Chapter 12 - Eight Words That Can Transform Your Life

23 April 2022

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A Few years ago, I was asked to answer this question on a radio programme: "What is
the biggest lesson you have ever learned?"
That was easy: by far the most vital lesson I have ever learned is the importance of
what we think. If I knew what you think, I would know what you are. Our thoughts make
us what we are. Our mental attitude is the X factor that determines our fate. Emerson
said: "A man is what he thinks about all day long." ... How could he possibly be anything
I now know with a conviction beyond all doubt that the biggest problem you and I have
to deal with-in fact, almost the only problem we have to deal with-is choosing the right
thoughts. If we can do that, we will be on the highroad to solving all our problems. The
great philosopher who ruled the Roman Empire, Marcus Aurelius, summed it up in eight
words-eight words that can determine your destiny: "Our life is what our thoughts make
Yes, if we think happy thoughts, we will be happy. If we think miserable thoughts, we
will be miserable. If we think fear thoughts, we will be fearful. If we think sickly
thoughts, we will probably be ill. If we think failure, we will certainly fail. If we wallow
in self-pity, everyone will want to shun us and avoid us. "You are not," said Norman
Vincent Peale, "you are not what you think you are; but what you think, you are."
Am I advocating an habitual Pollyanna attitude toward all our problems? No,
unfortunately, life isn't so simple as all that. But I am advocating that we assume a
positive attitude instead of a negative attitude. In other words, we need to be
concerned about our problems, but not worried. What is the difference between
concern and worry? Let me illustrate. Every time I cross the traffic-jammed streets of
New York, I am concerned about what I am doing-but not worried. Concern means
realising what the problems are and calmly taking steps to meet them. Worrying means
going around in maddening, futile circles.
A man can be concerned about his serious problems and still walk with his chin up and a
carnation in his buttonhole. I have seen Lowell Thomas do just that. I once had the
privilege of being associated with Lowell Thomas in presenting his famous films on the
Allenby-Lawrence campaigns in World War I. He and his assistants had photographed the
war on half a dozen fronts; and, best of all, had brought back a pictorial record of T. E.
Lawrence and his colourful Arabian army, and a film record of Allenby's conquest of the
Holy Land. His illustrated talks entitled "With Allenby in Palestine and Lawrence in
Arabia" were a sensation in London-and around the world. The London opera season was
postponed for six weeks so that he could continue telling his tale of high adventure and
showing his pictures at Covent Garden Royal Opera House. After his sensational success
in London came a triumphant tour of many countries. Then he spent two years preparing
a film record of life in India and Afghanistan. After a lot of incredibly bad luck, the
impossible happened: he found himself broke in London. I was with him at the time.
I remember we had to eat cheap meals at cheap restaurants. We couldn't have eaten
even there if we had not borrowed money from a Scotsman-James McBey, the renowned
artist. Here is the point of the story: even when Lowell Thomas was facing huge debts
and severe disappointments, he was concerned, but not worried. He knew that if he let
his reverses get him down, he would be worthless to everyone, including his creditors.
So each morning before he started out, he bought a flower, put it in his buttonhole, and
went swinging down Oxford Street with his head high and his step spirited. He thought
positive, courageous thoughts and refused to let defeat defeat him. To him, being
licked was all part of the game-the useful training you had to expect if you wanted to
get to the top.
Our mental attitude has an almost unbelievable effect even on our physical powers. The
famous British psychiatrist, J. A. Hadfield, gives a striking illustration of that fact in his
splendid book, The Psychology of Power. "I asked three men," he writes, "to submit
themselves to test the effect of mental suggestion on their strength, which was
measured by gripping a dynamometer." He told them to grip the dynamometer with all
their might. He had them do this under three different sets of conditions.
When he tested them under normal waking conditions, their average grip was 101
When he tested them after he had hypnotised them and told them that they were very
weak, they could grip only 29 pounds -less than a third of their normal strength. (One of
these men was a prize fighter; and when he was told under hypnosis that he was weak,
he remarked that his arm felt "tiny, just like a baby's".)
When Captain Hadfield then tested these men a third time, telling them under hypnosis
that they were very strong, they were able to grip an average of 142 pounds. When their
minds were filled with positive thoughts of strength, they increased their actual physical
powers almost five hundred per cent.
Such is the incredible power of our mental attitude.
To illustrate the magic power of thought, let me tell you one of the most astounding
stories in the annals of America. I could write a book about it; but let's be brief. On a
frosty October night, shortly after the close of the Civil War, a homeless, destitute
woman, who was little more than a wanderer on the face of the earth, knocked at the
door of "Mother" Webster, the wife of a retired sea captain, living in Amesbury,
Opening the door, "Mother" Webster saw a frail little creature, "scarcely more than a
hundred pounds of frightened skin and bones". The stranger, a Mrs. Glover, explained
she was seeking a home where she could think and work out a great problem that
absorbed her day and night.
"Why not stay here?" Mrs. Webster replied. "I'm all alone in this big house."
Mrs. Glover might have remained indefinitely with "Mother" Webster, if the latter's sonin-law, Bill Ellis, hadn't come up from New York for a vacation. When he discovered Mrs.
Glover's presence, he shouted: "I'll have no vagabonds in this house"; and he shoved this
homeless woman out of the door. A driving rain was falling. She stood shivering in the
rain for a few minutes, and then started down the road, looking for shelter.
Here is the astonishing part of the story. That "vagabond" whom Bill Ellis put out of the
house was destined to have as much influence on the thinking of the world as any other
woman who ever walked this earth. She is now known to millions of devoted followers
as Mary Baker Eddy-the founder of Christian Science.
Yet, until this time, she had known little in life except sickness, sorrow, and tragedy.
Her first husband had died shortly after their marriage. Her second husband had
deserted her and eloped with a married woman. He later died in a poor-house. She had
only one child, a son; and she was forced, because of poverty, illness, and jealousy, to
give him up when he was four years old. She lost all track of him and never saw him
again for thirty-one years.
Because of her own ill health, Mrs. Eddy had been interested for years in what she
called "the science of mind healing". But the dramatic turning point in her life occurred
in Lynn, Massachusetts. Walking downtown one cold day, she slipped and fell on the icy
pavement-and was knocked unconscious. Her spine was so injured that she was
convulsed with spasms. Even the doctor expected her to die. If by some miracle she
lived, he declared that she would never walk again.
Lying on what was supposed to be her deathbed, Mary Baker Eddy opened her Bible, and
was led, she declared, by divine guidance to read these words from Saint Matthew:
"And, behold, they brought to him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed: and Jesus ...
said unto the sick of the palsy: Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee. ...
Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house. And he arose, and departed to his
These words of Jesus, she declared, produced within her such a strength, such a faith,
such a surge of healing power, that she "immediately got out of bed and walked".
"That experience," Mrs. Eddy declared, "was the falling apple that led me to the
discovery of how to be well myself, and how to make others so. ... I gained the
scientific certainty that all causation was Mind, and every effect a mental
Such was the way in which Mary Baker Eddy became the founder and high priestess of a
new religion: Christian Science -the only great religious faith ever established by a
woman- a religion that has encircled the globe.
You are probably saying to yourself by now: "This man Carnegie is proselytising for
Christian Science." No. You are wrong. I am not a Christian Scientist. But the longer I
live, the more deeply I am convinced of the tremendous power of thought. As a result of
thirty-five years spent in teaching adults, I know men and women can banish worry,
fear, and various kind of illness, and can transform their lives by changing their
thoughts. I know! I know! ! I know! ! ! I have seen such incredible transformations
performed hundreds of times. I have seen them so often that I no longer wonder at
For example, one of these transformations happened to one of my students, Frank J.
Whaley, of 1469 West Idaho Street, Saint Paul, Minnesota. He had a nervous breakdown.
What brought it on? Worry. Frank Whaley tells me: "I worried about everything: I
worried because I was too thin; because I thought I was losing my hair; because I feared
I would never make enough money to get married; because I felt I would never make a
good father; because I feared I was losing the girl I wanted to marry; because I felt I was
not living a good life. I worried about the impression I was making on other people. I
worried because I thought I had stomach ulcers. I could no longer work; I gave up my
job. I built up tension inside me until I was like a boiler without a safety valve. The
pressure got so unbearable that something had to give-and it did. If you have never had
a nervous breakdown, pray God that you never do, for no pain of the body can exceed
the excruciating pain of an agonised mind.
"My breakdown was so severe that I couldn't talk even to my own family. I had no
control over my thoughts. I was filled with fear. I would jump at the slightest noise. I
avoided everybody. I would break out crying for no apparent reason at all.
"Every day was one of agony. I felt that I was deserted by everybody-even God. I was
tempted to jump into the river and end it all.
"I decided instead to take a trip to Florida, hoping that a change of scene would help
me. As I stepped on the train, my father handed me a letter and told me not to open it
until I reached Florida. I landed in Florida during the height of the tourist season. Since I
couldn't get in a hotel, I rented a sleeping room in a garage. I tried to get a job on a
tramp freighter out of Miami, but had no luck. So I spent my time at the beach. I was
more wretched in Florida than I had been at home; so I opened the envelope to see
what Dad had written. His note said: 'Son, you are 1,500 miles from home, and you don't
feel any different, do you? I knew you wouldn't, because you took with you the one thing
that is the cause of all your trouble, that is, yourself. There is nothing wrong with either
your body or your mind. It is not the situations you have met that have thrown you; it is
what you think of these situations. "As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he." When you
realise that, son, come home, for you will be cured.'
"Dad's letter made me angry. I was looking for sympathy, not instruction. I was so mad
that I decided then and there that I would never go home. That night as I was walking
down one of the side streets of Miami, I came to a church where services were going on.
Having no place to go, I drifted in and listened to a sermon on the text: 'He who
conquers his spirit is mightier than he who taketh a city.' Sitting in the sanctity of the
house of God and hearing the same thoughts that my Dad had written in his letter-all
this swept the accumulated litter out of my brain. I was able to think clearly and
sensibly for the first time in my life. I realised what a fool I had been. I was shocked to
see myself in my true light: here I was, wanting to change the whole world and
everyone in it- when the only thing that needed changing was the focus of the lens of
the camera which was my mind.
"The next morning I packed and started home. A week later I was back on the job. Four
months later I married the girl I had been afraid of losing. We now have a happy family
of five children. God has been good to me both materially and mentally. At the time of
the breakdown I was a night foreman of a small department handling eighteen people. I
am now superintendent of carton manufacture in charge of over four hundred and fifty
people. Life is much fuller and friendlier. I believe I appreciate the true values of life
now. When moments of uneasiness try to creep in (as they will in everyone's life) I tell
myself to get that camera back in focus, and everything is O.K.
"I can honestly say that I am glad I had the breakdown, because I found out the hard
way what power our thoughts can have over our mind and our body. Now I can make my
thoughts work for me instead of against me. I can see now that Dad was right when he
said it wasn't outward situations that had caused all my suffering, but what I thought of
those situations. And as soon as I realised that, I was cured-and stayed cured." Such was
the experience of Frank J. Whaley.
I am deeply convinced that our peace of mind and the joy we get out of living depends
not on where we are, or what we have, or who we are, but solely upon our mental
attitude. Outward conditions have very little to do with it. For example, let's take the
case of old John Brown, who was hanged for seizing the United States arsenal at Harpers
Ferry and trying to incite the slaves to rebellion. He rode away to the gallows, sitting on
his coffin. The jailer who rode beside him was nervous and worried. But old John Brown
was calm and cool. Looking up at the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia, he exclaimed:
"What a beautiful country! I never had an opportunity to really see it before."
Or take the case of Robert Falcon Scott and his companions- the first Englishman ever to
reach the South Pole. Their return trip was probably the cruelest journey ever
undertaken by man. Their food was gone-and so was their fuel. They could no longer
march because a howling blizzard roared down over the rim of the earth for eleven days
and nights-a wind so fierce and sharp that it cut ridges in the polar ice. Scott and his
companions knew they were going to die; and they had brought a quantity of opium
along for just such an emergency. A big dose of opium, and they could all lie down to
pleasant dreams, never to wake again. But they ignored the drug, and died "singing
ringing songs of cheer". We know they did because of a farewell letter found with their
frozen bodies by a searching party, eight months later.
Yes, if we cherish creative thoughts of courage and calmness, we can enjoy the scenery
while sitting on our coffin, riding to the gallows; or we can fill our tents with "ringing
songs of cheer", while starving and freezing to death.
Milton in his blindness discovered that same truth three hundred years ago:
The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a heaven of Hell, a hell of Heaven.
Napoleon and Helen Keller are perfect illustrations of Milton's statement: Napoleon had
everything men usually crave-glory, power, riches-yet he said at St. Helena: "I have
never known six happy days in my life"; while Helen Keller- blind, deaf, dumb-declared:
"I have found life so beautiful."
If half a century of living has taught me anything at all, it has taught me that "Nothing
can bring you peace but yourself."
I am merely trying to repeat what Emerson said so well in the closing words of his essay
on "Self-Reliance" : "A political victory, a rise in rents, the recovery of your sick, or the
return of your absent friend, or some other quite external event, raises your spirits, and
you think good days are preparing for you. Do not believe it. It can never be so. Nothing
can bring you peace but yourself."
Epictetus, the great Stoic philosopher, warned that we ought to be more concerned
about removing wrong thoughts from the mind than about removing "tumours and
abscesses from the body."
Epictetus said that nineteen centuries ago, but modern medicine would back him up.
Dr. G. Canby Robinson declared that four out of five patients admitted to Johns Hopkins
Hospital were suffering from conditions brought on in part by emotional strains and
stresses. This was often true even in cases of organic disturbances. "Eventually," he
declared, "these trace back to maladjustments to life and its problems."
Montaigne, the great French philosopher, adopted these seventeen words as the motto
of his life: "A man is not hurt so much by what happens, as by his opinion of what
happens." And our opinion of what happens is entirely up to us.
What do I mean? Have I the colossal effrontery to tell you to your face-when you are
mowed down by troubles, and your nerves are sticking out like wires and curling up at
the ends-have I the colossal effrontery to tell you that, under those conditions, you can
change your mental attitude by an effort of will? Yes, I mean precisely that! And that is
not all. I am going to show you how to do it. It may take a little effort, but the secret is
William James, who has never been topped in his knowledge of practical psychology,
once made this observation: "Action seems to follow feeling, but really action and
feeling go together; and by regulating the action, which is under the more direct control
of the will, we can indirectly regulate the feeling, which is not."
In other words, William James tells us that we cannot instantly change our emotions
just by "making up our minds to"-but that we can change our actions. And that when we
change our actions, we will automatically change our feelings.
"Thus," he explains, "The sovereign voluntary path to cheerfulness, if your cheerfulness
be lost, is to sit up cheerfully and to act and speak as if cheerfulness were already
Does that simple trick work? It works like plastic surgery! Try it yourself. Put a big,
broad, honest-to-God smile on your face; throw back your shoulders; take a good, deep
breath; and sing a snatch of song. If you can't sing, whistle. If you can't whistle, hum.
You will quickly discover what William James was talking about-that it is physically
impossible to remain blue or depressed while you are acting out the symptoms of being
radiantly happy!
This is one of the little basic truths of nature that can easily work miracles in all our
lives. I know a woman in California -I won't mention her name-who could wipe out all of
her miseries in twenty-fours if only she knew this secret. She's old, and she's a widowthat's sad, I admit-but does she try to act happy? No; if you ask her how she is feeling,
she says: "Oh, I'm all right"-but the expression on her face and the whine in her voice
say: "Oh, God, if you only knew the troubles I've seen!" She seems to reproach you for
being happy in her presence. Hundreds of women are worse off that she is: her husband
left her enough insurance to last the rest of her life, and she has married children to
give her a home. But I've rarely seen her smile. She complains that all three of her sonsin-law are stingy and selfish-although she is a guest in their homes for months at a time.
And she complains that her daughters never give her presents-although she hoards her
own money carefully, "for my old age". She is a blight on herself and her unfortunate
family! But does it have to be so? That is the pity of it-she could change herself from a
miserable, bitter, and unhappy old woman into an honoured and beloved member of the
family-if she wanted to change. And all she would have to do to work this
transformation would be to start acting cheerful; start acting as though she had a little
love to give away-instead of squandering it all on her own unhappy and embittered self.
I know a man in Indiana-H. J. Englert, of 1335 nth Street, Tell City, Indiana-who is still
alive today because he discovered this secret. Ten years ago Mr. Englert had a case of
scarlet fever; and when he recovered, he found he had developed nephritis, a kidney
disease. He tried all kinds of doctors, "even quacks", he informs me, but nothing could
cure him.
Then, a short time ago, he got other complications. His blood pressure soared. He went
to a doctor, and was told that his blood pressure was hitting the top at 214. He was told
that it was fatal-that the condition was progressive, and he had better put his affairs in
order at once.
"I went home," he says, "and made sure that my insurance was all paid up, and then I
apologised to my Maker for all my mistakes, and settled down to gloomy meditations.
"I made everyone unhappy. My wife and family were miserable, and I was buried deep in
depression myself. However, after a week of wallowing in self-pity, I said to myself:
'You're acting like a fool! You may not die for a year yet, so why not try to be happy
while you're here?'
"I threw back my shoulders, put a smile on my face, and attempted to act as though
everything were normal. I admit it was an effort at first-but I forced myself to be
pleasant and cheerful; and this not only helped my family, but it also helped me.
"The first thing I knew, I began to feel better-almost as well as I pretended to feel! The
improvement went on. And today-months after I was supposed to be in my grave-I am
not only happy, well, and alive, but my blood pressure is down! I know one thing for
certain: the doctor's prediction would certainly have come true if I had gone on thinking
'dying' thoughts of defeat. But I gave my body a chance to heal itself, by nothing in the
world but a change of mental attitude!"
Let me ask you a question: If merely acting cheerful and thinking positive thoughts of
health and courage can save this man's life, why should you and I tolerate for one
minute more our minor glooms and depressions? Why make ourselves, and everyone
around us, unhappy and blue, when it is possible for us to start creating happiness by
merely acting cheerful?
Years ago, I read a little book that had a lasting and profound effect on my life. It was
called As a Man Thinketh (*) by James Lane Allen, and here's what it said:
"A man will find that as he alters his thoughts towards things and other people, things
and other people will alter towards him. ... Let a man radically alter his thoughts, and
he will be astonished at the rapid transformation it will effect in the material conditions
of his life. Men do not attract that which they want, but that which they are. ... The
divinity that shapes our ends is in ourselves. It is our very self. ... All that a man
achieves is the direct result of his own thoughts. ... A man can only rise, conquer and
achieve by lifting up his thoughts. He can only remain weak and abject and miserable by
refusing to lift up his thoughts."
[*] Fowler & Co. Ltd.
According to the book of Genesis, the Creator gave man dominion over the whole wide
earth. A mighty big present. But I am not interested in any such super-royal
prerogatives. All I desire is dominion over myself-dominion over my thoughts; dominion
over my fears; dominion over my mind and over my spirit. And the wonderful thing is
that I know that I can attain this dominion to an astonishing degree, any time I want to,
by merely controlling my actions-which in turn control my reactions.
So let us remember these words of William James: "Much of what we call Evil ... can
often be converted into a bracing and tonic good by a simple change of the sufferer's
inner attitude from one of fear to one of fight."
Let's fight for our happiness!
Let's fight for our happiness by following a daily programme of cheerful and constructive
thinking. Here is such a programme. It is entitled "Just for Today". I found this
programme so inspiring that I gave away hundreds of copies. It was written thirty-six
years ago by the late Sibyl F. Partridge. If you and I follow it, we will eliminate most of
our worries and increase immeasurably our portion of what the French call la joie de
Just For Today
1. Just for today I will be happy. This assumes that what Abraham Lincoln said is true,
that "most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be." Happiness is
from within; it is not a matter of externals.
2. Just for today I will try to adjust myself to what is, and not try to adjust everything
to my own desires. I will take my family, my business, and my luck as they come and fit
myself to them.
3. Just for today I will take care of my body. I will exercise it, care for it, nourish it, not
abuse it nor neglect it, so that it will be a perfect machine for my bidding.
4. Just for today I will try to strengthen my mind. I will learn something useful. I will
not be a mental loafer. I will read something that requires effort, thought and
5. Just for today I will exercise my soul in three ways: I will do somebody a good turn
and not get found out. I will do at least two things I don't want to do, as William James
suggests, just for exercise.
6. Just for today I will be agreeable. I will look as well as I can, dress as becomingly as
possible, talk low, act courteously, be liberal with praise, criticise not at all, nor find
fault with anything and not try to regulate nor improve anyone.
7. Just for today I will try to live through this day only, not to tackle my whole life
problem at once. I can do things for twelve hours that would appall me if I had to keep
them up for a lifetime.
8. Just for today I will have a programme. I will write down what I expect to do every
hour. I may not follow it exactly, but I will have it. It will eliminate two pests, hurry and
9. Just for today I will have a quiet half-hour all by myself and relax. In this half-hour
sometimes I will think of God, so as to get a little more perspective into my life.
10. Just for today I will be unafraid, especially I will not be afraid to be happy, to enjoy
what is beautiful, to love, and to believe that those I love, love me.
If we want to develop a mental attitude that will bring us peace and happiness, here is
Rule 1:
Think and act cheerfully, and you will feel cheerful.  

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