Discovering The Strangest Secret

“I’d like to tell you about the strangest secret in the world.”

If there is one personal development book or audio program that you must read or listen to in your life, Earl Nightingale’s The Strangest Secret might be it.

You might be asking, why should I listen to something that was recorded 66 years ago, that shares ideas that could potentially be antiquated and irrelevant for modern life?

To answer this, I would quote the final words of the recording: 

“You have nothing to lose, but you have a whole life to win.”

Even if you are skeptical, I would suggest giving The Strangest Secret at least one listen before you decide if it is valuable for you.

Personally, I have listened to the Strangest Secret recording over one hundred times, and each time I gain a deeper understanding of what Earl Nightingale meant by the Strangest Secret.

I first listened to Earl Nightingale in my early teen years in Australia via his audio cassette program Lead the Field. After I turned 18, I special-ordered a copy of the original recording of The Strangest Secret from Amazon in the US. 

Almost 30 years later, I still re-listen to The Strangest Secret audio recording several times a year and follow the advice and exercise in it. 

I am convinced that this practice has been a big part of creating the life and success that I have been fortunate to achieve. It has helped me to experience a more meaningful existence, find inner resolve, and move towards the goals I have set in my life.

In this article, I want to share a summary of Earl Nightingale’s The Strangest Secret and review the key lessons it has to offer. I also want to explore how useful and applicable it is today, in our modern world with the internet, social media, and our modern culture.

The Strangest Secret Recording

In 1956, Earl Nightingale wrote and recorded one of the world’s first audio programs around the topic of self-development. 

As a former radio announcer, entrepreneur, and personal development enthusiast, Earl used his articulate writing and sonorous voice to share more than 20 years of self-taught wisdom around the topic of self-improvement, goal setting, and achieving success.

At the time of recording, Earl Nightingale was the owner of a small insurance agency and wrote and delivered weekly motivational speeches to his agency’s sales staff.

He recorded the motivational speech The Strangest Secret to be played one week while he was on vacation to replace his live speech. 

The salesmen’s response to the recording was overwhelmingly positive. Soon, Nightingale’s employees spread the word of the value the recording provided, and demand grew for copies. Word of mouth led to sales of the Strangest Secret recording and eventually sold over one million copies, receiving the first Gold Record for the spoken word.

The Inspiration Behind The Strangest Secret

During the years of the Great Depression, Earl Nightingale was an avid reader and student of success and new thought literature. He said that he began searching at the age of 12, looking for the answer to the question ‘Why are some people more successful than others?”

He used to haunt the public library in Long Beach, California, and soon became an avid reader of fiction and nonfiction books. He said that every book he read led him a little closer to what he believed was the secret.

He eventually found the secret of success at the age of 29, contained in the book Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. He bought a copy of the book from Kroch’s and Brentano’s bookstore in Chicago. 

Earl said the title of the book made sense to him, so he bought the book and took it home. The following weekend, he came to the secret.

What Is The Strangest Secret?

In the recording, Earl asks the question ‘Was there a key that would guarantee a person becoming successful if they only knew about it and knew how to use it?”

At 7 minutes 45 seconds into the recording, Earl shares what he calls “the key to success, and the key to failure.”

“We become what we think about.”

As simple as that six-word sentence is, it might be one of the most profound truths we can learn.

The Strangest Secret credits and quotes the works of Napoleon Hill, Dorothea Brande, Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, Sir Isaac Newton, George Bernard Shaw, William James, Benjamin Disraeli, and Marcus Aurelius.

Here are a few of the famous quotes that Earl shares to align with his philosophy that ‘we become what we think about:

“A man’s life is what his thoughts make of it.” – Marcus Aurelius.

“Everything comes if a man will only wait. I have brought myself by long mediation 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 its fulfillment.” – Benjamin Disraeli.

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

“The greatest discovery of my generation is that human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind.” – William James.

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

As Earl says himself in the recording, “Well, it’s pretty apparent, isn’t it?”

Is The Strangest Secret Still Relevant Today?

The biggest question a lot of people have is whether the ideas shared in the Strangest Secret are still relevant to people living in today’s technologically advanced society.

After all, Earl Nightingale died before the internet was created and never experienced social media or the massive amount of information overwhelm we have today.

In the rest of this article, I want to summarize some of the key lessons from The Strangest Secret and how they are still relevant to us living in modern times.

“Men Don’t Think”

Back in 1952, Albert Schweitzer was asked the question, “What’s wrong with men today?” 

His simple reply was, “Men simply don’t think.”

Earl Nightingale uses Dr. Schweizer’s answer as the premise for the Strangest Secret, saying that the lack of thinking most people do is the cause of their mediocrity.

It’s interesting that today we live in an era of almost constant distraction and overwhelm via the internet, social media, and streaming media. 

This same issue of not taking the time to think clearly and deeply seems to be prevalent for all of us today. 

95% Fail, Only 5% Succeed

The second big theme shared in The Strangest Secret is that the majority of people do not achieve anything worthwhile in their lifetimes. Earl states that 95% of people remain unsuccessful, while only 5% become financially independent. 

There is a much larger focus today, particularly in Western culture, to focus on achievement, success, and financial freedom. 

With the rise of the internet, people have a lot more access to information and education to help them become financially independent. 

However, the statistic that Earl states seems to be somewhat correct when we look at most people’s lives. 

Few people we know achieve anything extraordinary or impactful beyond holding down a career, raising a family, or perhaps doing some travel.

The Best Definition of Success

One of the most profound ideas shared in The Strangest Secret recording is Earl Nightingale’s definition of success.

“Success is the progressive realization of a worthy goal or ideal.”  

Earl believed that if a person is currently in pursuit of a goal that they see as worthy, then they are already successful. I love that he includes the words ‘a worthy ideal’ as well, so that it is not always a tangible concrete goal, but a way of being or living.

This is an important distinction because, very often, we as humans get caught up in the results we want to achieve, and we forget about the process.

Using Earl’s definition of success frees us from feeling like a failure if we have not yet achieved what we are aiming for. We can see ourselves as a success as long as we are on the path to achieving it. 

Courage Vs. Conformity

Another profound idea that is part of the Strangest Secret is the idea that conformity to what others are doing keeps us from achieving success.

Earl quotes Rollo May in saying, “the opposite of courage is not cowardice, it’s conformity.”

In our modern society, the zeitgeist has turned to focus on the individual and self-expression; however, there is still a great deal of conformity to the typical ways of living.

Most people still live close to where they were born and choose careers based on the influence of their family, peers, or community.

The idea of breaking away from the group is a good one in theory, but many people still find it difficult to do in practice.

The idea of choosing your own worthwhile goal and seeking out people who share the same aspirations is one that Earl shares in other programs such as Lead The Field. 

Don’t Compete, Create

Very often in life, we feel like we must compete against other people for the money or success we seek. We see others as adversaries that we must ‘beat’ if we are to get what we want.

Earl shares this simple distinction many times in his audio programs, but this is the first time we hear the term don’t compete, create. 

A subtle difference between competing and creating is that the ability to create is infinite, whereas the desire to compete is finite. 

This is an idea that Simon Sinek explored in his newest book, The Infinite Game, and is a profound mindset shift. A lot of the negative thoughts and fear that we experience are due to having the wrong perspective.

The idea of creating and innovating in your business life and professional career might be one of the simplest to understand, yet hardest to do. However, once you shift to a creative mindset, not only does life become easier, but you experience more personal fulfillment.

The 30-Day Test

The final lesson from The Strangest Secret is actually an exercise that Earl calls ‘The 30 Day Test.’ 

His suggestion is to spend 30 days thinking only about what you want to achieve. To channel the incredible power of the human mind and use your thoughts to help you achieve what you want.

The first step is to set a definite and clearly defined goal for yourself. It should be a single goal and clearly defined. Write it out on a card to carry with you and look at several times a day. Think about it in a cheerful, relaxed, positive way. 

The second step is to be aware of the price that you must pay to achieve your goal. Realize that whatever you want to achieve will likely come through effort and helping others. The more you give to the world in service, the greater your chance of achieving what you want.

The third step is to focus only on your goal and devote your energy to thinking of ways and means of increasing your efforts and service to others. As Earl explains, “Visualize your goal from all possible angles, and let your imagination speculate freely on many possible solutions.”


These three steps are simple yet take time to form into a habit. Especially with the abundance of distractions all around us, it is increasingly difficult not to get off track from your goal and focus.

Earl suggests trying this Test for 30 full days. If you start to drift off or lose focus, then reset the timer and go for another 30 days.

Ancient Wisdom, Timeless Value

There is no way to explain the value of the work of Earl Nightingale in a few sentences. His contribution to the field of personal development has lasted well beyond his lifetime. 

The Strangest Secret was the first time that ideas about positive thinking, the law of attraction, goal setting, and self-development were put into audio format. 

The recording launched an entirely new era of self-help audio programs (with the help of his partner Lloyd Conant) that have impacted the lives of millions. Earl Nightingale himself was rewarded richly for his Strangest Secret recording and spent the rest of his life expanding on the idea.

If you haven’t had a chance to listen to the work of Earl Nightingale, take some time exploring his work either in audio, written, or video format.

There is incredible depth, wisdom, and practical value in the concepts he shares. 

If you are just now discovering Earl Nightingale for yourself, I am excited for you.

You have an incredible journey of rewarding self-development ahead.

Leave a Reply