The Strangest Secret by Earl Nightingale

The Strangest Secret by Earl Nightingale was originally recorded in 1957 and it went on to sell over 1 million copies and receive the very first Golden Record for spoken word.


I’d like to tell you about the strangest secret in the world. Some years ago, the late Nobel prize-winning Dr. Albert Schweitzer was being interviewed in London and a reporter asked him, “Doctor, what’s wrong with men today?” and the great doctor was silent a moment, and then he said, “Men simply don’t think!” It’s about this that I want to talk with you.

We live today in a golden age. This is an era that man has looked forward to, dreamed of and worked toward for thousands of years. But since it’s here we pretty well take it for granted. We in America are particularly fortunate to live in the richest land that ever existed on the face of the earth. A land abundant of opportunity for everyone but you know what happens?

Well, let’s take a hundred men who start even at the age of 25. Do you have any idea what will happen to those men by the time they’re 65? The 100 men who all start even at the age of 25 believe they’re going to be successful. If you ask any one of these men if he wanted to be a success, he intended he did and you’d notice that he was eager toward life, that there was a certain sparkle to his eye, any retinas to his carriage and life seemed like a pretty interesting adventure to him. But by the time there’re 65 one will be rich. Four will be financially independent. Five will still be working. Fifty-four will be broke.

Now think a moment.

Out of 100, only five make the grade.

Now, why do so many fail?

What has happened to the sparkle that was there when they were twenty-five? What has become of their dreams, their hopes, their plans? And why is there such a large disparity between what these men intended to do and what they actually accomplished?

When we say about five percent achieve success we have to define success.

And here’s the best definition I’ve ever been able to find.

Success is the progressive realization of a worthy ideal.

If a man is working toward a predetermined goal and knows where he’s going that man is a success.

If he’s not doing that, he’s a failure.

Success is the progressive realization of a worthy ideal.

Rollo May, the distinguished psychiatrist wrote a wonderful book called “Man’s Search For Himself.” And in this book he says the opposite of courage, in our society, is not cowardice, it is conformity. And there you have the trouble today. It’s conformity. People acting like everyone else without knowing why. Without knowing where they’re going.

Now think of it.

In America right now there are over 18 million people 65 years of age and older and most of them are broke. They’re dependent on someone else for life’s necessities.

Now, we learn to read by the time we’re 7. We learn to make a living by the time we’re 25. Usually by that time we’re not only making a living, we’re supporting a family. And yet by the time we’re 65 we haven’t learned how to become financially independent in the richest land that has ever been known.


We conform.

And the trouble is that we’re acting like the wrong percentage group, the 95 who don’t succeed.

Now, why do these people conform?

Well, they really don’t know. These people believe their lives are shaped by circumstances, by things that happen to them, by exterior forces, they’re outer directed people.

A survey was made one time that covered a lot men. Working men. And these men were asked:

Why do you work? Why do you get up in the morning?

19 out of 20 had no idea.

If you ask them they’ll say:

Well, everyone goes to work in the morning.

And that’s the reason they do it. Because everyone else is doing it.

Let’s get back to out definition of success. Who succeeds?

The only person who succeeds is the person who is progressively realizing a worthy ideal.

It’s the person who says I’m going to become this and then begins to work toward that goal.

I’ll tell you who the successful people are.

A success is the school teacher who’s teaching school because that’s what he or she wants to do. The success is the woman who’s a wife and mother because she wanted to become a wife and mother and is doing a good job of it. The success is the man who runs the corner gas station because that was his dream, that’s what he wanted to do. The success is the successful salesman who wants to become a top-notch salesman and grow and build with his organization. A success is anyone who is doing deliberately a predetermined job because that’s what he decided to do deliberately.

But only one out of twenty does that.

That’s why today there isn’t really any competition, unless we make it for ourselves. Instead of competing all we have to do is create.

You know, for twenty years I looked for the key which would determine what would happen to a human being. Was there a key, I wanted to know, which would make the future a promise that we could foretell to a large extent. Was there a key that would guarantee a person’s becoming successful if you only knew about it and knew how to use it.

Well, there is such a key. And I’ve found it.

Have you ever wondered why so many men worked so hard and honestly without ever achieving anything in particular? And other’s don’t seem to work hard and yet seem to get everything? They seem to have the magic touch. You’ve heard them say that about someone. Everything he touches turns to gold.

And have you ever noticed that a man who becomes successful tends to continue to become successful? And on the other hand have you noticed how a man who’s a failure tends to continue to fail.

Well, it’s because of goals.

Some of us have goals, some don’t.

People with goals succeed because they know where the’re going. It’s that simple.

Think of a ship leaving a harbor and think of it with the complete voyage mapped out and planned. The captain and crew know exactly where it’s going and how long it’ll take. It has a definite goal.

Now, 9999 times out of 10,000 it will to where it started out to get. Now let’s take another ship. Just like the first, only let’s not put a crew on it or a captain at the helm. Let’s give it no aiming point, no goal, no destination. We just start the engines and let it go. I think you’ll agree with me that if it gets out of the harbor at all, it will either sink or wind up on some deserted beach or derelict. It can’t go anyplace because it has no destination and no guidance and it’s the same with a human being.

Take the salesman for example. There’s no other person in the world today with the future of a good salesman. Selling is the world’s highest paid profession. If we’re good at it and if we knew where we’re going. Every company needs top-notch salesman; and they reward those men, the sky is the limit for them. But how many can you find?

Someone once said the human race is fixed. Not to prevent the strong from winning but to prevent the weak from losing.

The American economy today can be likened to a convoy in time of war. The entire economy is slowed down to protect it’s weakest link. Just as the convoy had to go at the speed that would permit the slowest vessel to remain in formation. That’s why it is so easy to make a living today. It takes no particular brains or talent to make a living and support a family today. So we have a plateau of so called security if that’s what a person is looking for. But we do have to decide how high above this plateau we want to aim.

Now let’s get back to the strangest secret in the world, a story that I wanted to tell you today.

Why do men with goals succeed in life, and men without them fail?

Well let me tell you something which if you really understand it will alter your life immediately. If you understand completely what I’m going to tell you from this moment on you life will never be the same again. You will suddenly find it, good luck just seems to be attracted to you. The things you want just seem to fall in line and from now on you won’t have the problems, the worries, the knowing lump of anxiety that perhaps you’ve experienced before. Doubt, fear; well, there’ll be things in the past.

He’re the key to success and the key to failure.

We become what we think about.

Now let me say that again.

We become what we think about.

Throughout all history the great wise-men and teachers, philosophers, and prophets have disagreed with one another on many different things. It’s only on this one point that they are in complete and unanimous agreement.

Listen to what Marcus Aurelius the great Roman Emperor said:

A man’s life is what his thoughts make of it.

Disraeli said this:

Everything comes if a man will only wait. I’ve brought myself, by long meditation, to the conviction that a human being with a settled purpose must accomplish it and that nothing can resist a will that will stake even existence for it’s fulfillment.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said this:

A man is what he thinks about all day long.

Williams James said:

The greatest discovery of my generation is that human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind.

And he also said:

We need only in cold blood act as if the thing in question were real and it will become infallibly real by growing into such a connection with out life that it will become real. It will become so knit with habit and emotion that out interest in it will be those which characterize belief.

He also said:

If you only care enough for a result. You will almost certainly attain it.

If you wish to be rich, you will be rich. If you wish to be learned, you will be learned. If you wish to be good, you’ll be good. Only you must then really wish these things and wish them exclusively and not wish at the same time a hundred other incompatible things just as strongly.

In the Bible you read at Mark 9:23 if thou canst believe all things are possible to him that believeth.

My old friend Dr. Norman Vincent Peale put it this way:

This is one of the greatest laws of the universe. Fervently do I wish I’d discovered it as a very young man. It dawned upon me much late it life and I found it to be one of the greatest if not my greatest discovery outside my relationship to God. The great law briefly and simply stated. If you think in negative terms you will get negative results. If you think in positive terms you will achieve positive results. That is the simple fact, he went on to say, which is at the basis of an astonishing law of prosperity and success. In three words: believe and succeed.

William Shakespeare put it this way:

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

George Bernard Shaw said:

People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don’t believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want and if they can’t find them, make them.

Well, that’s pretty apparent isn’t it? And every person who discovered this for a while believed that he was the first one to work it out. We become what we think about.

Now it stands to reason that a person who is thinking about a concrete and worthwhile goal is going to reach it. Because that’s what he is thinking about. And we become what we think about. Conversely the man who has not goal, who doesn’t know where he’s going and whose thoughts must therefore be thoughts of confusion and anxiety and fear and worry becomes what he thinks about. His life becomes one of frustration and fear and anxiety and worry. And if he thinks about nothing he becomes nothing.

Now how does it work? Why do we become what we think about?

Well I’ll tell you how it works, as far as we know. To do this I want to tell you about a situation that parallels the human mind. Suppose the farmer has some land and it’s good fertile land. Now the land gives the farmer a choice. He may plant in that land whatever he chooses. The land doesn’t care. It’s up to the farmer to make the decision. Now remember we’re comparing the human mind with the 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. Now let’s say that the farmer has two seeds in his hand. One is 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 cord the other nightshade. He covers the holes, waters and takes care of the land. What will happen? Invariably the land will return what’s planted. As it’s written in the Bible: As you sow so shall you reap.

Now remember the land doesn’t care. It’ll return poison in just an wonderful abundance as it will corn. So up come the two plants. One corn one poison. Now the human mind is far more fertile far more incredible and mysterious than the land but it works the same way. It doesn’t care what we plant. Success, failure. A concrete worthwhile goal or confusion. Misunderstanding, fear, anxiety, and so on. But what we plant it must return to us.

You see the mind is the last great unexplored continent on earth. It contains riches beyond our wildest dreams. It will return anything we want to plant.

Now you might say, well if that’s true why don’t people use their minds more? Well, I think they’ve figured out an answer to that one to. Our mind comes as standard equipment at birth. It’s free and things that are given to us for nothing we place little value on. Things we pay money for we value. The paradox is that exactly the reverse is true. Everything that’s really worthwhile in life came to us free. Our mind, our souls, our bodies, our hopes, our dreams, our ambitions, our intelligence, our love of family and children and friends and country, all these priceless possessions are free. But the things that cost us money are actually very cheap and can be replaced at any time. A good man can be completely wiped out and make another fortune. He can do that several times. Even if our home burns down we can rebuild it, but the thing we got for nothing we can never replace.

The human mind isn’t used because we take it for granted. Familiarity breeds contempt. It can do any kind of job we assign to it. But generally speaking we use it for little jobs instead of big, important ones. Universities have proved that most of us are operating on about 10 percent or less of our abilities.

So decide now. What is it you want? Plant your goal in your mind. It is the most important decision you’ll ever make in you entire life.

What is it you want?

Do you want to be an outstanding salesman? A better worker at your particular job? You want to go places in your company? In your community? Do you wanna get rich? All you got to do is plant that seed in your mind and care for it, work steadily toward your goal and it will become reality. It not only will, there’s not way that it cannot.

You see, that’s a law. Like the laws of Sir Isaac Newton. The laws of gravity. If you get on top of a building and jump off you’ll always go down, you’ll never go up. And it’s the same with all the other laws of nature. They always work. They’re inflexible. Think about your goal in a relaxed positive way. Picture yourself in your mind’s eye as having achieved this goal. See yourself doing the things you will be doing when you’ve reached your goal. Ours has been called phenobarbital age, the age of ulcers and nervous breakdowns and tranquilizers at a time when medical research has raised us to a new plateau of good health and longevity far too many of us worry ourselves into an early grave trying to cope with things in our own little personal ways, without learning a few great laws that will take care of everything for us. These things we bring on ourselves through our habitual ways of thinking. Every one of us is the sum total of his own thoughts. He is where he is because that’s exactly where he really wants to be whether he’ll admit that or not. Each of us must live off the fruit of his thoughts in the future because what you think today and tomorrow, next month or next year will mold your life and determine your future. You’re guided by your mind.

I remember one time I was driving through eastern Arizona and I saw one of those giant earth-moving machines roaring along the road at about 35 miles an hour with what looked like 30 tonnes of dirt in it. A tremendous, incredible machine and there was a little man perched way up on top with the wheel in his hands guiding it. And as I drove along I was struck by the similarity of that machine and the human mind. Just suppose you’re sitting at the controls of such a vast source of energy. Are you going to sit back and fold your arms and let it run itself into a ditch? Or are you going to keep both hands firmly on the wheel and control and direct this power to a specific worthwhile purpose? It’s up to you. You’re in the driver’s seat. You see, the very law that gives us success is a two-edged sword. We must control our thinking. The same rule that can lead a man to a life of success, wealth, happiness and all the things he ever dreamed of for himself and his family, that very same law can lead him into the gutter. It’s all in how he uses it. For good or for bad. This is the strangest secret in the world.

Now why do I say it’s strange and why do I call it a secret?

Actually it isn’t a secret at all. It was first promulgated by some of the earliest wise men and it appears again and again throughout the Bible, but very few people have learned it, understand it. That’s why it’s strange. And why for some equally strange reason it virtually remains a secret, I believe you could go out and walk down the Main Street of your town and ask one man after another what the secret of success is and you probably wouldn’t run into one man in a month who could tell you. Now this information is enormously valuable to us if we really understand it and apply it. It’s valuable to us not only for our own lives but the lives of those around us, our families, employees, associates and friends. Life should be an exciting adventure, it should never bore. A man should live fully, be alive. He should be glad to get out of bed in the morning. He should be doing a job he liked to do because he does it well.

One time I heard Grove Patterson, the great late editor-in-chief of the Toledo Daily Blade make a speech and as he concluded his speech he said something I’ve never forgotten. He said my years in the newspaper business have convinced me of several things. Among them, that people are basically good and that we came from someplace and we’re going someplace.

So we should make our time here and exciting adventure. The architect of the universe didn’t build a stairway leading nowhere. And the greatest teacher of all, the carpenter from the plains of Galilee, he gave us the secret time and time again, as you believed so shall it be done unto you.

I’ve explained the strangest secret in the world and how it works. Now on this side I want to explain how you can prove to yourself the enormous returns possible in your own life by putting the secret to a practical test. I want you to make a test that will last 30 days. It isn’t going to be easy but if you’ll give it a good try it will completely change you life for the better.

Back in the 17th century Sir Isaac Newton, the English mathematician, a natural philosopher gave us the natural laws of physics which apply as much to human beings as they do to the movement of bodies in the universe and one of these laws is that for every actions there is an equal and opposite reaction. Simply stated as it applies to you and me it means we can achieve nothing without paying the price. The results of your 30-day experiment will be in direct proportion to the effort you put forth. To be a doctor you must pay the price of long years of difficult study. To be successful in selling and remember that each of us succeeds to the extent of his ability to sell, selling our families on our ideas, selling education in schools, selling our children on the advantages of living the good and honest life, selling our associates and employees on the importance of being exceptional people, to of course the profession of selling itself. But to be successful in selling our way to the good life we must be willing to pay the price. And what is that price? Well, it’s many things.

First it’s understanding emotionally as well as intellectually we will literally become what we think about. That we must control our thoughts if we are to control our lives. It’s understanding fully that as you sow so shall you reap.

Second it’s cutting away all fetters from the mind permitting it to soar as it was divinely designed to do. It’s the realization that your limitations are self-imposed and the opportunities for you today are enormous beyond belief. It’s rising above narrow-minded pettiness and prejudice.

And third it’s using all your courage to force yourself to think positively on your own problem. To set a definite and clearly defined goal for yourself. To let your marvelous mind think about your goal from all possible angles. To let your imagination speculate freely upon many different possible solutions. To refuse to believe that there are any circumstances sufficiently strong to defeat you in the accomplishment of your purpose. To act promptly and decisively when your course is clear and to keep constantly aware of the fact that you are at this moment standing in the middle of your own acres of diamonds as Russel Conwell used to point out.

And fourth, save at least 10% of every dollar you earn. It’s also remembering that no matter what your present job it has enormous possibilities if you’re willing to pay the price.

Now let\s just go over the important points in the price each of us must pay to achieve the wonderful life that can be ours. It is of course worth any price.

  1. You will become that you think about.
  2. Remember the word imagination and let your mind begin to soar
  3. Courage; concentrate on your goal every day
  4. Save 10% of what you earn
  5. Action; ideas are worthless unless we act on them

Now I’ll try to outline the 30-day test I want you to make. You keep in mind that you have nothing to lose by making this test and everything you can possibly want to gain. There are two things that may be said of everyone. Each of us wants something and each of us is afraid of something. I want you to write on a card what it is you want more than anything else. It may be more money perhaps you’d like to double your income make a specific amount of money. It may be a beautiful home, it may success at your job. It may be particular position in life, it could be more harmonious family. Each of us wants something. Now write down on your card specifically what it is you want. Make sure it’s a single goal and clearly defined. You needn’t show it to anyone but carry it with you so that you can look at it several time a day. Think about it in a cheerful, relaxed, positive way each morning when you get up and immediately you have something to work for, something to get out of bed for, something to live for. Look at it every chance you get during the day and just before going to bed at night. And as you look at it remember that you must become what you think about and since you’re thinking about your goal you realize that soon it will be yours. In fact it’s yours really the moment you write it down and begin to think about it. Look at the abundance all around you. As you go about your daily business you have as much right to this abundance as any other living creature. It’s yours for the asking.

Now we come to the difficult part. Difficult it means the formation of what is probably a brand new habit and habits are not easily formed. Once formed however it will follow you for the rest of your life. Stop thinking about what it is you fear. Each time a fearful or negative thought comes into your consciousness replace it with a mental picture of your positive and worthwhile goal. And there’ll come time when you feel like giving up. It’s easier for a human being to think negatively than positively, that’s why only 5% are successful. You must begin now to place yourself in that group. For 30 days you must take control of your mind. It will think about only what you permit it to think about. Each day for this 30 day test do more than you have to do. In addition to maintaining a cheerful and positive outlook give of yourself more than you’ve ever done before. Do this knowing that your returns in life must be in direct proportion to what you give. The moment you decide on a goal to work toward you’re immediately a successful person. You are then in that rare and successful category of people who know where the’re going. Out of every hundred people you belong to the top five. Don’t concern yourself too much with how you’re going to achieve your goal. Leave that completely to a power greater than yourself. All you have to do it know where you’re going. The answers will come to you of their own accord and at the right time. Remember these words from the Sermon on the Mount and remember them well. Keep them constantly before you this month of your test. Ask and it shall be given you. seek and ye shall find. Knock and it shall be opened unto you. For everyone that asketh receiveth. And he that seketh findeth. And to him that knocketh it shall be opened.

It’s a marvelous and as simple as that.

In fact it’s so simple that in our seemingly complicated world it’s difficult for an adult to understand that all he needs is a purpose and faith. For 30 days do your very best. If you’re a salesman go at it as you’ve never done before. Not in a hectic fashion but with the calm, cheerful assurance that time well spent will give you the abundance in return you deserve and want. If you’re a homemaker devote your 30 day test to completely giving of yourself without thinking about receiving anything in return and you’ll be amazed at the difference it makes in your life. No matter what your job do it as you’ve never done it before. And if you’ve kept your goal before you every day you will wonder and marvel at this new live you found. Dorothea Brande, the outstanding editor and writer discovered it for herself and tells about it in a fine book “Wake Up And Live.” Her entire philosophy is reduced to the words Act as though it were impossible to fail. She made her own test with sincerity and faith and her entire life was changed to one of overwhelming success. Now you make your test for 30 full days. Don’t start your test until you’ve made up you’re mind to stick with it. You see, by being persistent you’re demonstrating faith. Persistence is simply another word for faith. If you didn’t have faith you’d never persist. If you should fail during your first 30 days, by that I mean suddenly find yourself overwhelmed by negative thoughts, you’ve got to start over again from that point and go 30 more days. Gradually your new habit will form until you find yourself one of that wonderful minority to whom virtually nothing is impossible and don’t forget the card. It’s vitally important as you begin this new way of living. On one side of the card write your goal whatever it may be, on the other side write the word we’ve quoted from the Sermon on the Mount. Ask and it shall be given you. Seek and ye shall find. Knock and it shall be opened unto you. Nothing great was ever accomplished without inspiration. See that during these crucial 30 days your own inspiration is kept at a peak and above all don’t worry. Worry brings fear and fear is crippling. The only thing that can cause you to worry during your test is trying to do it all yourself. Know that all you have to do is hold your goal before you, everything else will take care of itself. Remember also to keep calm and cheerful don’t let petty things annoy you and get you off course. Now since making this test is difficult some will say why should I bother? Well, look at the alternative. No one wants to be a failure. No one really want to be a mediocre individual, no one wants a life constantly filled with worry and fear and frustration. Therefore remember that you must reap that which you sow. If you sow negative thoughts that your life will be filled with negative things. If you sow positive thoughts your life will be cheerful, successful and positive. Now gradually you will have a tendency to forget what you’ve heard on this recording. Play it often. Keep reminding yourself of what you must do to form this new habit. Gather your whole family around at regular intervals and listen to what’s been said here. You know most men will tell you they want to make money without understanding the law. The only people who make money work at the mint. The rest of us have to earn money. This is what causes those who keep looking for something for nothing or a free ride fail in life. The only way to earn money is by providing people with services or products which are needed and useful. We exchange our time and our product or service for the other man’s money. Therefore the law is that our financial return will be in direct proportion to our service. Now success is not the result of making money. Making money is the result of success. And success is in direct proportion to our service. Most people have this all backwards. They believe that you’re successful if you earn a lot of money. The truth is that you can only earn money after you’re successful. It’s like the story of the man who say in front of the stove and said to it give me hear and then I’ll add the wood. How many men and women do you know are you suppose there are today that take the same attitude toward life. There are millions. We’ve got to put the fuel in before we can expect heat. Likewise we’ve got to be of service first before we can expect money. Don’t concern yourself with the money. Be of service, build, work, dream, create. Do this and you’ll find there’s no limit for the prosperity and abundance will come to you. Prosperity you know was founded upon a law of mutual exchange. Any person who contributes to prosperity must possibly intern himself. Sometimes the return will not come from those you serve but it must come to you from some place because that’s the law. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. As you go daily through your 30 day test period remember that your success will always be measured by the quality and quantity of service you render and money is yardstick for measuring this service. No man can get rich himself unless he enriches others. Now there are no exceptions to a law. You can drive down any street in America and from your car estimate the service that’s being rendered by the people living on that street. Have you ever thought of this yardstick before? It’s interesting. Some like ministers and priests and other devoted people measure the returns in the realm of the spiritual. But again their returns are equal to their service. Once this law it fully understood any thinking person can tell his own fortune. If he wants more he must be of more service to those from whom he receives his return. If he wants less he has only to reduce the service. This is the price you must pay for what you want. If you believe you can enrich yourself by diluting others you can end only by deluding yourself. It may take some time but just as surely as you breath you’ll get back what you put out. Don’t ever make the mistake of thinking you can avert this. It’s impossible. The prisons and streets where the lonely walk are filled with people who tried to make new laws just for themselves. We may avoid the laws of man for a while but there are greater laws that cannot be broken. An outstanding medical doctor recently pointed out six steps that will help you realize success.

  1. Set yourself a definite goal
  2. Quit running yourself down
  3. Stop thinking of all the reasons you cannot be successful and instead think of all the reasons why you can
  4. Trace your attitudes back to your childhood and try to discover where you first got the idea you couldn’t be successful if that’s the way you’ve been thinking
  5. Change the image you have of yourself by writing our a description of the person you would like to be
  6. Act the part of the successful person you have decided to become

The doctor who wrote those words is a noted west coast psychiatrist Dr. David Harrell . Do what the experts from the dawn of recorded history have told you you must do. Pay the price by becoming the person you want to become. It’s not nearly as difficult as living unsuccessfully. Make your 30 day test and then repeat it again. And each time it will become more a part of you until you wonder how you could ever have lived any other way. Live this new way and the floodgates of abundance will open and pour over you more riches than you may have dreamed existed. Money? Yes, lots of it. But what’s more important, you’ll have peace, you’ll be in that wonderful minority who lead calm, cheerful, successful lives. Start today. You have nothing to lose but you have a whole life to win. This is Earl Nightingale and Thank You!