By Ron Price
“We can choose our thoughts, attitudes and actions, but we cannot choose the consequences of our thoughts, attitudes and actions, because whatever we sow will be multiplied back to us.” Price Family Proverb
In a time of turmoil and uncertainty, it makes a big difference what we focus on. We can fill our days and minds with fear, frustration, anger, worry and anxiety. There is certainly tremendous opportunity to focus on this in the current environment. There is much wrong in the world and plenty of people who want to tell us about it.
Or, we can fill our days and minds with gratitude, hope, love, peace, and courage to walk a different path. There are also voices in society encouraging us to focus on these things. They tell us that there are good people, good ideas, and good things happening all around us. However, not as many people are encouraging us to focus on what is noble, admirable, honorable, and good. And certainly, not as many on social media!
I have witnessed folks on both sides of the divide throughout my 67 years of living. Even during the current global pandemic, I have seen, heard and read tragic stories of suffering, as well as stories of humans behaving badly. But I have also seen, heard and read uplifting stories of innovation, new purpose, and multiple acts of compassion.
In 1957, Earl Nightingale, one of the pioneers of the self-development movement in the United States, put out a vinyl recording entitled, “The Strangest Secret in the World”. For many years, it was the most purchased speech on vinyl in the world and you can still listen to it on YouTube today. What was the strangest secret in the world? After a considerable buildup of why this secret was so strange and yet so obvious, Mr. Nightingale finally announced that the strangest secret in the world is that “we become what we think about all day long.”
If Mr. Nightingale was a scientist, I’m sure he never would have claimed this as the strangest secret. He would have never said, “you can become a movie star by thinking about being a movie start all day long”, or, “you can be an African lion by thinking about being an African lion all day long”. That would be absurd! Instead, Mr. Nightingale was more of a philosopher. And by stating this as the strangest secret, I think he was trying to inspire us to realize how much power we have over our future by how we nurture and engage our minds.
Think of it this way: thoughts that come to us from the world around us are like food to the body. When you eat a nutritious balanced diet, you give your body the greatest possible chance to experience health. But when you eat an unbalanced, artificial, or junk food diet, not only is your body deprived of the nutritional building blocks for health, but you could well be introducing small amounts of poison that will eventually cause disease and discomfort. In the same way, the thoughts and ideas we take into our mind every day represent a positive or a negative influence the health or disease of our mind. In Mr. Nightingale’s day, neuroscience was an emerging science, so he couldn’t have possibly known what we know now about how the brain works.
However, today we understand much more of how the brain works, validating much of what he spoke through the lens of a philosopher. As a result, Mr. Nightingale’s strangest secret makes is more compelling today than when he first recorded his speech. When we focus on gratitude, love, hope and courage, we are more apt to find solutions and reasons for optimism, regardless of the chaotic noise all around us. We do, in fact, become more of what we think about all day long. On the other hand, if we allow ourselves to listen to fear, frustration, anger, worry and anxiety, over time we will “reap what we sow”.
Maybe the greatest privilege we have as human beings is the power to choose what we think about and what we feed our brain. No matter what happens to us or to those we love, this is a power that nobody can take from us. They will try and we may succumb to the temptation to pay too much attention to junk food for our brain. However, it is our power to choose what to listen to and then, in response, what to think. And as Mr. Nightingale spoke of in another time, we will become what we think about all day long. So what will you think about to make today a day worth living?
Ron Price is the co-author of Growing Influence: A Story of How to Lead With Character, Expertise, and Impact, The Complete Leader: Everything You Need to Become a High Performing Leader, The Innovator’s Advantage: Revealing the Hidden Connection Between People and Process, and the author of Treasure Inside: 23 Unexpected Principles That Activate Greatness.