27 min read

How to fail at almost everything and still win big by Scott Adams

One of the most important books I’ve read.

I’d call this a handbook for life. One that encompasses both big-picture strategy and day-to-day living.

Includes a lot of my favorite type of writing: the you-don’t-know you don’t know stuff. For example, his list of nonobvious universally-useful skills, like golf, psychology, and design.

Also settled issues gurus say are important that I’ve never understood or been good at, such as:

  • Goals are for losers
  • Passion is bullshit
  • Why affirmation works
  • Skills: Quality (mastery) versus quantity
  • How to be persistent without being stupid

A book I will review regularly. Get it here: How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life

Top 10 highlights

  1. 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.
  2. Persistence is useful, but there’s no point in being an idiot about it.
  3. Things that will someday work out well start out well. Things that will never work start out bad and stay that way.
  4. The success formula: Every skill you acquire doubles your odds of success. Good + Good > Excellent Successwise, you’re better of being good at two complementary skills than being excellent at one.
  5. You’ve heard the old saying that knowledge is power. But knowledge of psychology is the purest form of that power.
  6. In any kind of negotiation, the worst thing you can do is act reasonable. Reasonable people generally cave into irrational people because it seems like the path of least resistance.
  7. The primary culprit in your bad moods is a deficit in one of the big five: Flexible schedule, imagination, sleep, diet, exercise.
  8. Simplification is often the difference between doing something you know you should do and putting it off.
  9. In the long run, any system that depends on your willpower will fail.
  10. Goals are for losers and systems are for winners.

The rest of it

Passion is bullshit

Success caused passion more than passion caused success.

Goals versus systems

One should have a system instead of a goal.

Exx— Your best bet, he explained, was to always be looking for the better deal. The better deal has its own schedule. I believe the way he explained it is that your job is not your job; your job is to find a better job. The system was to continually look for better options. For him, the entire world was his next potential job. The new job simply had to be better than the last one and allow him to learn something useful for the next hop.

Goal-oriented people exist in a state of nearly continuous failure that they hope will be temporary. That feeling wears on you. In time, it becomes heavy and uncomfortable. It might even drive you out of the game.

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 they apply their system. That’s a big difference in terms of maintaining your personal energy in the right direction.

My system

It helps a great deal to have at least a general strategy and some degree of focus. The world offers so many alternatives that you need a quick filter to eliminate some options and pay attention to others. Whatever your plan, focus is always important.

Deciding versus wanting

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever heard goes something like this: If you want success, figure out the price, then pay it.

When you decide to be successful in a big way, it means you acknowledge the price and you’re willing to pay it.

The selfishness illusion

At every turn, we cheat our own future to appear generous today.

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.

Generous people take care of their own needs first. In fact, doing so is a moral necessity. The world needs you at your best.

Apparently humans are wired to take care of their own needs first, then family, tribe, country, and the world, roughly in that order.

The energy metric

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 work 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.

One of the most important tricks for maximizing your productivity involves matching your mental state to the task.

Everyone is different, but you’ll discover that most writers work either early in the morning or past midnight. That’s when the creative writing juices flow most easily.

Scott Adams’s schedule:

  • 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.
  • When lunchtime rolls around, I like to grab a quick snack and go to the gym or play tennis. At that time of day I have plenty of energy, and it makes exercise seem like a good idea. I know that if I wait until after dinner I won’t have the sort of physical energy I need to talk myself into exercising.
  • By 2pm all I can do is regurgitate the ideas I’ve seen elsewhere. At 6am I’m a creator, and by 2pm I’m a copier.
  • My comic-creating process is divided into two stages to maximize my natural energy cycles. In the late afternoon and early evening my hand is steady. I’m relaxed from exercising and ready to do some simple, mindless, mechanical tasks such as drawing the final art for Dilbert or paying bills online. It’s the perfect match of my energy level with a mindless task. Without the exercise I wouldn’t have the attention span to handle boring tasks. I would be bouncing around from one thing to another and accomplishing nothing.

You might not thing you’re an early-morning person. I didn’t think I was either. But once you get used to it, you might never want to go back. You can accomplish more by the time other people wake up than most people accomplish all day.

Simplifies versus optimizers

I prefer simplicity whenever I’m choosing a system to use. People can follow simple systems better than complicated ones.

Simple systems are probably the best way to achieve success. Once you have success, optimizing begins to have more value.

Simplification frees up energy, making everything else you do just a little bit easier.

Simplicity is a worthy long-term goal. That’s how you will free your personal energy so you can concentrate it where you need it.

Sitting position

Consistency might be more important than the specific position you choose. If you train yourself to do deep concentration when sitting on the couch with your laptop, that might become a good place for you to work. Just don’t make the mistake of using the same sitting position for work that you use for relaxation.

Likewise, it’s a good idea to dedicate certain sitting positions and certain work spaces to work and other spaces to relaxation or play. That makes your physical environment a sort of user interface for your brain, and it becomes a way to manipulate your energy levels and concentration. To change how you feel, and how you think, you can simply change where you are sitting.


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.

All you need to do is pay attention to how you feel after you have tidied up your work space compared with how you felt when it was a mess.

Knowledge and lack thereof

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 the information has already been packaged and simplified, and in some cases sold. But it’s usually free for the asking.

Don’t be an asshole

Asshole behaviors:

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


It’s useful to think of your priorities in terms of concentric circles.

  • 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 healthy is job one.
  • The next ring is economics. If you don’t get your personal financial engine working right, you place a burden on everyone from your family to the country.
  • 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 your local community, your country, and the world, in that order. Don’t bother trying to fix the world until you get the inner circles of your priorities under control.

One simple way to keep your priorities straight is by judging how each of your 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.

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

Managing your attitude

Exercise, food, and sleep should be your first buttons to push if you’re trying to elevate your attitude and raise your energy. But what if you’re doing everything right on the physical-health front and you’re still not enjoying life as much as you think you should?

A simple trick you might try involves increasing your ratio of happy thoughts to disturbing thoughts. If your life doesn’t provide you with plenty of happy thoughts to draw upon, try daydreaming of wonderful things in your future.

Imagination is the interface to your attitude. You can literally imagine yourself to higher levels of energy.

The easiest way to manage your attitude is to consume as much feel-good entertainment as you can.

A powerful variation on the daydreaming method involves working on projects that have a real chance of changing the world, helping humanity, and/or making a billion dollars. I try to have one or more change-the-world projects going at all times.

It’s smarter to see your big-idea projects as part of a system to improve your energy, contacts, and skills. From that viewpoint, if you have a big, interesting project in the works, you’re a winner every time you wake up.

The power of smiling

Smiling makes you feel better even if your smile is fake. This is the clearest example of how your brain has a user interface. When you’re in a bad mood, the physical act of forcing a smile may trigger the feel-good chemistry in your brain that is associated with happiness.

The next time you’re in a gloomy mood, try smiling at a stranger you pass on the street. You’ll be surprised how many people reflexively return the smile, and if you smile often enough, eventually that cue will boot up the happiness subroutine in your brain and release the feel-good chemicals you desire.

Success premium

A great strategy for success 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.

Pick the delusion that works

My main point about perceptions is that you shouldn’t hesitate to modify your perceptions to whatever makes you happy, because you’re probably wrong about the underlying nature of reality anyway. If I had to bet my life, I’d say humans are more like my dog trying to use psychic powers on me to play fetch than we are like enlightened creatures that understand their environment at a deep level.

You too can sometimes get what you want by adopting a practical illusion. Reality is overrated and impossible to understand with any degree of certainty. What you do know for sure is that some ways of looking at the world work better than others. Pick the way that works, even if you don’t know why.

It’s already working

The group of people who reads books on how to succeed is an excellent group to be in. You’re the people most likely to succeed because you’re putting real thought and research into the mechanics of success.

So congratulations on being a person who studies the mechanics of success. It’s a bigger deal than you might realize.

My voice problem gets a name

“What’s the cure?” I whispered.

“There is none,” she replied.

But that isn’t what I heard. The optimist in me translated the gloomy news as “Scott, you will be the first person in the world to be cured of spasmodic dysphonia.”

And I decided that after I cured myself, somehow, some way, I would spread the word to others. I wouldn’t be satisfied simply escaping from my prison of silence; I was planning to escape, free the other inmates, shoot the warden, and burn down the prison.

Sometimes I get that way. It’s a surprisingly useful frame of mind.

Recognizing your talents and knowing when to quit

Where there is a tolerance for risk, there is often talent.

The smartest system for discerning your best path to success involves trying lots of different things – sampling, if you will. For entrepreneurial ventures it might mean quickly bailing out if things don’t come together quickly.

Persistence is useful, but there’s no point in being an idiot about it.

Things that will someday work out well start out well.

Things that will never work start out bad and stay that way. What you rarely see is a stillborn failure that transmogrifies into a stellar success. Exx—Cell phones, fax machines, personal computers

When the x factor is present, the public – or some subset of the public – picks up on it right away. For the excited few, the normal notions of what constitutes quality don’t apply. In time, the products that inspire excitement typically evolve to have quality too. Quality is one of the luxuries you can afford when the marketplace is spraying money in your direction and you have time to tinker.

It’s generally true that if no one is excited about your art/product/idea in the beginning, they never will be. If the first commercial version of your work excites no one to action, it’s time to move on to something different. Don’t be fooled by the opinions of friends and family. They’re all liars.

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.

Is practice your thing?

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.

The first filter in deciding where to spend your time is an honest assessment of your ability to practice. If you’re not a natural “practice,” don’t waste time pursuing a strategy that requires it. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. You’re not doomed to mediocrity. You simply need to pick a life strategy that rewards novelty seeking more than mindless repetition. Ex—architect, designer, home builder, computer programmer, entrepreneur, website designer, or even doctor (versus NBA point guard or concert pianist)

All of those professions require disciplined study, but every class will be different, and later on all of your projects will be different. Your skills will increase with experience, which is the more fun cousin of practice.

Managing your odds of success

Success isn’t magic; it’s generally the product of picking a good system and following it until luck finds you.

You can manipulate your odds of success by how you choose to fill out the variables in the formula.

The success formula: Every skill you acquire doubles your odds of success.

Good + Good > Excellent

Successwise, you’re better of being good at two complementary skills than being excellent at one.

Sometimes an entirely inaccurate formula is a handy way to move you in the right direction if it offers the benefit of simplicity.

I think it’s important to think of each new skill you acquire as a doubling of your odds of success.

My combined mediocre skills are worth far more than the sum of the parts. 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.

Another huge advantage of learning as much as you can in different fields is that the more concepts you understand, the easier it is to learn new ones.

Everything you learn becomes a shortcut for understanding something else.

The knowledge formula: the more you know, the more you can know

Think of learning as a system in which you continually expose yourself to new topics, primarily the ones you find interesting.

Learning interesting things increases my energy and makes me feel optimistic.

The math of success

While we all think we know the odds in life, there’s a good chance you have some blind spots. Finding those blind spots is a big deal.

It helps to see the world as math and not magic.

If you find yourself in a state of continual failure in your personal or business life, you might be blaming it on fate or karma or animal spirits or some other form of magic when the answer is simple math. There’s usually a pattern, but it might be subtle. Don’t stop looking just because you don’t see the pattern in the first seven years.

The best way to increase your odds of success – in a way that might look like luck to others – is to systematically become good, but not amazing, at the types of skills that work well together and are highly useful for just about any job.

I made a list of the skills in which I think every adult should gain a working knowledge. I wouldn’t expect you to become a master of any, but mastery isn’t necessary. Luck has a good chance of finding you if you become merely good in most of these areas:

  • Public speaking
  • Psychology
  • Business writing
  • Accounting
  • Design (the basics)
  • Conversation
  • Overcoming shyness
  • Second language
  • Golf
  • Proper grammar
  • Persuasion
  • Technology (hobby level)
  • Proper voice technique


On a scale of one to ten, the importance of understanding psychology is a solid ten.

You’ve heard the old saying that knowledge is power. But knowledge of psychology is the purest form of that power.

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 the important decision in life, you will go through life feeling 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.

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 as moist machines that are simply responding to inputs with programmed outputs. No reasoning is involved beyond eliminating the most absurd options.

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.

Business writing

If you want people to see you as smart, persuasive, and funny, consider taking a two-day class in business writing. There aren’t many skills you can learn in two days that will serve you this well.


You can pay others to do your accounting and cash-flow projections, but that only works if you can check their work in a meaningful way.


Learn just a few design tricks and people will think you’re smarter without knowing exactly why.


Understand that the person you’re meeting will feel every bit as awkward as you. That person wants to talk about something interesting and sound knowledgeable. Your job is to make that easy. Nothing is easier than talking about one’s self.

When you ask a stranger a personal question, you make that person happy your question relieves the stress of awkward silence and gets the conversation moving. Best of all, it signals that you have interest in the stranger, which most people interpret as friendliness and social confidence, even if you’re faking it. And faking social confidence leads to the real thing over time.

Here’s a summary of good conversation technique.

  1. Ask questions
  2. Don’t complain (much)
  3. Don’t talk about boring experiences (TV show, meal, dream, etc.)
  4. Don’t dominate the conversation. Let others talk.
  5. Don’t’ get stuck on a topic. Keep moving.
  6. Planning is useful but it isn’t conversation.
  7. 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.

So how do you get a stranger to like you? It’s simple, actually. It starts by smiling and keeping your body language open. After that, just ask questions and listen as if you cared, all the while looking for common interests. Everyone likes to talk about his or her own life, and everyone appreciates a sympathetic listener. Eventually, if you discover some common interests, you’ll feel a connection without any effort.

To take your conversation sills up a notch means becoming the maser of short but interesting stories. 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 into a 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.

It’s a good idea to always have a backlog of stories you can pull out at a moment’s notice. And you’ll want to continually update your internal story database with new material.

Smile, ask questions, avoid complaining and sad topics, and have some entertaining stories ready to go. It’s all you need to be in the top 10 percent of all conversationalists.

Overcoming shyness

The single best tip for avoiding shyness involves harnessing the power of acting interested in other people.

You should also try to figure out which people are thing people and which ones are people people. Thing people enjoy hearing about new technology and other clever tools and possessions. They also enjoy discussions of processes and systems, including politics. People people enjoy only conversations that involve humans doing interesting things.

Second language

A second language can qualify you for a large range of jobs and opportunities compared with your monolingual peers.


  • The thing that golf does well is that it allows males, especially, to bond.
  • It turns out that golf transports your brain to another dimension for the hours you are on the course. It’s like a vacation for the mind. And while I wouldn’t call golf relaxing, especially if you play as poorly as I do, the simple act of putting your mind in a completely new and absorbing place can help you escape your daily worries. It’s like a brain vacation. It’s extraordinary, really.

Women in the business world should learn golf for the same reason as men, plus the extra reason that it opens up some tremendous dating opportunities if you’re in the market.

If you find yourself in cocktail conversation with a male over the age of thirty, and you’re looking for a topic of common interest, golf is a great go-to topic.

Proper grammar

The simple rule for “I” versus “me” is that the sentence has to make sense if you remove the other person mentioned in the sentence. For example, if you say, “Bob and I went to a movie,” it would still make sense if you removed “Bob and” and said, “I went to a movie.”


No matter your calling in life, you’ll spend a great deal of time trying to persuade people to do one thing or another.

Persuasive words and phrases:

  • Because (the word signals reasonableness, and reasonableness allows people to let down their defenses and drop their objections)
  • Would you mind …? (comes across as honest, while also showing concern for the other person)
  • I’m not interested (to persuade someone to stop trying to persuade you. Don’t offer a reason why you aren’t interested)
  • I don’t do that (it sounds like a hard-and-fast rule)
  • I have a rule… (another good antipersuasion technique)
  • I just wanted to clarify… (When you hear statements that are so mind-numbingly stupid, evil, or mean that you know a direct frontal assault would only start a fight.)
  • Is there anything you can do for me? (When an organization or person is preventing us from achieving whatever it is that we perceive as just and fair. To frame you as the helpless victim and the person you are trying to persuade as the hero and problem solver)
  • Thank you (if you want people to like you, for business or for your personal life. Make sure it includes a little detail of what makes you thankful)
  • This is just between you and me (People will automatically label you a friend if you share a secret. Sharing a confidence is a fast-track way to cause people to like and trust you. The trick is to reveal a secret that isn’t a dangerous one)


Decisiveness looks like leadership. Keep in mind that most normal people are at least a little bit uncertain when facing unfamiliar and complicated situation. What people crave in that sort of environment is anything that looks like certainty. If you can deliver an image of decisiveness, no matter how disingenuous, others will see it as leadership.


If you show how much you love a particular form of entertainment, it will be easier to persuade others to try it. If you show enthusiasm, other will want to experience the same rush.


In any kind of negotiation, the worst thing you can do is act reasonable. Reasonable people generally cave into irrational people because it seems like the path of least resistance.

The way fake insanity works in a negotiation is that you assign a greater value to some element of a deal than an objective observer would consider reasonable.

For example, you might demand that a deal be closed before the holidays so you can announce it to your family as a holiday present. When you bring in an emotional dimension, people know they can’t talk you out of it. Emotions don’t bend to reason. So wrap your arguments in whatever emotional blankets you can think of to influence others. A little bit of irrationality is a powerful thing.

Pattern recognition

One of my systems involves continually looking for patterns in life.

Here’s my own list of the important patterns for success that I’ve noticed over the years:

  1. Lack of fear of embarrassment
  2. Education (the right kind)
  3. Exercise

Education and psychological bravery are somewhat interchangeable. If you don’t have much of one, you can compensate with a lot of the other. When you see a successful person who lacks a college education, you’re usually looking at someone with an unusual lack of fear.

There’s one more pattern I see in successful people: they treat success as a learnable skill. That means they figure out what they need and they go and get it.


People who enjoy humor are simply more attractive than people who don’t. It’s human nature to want to spend time with people who can appreciate a good laugh or, better yet, cause one.

Because humor directly influences your energy levels, it touches every part of your life that requires concentration and willpower.

When it comes to in-person humor, effort counts a lot. When people see you trying to be funny, it frees them to try it themselves.

People need permission to be funny in social or business settings because there’s always a risk that comes with humor. You will do people a big favor when you remove some of that risk by going first.

Humor traps:

  • Overcomplaining is never funny
  • Don’t overdo the self-deprecation
  • Don’t mock people
  • Avoid puns and wordplay


The details of affirmations probably don’t matter much because the process is about improving your focus, not summoning magic.

Timing is luck too

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 to keep yanking until you get lucky. In that environment, you can fail 99 percent of the time, while knowing success is guaranteed. All you need to do is stay in the game long enough.


If your gut feeling (intuition) disagrees with the experts, take that seriously. You might be experiencing some pattern recognition that you can’t yet verbalize.

Association programming

Simply find the people who most represent what you would like to become and spend as much time with them as you can without trespassing, kidnapping, or stalking. Their good habits and good energy will rub off on you.


For starters, the single biggest trick for manipulating your happiness chemistry is being able to do what you want, when you want.

Step one in your search for happiness is to continually work toward having control of your schedule.

That brings me to the next important mechanism for happiness. Happiness has more to do with where you’re heading than where you are. We tend to feel happy when things are moving in the right direction and unhappy when things are trending bad. The directional nature of happiness is one reason it’s a good idea to have a sport or hobby that leave you plenty of room to improve every year.

The next element of happiness you need to master is imagination. Pessimism is often a failure of imagination. If you can imagine the future being brighter, it lifts your energy and gooses the chemistry in your body that produces a sensation of happiness. If you can’t even imagine an improved future, you won’t be happy no matter how well your life is going right now.

The next important thing to remember about happiness is that it’s not a mystery of the mind and it’s not magic. Happiness is the natural state for most people whenever they feel healthy, have flexible schedules, and expect the future to be good.

The primary culprit in your bad moods is a deficit in one of the big five:

  • Flexible schedule
  • Imagination
  • Sleep
  • Diet
  • Exercise


People become unhappy if they have too many options in life. The problem with options is that choosing any path can leave you plagued with self-doubt. You quite rationally think that one of the paths not chosen might have worked out better. That can eat at you. Choosing among attractive alternatives can also be exhausting. You want to feel as if you researched and considered all of your options. That’s why I find great comfort in routine.

Recapping the happiness formula:

  • Eat right
  • Exercise
  • 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


I can change my food preferences by thinking of my body as a programmable robot as opposed to a fleshy bag full of magic.

The way you probably looked at food was in terms of good versus bad, or fattening versus low calories, or maybe carbs versus protein, or some combination of the above. All of those ways of looking at food have power to help you steer away from bad diet choices. The problem with the common view of food is that it will always make you feel as if you were in a battle with yourself. You crave bad foods because they are so darned tasty. You struggle to resist.

What you need is a diet system that doesn’t rely on willpower. And that means reprogramming your food preferences so willpower is less necessary.

Imagine you’re an engineer who is trying to find the user interface for your moist robot body so you can make some useful adjustments. It’s as if you had one menu choice labeled “Make Sleepy” and another labeled “Energize.” You can choose “Make Sleepy” simply by eating simple carbs.

How to know what to eat

It is impossible to know with any precision what you should be eating and how often you should eat it. Nutrition science is shockingly incomplete. At best, you can avoid the obvious diet mistakes.

But where science gives us uncertainty, sometimes you can creep up on the truth by personal observation and pattern recognition. If you know anyone who maintains an ideal adult weight without the services of a personal chef or a personal trainer, wouldn’t you like to know how? Ask anyone who has a healthy weight what he or she eats, then be on the lookout for the pattern.

Scott Adams’s weekly diet:

  • Bananas
  • Protein bars
  • Peanuts
  • Mixed nuts
  • Cheese
  • Whole wheat pasta
  • Edamame (soybeans)
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Fish
  • Lettuce
  • Tomatoes
  • Apples
  • Pears
  • Carrots
  • Radishes
  • Cucumbers
  • Quinoa
  • Brown rice
  • Berries

I’ve learned to use my own laziness in a positive way. I’ll always eat what is most convenient during the day, and if the only easy options are healthy, laziness takes me in the best direction. Laziness can be a powerful tool.

Know why you’re eating

The next time you have one of those days when you can’t eat enough to satisfy your hunger, ask yourself how much sleep you got the night before. You’ll be surprised at how often a bad night of sleep leads to nonstop eating.

When tiredness sparks your hunger but you’ve had all the calories you need for a while, try eating peanuts or mixed nuts to suppress your appetite. Cheese also works, at least for that specific purpose. The fat in those foods acts as an appetite satisfier.


A few sips into it, I was happier to be working than I would have been doing whatever lazy thing was my alternative. Coffee literally makes me enjoy work. No willpower needed.

Coffee also allows you to manage your energy levels so you have the most when you need it. My experience is that coffee drinkers have higher highs and lower lows, energywise, than non-coffee drinkers, but that trade-off works. I can guarantee that my best thinking goes into my job, while saving my dull-brain hours for household chores and other simple tasks.

Pleasure unit hypothesis

The happier you are in one area of your life, the less effort you’ll put into searching for happiness elsewhere. And that can translate into caring less about the taste quality of your meal.

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.

The healthy eating summary

The simple, no-willpower diet system


  1. Pay attention to your energy level after eating certain foods. Find your pattern.
  2. Remove unhealthy, energy-draining food from your home.
  3. Stock up on convenient healthy food (e.g. apples, nuts, bananas) and let laziness be your copilot in eating right.
  4. Stop eating foods that create feelings of addiction: white rice, white potatoes, desserts, white bread, fried foods.
  5. Eat as much healthy food as you want, whenever you want.
  6. Get enough sleep, because tiredness creates the illusion of hunger.
  7. If your hunger is caused by tiredness, try healthy foods with fat, such as nuts, avocados, protein bars, and cheese, to suppress the hungry feeling
  8. If you’re eating for social reasons only, choose the healthiest options with low calories
  9. Learn how to season your healthy-yet-bland foods

The surest way to identify those who won’t succeed at weight loss is that they tend to say things like “My goal is to lose ten pounds.” Weight targets often work in the short run. But if you need willpower to keep the weight off, you’re doomed in the long run. The only way to succeed in the long run is by using a system that bypasses your need for willpower.


I have condensed the entire field of fitness advice into one sentence: Be active every day.

Simplification is often the difference between doing something you know you should do and putting it off.

If you get one simple thing right – being active every day – all of the other elements of fitness will come together naturally without the need to use up your limited supply of willpower.

In the long run, any system that depends on your willpower will fail. Or worse, some other part of your life will suffer as you focus your limited stockpile of willpower on fitness.

The key is to have a predictable system. The method that never succeeds is exercising whenever you have some spare time. If you’re like most adults, you haven’t seen spare time in years.

If you want to make a habit of something, the worst thing you can do is pick and choose which days of the week you do it and which ones you don’t. Exercise becomes a habit when you do it every day without fail. Taking rest days between exercise days breaks up the pattern that creates habits. It also makes it too easy to say today is one of your nonexercise days, and maybe tomorrow too.

I find it important to reward myself after exercise with a healthy snack that I enjoy, some downtime that involves reading interesting articles on my phone, or a nice cup of coffee. By putting those pleasures at the immediate end of my exercise, I develop a strong association between the exercise and the good feelings. It forms a habit.

Here’s what I do when I know I should exercise but I feel too tired and droopy to imagine doing a vigorous workout. Instead of doing what I feel I can’t do, I do what I can do – which is put on my exercise clothes and lace my sneakers. Central to my method is that I grant myself 100 percent permission to not exercise, even after getting suited up for it.

There’s one more step, and this too requires granting myself permission to back out at any time. I drive to my local gym, walk in, look around, and see how I feel.

Failure is for people who have goals. If my goal is to exercise, leaving the gym without breaking a sweat looks and feels like a failure. But what I have is not a goal; it is a system. And the system allows leakage. It is designed that way. As I drive home from the gym, a seemingly wasted trip, I never feel defeated. Instead, I feel I am using a system that I know works overall. I win if I exercise, and I win (albeit less) if I use my system and decide not to. Either way, my attitude improves. And at least I get out of the house and clear my head. It’s all good.

Don’t be concerned about how much or how little you exercised on a given day. All that matters in the long run is that you made exercise a daily habit.

A final note about affirmations

Whether you are a born optimist or you become one through affirmations, prayer, or positive thinking, you end up with several advantages that make it easier for luck to find you. Optimists notice more opportunities, have more energy because of their imagined future successes, and take more risks. Optimists make themselves an easy target for luck to find them.

Doing affirmations is a system that helps you focus, boosts your optimism and energy, and perhaps validates the talent and drive that your subconscious always knew you had. If you plan to try affirmations, I recommend keeping your objectives broad enough to allow some luck. It’s probably better to affirm future wealth than to try to win a specific lottery.


Avoid career traps such as pursuing jobs that require you to sell your limited supply of time while preparing you for nothing better.

Develop a habit of simplifying.

Think of yourself as moist robots and not skin bags full of magic and mystery. If you control the inputs, you can determine the outcomes, give or take some luck. Eat right, exercise, think positively, learn as much as possible, and stay out of jail, and good things can happen.

Understand that goals are for losers and systems are for winners.

People who seem to have good luck are often the people who have a system that allows luck to find them.

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. That’s a system.

Read more about it: How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life