Detailed notes, How to Fail at everything and still win: Book review

I write down detailed notes on each book, and in this case a friend who knows this, asked me to share my notes. Here it is. If you dont want to read this, then the short summary book review of How to fail at everything and still win big is available as well.


You need to be selfish, but not too selfish, to get what you want from life.
Maintaining a positive attitude despite the setbacks is key.
The only way you can secure your future fortune is by creating a system.

His formula for priorities is also very simple and easy to follow.

  1. Look after yourself first. This involves eating right, exercising, avoiding unnecessary stress and getting enough sleep.
  2. Look after your economics. That includes your job, your investments, and even your house.
  3. Look after all the other things. Your family, community, country and the world.

Build your life around systems, not goals

Adams first learned about systems from a man he sat next to on a flight. The man said systems had helped him go from employee to CEO, one in particular: going from job to job, always trying to find something better. It was simple enough and the more Adams thought about it, the more he preferred systems over goals in general. He says goals have two problems:

They’re in the future. To get an outcome on an unknown day far out, you have to put in work today. That’s depressing.

They’re specific. Unless you get exactly what you set out to get, you’ll be disappointed, even if you end up with something that’s pretty close or even better.

For example, if Scott had focused on trying to publish 365 comics in a year, each day would have been a potential failure until he had actually drawn something and no individual day would really have felt like a win, because it’s just 1/365th of the mission.

Systems, however, leave room to adjust your plans and make timing irrelevant. When you just focus on, say, publishing a blog post each day, every day when you do it feels like a win, the others are just rest days. And even if it takes 500 days until your work takes off, that won’t matter, because you never set a deadline.

Goofs use goals, winners use systems.

“If you want success, figure out the price, then pay it. It sounds trivial and obvious, but if you unpack the idea it has extraordinary power.”

Scott Adams

“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 to what you’re willing to pay.”

“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.”

Do Creative Work First

In the morning, he is a creator, in the afternoon he’s a copier. Mindless tasks go later in the day. This is the single biggest change you can make to improve your odds of success.

Use space and time to manage your energy

Adams doesn’t believe in finding your passion. He believes in finding your energy. It makes sense. As long as you stay energetic and motivated, it doesn’t matter how many iterations of failure you have to go through until you figure out what works, because you’ll enjoy life along the way.

Scott suggests three specific angles, from which you can look at your energy levels:

Activities. What’s exciting and what’s draining? I, like Adams, hate shopping, for example, but love listening to music.
Space. I need to go to an office in the morning, whether it’s a coffee shop or a library. To me, home is relaxing. When you’re used to doing certain things in distinct places, don’t mix them with others.
Time. Some people are early risers, like me, others like sleeping in and kick into gear late in the day. The more you can adjust your work day to your internal clock, the better.

Don’t worry if you can’t switch to your perfect schedule right away. It takes some time to find and even more to implement, especially if you find you’ll need a different or no regular job to make it happen. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying.

If you can manage your energy well for long enough, you can fail at almost everything and still win big.

Passion is bullshit

Most people think passion causes success, it’s usually the other way round.

Goals vs Systems

Goals are specific objectives while systems are to be followed on a regular basis. “Losing 10 pounds” is a goal, “eating healthier” is a system. Focus on better systems rather than goals. Systems-oriented people feel good every time they follow the system, goals-oriented are always busy chasing their goals and once they have attained it feel miserable (and start looking for another one). There are too many options (distractions) irrespective of the plan, the focus is important.

Deciding vs wanting

A lot of people want something, successful ones decide that they are going to pursue it and are willing to pay the price for the same.

Being selfish is important

Focus on self (be it food, exercise or career), once a reasonable level of success has been attained, you will automatically develop the feeling to start distributing its fruits.

Maximize personal energy
Always try to optimize personal energy (Something which you a positive mental or physical lift), some people enjoy solace, some crowded places, decide what maximizes your personal energy and do those activities in spare time. Maximizing personal energy is selfish but has the best impact on the person and his/her contribution to society in the long run.
Between optimization (doing many things optimally) and simplification (doing just a few things), pursue simplification in the long run since it maximizes personal energy.

Priorities (highest to lower)
Self > Personal finance > family > community > country > world.

A positive attitude is not optional. Daydreaming, positive forms of entertainment, smiling, success (from anything spills into success in other fields), perceptions (even incorrect ones) – all contribute to the positive attitude.

Who you know is important
You don’t need CEOs and billionaires, just knowing friends who know different things than you are sometimes sufficient.

Recognizing your talents and knowing when to quit

Childhood obsessions and tolerance for risk are rough guides are talents.

Deciding when to fight against an obstacle and when to quit is difficult, things which someday work out well, start out well (albeit small success), things which start bad usually never become successful.

Repetition vs Novelty based jobs
Some jobs require a lot of practice (eg. sports), some require a lot of disciplined study and novelty (eg. software engineer, entrepreneur), decide which one suits your nature and choose a career path which is in line with your nature.

Managing your Odds of Success
Every new skill you acquire doubles your odds of success.
It’s better to be good at two complementary skills than excellent at one.
The more you learn, the easier it becomes to learn even more.
Read news about topics which interests you and which are positive in nature (avoid reading a lot about tragic events).

The Math of Success
Some skills increase odds of success – public speaking (Dale Carnegie’s course), psychology (List of biases), business writing(eg, using active over passive), accounting, design(basics – the L-shape), conversation, overcoming shyness, second language, golf, proper grammar, persuasion (being decisive, using write responses), technology and proper voice (pitch).

Pattern Recognition
Learn to recognize patterns in life.
Certain patterns are direct predictor of success.
As per the author, lack of fear of embarrassment, education, exercise and looking at success as learnable skill are major patterns for successful people.

It’s not just a form of entertainment, it helps in developing more social connections as well as boosts personal energy.

Repeat to yourself what you want to achieve while imagining the outcome you want. It improves the odds of success.
The author is careful at pointing out that there might a coincidence or his selection bias in play here.

Timing is luck too
Don’t ignore the importance of timing in success.
The world is like a slot machine where one has to put time, focus and energy and occasional rare payoffs can be big.

Experts are 98% right on easy cases but only 50% on unusually complicated cases.
If your intuition disagrees with experts, go with intuition, it could be an indicator of some pattern recognition which you can’t yet verbalize.

Association Programming
Humans are social animals, we are influenced by people near us.
Spend time with people who most represent what you would like to become. Their good habits and energy will rub off on you.

Happiness has more to do with self than with the situation.
Happiness has more to do with direction than the current situation (when things are going in the right direction, we are happy).
In a career, improvement of skills makes a person feel happy. So, focus on a career where you can improve over time.

The imagination of a brighter future makes a person happy.
Exercise, diet (eat right) and sleeping enough strongly influence happiness.

Routines make us happy since they reduce the number of choices we have at any time (more choice makes us unhappy). Reduce daily decisions for routines.

Help others (after helping yourself).

Food impacts a person’s mood. Pay attention to energy level after eating certain foods.

All humans are different, find patterns in food, which food makes you feel better, which ones make you feel sleepy.
Remove unhealthy energy draining food from home and stock convenient healthy food instead.
Get enough sleep, tiredness causes the illusion of hunger.
Willpower is a limited resource, using that to fight against cravings is a bad idea instead author suggests an alternative, make a list of healthy food items and decide that “you will eat as much of healthy food items as you can”.

Over time, you will stop eating unhealthy food, in the long run, the habits of eating healthy food in limited quantities will become the norm.

Getting recommended dietary allowance with just food is impossible.
If eating for social reasons, choose the lowest calorie options.
Author’s diet consists primarily of complex carbs (like nuts), protein bar, fruits, and fish.
Don’t make healthy food bland by avoiding butter and salt, it’s better to eat healthy food with butter and salt than an unhealthy one.
The author recommends a vegetarian or near-vegetarian diet.
Coffee has higher highs and lower lows which aligns with creative workers, while it does make a person addicted, the trade-off is worth it.

Be active every day – don’t use willpower to decide workout and don’t do things you don’t like. Do anything which feels pleasant, walking is fine too.
Always exercise at the same time (routine).
Try Exercising with the spouse if married.

Don’t burn yourself out so that, the next day you won’t be able to do it.
Reward yourself after workout eg. relaxed reading for a while after a workout.

Failures will happen from time to time, learn from them and come forward because of that learning.