I planted a victory garden and she taught me about the seeds of greatness. She said whatever you put in the soil and nurture will come up and be fruitful and I said, “But how come weeds don’t need water?” And she said, “Well weeds are like negative thoughts. They blow in on the wind and they don’t need any water and they just need people to repeat them.” So we did this victory garden and she inspired me when I was little and in a dysfunctional family where your father maybe is an alcoholic and your mother’s a negative for perhaps all of the right reasons, I found that by reading biographies of people who’d overcome enormous obstacles to become successful – I found that these people had problems that I never even dreamed about and yet they seem to be fulfilled and happy. So I read a lot and then I began to try to be a leader in my school to overcome feelings of inadequacy and feelings of abandonment perhaps by my father and to make a long story short,  going to the Naval Academy during the Korean War, I learned a lot about discipline and target seeking and I became a navy pilot which meant that I had to visualize, internalize, I had to fantasize but I had to be goal oriented and I think as a surfer in southern California who finally became disciplined enough to be a carrier pilot, these things went together but I never wanted to destroy people in war-  I want to defend my country but I had a calling that I wanted to develop the potential within people because I was struggling myself and to make a really long story short ,during the worst time in my life, when I had custody of my 4 little children, I was divorced and had no income I wrote The Psychology of Winning at the worst of times. Now people, you know Tony Robbins and some of my friends would say, “Well usually, you write a book about your success!” And I said “Well I wrote the book for myself, so that I could learn from what I was not doing to do the things I know I should be doing. And so at the worst of my time, I wrote my best work so to speak, and so I think writing it for myself, giving myself the encouragement to do things that were a little more difficult but took a little more habit, a little more discipline, a little more effort; I put together these principles and I use POW because I had been a rehab facilitator for the returning Vietnam prisoners of war and I use that as a metaphor-  POW means either Prince Of Wales, putting on weight, power of women or psychology of winning and it’s a perception through the eye of the beholder. So my premise is it’s not so much what happens to you that counts, it’s how you take it and what you make of it so what’s your response to the daily life ; your anticipation of the future and the way you treat failure as fertilizer. Failure is the fertilizer of success. My grandmother used to say as we were fertilizing our plants, she said “We just take all the stuff and mulch and up and it grows green plants,” and I said “So that’s what you do with failure huh? She said you don’t lay in it wallow in it. You use it as a learning experience. So I would say that my grandmother who immigrated from England and going through World War 2 and the Korean War –  I thought we’d always be at war because that’s all I knew growing up, and so I was so gratified to realize that the war is finally ended but POW, does really mean for me psychology of winning rather than a prisoner of war.


Steve: Wonderful! Boy, what we’re great comments and thanks for the background. Talk about seeds! There are so many nuggets of what you just shared of and your grandma must’ve been some lady!


Denis:  Well I think about every day I have a mahogany butterfly that she always wanted that I finally made enough money with my paper out to buy it for is the only gift that I wanted from her life but it’s in my kitchen and I look at it every day and we have a little silent conversation but she was definitely the role model and inspiration in my life and that I’ll always be grateful for having her. She would say “You mow the bass line I’ve ever seen.” and I would ride my bike 10 miles just to get that kind of recognition from her and that good feeling of you’re a good boy and you can do good things and the seeds of greatness and I  always ask her “Will the Japanese win?” And she said “No ,you always get out what you put in.” So you get the harvest of the seeds that you sell sow – she said they will not win because their premise for doing what they did was not good and honest. I said “Wow.” She said, “So model yourself after people who’ve given service but not necessary are celebrities,” and I’ve always felt that the most successful people will never be known in the media because they’re not celebrities, they are so busy living life and doing good they don’t get covered by the media.


Steve: Great insights! if you wouldn’t mind, you said something that caught my attention. You said in the middle of all this you had to you know this wonderful influence and contrast of experiences as a young man but the influence of your grandma on talking about planting the right seeds and in in the middle of all this where you’re feeling “a bit like a failure,” because of some of the things that had happened , you said just mention that you felt a calling to help others develop their potential and you included yourself in that group. Would you mind talking about that feeling you had? This calling you felt that you needed to address and respond to and how big of a deal was that for you?


Denis: What was really a big deal see because at the Naval Academy is Episcopalian and growing up the only religious training I had was my grandma reading some really great proverbs and things out of the good book. So I went to Sunday school because the Presbyterians have better uniforms on the softball team and so I went through all these religious experiences and finally and later Billy Graham said to me, “So you’ve got all these experiences what denomination are you? and I said, “Sir I was hoping you might give me a suggestion.” And  he said, “You know you’re on your journey .” So the truth of the matter is when I would hear Handel’s messiah at Christmas time , there was this inner tingling and this feeling that there was something internal and I think I was becoming acquainted with my soul and yet not having any formal religious training, it was definitely an inner inspiration so I felt that perhaps I had made a lot of mistakes in my apprenticeship in life so that I might be able to learn to do the right things. And much of what I’ve written about are certainly repetitions of the scriptures and the Old and the New Testament and all the great books that have been written so there’s no question that I’m not an original. I’m someone who’s leaned from reading and experiencing and traveling about these things and I think that it was at that bad time of not having income, having my four children wanting to come back home  to San Diego or to California and I was in Pittsburgh in their worst winter and I had just sold the Jonas Salk Foundation to the Mellon Foundation back in Pittsburgh and I found myself divorced with custody of four children who didn’t want to be with me in Pittsburgh in the winter. They wanted to come home. It’s almost like saying  “Come on we’ve always been a team!” And they said ‘We want to go home, dad.” I said,” I know but you’re with your dad.’ They said “Yeah I know but we want to go home,” and I think that was the turning point where you put your head out the window and say, I’m fed up with myself. I’m not going to take it anymore but which meant I’m not going to do this to myself. So I went into this program of self analysis, self awareness and found that I was not doing the very things that I had read about and I was only superficially scratching the surface. I was only skin deep and so I got into it very deeply and that became that book for The Psychology Of Winning which became an audio program first and then a book, was really a diary of what I needed to learn myself and the only regret I have Steve, is that at the time that I wrote it, OJ Simpson was running through airports for Hertz Rent-A- Car and had suffered rickets as a child and had bold legs and he became this NFL superstar and I included him in my book and I’ve been trying to remove him from the book ever since. But you can’t pick winners in all of the so called role models. He certainly isn’t a role model but so in other words by I learned these principles for me so that I would do them and I began to do them and I went from being somebody who was always late, which is perfect for my name, “Waitley,” – wait for me and so I should have changed my name to swiftly or rushly but I became Waitley but I became first to the gate Waitley. I became someone who was always on time and I did that because I am an absolute believer in the creation of habit and I’ve learned so much about good and bad habits and healthy and unhealthy and about ninety percent of our daily activities are habitual we do them autonomically without even thinking and so I’ve spent most of my life trying to help people not break habits – but you don’t break a habit. You re write it ,you overcome it, you change it but you don’t break it. You know habits are like submarines there silent and deep. They’re like comfortable beds easy to get into but difficult to get out of and habits are just this knit pattern of thought that becomes automatic after a while and so I think working with the Olympics, I was really lucky as you know, Bill Simon was president of the Olympics and he appointed be as the first chairman of Psychology for United States Olympics in 1980 and through that experience, I watch these amazing young people get into the habit of winning. And they became they did within what they were doing without and they simulated and they rehearse and they practiced, on and off the field and finally watching the skiers go through the visualization at the top of the run before they hit the first gate and watching swimmers go through the meat ,watching figure skaters backstage going to their routines and not falling during the Triple Axel. I saw all of this and I said you know in addition to being emotionally inspired there definitely is a way to do this if you can control your thinking and if you can fill your thoughts which I call “Psycho Linguistics,” because thoughts are traffic and the brain is either a cul de sac construction zone or freeway. And you can create a freeway in your brain by controlling the traffic that flows through your brain and it actually makes a new highway toward your goal is like a GPS system but instead of a goal positioning satellite or a positioning satellite, it’s a goal positioning system in your brain that you can train to have a target so specific and so emotional that your brain will allow very little distraction to get you there so fortunately through the years neuroscience has proven that positive thinking is more than just the placebo effect. It actually are creators internal pharmacy that really helps optimism become the biology of hope as well as the psychology of hope.


Steve: These are some really extraordinarily inspirational ideas and I’m just thinking I know that so many of our listeners including me and I’d expect all of them have this feeling of something special that they can do in life and then it takes going through thinking about their own unique talents in this introspection that you describe saying how do I address that and how do I concretely move forward and so, these things that you’re sharing are so important , so inspirational. I know that they’re covered in your books. As you think about this the book Psychology Of Winning, you’ve been talking about on some of the key parts that are really important for us to realize our goals.


Denis: Well that’s a very good question. I think the first one is realizing that your intrinsic worth. I think that worth internalized is better than worth externalized and I think you have to feel deserving of success before you’ll really experience it, which really means that if love is not inside of you ,then how can you give away something you don’t possess? So love must be there in the first place and I’m not talking about narcissistic self love. It’s the kind of thing that say given my parents and my background given who I am, how I look ,what age I am my ethnicity my religious beliefs ,I’m kind of glad I am me! And in fact I’d rather be me than anyone else in the world live in at any other time, in fact that’s who I am. I’m as good as the best but not necessarily better than the rest so I don’t compare myself favorably or unfavorably with other people although the Olympics do that with the standard of excellence but that’s just to be an Olympian and to compete with world class standards -doesn’t mean you’re necessarily trying to knock and beat the other person. You’re just trying to be your best against world class standards. So I think the most important thing is to believe in your potential because only then will you invest in yourself. if you don’t feel worth investing and then you won’t invest in it you’ll live your life as a spectator – happy to be in the stands and I am happy to be in the stands as well watching tremendous performances but it’s much more fun to be in the arena however small and participating. So I think intrinsic self worth, believing in your dream when that’s all you have to hang on to is the single most important quality. And then the second one is to always give more in value than you expect to receive in payment, because it seems to be that you really do have an unfailing boomerang. People always called the law of attraction or the law of cause and effect but I found when I am truly interested in helping other people genuinely not to get something for me ,but if I get out of me and into them and transmit whatever value I have in the way of service or advice, that in that way I don’t expect a return on the investment but I usually get it ten fold. So I’ve always believed that if you give more in value than you receive in payment you’ll be truly rich in every sense and then of course there is the idea of expectation, optimism, the world revolves around optimism and people who believe in solutions rather than are just complaining about the problems and we have so many critics and so many tweets and so much Twitter as so many instagrams and so much Facebook and so many selfies. You know I’d like to be unselfish in a selfie world and I’d like to instead of being skin deep, I’d like to be soul deep and I’d like to measure diversity not based on how you look on the outside but the experiences you’ve had as you’ve been growing up . In other words we all bring a diversity of experience, why do our eyes have to tell us what we should believe or why the war years and our eyes have to be the ones that are the megaphone and also that the block? So I believe that in expecting the best ,that optimism, Harvard does have a new school of placebo and they have found that even people who have after stopping the surgery if you have the sham surgery which you agree to and they just do a little incision and sew it up, the chances of your recovery and feeling good are almost as well as if you have the real surgery which shows that God has given us this incredible ability to believe in something that we really want and is valuable and gives us the pharmacological influence to do it in other words: the endorphins and the harbingers of peace and happiness. So I believe also that happiness is the decision that you make and I train the Olympians above all I’ve decided to be happy and I think happiness is a decision, not a results and if you wait for a result to make you happy, you’ll probably be for ever hung in that suspense of wondering when it’s going to happen.


Steve: Well I’ll just tell you, Denis, for all of us who are working on becoming our best, which literally creates a fulfilment of light, a happiness within us that goes out and radiates and touches everybody. These things that you’re teaching us and sharing with us today are the very things that create that light and I’ve been taking good notes today. I thank you for that and I’m always shocked at how fast time goes like we’re done.


Denis: I know we are! I spent a lot of my time talking to uber drivers and I said you know you have this incredible mechanism and they say, “You being my little GPS that I have up here on my dashboard so I can take,” I said yes first you must know where you are and then you crank in where you want to go and if you know where you are and where you want to go it’s much easier to get there because that’s called focus and specificity. And they go, wow,  thanks for the info doc! Do I get to I get a tip? Anyway Steve it’s been a real thrill, a real honor for me to be with you.  I just keep wanting to plant apple seeds like Johnny Appleseed and I don’t know how many of them will get in the soil and take but doesn’t matter if you just keep throwing them out – one or two and all I want to do is make a difference in one or two lives and that’s enough for me. Plant shade trees under which I myself will never sit.


Steve: Thank you. I can tell you for sure of one person and I know it’s countless people where that seed that has fallen and grown and continues to do so. So I personally thank you!


Denis: Well thanks, Steve. I hope we connect again we will. When you’re this way and I’m that way let’s really do have a reunion. That’s important – friends who haven’t seen each other but are still friends for a long time.


Stev: You bet, you can count on that. Now we can’t end this podcast without this question and the question is, if you’re giving in a parting shot to your family or your friends and brothers or sisters across the world ,what would it be it would be?


Denis: It would be that time is the only equal opportunity employer and please don’t rush to your life trying to get wealthy only to find yourself too old to do the things that you save the money to do and remember the one most important thing; the values you leave in your children are much more priceless than the valuables you leave them in your estate. My children have never thanked me for all the money that I’ve spent on them but we always talk and laugh and cry over the time we spent together. So make sure you spend time with those you love, not just tweets and that just instagrams and not just text .


Steve:  Thats great advice.  Denis how can people find out more about what you’re doing? How can they have access to your book , your materials or whatever?


Denis:  I think you know just going to and I have that funny one n  in my nameand I what I’m trying to do is create a library and most of it free. So I’m not trying to get people to go to my website so I’ll make money off them. I’m trying to go so that they’ll be able to get NFL locker room style pep talks for free which would mean that the music the lyrics, if you will the quotes and the best of what I’ve done. I’d rather give it to them free then try to sell them something on a subscription so hopefully they’ll get more free than trying to surf around the store.


Steve: Wonderful, thank you Denis for being part of the show today. It’s been amazing!

We wish our friends that are listening today all the best as well as you continue making a huge difference in the world I’m Steve Shallenberger with becoming your best global leadership wishing you a great day.

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