Jim Daly Christian Blog and Commentary

The Strangest Secret

  • Jim Daly Jim Daly is president and chief executive officer of Focus on the Family, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping families thrive.
  • 2012 Sep 18

Posted by Jim_Daly Sep 17, 2012

Over 60 years ago, Earl Nightingale, a former United States Marine who had been one of only 12 survivors of the bombing of the U.S.S. Arizona at Pearl Harbor, struck upon an idea.

At the time of his epiphany, he was an announcer at the legendary Chicago radio station WGN. Residents of the Windy City were drawn to his soothing, sonorous voice. But it was off the air, while reading a book by Napoleon Hill, a well-known motivational writer and speaker of that era, that Nightingale’s revelation came to him, like “a bolt out of the blue,” he said. The concept was simple, only five words, in fact. But up until that point it was a theory that had eluded him all of his life.

The thought was this:

We become what we think.

Putting down the book, Nightingale was inspired. He began to mull this hypothesis over and over in his mind, finally sitting down to write about it. Because of his profession, he decided to turn his thoughts into a radio commentary and finally, a record.

A born marketer, the popular voice of WGN had settled on a catchy title that immediately got people’s attention: The Strangest Secret.

The commentary resonated with Americans, many still trying to find their balance and way after World War II. The record quickly sold over a million copies, becoming the first-ever recording of the spoken word to achieve “gold” sales status.

But by Nightingale’s own admission, the “secret” wasn’t a secret at all.

That’s because the idea, he said, wasn’t original with him or hidden from plain sight. In fact, it appears in the book of Proverbs.

“As a man thinks in his heart,” wrote Solomon, “so is he” (23:7).

Yet, according to Nightingale, “Very few people have learned [this] or understand it. That's why it's strange, and why for some equally strange reason it virtually remains a secret.”

If it’s true that we become what we think, then it would follow that our thoughts are driven by our attitudes. Psychologists have long suggested that attitude makes a big difference, but I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s especially important, even critical, when it comes to the vitality and effectiveness of our Christian faith and witness. In the course of my work, I have felt led and convicted by the Lord to not just do the right things -- but to do them for the right reasons, and with the right attitude.

If my motives are wrong, nothing that I do can ultimately be right.

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