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

Author:  Scott Adams

Purchase:  Print | eBook | Audiobook

Citation:  Adams, S. (2014). How to fail at almost everything and still win big : kind of the story of my life. New York: Portfolio/Penguin.

Three Big Takeaways:
  1. For our purposes, let's say 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. My proposition is that if you study people who succeed, you will see that most of them follow systems, not goals. If you know some extra successful people, ask some probing questions about how they got where they did. I think you'll find a system at the bottom of it all, and usually some extraordinary luck. (pg. 33)

  2. 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. Maximizing my personal energy means eating right, exercising, avoiding unnecessary stress, getting enough sleep, and all of the obvious steps. But it also means having something in my life that makes me excited to wake up. When I get my personal energy right, the quality of my career is better, and I can complete it faster. That keeps my career on track. And when all of that is working, and I feel relaxed and energetic, my personal life is better too. (pg. 51)

  3. The single biggest trick for manipulating your happiness chemistry is being able to do what you want, when you want. I'm contrasting that with the more common situation, in which you might be able to do all the things you want, but you can't often do them when you want. A person with a flexible schedule and average resources will be happier than a rich person who has everything except a flexible schedule. Step on in your search for happiness is to continually work toward having control of your schedule. By any definition when I write I'm doing work, but because I can control the timing of it, it doesn't feel like work. I've transformed work into pleasure simply by having control over when I do it. (pg. 173)​


Other Key Ideas:

Successful people are usually selfish. 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. If you neglect your health or your career, you are no longer selfish, you are stupid. How can you be selfish, without feeling selfish. There's no instant cure, but a step in the right direction involves the power of permission. I'm giving you permission to take care of yourself first, so you can do a better job of being generous in the long run. (pg. 48)

One of the most important tricks for maximizing your productivity involves matching your mental state to the task. For example, when I first wake up, my brain is relaxed and creative. The thought of writing a comic is fun, and it's relatively easy because my brain is in exactly the right mode for that task. Most people aren't lucky enough to have a flexible schedule. I didn't have one either for the first sixteen years of my corporate life. So I did the next best thing by going to bed early and getting up at 4:00am to do my creative side projects. (pg. 54)

One of the biggest obstacles to success is the fear that you don't know how to do the stuff that your ideal plans would require. I have been intimidated by about 90 percent of the topics I have encountered throughout my career. But when you start asking questions, you often discover that there's a simple solution, a Website that handles it, or a professional that handles 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 information is available somewhere, usually for free. (pg. 61)

Giving praise is a transformative power. I've had a number of occasions to test the powers of praise, and I find it as an amazing force, especially for adults. Children are accustomed to a continual stream of criticisms and praise, but adults can go weeks without a compliment while enduring criticism both at work and at home. Adults are starved for a kind word. When you understand the power of honest praise you realize that withholding it borders on immoral. If you see something that impresses you, a decent respect to humanity insists that you voice your praise. (pg. 106)

You've heard the old saying that knowledge is power. But knowledge of psychology is the purest form of that power. No matter what you're doing or how well you're doing it, you can benefit from a deeper understanding of how the mind interprets its world. (pg. 116)

Learning how to write effectively is important. Business writing is all about getting to the point and leaving out all the noise. You think you already do that in your writing, but you probably don't. Business writing also teaches that brains are wired to better understand concepts that are presented in a certain order. Eventually I learned that 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. (pg. 120)

It wasn't a complete accident that luck found me; I put myself in a position where luck was more likely to happen. I was like a hunger who picks his forest intentionally and waits in his blind for a buck to stroll by. The hunter still has to be lucky, but he manages his situation to increase his odds. I did something similar. I tried a lot of different ventures, stayed optimistic, put in the energy, prepared myself for learning as much as I could, and stayed in the game long enough for luck to find me. (pg. 158)

I never waste a brain cell in the morning trying to figure out what to do when. Compare that with some people you know who spend two hours planning and deciding for every task that takes one hour to complete. (pg. 178)

The happiness formula is as follows: Eat right, exercise, get enough sleep, imagine an incredible future, work toward a flexible schedule, do things you can steadily improve at, help others, reduce daily decisions to routine. (pg. 178)

Most adults understand the basic cause and effect of their diet choices. They know that overeating makes them feel bloated and tired. Those causes and effects are so obvious that they are hard to miss. But have you ever tracked your mood, problem-solving ability, and energy level in relation to what you recently ate? For most of you, the answer is no. You probably think your mood is caused by what's happening in your life, not the starchy food you ate for lunch. My observation is that the person who eats right won't be bothered as much by the little bumps in life's road, and he or she will have greater optimism, too. (pg. 182)

When you are active every day and your body feels good about it, it will become easier to increase your exercise level than it would be to stop it. Ask any dedicated runner how they feel on the occasional day off. they don't like it. That's where you want to be. The only way that happens is for you to make fitness a daily habit. Once exercise becomes habitual, you won't need willpower to keep going because your body and brain will simply prefer it to being a couch spud. And your natural inclination for variety will drive you to do more stuff over time. (pg. 206)

Once you optimize your personal energy, all you need for success is luck. You can't directly control luck, but 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, thus allowing you to compete against a smaller field. And if you stay in the game long enough, luck has a better chance of finding you. Avoid career traps such as pursuing jobs that require you to sell your limited supply of time while preparing you for nothing better. (pg. 230)

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