Last week I had a lovely time reading “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big” by cartoonist Scott Adams. His views on success and happiness, and his formula for increasing the odds of success through failures are intriguing, based on his life experiences. He shares ideas about goals and systems, skills, happiness, priorities, and personal energy, which provides a guide for living well. Some of those ideas are ones I already exercise, while others have provided answers to goals that have failed me in the past as well as reasons to why I’ve acted a certain way before. It’s refreshing to learn something new about existing patterns of behavior.
Here are some favorite quotes from the book:
- 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. 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. Goals only make sense if you also have a system that moves you in the right direction.
- 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. I know from experience that trying to be creative in the mid-afternoon is a waste of time. By 2:00 PM all I can do is regurgitate the ideas I’ve seen elsewhere. At 6:00 AM I’m a creator, and by 2:00 PM I’m a copier.
- 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.
- 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 is economics. That includes your job, your investments, and even your house. You might wince at the fact that I put economics ahead of your family, your friends, and the rest of the world, but there’s a reason. 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.
- There’s a formula for success. You can manipulate your odds of success by how you choose to fill out the variables in the formula. The formula, roughly speaking, is that every skill you acquire doubles your odds of success. Good + Good > Excellent. 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.
- 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 yo keep yanking until you get lucky. In that environment, you can fail 99% of the time, while knowing success is guaranteed. All you need to do is stay in the game long enough.
- 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. The timing of things can be more important than the intrinsic value of the things. It’s hard to become rich enough to buy your own private island, but, relatively speaking, it’s easier to find a job with flexible hours. A person with a flexible schedule and average resources will be happier than a rich person who has everything except a flexible schedule. Step one in your search for happiness is to continually work toward having control of your schedule.
- 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. You’d feel like an idiot for suffering so many unhappy days while not knowing the cure was so accessible.
- The happiness formula:
- Eat right
- 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
- Always remember that 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.