For at least a decade now, I’ve been an avid devourer of personal development info. I literally have it for breakfast, since I often listen to audio programs while eating. One audio program I recently picked up from the local library is Earl Nightingale’s The Strangest Secret. I own a number of Earl’s audio programs (Lead the Field is my favorite), so I really enjoyed this one too. It can take a while to get used to Earl’s extremely deep voice, but I like his no-nonsense, tell-it-like-it-is style. The Strangest Secret is from 1988, but I found that most of the ideas are timeless and still apply today. The “secret” is simply six words: We become what we think about.
This certainly isn’t a new idea. In fact, Earl clearly admits that he learned it from Napoleon Hill’s classic Think and Grow Rich. And it isn’t a unique idea either. There are plenty of other books that have expanded on the concept, such as Marc Allen’s The Millionaire Course or James Allen’s As a Man Thinketh (later retitled As You Think).
Nevertheless, the idea is a profound one.
Few people would argue that our thoughts control our actions and that our actions (largely) control our results. If you think about going shopping and decide to follow through on that thought, your body follows suit, and pretty soon you acquire the results of going shopping. It all begins with a thought. But what people often fail to realize is that we have the power to consciously choose our thoughts. Instead of just letting our brains randomly cycle through the same thoughts over and over, we can start choosing to spend time thinking about different things. And if we do that consistently, we’ll shift our actions in new directions and thereby acquire new results.
Thoughts are like seeds. If you want different results in life, you have to figure out which thoughts are capable of growing those results and which aren’t. Then you have to consciously fill your mind with the correct thoughts and weed out the incorrect thoughts.
For example, if you want to start your own business, I can tell you which thoughts are the right seeds and which are the wrong ones. Among the wrong seeds, you’ll find the following thoughts:
- Starting my own business is very risky. I have a family to support.
- There’s a good chance I’ll go broke.
- I don’t have enough money yet.
- I have no idea how to start my own business.
- I’ve got a safe, secure job. Why would I want to mess that up?
- I’m not ready to start my own business just yet. Maybe next year.
Note that I’m not saying that these thoughts are objectively wrong… just that they’re the wrong seeds for the potential result of starting your own business. In other words, the result of starting your own business isn’t going to grow in the soil of the thoughts above. But these are the right seeds if you don’t want to start your own business; these seeds will grow the tree of being a lifelong employee. So chances are that if you harbor thoughts similar to those above, you find yourself an employee right now. Nothing at all wrong with that if it’s what you want. On the other hand, if you’re an employee right now and would like to start your own business, but your predominant thoughts about the idea are similar to those above, then you have a problem. Those mental seeds simply won’t grow a business. If you retain those thoughts, you’ll never run your own business, just as if you plant tomato seeds, you’ll never grow a watermelon.
So what kinds of thoughts are the right seeds for starting your own business? Here are some of them:
- Sure it’s a risk, but I believe in myself, and whatever obstacles come my way, I’ll overcome them.
- I’d rather spend my life working hard to build my own business than to build someone else’s. If I’m going to build a business no matter what, it might as well be my own.
- The freedom of being my own boss is extremely attractive to me. Imagine being able to decide how to spend my time every minute of every day.
- I can only get so far income-wise as an employee. If I want to hit it rich, I need to go into business for myself.
Now even though thoughts like those above might be the right seeds for starting your own business, that doesn’t mean that planting the right seeds is sufficient to grow the whole plant. Just as plants need water and sunshine, it takes a lot of hard work to build a business. But the right thoughts are the first step. I’m just using the starting of a new business as one example. I could have just as easily used quitting smoking, losing weight, getting married, etc.
The main point I’m trying to make is that if you find yourself in a situation where you want new results in your life (i.e. something other than what you’re currently experiencing), then the first step is to examine your dominant thoughts to see if they’re the right seeds to grow the results you want. The odds are probably better than 95% that if you’re not making progress, then you’re probably thinking the wrong thoughts and need to replace them with new ones. For example, you won’t become a nonsmoker by thinking thoughts like, “Quitting smoking is hard.”
A key concept to understand here is that shifting your thoughts is a conscious and deliberate activity. You don’t just say to yourself, “Ok, I’ll think about starting my own business. Sounds good. Next….” You have to be a lot more proactive than that. You have to set aside an hour or so to be totally alone, sit down with pen and paper, figure out the correct thoughts/seeds you need to be thinking, and then consciously ram those new thoughts into your head, over and over again until they become dominant over the old thoughts. And if you’re trying to make a big shift in your results, then this is something you’ll need to do every single day.
You might find the above exercise really difficult at first. When you start thinking new thoughts, the most common initial reaction is that you’ll feel a great deal of doubt about them. So if you start thinking about running your own business, your initial images probably won’t seem too attractive. Then you find yourself thinking about quitting your job, the negative reaction you’ll get from coworkers, the office politics you have to deal with on a daily basis, and you suddenly realize you’re back to thinking the wrong thoughts again. That’s normal. But use your imagination to push past the doubt and keep working on it. See that new reality working out beautifully, even if you have no idea how it could possibly work in the real world. It’s going to be sloppy in the beginning, but it will get easier over time. After about 2-3 weeks of this, you’ll start to actually believe in those new thoughts. And that’s when you’ll feel the urge to start taking action. But in the beginning, you’ll still be too full of doubt to act. That’s fine — it’s important to reach the point of belief first. So just be patient with yourself, and let your imagination guide you. As Albert Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”