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Of all the books I’ve read this year to date, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life by Scott Adams has been the most surprising. Adams writes about productivity tips, failing, trying, and failing again (as well as professional and personal struggles). Simply put, it was great.

If I had to guess about who Scott Adams was before reading the book I would have said something like, “He was probably from an upper middle class family with access to a good private or very good public school and he got a state scholarship toward a school one tier below an Ivy. He graduated, worked on a handful of successful advertising campaigns, and then started Dilbert, which was popular from day one.”

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No, nope, and not at all.

As the title says, Adams failed over and over again before finally breaking through. His overnight journey was a lifetime process. How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big offers a ton of lessons throughout, and here are seven things I learned from reading the book:

1. Have a system rather than goals

Systems will never fail so long as you stay in the system. With goals you are in a constant state of failure until you succeed – and then you have nothing left to pursue. This was the most obvious point in the book, leaving me wondering why I hadn’t thought of that in hte past.

Posts about how to fail at almost everything and still win big written by Jason Ogayon. How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big By Scott Adams Book Review by Shailen Mistry Three Key Take Aways  Systems  Energy  Improving Your Odds for Success.

“Goal-oriented people exist in a state of continuous pre-success failure at best, and permanent failure at worst if things never work out. Systems people succeed every time they apply their systems, in the sense that they did what they intended to do. The goals people are fighting the feeling of discouragement at each turn. The systems people are feeling good every time they apply their system. That’s a big difference in terms of maintaining your personal energy in the right direction.”

2. Affirmations work

Or do they?

A lot of ideas about life having energy and the world conspiring to help you have crossed my path lately – and I’m a believer – but only in the partial sense. Affirmations are like a mental or spiritual alarm clock; they help you switch from a sleep state to a focused one. If you’re going to be a famous cartoonist, you need to be thinking about the things you need to do to be a famous cartoonist. So what was Adams’s affirmation?

“I bought some art supplies, practiced drawing every morning before work, and wrote my affirmation fifteen times a day: ‘I, Scott Adams, will be a famous cartoonist.’”

3. Be selfish

When my children were little I tried to be unselfish in every possible way, and in doing so I put a strain on my relationships. Like a bridge that needed a break from the load, I should have been unloading my stress. Adams’s theory is that if you get yourself right, then you can do a lot of right things for the world.

“If you do selfishness right, you automatically become a net benefit to society. Successful people generally don’t burden the world.”

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4. We can program our own changes

Throughout the book Adams calls humans, “moist robots” – capable of running programs and being reprogrammed. Adams shares a lot of his self-experimentation in the book and one of the things he tried was adjusting his diet.

“Imagine you’re an engineer who is trying to find the user interface for your moist robot body so you can make some useful adjustments. It’s as if you had one menu choice labeled ‘Make Sleepy’ and another labeled ‘Energize.’ You can choose ‘Make Sleepy’ simply by eating simple carbs.”

5. There are six filters for truth

Adams had a lot of middle and middling experience in the business world and credits himself with an advance bullshit detector. “Realistically, most people have poor filters for sorting truth from fiction , and there’s no objective way to know if you’re particularly good at it or not,” writes Adams. How then do we do it? Adams has six filters for truth. The more filters something can pass through, the more true it probably is.

The Six Filters for Truth are as follows:

  1. Personal experience (Human perceptions are iffy.)
  2. Experience of people you know (Even more unreliable.)
  3. Experts (They work for money, not truth.)
  4. Scientific studies (Correlation is not causation.)
  5. Common sense (A good way to be mistaken with complete confidence.)
  6. Pattern recognition (Patterns, coincidence, and personal bias look alike.)

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Adams admits that each on their own has limited filtering ability, but combining more than one gets better refinement.

6. Being good at many things is great

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His formula is “Good + Good = Excellent.” Adams admits he’s not the best drawer. He admist he’s not the funniest or most insightful cartoonist. But when you combine those things, he’s near the top.

“I’m a perfect example of the power of leveraging multiple mediocre skills. I’m a rich and famous cartoonist who doesn’t draw well . At social gatherings I’m usually not the funniest person in the room. My writing skills are good, not great. But what I have that most artists and cartoonists do not have is years of corporate business experience plus an MBA from Berkeley’s Haas School of Business.”

7. You gotta be in it to win it

The amount of persistence, patience, and time it took for Dilbert to succeed was staggering. I remember seeing Dilbert cartoons on our refrigerator as a kid, but my father is an engineer and loves that sort of thing. What happened behind the scenes took much longer. One break was that a representative for the syndication agency was married to an engineer who found the jokes hilarious and pushed her to push the comic more. Another break was a salesman for a major region who didn’t like the strip. He abruptly died and his replacement was immediately getting it into papers.

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“I find it helpful to see the world as a slot machine that doesn’t ask you to put money in. All it asks is your time, focus, and energy to pull the handle over and over. A normal slot machine that requires money will bankrupt any player in the long run. But the machine that has rare yet certain payoffs, and asks for no money up front, is a guaranteed winner if you have what it takes to keep yanking until you get lucky. In that environment, you can fail 99 percent of the time, while knowing success is guaranteed. All you need to do is stay in the game long enough.”

How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big is definitely one of the better books I’ve read this year. Full of solid stories, moving moments, and articulate advice, it’s not a book just for business people or creatives (or fans of Dilbert). It’s a book about the race of life and the hurdles you need to jump.

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How To Fail At Almost Everything And Still Win Big Pdf Free Download By Jeff Kinney

How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big Book Review

How To Fail At Almost Everything And Still Win Big Pdf Free Download Version

An amazing read.

It is about failure, success, passion, and many others things from the unique perspective and personal experiences of Scott Adams.

Recommended reading for everyone. I would particularly recommend this for everyone in their 20s.

How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big Book Summary

Note: This summary is made up of my notes, thoughts and highlights of important passages while reading the book. I keep updating the summary when I revisit it, and occasionally may edit it to reduce summary length. Don’t be surprised if it has changed between visits. The author’s words are in normal font, while my interpretations are in italics.

‘I’m not an expert in any of the topics I’ll discuss here. But I am a professional simplifier.

‘Later in this book I will describe a simplification that can inform all of the steps you take toward your own personal success.

You’re the best judge of what works for you, as long as you acquire that wisdom through pattern recognition, trial, and observation.


This is the story of one person’s unlikely success within the context of scores of embarrassing failures.

Was my eventual success primarily a result of talent, luck, hard work, or an accidental just-right balance of each? All I know for sure is that I pursued a conscious strategy of managing my opportunities in a way that would make it easier for luck to find me.

Did my strategy make a difference, or is luck just luck, and everything else is just rationalization? Honestly, I don’t know.

This is not an advice book. If you’ve ever taken advice from a cartoonist, there’s a good chance it didn’t end well.

Book Tease Goals are for losers.

Your mind isn’t magic. It’s a moist computer you can program.

The most important metric to track is your personal energy.

Every skill you acquire doubles your odds of success.

Happiness is health plus freedom.

Luck can be managed, sort of.

Conquer shyness by being a huge phony (in a good way).

Fitness is the lever that moves the world.

Simplicity transforms ordinary into amazing.

When it comes to any big or complicated question, humility is the only sensible point of view.

To minimize the feeling of absurdity in your life, I recommend using a specific system for sorting truth from fiction.

There are at least six common ways to sort truth from fiction, and interestingly, each one is a complete train wreck.

The Six Filters for Truth

  1. Personal experience (Human perceptions are iffy.)
  2. Experience of people you know (Even more unreliable.)
  3. Experts (They work for money, not truth.)
  4. Scientific studies (Correlation is not causation.)
  5. Common sense (A good way to be mistaken with complete confidence.)
  6. Pattern recognition (Patterns, coincidence, and personal bias look alike.)

The nearest we can get to truth is consistency.

Consistency is the best marker of truth that we have, imperfect though it may be.

I hereby deputize myself to be your smart(ish) friend in the form of this book.

The best example of the power of simplicity is capitalism.

The underlying complexity still exists in business, but creating a clear and simple measure of progress makes capitalism possible.

CHAPTER ONE – The Time I Was Crazy

Insanity is always a reasonable diagnosis when you’re dealing with writers and artists.

Sometimes the only real difference between crazy people and artists is that artists write down what they imagine seeing.


Loneliness isn’t fixed by listening to other people talk.

You can cure your loneliness only by doing the talking yourself and—most important—being heard.

CHAPTER TWO – The Day of the Talk

I waited for the applause to stop. And when it did, I waited a little longer, as I had learned. When you stand in front of an audience, your sensation of time is distorted. That’s why inexperienced presenters speak too rapidly. I mentally adjusted my internal clock to match the audience’s sense of timing. I also wanted them to wait in silence for a beat or two, to engage their curiosity.

Failure always brings something valuable with it. I don’t let it leave until I extract that value.

CHAPTER THREE – Passion Is Bullshit

Never make a loan to someone who is following his passion.

The best loan customer is one who has no passion whatsoever, just a desire to work hard at something that looks good on a spreadsheet.

My hypothesis is that passionate people are more likely to take big risks in the pursuit of unlikely goals.

Passionate people who fail don’t get a chance to offer their advice to the rest of us. But successful passionate people are writing books and answering interview questions about their secrets for success every day.

You can’t be humble and say, “I succeeded because I am far smarter than the average person.” But you can say your passion was a key to your success, because everyone can be passionate about something or other.

Passion feels very democratic. It is the people’s talent, available to all.

Success caused passion more than passion caused success.

Passion can also be a simple marker for talent. We humans tend to enjoy doing things we are good at, while not enjoying things we suck at.

Sometimes passion is simply a by-product of knowing you will be good at something.

In the coming chapters I’ll describe some methods for boosting personal energy that have worked for me.

Energy is good. Passion is bullshit.

CHAPTER FOUR – Some of My Many Failures in Summary Form

There’s a nonzero chance that reading this book will set you on the path of your own magnificent screwups and cavernous disappointments.

Failure is where success likes to hide in plain sight.

If success were easy, everyone would do it. It takes effort. That fact works to your advantage because it keeps lazy people out of the game.

The process of simply reading this book might give you a little boost of optimism. I designed it to do just that.

I’m an optimist by nature, or perhaps by upbringing—it’s hard to know where one leaves off and the other begins—but

I’ve long seen failure as a tool, not an outcome.

Failure is a resource that can be managed.

Success is entirely accessible, even if you happen to be a huge screwup 95 percent of the time.

Good ideas have no value because the world already has too many of them. The market rewards execution, not ideas.

failing toward success,

My failure taught me to seek opportunities in which I had an advantage.

The way our brains are wired, the lucky streaks feel good even if we know they are nothing but chance.

Timing is often the biggest component of success. And since timing is often hard to get right unless you are psychic, it makes sense to try different things until you get the timing right by luck.

There is no such thing as useful information that comes from a company’s management. Now I diversify and let the lying get smoothed out by all the other variables in my investments.

Eating dinner at a restaurant you own can be an extraordinarily good time.

CHAPTER FIVE – My Absolute Favorite Spectacular Failure

Most failures involve bad luck, ignorance, and sometimes ordinary stupidity.

CHAPTER SIX – Goals Versus Systems

Career advice.

  • He said that every time he got a new job, he immediately started looking for a better one. For him, job seeking was not something one did when necessary. It was an ongoing process.
  • Your best bet, he explained, was to always be looking for the better deal. The better deal has its own schedule.

This was my first exposure to the idea that one should have a system instead of a goal. The system was to continually look for better options.

Goals are for losers.

If you achieve your goal, you celebrate and feel terrific, but only until you realize you just lost the thing that gave you purpose and direction.

Every system has a goal, however vague.

Goal-oriented people exist in a state of continuous presuccess failure at best, and permanent failure at worst if things never work out.

Systems people succeed every time they apply their systems, in the sense that they did what they intended to do.

The goals people are fighting the feeling of discouragement at each turn. The systems people are feeling good every time they apply their system.

In the world of dieting, losing twenty pounds is a goal, but eating right is a system.

A goal is a specific objective that you either achieve or don’t sometime in the future. A system is something you do on a regular basis that increases your odds of happiness in the long run.

If you do something every day, it’s a system. If you’re waiting to achieve it someday in the future, it’s a goal.

Systems have no deadlines.

If you study people who succeed, you will see that most of them follow systems, not goals.

The minimum requirement of a system is that a reasonable person expects it to work more often than not.

Observers call him lucky. What I see is a man who accurately identified his skill set and chose a system that vastly increased his odds of getting “lucky.” What he has is a spectacular system, and that beats passion every time.


People who pursued extraordinarily unlikely goals were overly optimistic at best, delusional at worst, and just plain stupid most of the time. The smart people in my little Republican-dominated town made practical plans and stuck to them.

The idea was to create something that had value and—this next part is the key—I wanted the product to be something that was easy to reproduce in unlimited quantities.

It helps a great deal to have at least a general strategy and some degree of focus. The world offers so many alternatives that you need a quick filter to eliminate some options and pay attention to others.

Being systems oriented, I felt myself growing more capable every day, no matter the fate of the project I happened to be working on.

Today’s the day.

CHAPTER EIGHT – My Corporate Career Fizzled

I’m more of a do-it-wrong-then-fix-it personality.

Looking good on paper was my best skill.

The universe makes sure there isn’t much of a link between job performance in the corporate world and outcomes.

CHAPTER NINE – Deciding Versus Wanting

If you want success, figure out the price, then pay it.

Successful people don’t wish for success; they decide to pursue it. And to pursue it effectively, they need a system.

Success always has a price, but the reality is that the price is negotiable. If you pick the right system, the price will be a lot nearer what you’re willing to pay.

CHAPTER TEN – The Selfishness Illusion

When it comes to the topic of generosity, there are three kinds of people in the world: Selfish Stupid Burden on others

Your best option is to be selfish, because being stupid or a burden on society won’t help anyone.

Successful people generally don’t burden the world.

Selfish successful people don’t cause worry and stress for those who care about them.

The most important form of selfishness involves spending time on your fitness, eating right, pursuing your career, and still spending quality time with your family and friends.

We cheat our own future to appear generous today.

Influence works best when the person being influenced has no objection to the suggested change.

Often the best thing we can do for ourselves is to help others.

Being selfish doesn’t mean being a sociopath. It just means you take the long view of things.

Once all of my personal needs were met, my thoughts automatically turned to how I could make the world a better place.

Apparently humans are wired to take care of their own needs first, then family, tribe, country, and the world, roughly in that order.

The healthiest way to look at selfishness is that it’s a necessary strategy when you’re struggling.

If you pursue your selfish objectives, and you do it well, someday your focus will turn outward.

CHAPTER ELEVEN – The Energy Metric

The way I approach the problem of multiple priorities is by focusing on just one main metric: my energy. I make choices that maximize my personal energy because that makes it easier to manage all of the other priorities.

When I get my personal energy right, the quality of my work is better, and I can complete it faster. That keeps my career on track.

By becoming a person with good energy, you lift the people around you.

The main reason I blog is because it energizes me.

I like to think that someone might read this collection of ideas and find a few thoughts that help. That possibility is tremendously motivating for me.

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Managing your personal energy is like managing budgets in a company.

Capitalism channels selfishness in a direction that benefits civilization. Some forms of selfishness are enlightened.

One of the most important tricks for maximizing your productivity involves matching your mental state to the task.

A simplifier will prefer the easy way to accomplish a task, while knowing that some amount of extra effort might have produced a better outcome.

An optimizer looks for the very best solution even if the extra complexity increases the odds of unexpected problems.

If the situation involves communication with others, simplification is almost always the right answer.

If the task is something you can do all by yourself, or with a partner who is on your wavelength, optimizing might be a better path if you can control most variables in the situation.

If you can’t tell whether a simple plan or a complicated one will be the best, choose the simple one.

If the cost of failure is high, simple tasks are the best.

Optimizing is often the strategy of people who have specific goals and feel the need to do everything in their power to achieve them.

Simplifying is generally the strategy of people who view the world in terms of systems. The best systems are simple.

Simple systems are probably the best way to achieve success. Once you have success, optimizing begins to have more value.

Another big advantage of simplification is that it frees up time, and time is one of your most valuable resources in the world.

Simplification frees up energy, making everything else you do just a little bit easier.

Maximize your personal energy, not the number of tasks.

Simplicity is a worthy long-term goal. That’s how you will free your personal energy so you can concentrate it where you need it.

If I sit with good posture, both feet on the floor, it seems that my body signals to my brain that it’s time to concentrate on work.

Don’t make the mistake of using the same sitting position for work that you use for relaxation.

It’s a good idea to dedicate certain sitting positions and certain work spaces to work and other spaces to relaxation or play. That makes your physical environment a sort of user interface for your brain,

To change how you feel, and how you think, you can simply change where you are sitting.

Tidiness is a personal preference, but it also has an impact on your energy.

I automatically generate enthusiasm about tidying up if I know someone is stopping by. That’s why it’s a good idea to invite people over on a regular basis.

One of the biggest obstacles to success—and a real energy killer—is the fear that you don’t know how to do the stuff that your ideal career plans would require.

When you start asking questions, you often discover that there’s a simple solution, a Web site that handles it, or a professional who takes care of it for a reasonable fee.

Keep in mind that every time you wonder how to do something, a few hundred million people have probably wondered the same thing. And that usually means the information has already been packaged and simplified, and in some cases sold. But it’s usually free for the asking.

Most of my problems were caused by my own bad decisions, lack of skill, and bad luck.

When you know how to do something, you feel more energized to take it on.

I would define an asshole as anyone who chooses to make the lives of others less pleasant for reasons that don’t appear productive or necessary.

Asshole behaviors:

  • Changing the subject to him/herself
  • Dominating conversation
  • Bragging Cheating, lying
  • Disagreeing with any suggestion, no matter how trivial
  • Using honesty as a justification for cruelty
  • Withholding simple favors out of some warped sense of social justice
  • Abandoning the rules of civil behavior, such as saying hello or making eye contact

It’s useful to think of your priorities in terms of concentric circles, like an archery target. In the center is your highest priority: you.

Taking care of your own health is job one.

The next ring—and your second-biggest priority—is economics. That includes your job, your investments, and even your house.

Third ring: family, friends, and lovers. Good health and sufficient money are necessary for a base level of happiness, but you need to be right with your family, friends, and romantic partners to truly enjoy life.

The next rings are your local community, your country, and the world, in that order. Don’t bother trying to fix the world until you get the inner circles of your priorities under control.

One simple way to keep your priorities straight is by judging how each of your options will influence your personal energy.

When you’re on the right path, it feels right, literally.

Meaningful work can be energizing.

The dumb choices are generally quite obvious.

Priorities are the things you need to get right so the things you love can thrive.

CHAPTER TWELVE – Managing Your Attitude

If you could control your attitude directly, as opposed to letting the environment dictate how you feel on any given day, it would be like a minor superpower. It turns out you have that superpower.

The best way to manage your attitude is by understanding your basic nature as a moist robot that can be programmed for happiness if you understand the user interface.

Exercise, food, and sleep should be your first buttons to push if you’re trying to elevate your attitude and raise your energy.

A simple trick you might try involves increasing your ratio of happy thoughts to disturbing thoughts.

Imagination is the interface to your attitude. You can literally imagine yourself to higher levels of energy.

You should avoid exposure to too much news of the depressing type.

The easiest way to manage your attitude is to consume as much feel-good entertainment as you can.

For the truly bad moods, exercise, nutrition, sleep, and time are the smart buttons to push.

A powerful variation on the daydreaming method involves working on projects that have a real chance of changing the world, helping humanity, and/or making a billion dollars.

Ideas change the world routinely, and most of those ideas originate from ordinary people.

When one idea failed, I usually had two more to take its place. And every one of my ideas had real-world potential, even if the odds were bad.

Let your ideas for the future fuel your energy today. No matter what you want to do in life, higher energy will help you get there.

Another benefit of having a big, world-changing project is that you almost always end up learning something valuable in the process of failing.

Smiling makes you feel better even if your smile is fake.

The smiling-makes-you-happy phenomenon is part of the larger and highly useful phenomenon of faking it until you make it.

Acting confident makes you feel more confident.

Smiling makes you more attractive to others. When you’re more attractive, people respond to you with more respect and consideration, more smiles, and sometimes even lust.

If you’re not comfortable faking a smile, try hanging around friends who are naturally funny.

You have a right to pursue happiness and an equal right to run as fast as you can from the people who would deny it.

Success at anything has a spillover effect on other things. You can take advantage of that effect by becoming good at things that require nothing but practice.

Thanks to my experience with these exceedingly minor successes, I have a realistic understanding of how many hours it takes to be good at something. That keeps me from bailing out of things too soon. But more important, I know what winning feels like (great!)

A great strategy for success in life is to become good at something, anything, and let that feeling propel you to new and better victories. Success can be habit-forming.

You shouldn’t hesitate to modify your perceptions to whatever makes you happy, because you’re probably wrong about the underlying nature of reality anyway.

When you can release on your ego long enough to view your perceptions as incomplete or misleading, it gives you the freedom to imagine new and potentially more useful ways of looking at the world.

Reality is overrated and impossible to understand with any degree of certainty. What you do know for sure is that some ways of looking at the world work better than others. Pick the way that works, even if you don’t know why.

Free yourself from the shackles of an oppressive reality. What’s real to you is what you imagine and what you feel.

CHAPTER THIRTEEN – It’s Already Working

We fake it until it becomes real. Our core personality doesn’t change, but we quickly adopt the mannerisms and skills associated with our new status and position. So congratulations on being a person who studies the mechanics of success. It’s a bigger deal than you might realize.

CHAPTER FOURTEEN – My Pinkie Goes Nuts

My optimism is like an old cat that likes to disappear for days, but I always expect it to return.

CHAPTER FIFTEEN – My Speaking Career

I had access to a smart friend who told me how to find the simple entry point into the speaking circuit. All I needed to do was overprice myself and see what happened.

It’s a cliché that who you know is helpful for success.

You don’t need to know CEOs and billionaires. Sometimes you just need a friend who knows different things than you do.

CHAPTER SIXTEEN – My Voice Problem Gets a Name

“What’s the cure?” I whispered. “There is none,” she replied. But that isn’t what I heard. The optimist in me translated the gloomy news as “Scott, you will be the first person in the world to be cured of spasmodic dysphonia.”

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN – Recognizing Your Talents and Knowing When to Quit

If you have world-class talent—for anything—you probably know it.

World-class talent is such an exception that I prefer ignoring it for this book. I’m going to focus on ordinary talents and combinations of ordinary talents that add up to something extraordinary.

One helpful rule of thumb for knowing where you might have a little extra talent is to consider what you were obsessively doing before you were ten years old.

People are naturally drawn to the things they feel comfortable doing, and comfort is a marker for talent.

Childhood compulsions aren’t a guarantee of future talent. But my unscientific observation is that people are born wired for certain preferences. Those preferences drive behavior, and that’s what can make a person willing to practice a skill.

Early obsessions can predict which skills a kid might someday be good at.

Another clue to talent involves tolerance for risk.

My risk profile predicted my future.

Where there is a tolerance for risk, there is often talent.

As you grow and acquire more talents, your potential paths to success multiply quickly.

The smartest system for discerning your best path to success involves trying lots of different things—sampling, if you will.

Overcoming obstacles is normally an unavoidable part of the process. But you also need to know when to quit.

Persistence is useful, but there’s no point in being an idiot about it.

Things that will someday work out well start out well. Things that will never work start out bad and stay that way.

Small successes can grow into big ones, but failures rarely grow into successes.

Every failure so far has been because of some freakish intersection of bad luck. But bad luck doesn’t have the option of being that consistent forever. I’ll get it done unless I die first.

In time, the products that inspire excitement typically evolve to have quality too. Quality is one of the luxuries you can afford when the marketplace is spraying money in your direction and you have time to tinker.

One of the best ways to detect the x factor is to watch what customers do about your idea or product, not what they say.

If your work inspires some excitement and some action from customers, get ready to chew through some walls. You might have something worth fighting for.

CHAPTER NINETEEN – Is Practice Your Thing?

There’s no denying the importance of practice. The hard part is figuring out what to practice.

Some people are born with a natural impulse to practice things and some people find mindless repetition without immediate reward to be a form of torture.

Most natural inclinations have some sort of economic value if you channel them right.

The first filter in deciding where to spend your time is an honest assessment of your ability to practice. If you’re not a natural “practicer,” don’t waste time pursuing a strategy that requires it.

You simply need to pick a life strategy that rewards novelty seeking more than mindless repetition. For example, you might want to be an architect, designer,

Practice involves putting your consciousness in suspended animation. Practicing is not living.

When you build your skills through an ever-changing sequence of experiences, you’re alive.

CHAPTER TWENTY – Managing Your Odds for Success

It seems odd to me that schools don’t have required courses on the systems and practices of successful people.

Success isn’t magic; it’s generally the product of picking a good system and following it until luck finds you.

Books about success can be somewhat useful. But for marketing reasons, a typical book is focused on a single topic to make it easier to sell and packed with filler to get the page count up.

The Success Formula: Every Skill You Acquire Doubles Your Odds of Success

The idea is that you can raise your market value by being merely good—not extraordinary—at more than one skill.

To put the success formula into its simplest form: Good + Good > Excellent

Successwise, you’re better off being good at two complementary skills than being excellent at one.

But if you think of each skill in terms of doubling your chances of success, it will steer your actions more effectively than if you assume the benefit of learning a new skill will get lost in the rounding.

As is often the case, simplicity trumps accuracy.

When you accept without necessarily believing that each new skill doubles your odds of success, you effectively hack (trick) your brain to be more proactive in your pursuit of success.

My combined mediocre skills are worth far more than the sum of the parts.

If you think extraordinary talent and a maniacal pursuit of excellence are necessary for success, I say that’s just one approach, and probably the hardest.

When it comes to skills, quantity often beats quality.

Recapping my skill set: I have poor art skills, mediocre business skills, good but not great writing talent, and an early knowledge of the Internet. And I have a good but not great sense of humor. I’m like one big mediocre soup. None of my skills are world-class, but when my mediocre skills are combined, they become a powerful market force.

I was a learning machine. If I thought something might someday be useful, I tried to grasp at least the basics.

Another huge advantage of learning as much as you can in different fields is that the more concepts you understand, the easier it is to learn new ones.

Everything you learn becomes a shortcut for understanding something else.

The Knowledge Formula: The More You Know, the More You Can Know

The simple entry point for developing a news-reading habit is that you read only the topics that interest you, no matter how trivial they might be. That effectively trains you to enjoy the time you spend reading the news.

Your happy experience reading the news will make you want to enjoy it longer. You’ll start sampling topics that wouldn’t have interested you before.

A smarter approach is to think of learning as a system in which you continually expose yourself to new topics, primarily the ones you find interesting.

I don’t ignore bad news, but I don’t dwell on it.

The more time you spend exposing yourself to bad news, the more it will weigh on you and sap your energy.

I don’t read the news to find truth, as that would be a foolish waste of time. I read the news to broaden my exposure to new topics and patterns that make my brain more efficient in general and to enjoy myself,

Don’t think of the news as information. Think of it as a source of energy.

CHAPTER TWENTY ONE – The Math of Success

You can’t directly control luck, but you can move from a game with low odds of success to a game with better odds.

I typically perform better in stressful situations. My natural optimism always tells me I’m going to pull a rabbit out of the hat.

Some of the most powerful patterns in life are subtle.

While we all think we know the odds in life, there’s a good chance you have some blind spots. Finding those blind spots is a big deal.

It helps to see the world as math and not magic.

If you find yourself in a state of continual failure in your personal or business life, you might be blaming it on fate or karma or animal spirits or some other form of magic when the answer is simple math. There’s usually a pattern, but it might be subtle.

The best way to increase your odds of success—in a way that might look like luck to others—is to systematically become good, but not amazing, at the types of skills that work well together and are highly useful for just about any job.

Viewing the world as math (adding skills together) and not magic allows you to move from a strategy with low odds of success to something better.

I made a list of the skills in which I think every adult should gain a working knowledge. I wouldn’t expect you to become a master of any, but mastery isn’t necessary. Luck has a good chance of finding you if you become merely good in most of these areas.

Here’s the preview list.

  • Public speaking
  • Psychology
  • Business writing
  • Accounting
  • Design (the basics)
  • Conversation
  • Overcoming shyness
  • Second language
  • Golf
  • Proper grammar
  • Persuasion
  • Technology (hobby level)
  • Proper voice technique

The Dale Carnegie method.

  • Rule one was that no one would ever be criticized or corrected. Only positive reinforcement would be allowed.
  • The next rule was that every person would speak to the rest of the class during each session, but we had to volunteer to go next.

“Wow. That was brave.”

I’m the happiest person in the room because the audience only gets to listen, but I get to speak, to feel, to be fully alive.

The most important is the transformative power of praise versus the corrosive impact of criticism.

Adults are starved for a kind word. When you understand the power of honest praise (as opposed to bullshitting, flattery, and sucking up), you realize that withholding it borders on immoral.

Positivity is far more than a mental preference. It changes your brain, literally, and it changes the people around you. It’s the nearest thing we have to magic.

We’re all in the business of selling some version of ourselves. Psychology is embedded in everything we do.

When I look at the list of my personal failures and successes, one of the things that stand out is psychology. When I got the psychology right, either by accident or by cleverness, things worked out better. When I was blind to the psychology, things went badly.

Quality is not an independent force in the universe; it depends on what you choose as your frame of reference.

Success in anything usually means doing more of what works and less of what doesn’t,

My best guess is that there are a few hundred rules in psychology that you should have a passing familiarity with.

On a scale of one to ten, the importance of understanding psychology is a solid ten.

Knowledge is power. But knowledge of psychology is the purest form of that power.

Hypnosis is an inexact process because every brain has a different mix of chemistry.

I no longer see reason as the driver of behavior. I see simple cause and effect, similar to the way machines operate.

The reality is that reason is just one of the drivers of our decisions, and often the smallest one.

The purchase was an irrational decision that tried, and failed, to sell itself to me as the product of reason.

It is tremendously useful to know when people are using reason and when they are rationalizing the irrational.

Politicians understand that reason will never have much of a role in voting decisions. A lie that makes a voter feel good is more effective than a hundred rational arguments.

If your view of the world is that people use reason for their important decisions, you are setting yourself up for a life of frustration and confusion.

Few things are as destructive and limiting as a worldview that assumes people are mostly rational.

If buyers were rational, there would have been only one computer manufacturer left after about a year;

People certainly make the small decisions based on rational considerations.

Rational behavior is especially useless in any situation that is too complex for a human to grasp.

Business writing is all about getting to the point and leaving out all of the noise.

“You think you already do that” includes the unnecessary word “already.” Remove it and you get exactly the same meaning: “You think you do that.” The “already” part is assumed and unnecessary. That sort of realization is the foundation of business writing.

Business writing also teaches that brains are wired to better understand concepts that are presented in a certain order. For example, your brain processes “The boy hit the ball” more easily than “The ball was hit by the boy.”

The so-called persuasive writers were doing little more than using ordinary business-writing methods. Clean writing makes a writer seem smarter and it makes the writer’s arguments more persuasive.

But a basic understanding of accounting is necessary to be a fully effective adult in a modern society, even if you never do any actual accounting on your own.

Accounting is part of the vocabulary of business, and if you don’t understand it on a concept level, the world will be a confusing place.

Accounting overlaps with the fields of economics and business, and in each of those fields you need an understanding of accounting practices.

No one with accounting skill would get involved with a business model that can’t work on paper.

In today’s world we’re all designers, whether we like it or not. You might be designing PowerPoint presentations or a Web site for your start-up.

Design is actually rules based. One need not have an “eye” for design; knowing the rules is good enough for civilians.

The most common is the L-shaped layout. You imagine a giant letter L on the page and fill in the dense stuff along its shape, leaving less clutter in one of the four open quadrants. Artists call the uncluttered part negative space.

When you design a PowerPoint slide or a Web page, it’s the same idea. You leave one quadrant less busy than the rest. Skim through any well-designed magazine and you’ll see the L design in 80 percent of the art and photography.

Learn just a few design tricks and people will think you’re smarter without knowing exactly why.

Skilled conversationalists have learned techniques that are surprisingly nonobvious to a lot of people.

The technique is laughably simple and 100 percent effective. All you do is introduce yourself and ask questions until you find a point of mutual interest. I’ll paraphrase the Dale Carnegie question stack as best I remember it. It goes something like this: What’s your name? Where do you live? Do you have a family? What do you do for a living? Do you have any hobbies/sports? Do you have any travel plans?

99 percent of the general public love talking about themselves. When you ask a stranger a personal question, you make that person happy.

Your job as a conversationalist is to keep asking questions and keep looking for something you have in common with the stranger,

Everyone is interesting if you make the situation feel safe.

A summary of good conversation technique.

  • Ask questions.
  • Don’t complain (much).
  • Don’t talk about boring experiences (TV show, meal, dream, etc.).
  • Don’t dominate the conversation. Let others talk.
  • Don’t get stuck on a topic. Keep moving.
  • Planning is useful but it isn’t conversation.
  • Keep the sad stories short, especially medical stories.

The point of conversation is to make the other person feel good.

Everyone likes to talk about his or her own life, and everyone appreciates a sympathetic listener. Eventually, if you discover some common interests, you’ll feel a connection without any effort.

If you’re physically attractive, it probably isn’t a good idea to talk too much. People are predisposed to liking attractive people. Talking can only make things worse.

If you’re unattractive—and this is my area of expertise—your conversation skills will be especially important.

As a writer, I reflexively translate whatever I observe into a story form with a setup, a twist if there is one, and some sort of punch line or thought that ties it in a bow.

It’s a good idea to always have a backlog of stories you can pull out at a moment’s notice. And you’ll want to continually update your internal story database with new material.

The most popular type of stories is … funny stories.

The most important key to good storytelling is preparation.

There’s only one important rule for a story setup: Keep it brief.

Establish a pattern that your story will violate. For example, you could say, “Whenever I take my car for any kind of service, I’m always amazed how expensive it is.” That establishes the pattern.

Foreshadowing means you leave some clues about where the story is going. The foreshadowing can happen as early as the setup,

Every story involves characters, and you might be one of them. For people who know all of your foibles, defects, and preferences, no elaboration is required.

All good stories are about personalities.

There is one topic that people care more about than any other: themselves. Pick story topics that your listeners will relate to.

Your story isn’t a story unless something unexpected or unusual happens. That’s the plot twist. If you don’t have a twist, it’s not a story.

It’s important to tell stories about interesting events. It’s even more important to avoid telling stories about deadly boring or downer situations.

Smile, ask questions, avoid complaining and sad topics, and have some entertaining stories ready to go.

Shyness is analogous to swimming in the sense that we aren’t born with the tools to overcome our own shyness, and some of us have more natural shyness than others. But as with swimming, we can learn to overcome shyness with a little practice. And it’s worth the effort;

The single best tip for avoiding shyness involves harnessing the power of acting interested in other people.

You should also try to figure out which people are thing people and which ones are people people.

Thing people enjoy hearing about new technology and other clever tools and possessions. They also enjoy discussions of processes and systems, including politics.

People people enjoy only conversations that involve humans doing interesting things.

Outgoing people usually come from families with at least one outgoing parent. They observe and imitate.

The reality is that everyone is a basket case on the inside. Some people just hide it better.

I also recommend exercising your ego the way you’d exercise any other muscle. Try putting yourself in situations that will surely embarrass you if things go wrong, or maybe even if they don’t.

Success builds confidence and confidence suppresses shyness.

Golf transports your brain to another dimension for the hours you are on the course. It’s like a vacation for the mind.

The simple act of putting your mind in a completely new and absorbing place can help you escape your daily worries. It’s like a brain vacation.

No matter how smart you are, educated people will think you’re a moron if your grammar is lacking.

Don’t say, “If I was to go with you, I would enjoy myself.” Say, “If I were to go with you, I would enjoy myself.” This rule of grammar is a big one.

It’s a good idea to use words that are actually in the dictionary.

“Hopefully, she will bring the dessert.” “Hopefully” should be an adverb. Say instead, “We waited hopefully for dessert.”

The simple rule for “I” versus “me” is that the sentence has to make sense if you remove the other person mentioned in the sentence.

For example, it’s bad grammar to say, “I have less friends than before.” When the subject is plural, as in “friends,” you use “fewer”:

Nonscientists often use the word “theory” when they should say “hypothesis.” Without getting too technical, a theory is a scientific explanation of reality that is so well tested that it is as good as a fact.

A good starting point in learning the art of persuasion is to go to your preferred online bookstore and search for “persuasion.”

You don’t want to persuade people to do things that are not in their best interest. And it might feel creepy and manipulative if you find yourself too skilled at persuasion.

Persuasive Words and Phrases

  • Because
  • Would you mind …?
  • I’m not interested.
  • I don’t do that.
  • I have a rule …
  • I just wanted to clarify …
  • Is there anything you can do for me?
  • Thank you
  • This is just between you and me.
  • Allow me to elaborate.

The word “because” signals reasonableness, and reasonableness allows people to let down their defenses and drop their objections.

Any question beginning with “Would you mind …” tends to be well received. My best guess is that asking a person if he minds is signaling that you have a reasonable request that might be inconvenient.

I’ve found that the most effective way to stop people from trying to persuade me is to say, “I’m not interested.” You should try it.

Another good persuasion sentence is “I don’t do that.” It’s not a reason and barely tries to be. But it sounds like a hard-and-fast rule.

Another good antipersuasion technique is to say you have a rule. For example, let’s say you have a lunch scheduled with a potential client and your obnoxious coworker asks if he can join you. Honesty won’t work because you have to coexist with your coworker. Instead, say something along the lines of “I have a rule of only doing one-on-one lunches with clients.”

Sometimes you hear statements that are so mind-numbingly stupid, evil, or mean that you know a direct frontal assault would only start a fight.

If you phrase your clarification question correctly, it will shine an indirect light on the problem and provide a face-saving escape path.

The most powerful way to approach a situation like this is to ask, “Is there anything you can do for me?” You will discover it to be an extraordinarily persuasive question. The question frames you as the helpless victim and the person you are trying to persuade as the hero and problem solver.

A thank-you is like a treat for a human. When you do something generous or nice, you like to know it’s appreciated. The quality of the thank-you matters as much with humans as the quality of the treats matters to dogs.

Simple “Thank you for the ride.” Any thank-you is better than none, but you’re missing an opportunity if you do a poor job of it.

Research shows that people will automatically label you a friend if you share a secret. Sharing a confidence is a fast-track way to cause people to like and trust you.

The right approach to sharing a secret is to start small. Make sure the small secrets stay secret before you try anything riskier.

Some people act much more decisively than others. And that can be both persuasive and useful. Decisiveness looks like leadership.

Don’t confuse your artificial sense of decisiveness with a need to be right all of the time. Life is messy and you’re going to be right only sometimes.

People respond to energy in others.

Energy is contagious. People like how it feels.

In most groups the craziest person is in control. It starts because no one wants the problems that come from pissing off a crazy person.

Crazy people also take more risks and act more confidently than the facts would warrant. That’s a potent combination.

Emotions don’t bend to reason. So wrap your arguments in whatever emotional blankets you can think of to influence others. A little bit of irrationality is a powerful thing.

If you see persuasion as a form of manipulation, and you see manipulation as a form of evil, that worldview will keep you from being as persuasive as you might be.

Sometimes you need to nudge people onto the right path even if they firmly believe it to be wrong.

For example, manipulating coworkers to do better work is usually good for everyone.

Every adult should have a basic understanding of how the Internet works, the steps involved in building a Web site, what the “cloud” is, and of course how to use personal computers, smart phones, tablets, etc.

Proper Voice Technique

It’s helpful to have different vocal strategies for different situations. Your fun voice might be higher pitched and more rapid paced, whereas your serious voice might be deeper and more measured.

For people who know you, the serious voice will send an unambiguous signal that the topic is important and you might not be open to negotiating.

Research shows that voice quality is far more important to your overall health and happiness than you might imagine. Studies show a commanding voice is highly correlated with success.

The business world is a lot like theater.

When I managed people, I spoke in a way that I thought sounded authoritarian and reasonable. In meetings with higher-ups I lowered my tone and spoke with the sort of self-assurance that only the insane come by honestly.

A few common methods for developing your best “success voice.” For starters, it helps to learn to breathe from the bottom of your lungs, not in the upper chest area.

Next, you need to pick a tone. Some voice experts will tell you that your best and most natural tone is probably higher than the way you normally speak.

Another common speaking trick is to hum the first part of the “Happy Birthday” song and then speak in your normal voice right after. You’ll notice your posthumming voice is strangely smooth and perfect.

Posture is also important for good speech. If you don’t sit up straight or stand straight, your vocal equipment will be pinched,

When you’re trying to convey a fake sense of confidence—which is often handy—you need to tell yourself you’re acting. Simply speak the way you imagine a confident person would speak

CHAPTER TWENTY TWO – Pattern Recognition

Knowing the pattern changes how you think about your chances, and that change in thinking can then improve your performance.

Successful People

I’ll summarize his seven habits and suggest you read his books if you want more.

  • Be proactive.
  • Begin with the end in mind. (Imagine a good outcome.)
  • Put first things first. (Set priorities.)
  • Think win-win. (Don’t be greedy.)
  • Seek first to understand then be understood.
  • Synergize. (Use teamwork.)
  • Sharpen the saw. (Keep learning.)
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The holy grail of civilization is to someday make all people successful by discovering the formula used by successful people and making it available to all.

Here’s my own list of the important patterns for success that I’ve noticed over the years. This is purely anecdotal. I exclude the ones that are 100 percent genetic.

  • Lack of fear of embarrassment
  • Education (the right kind)
  • Exercise

A lack of fear of embarrassment is what allows one to be proactive.

I recommend that you improve your psychological bravery but say no to anything that has a strong chance of killing you.

Do you know what the unemployment rate is for engineers? It is nearly zero. Do you know how many engineers like their jobs? Most of them do,

Generally speaking, the people who have the right kind of education have almost no risk of unemployment.

Good health is a baseline requirement for success. But I’m not talking about the obvious fact that sick people can’t get much done. I’m talking about the extra energy and vitality that good health brings.

Pattern I see in successful people: They treat success as a learnable skill. That means they figure out what they need and they go and get it.


People who enjoy humor are simply more attractive than people who don’t. It’s human nature to want to spend time with people who can appreciate a good laugh or, better yet, cause one.

Humor raises your energy, and that can reverberate into everything you do at school, at work, or in your personal life. The boost of energy will even make you more willing to exercise, and that will raise your overall energy even more.

Humor puts life in perspective and sometimes helps you laugh at even the worst of your problems.

When it comes to in-person humor, effort counts a lot. When people see you trying to be funny, it frees them to try it themselves.

Quality is overrated when it comes to humor, but you do need to achieve a minimum threshold.

I’ll start with a summary then explain.

  • Overcomplaining is never funny.
  • Don’t overdo the self-deprecation.
  • Don’t mock people.
  • Avoid puns and wordplay.

A problem in your life can be funny, but five is just complaining, no matter how witty you think you are. Funny complaints can wear people out.

Self-deprecating humor is usually the safest type, but here again you don’t want to overshoot the target. One self-deprecating comment is a generous and even confident form of humor.

Don’t make fun of people too often. If that starts to look like a pattern, people will assume you’re talking behind their backs as well.

The only people who appreciate puns are the people who can do them.

Humor is a violation of straight-line thinking. Humor temporarily shuts down the commonsense program in your moist robot brain and boots the random idea generator.

Humor makes one feel energized and relaxed at the same time and that is bound to help creativity.

Tailor Your Humor

Women tend to laugh at stories involving bad things happening to people, such as an attractive girl taking a face-plant into a mud puddle on the way to the prom.

Men are far more likely to enjoy traditional jokelike stories that are more engineered than organic.

You won’t win anyone over to your preferred brand of humor. It’s better to adapt to what others want to hear, assuming your goal is to be liked.

First, you can probably sense that the story would be far funnier in person.

The second interesting point is that Jim’s story saves the “bad part” for your imagination.

You want your punch line to inspire listeners to complete the story—including the bad part—in their own minds.

Engineered Humor

An engineered joke is one that includes an unlikely or surprising solution to a problem.


Affirmations are simply the practice of repeating to yourself what you want to achieve while imagining the outcome you want. You can write it, speak it, or just think it in sentence form.

I don’t believe in magic. But like most of you, I have experienced several events in my life that are indistinguishable from magic

if affirmations had any kind of value, I should set my sights higher.


When you practice affirmations and you happen to succeed in the area of your focus, it feels like extraordinary luck.

Get a sense for how deep luck sometimes needs to run before you find success.

The biggest component of luck is timing.

It wasn’t a complete accident that luck found me; I put myself in a position where luck was more likely to happen.

Luck won’t give you a strategy or a system—you have to do that part yourself.

I find it helpful to see the world as a slot machine that doesn’t ask you to put money in. All it asks is your time, focus, and energy to pull the handle over and over.

The machine that has rare yet certain payoffs, and asks for no money up front, is a guaranteed winner if you have what it takes to keep yanking until you get lucky. In that environment, you can fail 99 percent of the time, while knowing success is guaranteed. All you need to do is stay in the game long enough.

CHAPTER TWENTY SIX – A Few Times Affirmations Worked

The affirmations only worked when I had a 100 percent unambiguous desire for success.


sometimes experts get it wrong on the first try.

experts are right about 98 percent of the time on the easy stuff but only right 50 percent of the time on anything that is unusually complicated, mysterious, or even new.

If your gut feeling (intuition) disagrees with the experts, take that seriously. You might be experiencing some pattern recognition that you can’t yet verbalize.

CHAPTER TWENTY NINE – Association Programming

His brilliant plan to live among rich people until he could become one by association.

Life had patterns and this was one of them: You become like the people around you.

Whom you associate with makes a big difference.

Did my association with him make it more likely I would later pursue a career in cartooning? I think it did. It made success outside my field seem accessible. It made it real.

There are probably dozens of ways we absorb energy, inspiration, skills, and character traits from those around us.

  • Sometimes we learn by example.
  • Sometimes success appears more approachable and ordinary because we see normal people achieve it, and perhaps that encourages us to pursue schemes with higher payoffs.
  • Sometimes the people around us give us information we need, or encouragement, or contacts, or even useful criticism.

We can’t always know the mechanism by which others change our future actions, but it’s pretty clear it happens, and it’s important.

To change yourself, part of the solution might involve spending more time with the people who represent the change you seek.


The only reasonable goal in life is maximizing your total lifetime experience of something called happiness.

A normal person needs to treat others well in order to enjoy life.

Happiness, like gardening, only seems simple.

My definition of happiness is that it’s a feeling you get when your body chemistry is producing pleasant sensations in your mind.

I also try to improve my situation and circumstances wherever I can, but I see that as 20 percent of the solution. The big part—the 80 percent of happiness—is nothing but a chemistry experiment.

You can’t always quickly fix whatever is wrong in your environment, and you can’t prevent negative thoughts from drifting into your head. But you can easily control your body chemistry through lifestyle,

The single biggest trick for manipulating your happiness chemistry is being able to do what you want, when you want.

The timing of things can be more important than the intrinsic value of the things.

You need to control the order and timing of things to be happy. It’s important to look at happiness in terms of timing because timing is easier to control than resources.

Step one in your search for happiness is to continually work toward having control of your schedule.

In your personal life and your career, consider schedule flexibility when making any big decision.

You won’t all become work-at-home cartoonists, but you can certainly find a boss who values your productivity over your attendance.

The next important mechanism for happiness. Happiness has more to do with where you’re heading than where you are.

The directional nature of happiness is one reason it’s a good idea to have a sport or hobby that leaves you plenty of room to improve every year.

Slow and steady improvement at anything makes you feel that you are on the right track. The feeling of progress stimulates your body to create the chemicals that make you feel happy.

If you are lucky enough to have career options, and only one of them affords a path of continual improvement, choose that one, all else being equal.

The next element of happiness you need to master is imagination.

Pessimism is often a failure of imagination.

If you can imagine the future being brighter, it lifts your energy and gooses the chemistry in your body that produces a sensation of happiness. If you can’t even imagine an improved future, you won’t be happy no matter how well your life is going right now.

Simply imagining a better future hacks your brain chemistry and provides you with the sensation of happiness today. Being happy raises your energy level and makes it easier to pursue the steps toward real-world happiness.

Don’t let reality control your imagination.

Happiness is the natural state for most people whenever they feel healthy, have flexible schedules, and expect the future to be good.

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Taking care of my body always influences my happiness more than whatever task I’m involved in.

When you feel unhappy, you blame your mood on whatever your environment is serving up to you.

Just add pessimism and cynicism to any observation and you can manufacture bad news out of thin air.

The primary culprit in your bad moods is a deficit in one of the big five: flexible schedule, imagination, sleep, diet, and exercise.

No one wants to believe that the formula for happiness is as simple as daydreaming, controlling your schedule, napping, eating right, and being active every day.

80 percent of your mood is based on how your body feels

Exercise has two very different benefits that are hard to untangle. The exercise itself releases natural pain-relieving substances, endorphins, and that gives you a direct feeling of well-being.

Exercise is also a mental escape from whatever was stressing you.

Why I recommend forms of exercises that occupy your mind at the same time as your muscles.

Of the big five factors in happiness—flexible schedule, imagination, diet, exercise, and sleep—my pick for the most important is exercise.

Unhappiness that is caused by too much success is a high-class problem. That’s the sort of unhappiness people work all of their lives to get. If you find yourself there, and I hope you do, you’ll find your attention naturally turning outward. You’ll seek happiness through service to others. I promise it will feel wonderful.

People become unhappy if they have too many options in life.

Choosing among attractive alternatives can also be exhausting.

I never waste a brain cell in the morning trying to figure out what to do when.

Recapping the happiness formula:

  • Eat right.
  • Exercise.
  • Get enough sleep.
  • Imagine an incredible future (even if you don’t believe it).
  • Work toward a flexible schedule.
  • Do things you can steadily improve at.
  • Help others (if you’ve already helped yourself).
  • Reduce daily decisions to routine.

My value on the topic of diet, if any, is in simplification. The simple diet plan that works for me is this: I eat as much as I want, of anything I want, whenever I want.

Let’s start with the part about eating “anything I want.” The trick there is to change what you want.

Your taste preferences are more like a suggestion

Your tastes in food evolve as you age.

Most healthy food is closer to bland than obnoxious.

My experience, as odd as it sounds, is that I can change my food preferences by thinking of my body as a programmable robot as opposed to a fleshy bag full of magic.

Your mood is a function of chemistry in your body, and food may be a far more dominant contributor to your chemistry than what is happening around you,

Diet’s connection to mood is one of those categories of knowledge that must be experienced.

The biggest reason is that you probably eat meals that are a combination of lots of different ingredients. You rarely isolate one kind of food just to see how it feels.

The time of day is more important than what you eat.

Quantity doesn’t matter as much as you thought.

You should also have a healthy skepticism about diet studies because they are notoriously bad at sorting out correlation from causation.

People who eat caviar probably live longer, but it’s not the caviar keeping them alive; there’s a known correlation between income and life expectancy.

Remember that it is chemistry, not magic controlling your energy.

While potatoes send me straight to my napping chair, pasta is a perfect preworkout snack.

Generally speaking, when it comes to diet, you want to stay consistent with science but also look for confirmation in your personal experience.

The science says that because peanuts have a high concentration of fat, they satisfy your appetite efficiently and provide fuel.

I can eat as much cheese as I want—I eat a lot of it on most days—and it does a great job of satisfying my hunger without making me tired.

Science has demonstrated that humans have a limited supply of willpower.3 If you use up your supply resisting one temptation, it limits your ability to resist others.

For example, if you believe alcohol is the devil’s urine, it might eliminate your risk of drinking and driving. You can often get good results from inaccurate worldviews.

Food is the fuel that makes exercise possible.

The starting point for good health is diet. Once you get your diet right, your energy level will increase and you’ll find yourself more in the mood for exercise.

For both diet and exercise is that you want to reduce the amount of willpower required. Any other approach is unsustainable.

An attractive alternative makes willpower less necessary. It frees up your stockpile of willpower for other uses.

Goals are a trap. You want systems, not goals.

Suppose you are so well informed that you could accurately sort food into categories of good and bad and get the right answer every time. That’s only a fraction of what you need to know.

Any doctor or nutrition expert will tell you that eating a balanced diet will get you all the vitamins and minerals you need. That opinion is nearly 100 percent accepted by all smart people. The problem is that it’s mathematically impossible.

Nutrition presents itself as science but is perhaps 60 percent bullshit, guessing, bad assumptions, and marketing.

In the process of failing at the fortified-burrito business, I learned most of what you’ll read in this chapter. That’s what I call failing forward. Any time you learn something useful, you come out ahead.

It is impossible to know with any precision what you should be eating and how often you should eat it. Nutrition science is shockingly incomplete.

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I can eat as much as I want of the foods on this list, which I quite enjoy, and I won’t gain a pound as long as I stay active. Bananas Protein bars Peanuts Mixed nuts Cheese Whole wheat pasta Edamame (soybeans) Broccoli Cauliflower Brussels sprouts Fish Lettuce Tomatoes Apples Pears Carrots Radishes Cucumbers Quinoa Brown rice Berries

I also prepare pasta and keep it in the refrigerator, along with veggies steamed in the microwave. When I want something warm and filling, I just mix the veggies and pasta, add some butter, microwave the dish for two minutes, and add pepper and Parmesan cheese.

The trick to eating right is to keep willpower out of the equation for your diet. Laziness can make you choose healthy foods if you are clever enough to make those foods the most convenient in your house.

My usual takeout food options are … Takeout Subway veggie sandwiches Veggie pizza Chinese food Indian food

When tiredness sparks your hunger but you’ve had all the calories you need for a while, try eating peanuts or mixed nuts to suppress your appetite. Cheese also works, at least for that specific purpose. The fat in those foods acts as an appetite satisfier.

When you eat for social reasons, aim for the lowest-calorie options.

The first rule of eating right is avoiding foods that feel like punishment. No one gives out medals for choking down a big bowl of boredom.

Vegetarian Flavors Soy sauce Cilantro Lemon Salt Pepper Butter (or butter substitute) Garlic Onion Curry Cheese Tomato sauce Salsa Vegetable broth Honey Salad dressings Balsamic vinegar Black-bean sauce Hot sauce

I’d like to make an argument in favor of including copious amounts of both salt and butter in your diet, so long as you’re adding them to otherwise healthy food.

Butter is a good appetite suppressant, and like salt, it helps me enjoy healthy foods.

keep you feeling satisfied. Think of healthy eating as a system in which you continually experiment with different seasonings and sauces until you know exactly what works for you.

Hanging out with fit people can cause you to become more like them.

If your meat diet is a bomb with a long enough fuse, it might kill you at just about the time you’d want it to.

If a person who eats meat in moderation is generally fit and eats plenty of fruits and veggies too, I respect that approach. Everyone has a different risk-reward preference.

My main protein sources are … Edamame (soy) Nuts Protein bars (whey protein) Pasta (whole wheat) Cheese Vegetables of all types Protein shakes after working out

If you don’t drink coffee, you should think about two to four cups a day. It can make you more alert, happier, and more productive.

My experience is that coffee drinkers have higher highs and lower lows, energywise, than non–coffee drinkers, but that trade-off works.

Everything is connected. That’s why I include diet and fitness in a book about success. If you get your health in order, success will come more easily. And if you get success without good health, you won’t enjoy it.

The Healthy Eating Summary

The Simple, No-Willpower Diet System

Pay attention to your energy level after eating certain foods.

Find your pattern.

Remove unhealthy, energy-draining food from your home.

Stock up on convenient healthy food (e.g., apples, nuts, bananas) and let laziness be your copilot in eating right.

Stop eating foods that create feelings of addiction: white rice, white potatoes, desserts, white bread, fried foods.

Eat as much healthy food as you want, whenever you want.

Get enough sleep, because tiredness creates the illusion of hunger.

If your hunger is caused by tiredness, try healthy foods with fat, such as nuts, avocados, protein bars, and cheese, to suppress the hungry feeling.

If you’re eating for social reasons only, choose the healthiest options with low calories.

Learn how to season your healthy-yet-bland foods.

After a lifetime of trying nearly every exercise tip, trick, and fad and sometimes scientifically proven techniques, I have condensed the entire field of fitness advice into one sentence: Be Active Every Day

Simplification is often the difference between doing something you know you should do and putting it off.

Any form of exercise that requires willpower is unsustainable.

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I use the word “active” in an intentionally ambiguous way. That’s what makes the rule a system and not a goal.

If the rule were “Run ten miles every day,” that would be a goal. And it would probably set you up for failure, since most people can’t do something specific every day. But almost everyone can be active in some way every day.

The most important and powerful part of the “Be active every day” system is the “every day” part.

Fitness is a simple thing made absurdly complicated by market forces.

The method that never succeeds is exercising whenever you have some spare time.

The most important rule is that you should never exercise so much in one day that you won’t feel like being active the next day.

What you want is for your daily exercise to give you a reward every time. Light exercise does just that; it reduces your stress and boosts your energy. Over time, as you become fitter, you will naturally increase your exercise level, but by then your body will be equipped to handle it.

I find it important to reward myself after exercise with a healthy snack that I enjoy, some downtime that involves reading interesting articles on my phone, or a nice cup of coffee. By putting those pleasures at the immediate end of my exercise, I develop a strong association between the exercise and the good feelings.

Once the sneakers and shorts are on, a funny thing happens, and it happens quickly. The physical feeling I get from my exercise clothes triggers the going-to-the-gym subroutine in my brain, and my energy kicks up a notch.

Moderate levels of exercise are actually the best for longevity.

Every woman is different. Some women are three different people before lunchtime.

Fitness is a system. Systems are for winners.


My worldview is that all success is luck if you track it back to its source.

Warren Buffett makes a similar observation about his own skills, saying, in effect, that if he had been born in an earlier time, his natural talents wouldn’t have matched the opportunities.

My worldview is that every element of your personality, from your perseverance to your risk tolerance to your ambition to your intelligence, is a product of pure chance.

You needed the genes you were born with and the exact experiences of your life to create the person you are with the opportunities you have.

What good is a book that discusses success if success is entirely luck? That’s a perfectly reasonable thing to wonder.

As with any experience, you can’t help but be changed by a book, if only a trivial amount.

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One book can have a profound effect on one person and a tiny impact on another. In the coming year, assuming you’ve made it through this entire book, notice how many times you are reminded of something I wrote.

You wouldn’t buy a book if it didn’t have the potential to change you in some way, even if that change is just entertainment or an increase in your knowledge.

Books change us automatically, just as any experience does. And if a book helps you see the world in a more useful way or amps up your energy level, it becomes part of the fabric of your personal luck.

You don’t need to do anything as a result of reading this book. You’ve already changed. And if I’ve done my job right, you’ve changed in a way that will someday make people say you were lucky.

CHAPTER THIRTY FIVE – CalendarTree Start-up

My life requires a lot of mental energy. Today I will write two comics, a blog post, and a chapter of this book. I will work through some complicated real-estate and trust issues, finish some legal work for the start-up, do some quality testing, and still make time for family.

The key to my doing that many things is that I eat right, exercise daily, and have lots of control over my schedule,

Every time we add new skills and broaden our network of contacts, our market value increases.


If you think your odds of solving your problem are bad, don’t rule out the possibility that what is really happening is that you are bad at estimating odds.

CHAPTER THIRTY SEVEN – A Final Note About Affirmations

When I speak of affirmations these days, I try to say as clearly as possible that they appear to have a beneficial value.

Affirmations are a phenomenon of the mind and belong in the domain of psychology and perception.

That in my case affirmations appear to have more power than one might expect from positive thinking. The illusion is that the world itself is changing to satisfy the affirmations.

Another possible reason that affirmations appear to work is that optimists tend to notice opportunities that pessimists miss.

Any form of positive thinking, prayer, or the like, would presumably put a person in a more optimistic mind-set.

You need not be a natural-born optimist to get the benefits of better perception. You can train yourself to act like an optimist.

Optimists notice more opportunities, have more energy because of their imagined future successes, and take more risks.

Optimists make themselves an easy target for luck to find them.

In simpler terms, affirmations might work for perfectly logical reasons our brains aren’t equipped to understand.

I’m fascinated by the possibility that we humans are nothing but holograms living in a computer simulation.

Some have argued that the universe is too young for the hologram scenario to have played out. But if we are holograms, the age of the universe as we perceive it is nothing but a variable from the programmer. The real age could be trillions of years.

If we are indeed nothing but computer-generated entities, affirmations could be nothing more than an unremarkable bit of programming code.

Doing affirmations is a system that helps you focus, boosts your optimism and energy, and perhaps validates the talent and drive that your subconscious always knew you had.

Goals make sense only if you also have a system that moves you in the right direction.


Focus on your diet first and get that right so you have enough energy to want to exercise.

Exercise will further improve your energy, and that in turn will make you more productive, more creative, more positive, more socially desirable, and more able to handle life’s little bumps.

Once you optimize your personal energy, all you need for success is luck.

you can move from strategies with bad odds to strategies with good odds. For example, learning multiple skills makes your odds of success dramatically higher than learning one skill.

If you learn to control your ego, you can pick strategies that scare off the people who fear embarrassment,

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If you stay in the game long enough, luck has a better chance of finding you.

Happiness is the only useful goal in life.

Your own happiness will depend on being good to others.

happiness tends to happen naturally whenever you have good health, resources, and a flexible schedule.

Some skills are more important than others, and you should acquire as many of those key skills

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Develop a habit of simplifying.

Learn how to make small talk with strangers, and learn how to avoid being an asshole.

If you control the inputs, you can determine the outcomes, give or take some luck.

Look for patterns in every part of life, from diet to exercise to any component of success. Try to find scientific backing for your observed patterns, and use yourself as a laboratory to see if the patterns hold for you.

Goals are for losers and systems are for winners.

People who seem to have good luck are often the people who have a system that allows luck to find them.

Failure is your friend. It is the raw material of success. Invite it in. Learn from it. And don’t let it leave until you pick its pocket. That’s a system.

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