How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big (book summary)

13 min read

This book is by Scott Adams - the Author of Dilbert comics. Adams does a phenomenal job of break down the psychology behind failing and winning, and simple techniques to implement them in your own life.

Overview of the concepts of the book

  • Goals are for losers - if you are setting goals for yourselves you are losing
  • Your mind is a moist computer that you can program.
  • The most important thing that you can track is your personal energy
  • Every skill that you acquire doubles your odds of success
  • Happiness is good health and freedom of time
  • Luck is managed and manufactured - you can create it
  • Conquer shyness by faking it
  • Fitness is a lever that can move the world
  • Simplicity transforms ordinary into amazing!

Goals vs. Systems

When you have a system you constantly follow that system without worrying about reaching a “destination”. Each day you follow your system is a successful day.

On the other hand, if you have a goal, each day that you are not at your goal you feel that yearning to be at your goal. Each day is another day that you have not achieved that goal. Each day is a failure to reach the goal.

For example, in the world of dieting, eating right is a system, but losing 10 pounds is a goal.

If you do something everyday, it is a system. If you’re waiting to achieve it some day in the future, it is a goal. Most people who are goal oriented stay in a permanent cycle of pre-success failure.

Most people who succeed follow systems not goals.

Another disadvantage of a goal is that once you achieve it, you set a next goal and continue to feel like you have failed till you achieve the goal - thereby living in a continued cycle of presuccess failure.

Deciding vs. Wanting

Everything has a price. If you want success, figure out the price and then pay it. Once you decide on what you want, you are acknowledging the price associated with it and are willing to pay it.

Successful people dont wish for success. They decide to pursue it.

Be Selfish

It is important to be selfish and help yourself first. Only when you are fulfilled can you do something great for others.

If you are not selfish - your other choices are to be stupid, or a burden to society - neither of which are quite helpful to society.

Important things to be selfish about:

  • personal fitness
  • eating right
  • pursuing your career
  • spending time with family and friends

It is stupid to neglect your health or your career - both of which guarantee long term happiness.

It is especially important to be a little selfish when times are hard, so that when they are better one can give back to society in terms of jobs to others etc.

Maximize personal energy

Have something in like that makes you excited to wake up in the morning.

It is important to have good health, sleep, avoiding stress etc. But one of the major things that can help with maximizing energy is to have something in life that makes one excited to wake up in the morning.

When a sad person enters a room, the energy of the entire room drops, but when a happy person enters a room one can feel the energy of the entire room rising. Try to be the latter.

  1. Manage mental state to task: Do the task that is suited for a given mental state. E.g. when relaxed do the task suited for it (like creative tasks).
  2. Simplifiers vs Optimizers: Simplifiers prefer the easy way of doing a task. An optimizer looks for the best solution. Simplification of tasks frees up energy. Optimizing is goal oriented, and often leads to spending more energy to maximize achieving of goals. Be a simplifier unless necessary.
  3. Sitting position: The mind takes cues from the body based on how we sit stand etc. E.g. if you sit in a relaxed position - like slouching, the brain with start the relaxation subroutine. If you sit up straight and ready for work, the brain will start the engaging subroutine.
  4. Tidiness: Every time you see a messy room and think about cleaning it, it is a distraction from your more important thoughts.
  5. Knowledge (or no knowledge): Everyone has the fear of not knowing things that are required by their career. But - our problem isn’t unique. There is always someone who has a similar problem and other who have provided solutions for it. Adams recommends “flash research” - which means spending just 1 minute on search engine to learn some basic ideas/solutions to the problem.
  6. Be a nice person: Don’t be a jerk!
  7. Priorities: Set clear priorities in your life. Adams’ priorities are - him, job, family, city, country ….

Managing your Attitude

It is an art (or science?) to control your attitude directly, as opposed to letting the environment dictate how you feel. In a way it is like a superpower!

You can control your attitude by manipulating your thoughts, your body, and your environment.

  1. Exercise, food and sleep - these are the minimum requirements to have a good attitude
  2. Daydreaming positive things - make you feel positive and happy. Dream without worrying about whether those dreams will come true.
  3. Work on projects that have chance to change the world
  4. Work on projects that make you excited to get out of bed in the morning
  5. Smile! Smiling make you feel better, even if your smile is fake
  6. Success in easy for you areas - if you are successful in one area, it spills over into other areas of your life.
  7. Pick a delusion - This idea is similar to wearing “lucky socks” for a test/game or doing something irrational just because you feel that it will be helpful to you somehow. If you believe that you are writing something that millions will read, it motivates you to write. Pick your delusional belief if it help you build a better attitude towards your work.
  8. Fake it till it becomes real. When it becomes real, one can quickly adopt the mannerisms and skills associated with the new status and position.

Recognizing your Talents and Knowing When to Quit

Malcolm Gladwell wrote that it takes 1000 hours of practice to become an expert in just about anything.

Things that someday work out well, start out well. Things that never work start out bad and stay that way. One rarely sees a stillborn failure that transforms into a stellar success.

Believe more in what people say, than what people do. They say things to spare your feelings, and be nice. They are far more honest with what they do. If they really like something that you write, or create they will share it, talk about it and email and tweet about it.

It is generally true that if people are not excited about what you create in the beginning, they will not be excited about it later on and they never will be.

Practice!

The more you practice, the better you will get. The hard part is figuring out what to practice and what skill to acquire. If you code more - you become a better code. If you manage more - you become a better manager.

Practice involves putting your consciousness in suspended animation.

Practice is mundane, and it isn’t living. But when you used the skills that you have acquired via practice, and merge it with life experiences, you feel alive!

Managing the odds for success

  1. Every skill that you acquire doubles the odds for success. Two skills that you are good at is better than one skill that you are excellent at.
  2. The more you know, the more you can know. Once you get into the habit of reading, you want to read more and more, and can learn more and more.

The Math of Success

The world is made of math, and not magic. We should pick a game where the odds of winning are better. According to Adams, the odds of success increase significantly if one masters the following:

  1. Public Speaking: It gives tremendous power to talk about ideas and share knowledge.
  2. Psychology: It is important to understand psychology to sell, to convert ideas, to communicate. If there was just one skill to acquire, psychology would be it! A good place to start is by going down and learning about Wikipedia’s list of cognitive bias.
  3. Business Writing: Business writing is all about getting to the point and leave out all the noise. It is also the foundation of humor writing/
  4. Accounting: If you don’t know accounting, you have a giant knowledge gap in life or business. Learn how to manage money, and do your accounting.
  5. Design (the basics): Some basic understanding of how to make something look pleasing is important - be it PowerPoint slides, or website.
  6. Conversation: To be a skilled conversationalist, all you have to do is introduce yourself and ask questions until you find a point of mutual interest. It is laughably simple! The point of the conversation is to make the other person feel good.
  7. Overcoming Shyness: Shyness is analogous to swimming - we are not born with it, but we can learn it and practice overcoming shyness, as we can swim.
  8. Second Language: Often qualify you for a large range of jobs as compared to peers
  9. Golf: Business gets done on a golf course. Women would especially benefit from learning golf.
  10. Proper Grammar: Talking in bad grammar is a put off, and people can easily dismiss you and your skills if you do not present them with proper grammar.
  11. Persuasion: No matter what you do in life, you will spend a lot of time persuading people to do things. e.g. closing a sale, getting a kid to eat their greens, managing employees etc.
  12. Technology: Good to know basics so that you can learn whatever you need, and can talk intelligently about it.
  13. Proper voice technique: It is helpful to have different vocal strategies for different scenarios. E.g. high pitched fun voice should be different from low pitched persuasive voice for the respective scenarios. Breathing techniques and posture also help with the right voice techniques.

Besides the above, a couple other skills to develop are:

  1. Lack of fear or embarrassment
  2. Get the right kind of education - no rick of unemployment
  3. Exercise

Affirmations

Affirmations are simply the practice of repeating to yourself what you want to achieve while imagining the outcome that you want. Adams mentions that working with affirmations has always yielded a better outcome for him then not working with affirmations. It is a very simple and positive practice, so why not do it?

Timing is luck

If the timing is not right, no amount of hard work will make things move forward. But you can allow luck to follow you by getting the timing right.

Association Programming

Associating with successful people makes you think in a different way, and be successful by association.

Studies show that if you hand out with overweight people, you could gain weight. Similarly living around optimistic winners can make you one too. Qualities of the people you hang out with can run off on you.

Happiness

The only reasonable goal in life is to maximize your total lifetime experience of happiness. It is important to understand what happiness is, and how it works.

The simplest way to enable more happiness is by managing your body chemistry with exercise, diet, sleep and daydream happy things for yourself. These strongly influence mood.

Another things that helps with happiness is to have the option of a flexible schedule by being in control of your time.

Finally have a routine helps with removing the paradox of choice and simplifying life. Thereby routines help happiness.

Diet

It is possible to change your food preferences by thinking of your body as a programmable robot, rather than a fleshy bag of magic.

Experiment with different types of food and see how they make you feel? Do carbs put you to sleep - even if you had them at breakfast? So fresh greens and fruit make you more awake and make you want to workout later? Discover correlations between foods and your body, and pick the types of food that enable you to live the life that you want to live - that helps you achieve the goals that you want to achieve.

A simple way to disengage from sugar and simple carbs is to allow yourself to each as much as you want of anything healthy - try lots of other types of food to your hearts content - cheese, peanuts, fruits. Eventually the appeal of simple carbs goes away.

Make healthy food taste good. Learn new recipes and make food such that even the foods that you didnt like before become enjoyable.

Avoid foods that feel like punishment - that isnt sustainable!

Hanging out with fit people make you wnat to be fit too.

Adams also recommends having 2-4 cups of coffee per day - a great way to manage your energy levels.

Fitness

Be active every day

If you can be active every day - without having to think about it and just doing it daily - like brushing your teeth - you wont have to use your limited supply of willpower for it.

Once exercise becomes habitual, you wont need willpower to sustain it. Find an easy way to incorporate exercise into your routine such that it works with your mind and body.

Schedule your exercise at the same time every day, to get into a routine and a “no-brainer”.

Don’t take any rest days. Just work out at your pace each day, and every day. When your body gets stronger, you will automatically start taking on harder exercises.

Reward yourself after exercising - small snack, or anything else that you feel is reasonable.

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