The Essence of Success - Earl Nightingale

The Essence of Success - Earl Nightingale

Video Book Summary

Download all of the Mind Maps here.

Book Summary Notes

The Essence of Success

“It means asking the questions that are hard to answer: Where am I going? Why am I going there? What do I really want, and why do I want it? Am I gradually realizing my potential? Am I discovering my best talents and abilities and using them to their fullest? Am I living fully extended in my one chance at life on earth? Am I really living? Who am I?"

"These are the questions everyone must ask himself and answer... So the person who knows what he wants—knows what he must become, and he then fixes his attention on the preparation and development of himself. As he grows toward the ideal he holds in his mind, he finds interest, zest and joy on the journey. He looks forward to tomorrow, but he also enjoys today, for it is the tomorrow he looked forward to yesterday. He knows that if he cannot find meaning and value in the present, he will very likely be missing it in his future. Today is the future of five years ago. Are you enjoying it as much as you thought you would? Have you progressed to the point you wanted then to reach?"

"These are the questions that make us think.”

What kind of questions are you asking yourself?  This is one of the easiest ways to tell where you're going..

Are you asking yourself questions like: 

  • Why did I do this?
  • How could I let this happen?
  • How could I do as little as possible?

Or are you asking questions like:

  • What do I really want?
  • What might my potential be?
  • Am I reaching my potential?

Show me the questions you ask yourself and I'll show you where you're going..  

That is to say that should you change the questions you're asking yourself you would change the direction of your life!

Try asking some of the questions above of yourself..  Take some real time!  Take the time to ponder, plan and sketch out your ideas!



“Only a few exceptional persons make any serious demands of themselves. The great majority of us miss the far greater accomplishments of which we are capable—and the greater joy in living this would bring to us—because we quit and sit down, gasping at the first sign of fatigue."

"The next time you get tired, and you’re doing something important, stay with it and see what happens. Each of us has tremendous second wind, mental and physical. Passing through the fatigue barrier to draw upon our idle reserves can make the difference between existing and really living." 

"Emerson said, ‘Vigor is contagious; and whatever makes us either think or feel strongly adds to our power and enlarges our field of action.’”

Do you know that feeling of mental fatigue?

It seems to be a mix between a headache, anxiety and frustration..  

  • When was the last time you felt that feeling?
  • How did you react when it came up?

Getting comfortable with that feeling..  Getting comfortable with pushing through is so important!

  • Just like exercising you're never going to get anywhere if you're afraid to feel the burn.. 
  • What is the burn?  It's the place that most people stop!
  • It's the place where your mind might tell you that's enough..  
  • But what's on the other side?  That's your second wind.. 
  • The place where the mind realizes it must continue and floods your system with new neuro-chemicals to make that possible..  

This is why taking on big projects, reading complex ideas and having challenging conversations is so important!

  • When we take on these types of thought provoking and fatigue inducing tasks we get a chance to push through the fatigue..  
  • Just like exercising the more you ask of your mind more often the more you can achieve!

Cal Newport talks all about this in deep work..  

Our minds don't want to expend the calories these big projects or conversations might have.. 

But eventually over time and with enough perseverance we can train them to enjoy that push..  


“But patience is not passive and should never be confused with idleness and a phlegmatic insensibility. On the contrary, it is active; it is concentrated strength; it is perseverance—it is knowing that to persevere is to prevail."

"Aristotle wrote that patience is so like fortitude that she seems either her sister or her daughter. And Rousseau said, “Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.”

"A great life, a great home and family, a great career, a great business, a great accomplishment of any kind—all these come with patience—patience with others, with the world and with ourselves. It is said that every day begins a new year for each of us. If you’re in the mood for a little self- improvement—for turning over a new leaf—write the word patience some place where you’ll see it every day for the next, oh, say, 50 or 60 years. You’ll be amazed what this one word can do for your life."

"There is as much difference between genuine patience and sullen endurance as there is between the smile of love and the malicious gnash of teeth. If your turn has not yet come, keep at it, and be patient.”

Patience and perseverance are next door neighbours..   

Often we think of patience being an inactive act..  

  • Standing in line
  • Sitting at work 

But what patience really is to me is trust..  

  • Trust that the hard work I'm putting in now will work out!
  • Trust that somehow some way this is exactly where I'm supposed to be!
  • Trust that if I keep persevering  that I will eventually get what I set out for!

When was the last time you got upset because something you thought was going to work out didn't?

  • What happened in your mind?
  • Quite often when we set an expectation and it doesn't get met we judge ourselves or blame the circumstances..
  • This can cause a lot of mental struggle and is very tiring..  Which in turn can make it very hard to be patient as it can require a lot of energy!
  • So..  Expectations create judgements and judgements make it very hard to be patient.  
  • Trust the process is what comes to mind here..  But that to me is a mix of forgetting about the outcome and focusing on the moment!  Neither one is easy but both are essential. 


“Two young boys were raised by an alcoholic father. As they grew older, they moved away from that broken home, each going his own way in the world." 

"Several years later, they happened to be interviewed separately by a psychologist who was analyzing the effects of drunkenness on children in broken homes. His research revealed that the two men were strikingly different from each other." 

"One was a clean-living teetotaler, the other a hopeless drunk like his father. The psychologist asked each of them why he developed the way he did, and each gave an identical answer, ‘What else would you expect when you have a father like mine?’”

It's not our circumstance that determines our destiny but how we react to those circumstances..

This is Jocko's argument around Nature vs Nurture..

  • He says that he doesn't believe it's either of those two things.. 
  • Instead he says it's all about choice..  

Thinking that we are bound up by our particular circumstances leads us to stay in a victim mindset..  

  • Thinking 'why did this happen to me' or 'what else would you expect' which gives up control to our circumstances..
  • Instead we should be looking at 'what do I want' and try to make choices to move us towards that..  
  • Instead of waiting for our destiny to appear we should be working to manifest the one that we desire.


“According to the Bureau of Standards, ‘A dense fog covering seven city blocks, to a depth of 100 feet, is composed of something less than one glass of water.’ That is, all the fog covering seven city blocks, at 100 feet deep could be, if it were gotten all together, held in a single drinking glass. It would not quite fill it." 

"And this could be compared to our worries. If we can see into the future and if we could see our problems in their true light, they wouldn’t tend to blind us to the world, to living itself, but instead could be relegated to their true size and place."

"And if all the things most people worry about were reduced to their true size, you could probably put them all into a water glass, too.”

How big are your worries, fears and doubts?

If yours are anything like mine they tend to be big, dense and all encompassing..

  • They can sometimes feel debilitating and can even BE debilitating..  
  • Sometimes I can let these worries, fears and doubts cover up all of my surroundings!

But as Earl says here..  What are they really?  Nothing but a glass of water!

  • What does this mean?
  • I believe what he's talking about is something that we all already know..  
  • The human mind is built to make our problems, fears and doubts big and scary to keep us alive!  Very useful as cavemen..  Unfortunately not as much now-adays.

So how could we go about distilling our problems to a glass of water?  

  • Meditation and Mindfulness seem to be a great technique.. 
  • Focusing your mind on your breathe or awareness or a metronome seems to allow the fog to clear..  
  • Now at first it will only be for a moment..  But after practicing this for a few years it seems to just become a natural way of being..  
  • Somehow our normal state changes to something much more clear and calm!


“Perseverance can accomplish anything. My friend W. Clement Stone tells the story of Tom, who was born without half of a right foot and only a stub of a right arm."  

"As a boy, he wanted to engage in sports as the other boys did. He had a burning desire to play football, of all things. Because of this desire, his parents had an artificial foot made for him. It was made of wood. The wooden foot was encased in a special stubby football shoe. Hour after hour, day after day, he would practice kicking the football with his wooden foot. He would try and keep on trying to make filed goals from greater and greater distances."

"He became so proficient that he was hired by the New Orleans Saints. Now, just offhand, what would you say a person’s chances of playing professional football were, if he were born without half of a right foot and a withered arm? But the screams of 66,910 football fans would be heard throughout the entire United States when Tom Dempsey, with his crippled leg, kicked the longest field goal ever kicked in a professional football game within the last two seconds of the game, to give the Saints a winning score of 19 to 17 over the Detroit Lions."

"‘We were beaten by a miracle,’ said Detroit coach Joseph Schmidt. But they were beaten by perseverance.”

Often looks like luck, privilege or a miracle is actually the byproduct of persistence..

Nightingale gives us this amazing story of Tom..  Who by all accounts should never have been able to accomplish what he has!

Why does he tell us about this?  Well..  To give us permission!  

  • By showing us anything is possible he gives us the permission to not give up..  
  • To 'trust in the process' as we talked about before!

Why might we need permission?

  • Well..  Quite often the world might tell us things are impossible when really they aren't!
  • Just look around at all the amazing success stories in your life..  Do you think those people never came up against some kind of adversity?  Of course they did..  
  • But when most people would have quit they continued..  Those people were persistent..  Why then do people explain it away as talent, luck or a miracle?
  • This gives them permission to not be persistent..  It gives them a reason to let themselves off the hook!


“‘What kind of folks live around here?’ he asked."

"‘Well, stranger,’ said the sodbuster, ‘what kind of folks was there in the country you come from?’ ‘Well, there was mostly a low-down, lying, thieving, gossiping, backbiting lot of people.’ After a few seconds of reflection, the sodbuster replied: ‘Well, I guess stranger, that’s about the kind of folks you’ll find around here.’ And the stranger had just about blended into the dusty gray cottonwoods becoming a lump on the horizon, when another newcomer drove up."

"‘What kind of folks live around here?’ the stranger asked. And again the sodbuster replied, “Well, stranger, what kind of folks was there in the country you come from?’ The friendly stranger said with a smile: ‘Well, there was mostly a decent, hardworking, law- abiding, friendly lot of people.’ And again the sodbuster said, ‘Well, I guess that’s about the kind of folks you’ll find around here.’”

Our outer world is directly related to our inner world..

Perhaps in other words..  What you see in the world is what the world is!

How do you see the world?

  • Full of opportunity?
  • Filled with traps?

How do you see people?

  • Full of love, respect and good intentions?
  • Full of greed, lying and bad intentions?

Answering those questions will lead you directly to where you are now..  

  • It will lead you to your financial circumstances, your current living arrangements and your goals..
  • It will lead you to the people around you, how they treat you and how you treat them..  

Pay great attention to how you see the world..  Because that's how it will appear!


“One day a young man came to my office and told me he wanted very much to make a great success of himself. He asked if I could show him the secret."

"I told him to decide definitely upon what he considered success to be for him, and then work at it for 12 to 16 hours a day until he achieved it—and when he wasn’t working at it, to think about it. By doing this, he could reach his goal. However, to achieve success, he must force himself back on the track every time he strayed off, realizing that failures are as necessary to success as an excavation is to a basement."

"I never saw that young man again. I wonder if he took my advice. It is an unusual person whose desire is larger than his distaste for the work involved."

"Successful people are dreamers who have found a dream too exciting, too important, to remain in the realm of fantasy. Day by day, hour by hour, they toil in the service of their dream until they can see it with their eyes and touch it with their hands.”

In the end it all comes back to patience and perseverance.. 

Both of which are easier said then done..  But in this excerpt Nightgale gives us a glance into how to make them a little easier!

  • "Successful people are dreamers who have found a dream too exciting, too important, to remain in the realm of fantasy"
  • This is what Napoleon Hill would call the Burning Desire..

How can we cultivate the Burning Desire?

From my experience these are the steps: 

Step One: Get out of your own way..  

What do you really want?

This isn't as easy as it might sound..  We're often blocked by what other people want for us!  Take some time to meditate on this.

Step Two: Write it down in appealing language as if it's already happened.. 

What would it be like if you accomplished this?

Don't just write it down in one sentence..  Take 2-3 pages and write down every little detail..  

PS I use a Mind Map for this..  Maybe we'll do a video course on it?

Step Three: Return to it everyday and burn it into your mind.. 

What good is a fire if you don't have anything to stoke it with?

Everyday we wake up and have many competing demands of our attention..  I suggest that you take a small part of that attention, first thing in the morning and devote it to stoking the fire of your burning desire..  

Back to blog