How To Fail At Almost Everything And Still Win Big,Kind Of The Story Of My Life
Scott Adams

I pursued a conscious strategy of managing opportunities in a way that would make it easier for luck to find me. p. 1

Book Tease:

  • Goals are for losers.
  • You’re mind isn’t magic. The brain is 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 big phoney (in a good way).
  • Fitness is the lever that moves the world.
  • Simplicity transforms ordinary into amazing.
  • p. 3

    When it comes to any big or complicated question, humility is the only sensible point of view. Still, we mortals need to navigate our world as if we understood it. The alternative—acting randomly—would be absurd. To minimize the feeling of absurdity in your life, I recommend using a specific system for sorting truth from fiction. This system will be useful for reading this book, and it could be even more important in your life. The system recognizes that there are at least six common ways to sort truth from fiction, and interestingly, each is a complete train wreck.

  • Personal experience (human perceptions are iffy).
  • Experience of people you know (even more unreliable).
  • Experts (they work for money, not truth).
  • Scientific studies (correlation is not causation).
  • Common sense (a good way to be mistaken with complete confidence).
  • Patter recognition (patterns, coincidence and personal bias look alike).
  • In our messy, flawed lives, the nearest we can get to truth is consistency. Consistency is the bedrock of the scientific method. Scientists creep up on the truth by performing controlled experiments and attempting to observe consistent results. In your everyday, non-scientist life you do the same thing, but it’s not as impressive, nor as reliable. For example, if every time you eat popcorn, one hour later you fart so hard that it inflates your socks, you can reasonably assume popcorn makes you gassy. It’s not science, but it’s still an entirely useful pattern. Consistency is the best marker of truth that we have, imperfect though it may be. p. 4

    Your job is not your job; your job is to find a better job. p. 31

    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 the apply their system. That’s a gig difference in terms of maintaining your personal energy in the right direction. p. 32-3.

    So, I decided to try something called affirmations, which I will describe in more detail later in the book. 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. p. 45*

    I blame society for the sad state of adult fitness in the Western world. We’re raised to believe that giving of ourselves is noble and good. If you’re religious, you might have twice as much pressure to be unselfish. All our lives we are told that it is better to give than to receive. We’re programmed for unselfish behavior by society, our parents, and even our genes to a some extent. The problem is that our obsession with generosity cause people to think in the short term. We skip exercise to spend an extra hour helping at home. We buy fast food to save time to help a co-worker with a problem. At every turn, we cheat our own future to appear generous today. p. 48*

    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. p. 50*

    The main reason I blog is because it energizes me. I could rationalize my blogging by telling you it increases traffic on by 10 percent or that it keeps my mind sharp or that i think the world is a better place when there are more ideas in it. But the main truth is that blogging charges me up. It gets me going. I don’t need another reason. p. 52

    Tidiness is a personal preference, but it also has an impact on your energy. Every second you look at a messy room and think about fixing it is a distraction from your more important thoughts. p. 60

    When you piss off the people around you, there is bound to be some blowback and wasted effort cleaning up the mess you made. 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 include:

  • Changing the subject to yourself.
  • Dominating a conversation.
  • Bragging.
  • Cheating or lying.
  • Disagreeing with any suggestion, no matter how trivial.
  • Using honesty as a justification for cruelty.
  • Withholding simple favors our of some warped warped sense of social justice.
  • Abandoning the rules of civil behavior, such as saying hello or making eye contact.
  • p. 62-3

    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. If you ruin yourself, you won’t be able to work on any other priorities. So taking care of your own health is job one.
  • The next ring—and your second-biggest priority—economics. That includes your job, your investments and even your house. If you don’t get your personal financial engine working right, you place a burden on everyone from your family to the country.
  • Once you are both healthy and financially sound, it’s time for the 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 for your local community, your country and the world, in that order. Don’t bother to fix the world until you get the inner circles of your priorities under control.
  • p. 63

    One simple way to keep your priorities straight is by judging how each of our options will influence your personal energy. It’s not a foolproof gauge, but if you know a particular path will make you feel more stressed, unhealthy and drained, it’s probably the wrong choice. Right choices can be challenging, but they usually charge you up. When you’re on the right path, it feels right, literally. p. 64

    Priorities are the things you need to get right so the things you love can thrive. p. 64

    Smiling makes you feel better, even if your smile is fake. p. 68*

    As a bonus, smiling make you more attractive to others. p. 69*

    A great strategy for success in life 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. p. 70

    Free yourself from the shackles of an oppressive reality. What real to you is what you imagine and what you feel. If you mange your illusions wisely, you might get what you want, but you won’t necessarily understand why it worked. p. 73 [This is the basis for all religion. JH]

    It’s a cliche that who you know is helpful to success. What is less obvious is that you don’t need to know CEOs and billionaires. Sometimes you just need a friend who knows different things than you do. And you can always find those. p. 81

    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. p. 91

    My observation is that 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. Whichever camp you’re in, it probably won’t change. It’s naive to expect the average person to embrace endless practice in pursuit of long-term success. It makes more sense to craft a life plan for yourself that embraces your natural inclinations, assuming you’re not a cannibal. Most natural inclinations have some sort of economic value if you channel them right. p. 93

    Our speaking assignment was something simple. I think we simply had to say something about ourselves. For most people, including me, this was a relatively easy task. But for many in the class it was clearly impossible. One young lady who had been forced by her employer to take the class was so frightened that she literally couldn’t form words. In the cool, air-conditioned room, beads of sweat ran from her forehead down to her chin and dropped onto the carpet. The audience watched in shared pain as she battled her own demons and tried to form words. A few words came out, just barely, and she returned to her seat, defeated, humiliated, broken.

    Than an interesting thing happened. I rank it as one of the most fascinating things I have ever witnessed. The instructor when to the front and looked at the broken student. The room was dead silent. I’ll always remember his words. He said, Wow, that was brave.

    There are several things to learn from that story. The most important is the transformative power of praise versus the corrosive impact of criticism. p. 105-6*

    [Praise is] an amazing force, especially for adults. Adults can go weeks without a compliment while enduring criticism both at work and at home. Adults are starved for a kind word. p. 106-7*

    Quality is not an independent force in the universe, it depends on what you choose as your frame of reference. p. 109

    My best guess is that there are a few hundred rules in psychology that you should have a passing familiarity with. p. 111*

    It is a good idea to make psychology your lifelong study. Wikipedia’s List Of Cognitive Biases looks like a lot to know, but you have your entire life to acquire the knowledge. Think of it as a system in which you learn a bit each year. That will be easier if you understand how important psychology is to everything you want to accomplish in life. On a scale of one to ten, the importance of understanding psychology is a solid ten. p. 111

    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 using only the clues that somehow find a way into your brain through the holes in your skull. p. 116

    A hypnotist learns to detect slight changes in breathing, posture, movement and skin tone to know if the images presented are working as planned. Adjustments are made accordingly. In the simplest term, a hypnotist tries to do more of whatever works and less of what doesn’t. p. 116*

    I no longer see reason as the driver of behavior. I see simple cause and effect, similar to the way machines operate. IF you believe people use reason for important decisions in life, you will go through life confused and frustrated that others seem to have bad reasoning skills. The reality is that reason is just one of the drivers of our decisions, and often the smallest one. pp. 116-7

    It is tremendously useful to know when people are using reason and when they are rationalizing the irrational. You’re wasting your time if you try to make someone see reason when reason is not influencing the decision. If you’ve ever had a frustrating political debate with your friend who refuses to see the logic of your argument, you know what I mean. But keep in mind that the friend sees you exactly the same way. p. 117

    When politicians tell lies, they know the press will call them out. They also know it doesn’t matter. 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. That’s even true when the voter knows the lie is a lie. If you’re perplexed at how society can tolerate politicians who lie so blatantly, you’re thinking of people as rational beings. That worldview is frustrating and limiting. People who study hypnosis start to view humans as moist machines that are simply responding to inputs with programmed outputs. No reasoning is involved beyond eliminating the most absurd options. Your reasoning can prevent you from voting for a total imbecile, but it won’t stop you from voting for a half-wit with a great haircut. pp. 117-8

    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. You’ll find yourself continually debating people and never winning except in your own mind. Few things are as destructive and limiting as a worldview that assumes people are mostly rational. p. 118

    As it turns out, business writing [all writing, JH] 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. Consider the previous sentence. I intentionally embedded some noise. Did you catch it? The sentence that begins with 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. p. 120

    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. In editor’s jargon, the first sentence is direct [active, JH] writing and the second is passive. [A neurological justification for not using passive voice? JH] It’s a tiny difference, but over the course of an entire document, passive writing adds up and causes reader fatigue. p. 120

    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? p. 123*
  • Here’s a summary of good conversation technique:

  • Ask questions.
  • Don’t complain (much).
  • Don’t talk about boring experiences (TV shows, meals, dreams &c.).
  • 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. If you do that one simple thing correctly, the other benefits come along with the deal. p. 124

    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 the bow. You can do the same thing. Try to get in the habit of asking yourself how you can turn your interesting experiences into story form. I find it helps to imagine telling the story to someone in particular–a spouse, friend or relative. Try a few versions in your head, telling the story and feeling how it goes. Was it brief? Did you save the surprise for just the right moment? Did you have a way to end the story with a punch line or interesting observation? It’s a good idea to always have a backlog you can pull out at a moment’s notice. p. 125

    I also find it helpful to remind myself that every human is a mess on the inside. It’s easy to assume the good-looking and well-spoken person in front of you has it all together and therefore is your superior. The reality is that everyone is a basket case on the inside. Some people just hide it better. p. 130

    Persuasive words and phrases:

  • Because…
  • Would you mind…?
  • 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. p. 135*
  • Studies by psychologist Robert Cialdini show people are more cooperative when you ask for a favor using a sentence that includes because, even if the reason you offer make little or no sense. Apparently the word because signals reasonableness, and reasonableness allows people to let down their defenses and drop their objections. p. 135*

    It’s hard to be a jerk and say no to any request that starts with Would you mind? The question comes across as honest, also showing concern for the other person. It’s a powerful combination. p. 135-6*

    Is there anything you can do for me? frames you as the helpless victim and the person you are trying to persuade as the hero and problem solver. That’s a self-image that people like to reinforce when they have the chance. p. 138*

    Thank you. p. 138*

    This is just between you and me. Research shows that people will automatically label you a friend if you share a secret. p. 139*

    Decisiveness looks like leadership. p. 139*

    Energy is contagious. p. 139*

    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. It’s important to keep a lot of distance between your fun voice and your persuasive voice. 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. 141*

    [I]t helps to learn to breathe from the bottom of your lungs, not in the upper chest area. Proper breathing has lots of other benefits, including stress reduction, increased and more efficient metabolism and better physical stamina. p. 143*

    Because humor directly influences your energy levels, it touches every part of your life that requires concentration and will power. If you don’t have funny friends, find some. If you’re a reader, chose funny books. IF you go to movies, choose the funny ones first and avoid anything you know will end on a sad note. p. 149-150*

    My proposition, which I invite you to be skeptical about is that one of the primary factors in determining your energy level, and therefore your mood, is what you’ve eaten recently. p. 163

    My definition of happiness is that feeling you get when your body chemistry is producing pleasant sensations in your mind. p. 172

    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, and that in turn will cause your thoughts to turn positive, while making the bumps in your path feel less important. p. 173

    I’m here to tell you that the primary culprit in your bad moods is a deficit in one of the big five: flexible schedule, imagination, sleep, diet and exercise. p. 176

    If you look at your life from some distance, you can see that today is lot like yesterday, and tomorrow won’t be all that different either. Our lives stay roughly the same, while our moods can swing wildly. My proposition, which I invite you to be skeptical about, is that one of the primary factors in determining your energy level, and therefore your mood, is what you’ve eaten recently. p. 183

    Whenever it’s practical and safe, consider your body a laboratory in which you can test different approaches to health. Eat something specific, such as a bowl of white rice, and see how you feel later. Or eat lots of carbs and weigh yourself at the end of the week. Look for the patterns. Which foods make you energetic and which ones make you sleepy? Which ones can you eat without gaining weight and which ones make you expand like a Macy’s parade float? When you get a handle on your own diet cause-and-effect patterns, you might discover they differ from my experience. For example, you might have wheat or gluten sensitivity or a lactose intolerance, or maybe you never get tired in the afternoon no matter what you eat. It’s important to figure out what works for you. And that will require experimenting. p. 185

    Eating right depends a great deal on your nonfood alternatives. If you get your entire life in order, it will be much easier to have an ideal weight. p. 202

    The Healthy Eating Summary: A simple, no-willpower diet system

  • Pay attention to your energy level after eating certain foods.
  • Remove unhealthy, energy-draining food from your home.
  • Stock up on convenient healthy foods and let laziness be your copilot in eating right.
  • Eat no foods that create addiction feelings (white rice/potatoes/bread, desserts, fried foods).
  • Eat as much healthy food as you want, whenever you want.
  • Get enough sleep because tiredness creates the illusion of hunger.
  • Use nuts and cheese to fight hunger from tiredness.
  • Choose healthiest options with low calories when eating socially.
  • Learn how to season healthy-yet-bland food.
  • p. 203

    We know the brain creates illusions because there are so many competing religions in the world. Assuming you picked the right religion, all those other poor souls are living in deep illusion. Your neighbor might think he remembers his past life, while you think you saw god during your heart bypass surgery. You can’t both be right. But you both could be wrong, and both of you might be experiencing delusions of reality that somehow don’t kill you. p. 227

    *Contributed by Mary Jo.

    Oliver Burkeman on How To Fail:

    Still, I like to imagine I’d spot a profound insight into human behaviour even if it came from, say, Paul Nuttall of Ukip, so let me set aside Adams’ views on political correctness (I suspect he thinks it’s “gone mad”) and acknowledge that his book contains one very useful bit of advice: when you’re trying to get better at something—a creative skill, such as cartooning, or a habit, such as regular exercise—think in terms of systems, not goals.

    So, what is the difference…?

    As anyone whose employer foists “performance targets” upon them already knows, a fixation with goal-setting has many downsides. But Adams adds one more: when you approach life as a sequence of milestones to be achieved, you exist “in a state of near-continuous failure”. Almost all the time, by definition, you’re not at the place you’ve defined as embodying accomplishment or success. And should you get there, you’ll find you’ve lost the very thing that gave you a sense of purpose – so you’ll formulate a new goal and start again.

    A system, by contrast, is “something you do on a regular basis that increases your odds of happiness in the long run”, regardless of immediate outcome. Drawing one cartoon a day is a system; so is resolving to take some kind of exercise daily – rather than setting a goal, like being able to run a marathon in four hours. One system that’s currently popular online goes by the name No Zero Days: the idea is simply not to let a single day pass without doing something, however tiny, towards some important project.


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