The Strangest Secret (It’s not what you think it is!)

One of the more profound moments in my life occurred when I listened to a 37-minute recording from a 1950s radio show.

A man’s voice reached out to me, his words feeling like they were being spoken for the first time, despite the fact that they were recorded more than 60 years ago.

Through the audible pops and scratches of a recording first made on a vinyl record, a man named Earl Nightingale told me the hidden reality behind why some people soar to success while others remain mired in misery.

The program was called The Strangest Secret, and I sat bolted to my chair, absorbed with what I was hearing through my computer speakers.

“The opposite of courage in our society is not cowardice. It’s conformity,” Nightingale said. “People who conform are ones who believe their lives are shaped by circumstances, by things that happen to them, by exterior occurrences.”

Put a different way, modern-day inspirational speaker Tony Robbins (who borrows heavily from Nightingale, Jim Rohn, Napoleon Hill and others) says this: “Biography is not destiny.”

Meaning what happened in your past (or present) does not define you. Instead, you’re defined by (A) What you choose to focus on and (B) What meanings you choose to assign to the events occurring in and around your life.

In short, to quote Nightingale and The Strangest Secret, “We become what we think.”

Lest you “think” Nightingale and Tony Robbins are out on a limb, it’s easy to look back through history and see similar sentiments:

A man’s life becomes what he thinks about it. – Marcus Aurelius

Our doubts are traitors and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt. – Shakespeare

A man is what he thinks about all day long. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Which Narrative Navigates Your Life?

Shame suits me.

It’s been a familiar chronicle for most of my life, one that fits into a tidy timeline: Abused as a young boy. Growing up filled with shame and self-hatred. Struggling with food addiction and compulsive overeating. Hiding in plain sight, cloaking my vulnerability and avoiding exposure. Using my creativity, gregarious nature and work ethic to sometimes achieve great things, but ultimately falling back into self-sabotage when things started going too well. Believing at some core level I didn’t deserve happiness and freedom.

What’s most difficult to admit is that nobody forced me to live this way.

“These things we bring on ourselves through our habitual way of thinking,” Nightingale says. “Every one of us is the sum total of our own thoughts. We are where we are because that is exactly where we really want or feel we deserve to be – whether we’ll admit it or not.”


Now, I used to think “the power of positive thinking” and similar phrases were pointless psychobabble. But here’s what I’ve learned: Reality, for me, is what I believe to be true.

If I choose to believe that I’m always a victim, or that I’m only capable of achieving a certain level of success in life or business, that belief becomes my reality.

Countless studies and decades of research have shown us something quite amazing: The thoughts we put into our mind serve as blueprints or instruction manuals, and our minds go to incredible lengths to ensure these instructions are followed and these pre-determined outcomes met.

In other words, our minds serve one purpose: To make our thoughts and beliefs become reality.

In The Strangest Secret, Nightingale explains it this way:

The human mind is much like a farmer’s land. Suppose a farmer has some land.
And it is good, fertile land. The land gives the farmer a choice. He may plant in that land whatever he chooses.

The land doesn’t care what is planted. It’s up to the farmer to make the decision. Remember we are comparing the human mind to the farmer’s land because, the mind, like the land, doesn’t care what you plant in it.

It will return what you plant, but it doesn’t care what you plant.

Let’s say that the farmer has two seeds in his hand – one a seed of corn, the other is nightshade, a deadly poison. He digs two little holes in the earth and he plants both seeds: One corn, the other nightshade. He covers up the holes, waters, and takes care of the land.

What will happen? Invariably, the land will return what is planted. As it is written in the Bible, “As ye sow, so shall ye reap.”

Remember, the land doesn’t care. It will return poison in just as wonderful abundance as it will corn. So up come the two plants – one corn, one poison.

The human mind is far more fertile, far more incredible and mysterious than the land, but it works the same way. It does not care what we plant … success … or failure. A concrete, worthwhile goal … or confusion, misunderstanding, fear, anxiety, and so on. But what we plant it must return to us.”

Change Your Mind

On average, we each have somewhere between 50,000 to 70,000 thoughts per day. Those thoughts create a running narrative of who we are, where we’re going and what our life (and life in general) is all about.

These thoughts set (or remove) limitations on what we can or cannot achieve. They determine whether we decide to be happy or sad. They dictate what we do (or do not) accomplish at work. They even tell us if we’ll find green beans delicious or disgusting.

For as long as humans have existed, we have struggled with this dilemma:

“How long must I wrestle with my thoughts?” (Psalm 13:2)

Every day, I’m aware of the emotional tone of my thinking. Am I looking for further proof that I don’t have what it takes? Or am I confident, buoyed by my belief in God’s goodness and my own ability to overcome any obstacle in my way by using a specific approach to my thoughts and focus?

If it all sounds too simple, that’s because it is! As the old cliché goes, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.”

When we as humans “put our mind to it,” consider what we’re capable of!

Human beings, after all, have figured out how to fly through the air like birds. We’ve figured out how to send people into outer space, land on the moon and come back – alive. Human beings went from rubbing sticks together to make fire in caves to carrying portable computers, televisions, telephones and video cameras in their pockets (iPhone).

And you still think you have to keep working a job you hate because the economy isn’t good enough? Or that you can’t translate your primary passion into a sustainable income?

“Your limitations are self-imposed, and the opportunities for you today are enormous beyond belief.”

Earl Nightingale spoke those words in 1956. 1956!

How much more limitless are the opportunities for you and me right now?

Think Different

These days, I’m telling myself a new narrative.

For one, I am no longer obligated to remain as an active participant in dysfunctional, unhealthy relationships or situations. I am no longer obligated to feel guilty or shameful. I am no longer obligated to flog myself on a daily basis for past (or present) mistakes, missteps and misfortunes.

Instead, I’m allowed to embrace the grace and life-changing love offered by my faith in Jesus Christ. I’m allowed to refocus my thoughts on positive, exciting and abundant outcomes.

How have I missed this? How has it taken me 39 years to realize the only limits on my life and work are the ones I’ve put in place?

Tell me: Can you relate? What type of story are you telling yourself? Do you need to create a new narrative?

Because you can. Right now!

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