How to Fail at Everything and Still Win Big – Goals, Systems, Health, and Affirmations

Last year, Charles Ngo (if you’re not reading Dr. Ngo’s blog, then start because it’s the best online marketing blog right now) wrote a review of this book, How to Fail at Everything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams.

I bought the book and started reading it the day after New Years. I was not disappointed. It took me a while to read because I took a lot of notes. Around 20 pages of notes. So many notes. My wrist pains me.

A Side Note on Notes and Journals

I started taking notes on the non-fiction books I read because I started realizing that there is no way I’m going to remember all this shit. I read a lot of books. I’ve only started doing this in the past couple months and it’s been critical to remembering important stuff and allowing me to think through it. It’s much easier to go back and read notes than trying to thumb through an entire book to find a specific sentence or quote. I don’t like highlighting my books (yes, I still read physical books.)

I highly suggest keeping a journal, not just for the note taking. There’s a ton of value in keeping a journal. But alas, that’s for another post.

Scott Adams – A Optimist’s Take on Success

“Success is a learnable skill.”

OK, back to Scott Adams. I liked this book a lot because it’s a refreshing, funny take on the whole “success” category of self-help books. Scott Adams isn’t a genius and doesn’t have any world-class talent or anything. He’s just a regular guy that achieved a lot over time by being smart and optimistic about it.

A good chunk of his advice goes against the grain of what people think it takes to be successful. The stuff he writes about in this book can be learned by anyone, although some is a little unconventional.

Systems vs Goals

I’m not going to repeat what was already explained in Dr. Ngo’s post about systems or goals. But the lesson here is huge – Goals suck. Goals are for losers.

I’ve been a “goal-setting” person for most of my early life. That would explain some things, like why I’ve always had trouble losing weight or why I had a tendency to spread myself too thin chasing the next shiny goal in my life.

Unknowingly, over the past several years I’ve become more of a “systems” person. As I learned more about habits and making them stick, I was essentially creating systems to make my life easier so I could have more energy for stuff that mattered. When it comes down to it, habits are systems, and systems are habits.

For example, creating a morning ritual and doing meditation are two things I started doing that don’t have end goals, yet provide benefits like time-savings and peace of mind, respectively. They’re systems, or habits, that make my life easier because I don’t have to think about them (except for the first 30 days, where effort is required to create a habit – but that’s for another post.)

It wasn’t until I read “How to Fail” that there was a clear-cut difference. The book made me realize that I still have some goal-oriented mindsets. So instead of thinking about a specific goal, I try to think up a system that can get me there over time.

From the book:

“Goal oriented people exist in a state of nearly continuous failure that they hope will be temporary. That feeling wears on you. If you achieve your goal, you celebrate and feel terrific, but only until you realize you just lost the thing that gave you purpose and direction.”

“Systems people succeed every time they apply their systems, in a sense that they do what they intended to do. The goal people are fighting the feeling of discouragement at each turn. The systems people are feeling good every time they apply their system.”

A system is something you do on a regular basis to increase your chance of happiness in the long run. The minimum requirement of a system is that a reasonable person expects it to work more often than not. A spectacular system beats passion every time. A solid system can withstand bad luck without buckling.”

Take Care of Yourself – Great Health is a Necessity

You will not perform at your best if you’re always lacking energy due to poor diet, no exercise, unnecessary stress, and a shitty sleep schedule. Good health is a baseline requirement for success.

“If you get your health in order, success will come more easily. If you get success without good health, you won’t enjoy it.”


Carbohydrates kill. While Scott Adam’s didn’t specifically call out carbohydrates, let’s be real: our carb-loving culture is why we’re fat. It’s not just about fat – it’s about energy too. Eating too many carbs fucks with your insulin levels which means your energy goes up and down like a roller coaster. Our bodies have natural ebbs and flows that are thrown out the window when we mess with our insulin.

The absolute easiest way to fix your diet is to go paleo and cut out as many processed, unnatural carbs as possible. If you want to scare yourself into fixing your diet, read Grain Brain.


It’s not that exercise instantly makes you happier (although most of the time it does), but not exercising makes you depressed. Humans were meant to move, constantly. Exercise also makes you smarter. It is scientifically proven to grow brain cells.

It doesn’t matter how you do it. A standing desk with a treadmill is perfectly fine. It’s better than nothing.

But if you want to reach peak physical fitness, get your ass in the gym. I am of the school of thought: if you’re more energetic after a workout, you’re doing it wrong. Go hard in the paint till you can’t raise your arms or lift your legs. No gym? Take up Crossfit or do the Insanity Workout.

“Fitness has an enormous financially upside. The happier you are in one aspect of your life, the less effort you need in search for happiness elsewhere.”

Not from the book, but related:

“I believe that when the body is strong, the mind thinks strong thoughts… there is no better way to fight weakness than with strength. Once the mind and body have been awakened to their true potential, it’s impossible to turn back.” – Henry Rollins

Unnecessary Stress

This one’s simple. Stop thinking in goal-oriented terms and start creating systems that will actually move you towards success. Take up meditation and quite your mind. Stop worrying.


This is probably the most unconventional advice in this book, but affirmations do work for Scott Adams and a number of other successful people I know. It’s one of the core lessons from “Think and Grow Rich,” the original self-help book published back in 1937.

Affirmations are something I’ve only begun to do, and so far, I’m 1 for 2. I started small, but my new affirmation is pretty ambitious. I won’t write it here because it’s private to me, but trust me, you’ll know if it ever comes true.

I am no where near an expert on this subject, and you can obviously change this to your liking. Whatever works for you.

How to do Affirmations

  • Statement – “I, {your full name}, {will|can|am} {be something ambitious|can do something I’ve never done before|something I want to be}.”
  • Specific or General – I prefer something in-between. I want direction, but at the same time I don’t want to lock myself into something overly specific.
  • Written or Verbal? – Personally I prefer written. This way, you can not only “see” the affirmation in writing, you “feel” it too. Others will repeat it to themselves in the mirror. Whatever works!
  • How Often? – I try to write mine 10 times in the morning and 10 times at night. I think Napoleon Hill in “Think and Grow Rich” says something like 20 times, repeated to yourself, “until you believe with all your heart it is true.”
  • Daily? Don’t Stop! – This is one thing I struggle with. When I remember to do them, shit goes better for me. Once I start seeing success with an affirmation, I tend to stop doing it. This is the wrong way because as soon as you stop, there goes the progress. If anything, do even more of the affirmation. Like anything else that might matter in your life, do it every day, without fail!

My Example: – I’ve been trying to stick to a strict paleo diet for months now. For the most part it’s great. But at night, when my rule is to stop eating after 8PM, I can derail an entire day of hard work by binge-eating at night. So I created an affirmation that worked for me while I did it.

It went something like this: “I, Barman, easily avoid brain-damaging junk food because it makes me happy and gives me energy.

Yes, I know it all seems like a bunch of wishy washy, “The Secret” type of bullshit. But I think there’s a certain, meditative quality to doing this. “The process is about improving your focus, not summing magic.

Scott Adam’s writes (I’m paraphrasing)

“Affirmations appear to have more power than one might expect from positive thinking. Optimists tend to notice more opportunities, have more energy because of imagined future success, and take more risks. Perhaps the people who deep down know that they can succeed are the only ones crazy enough to do affirmations – a message from your sub-conscience mind to your rational mind telling you that you have the right stuff even if your common sense argues otherwise.”

Essentially, “Deep and consistent focus on what you want is all that’s required.

Random Lessons

Without giving away the farm, here are a few parting lessons from the book

  • Simplicity over Optimizing – Simpler is always better because it let’s you produce more. Less is more! Complicated systems have more opportunities for failure. Simplicity adds time, our most valuable resource. Simplicity is a worthy long-term goal. That’s how you free up personal energy so you can concentrate it where you need it.
  • Knowing when to Quit – “Things that will someday work out well start out well. Things that will never work out start out bad and stay that way. Small successes can grow into big ones, but failures rarely grow into successes.
  • Pick the Delusion that Works – “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… The way I motivate myself to write a book is by imaging that I have fascinating and useful things to say that will help people. I choose to imagine this book will do well because that illusion is highly motivating. It gives me energy.”

    Free yourself from the shackles of oppressive reality!

I can’t recommend How to Fail at Everything and Still Win Big enough. I have to thank Dr. Ngo for introducing me to it.

Now go buy it and make something out of yourself!

  • Good stuff. I have this on my amazon list and I have read Charles’ summary as well.

    Also good to see the blog cleaned up as well man.

  • Tom

    Thanks for this. Great highlight reel of an awesome book.

    Adams’ blog isn’t bad either, but I really appreciate how he put everything he ever learned into this book to try to show people the path to a better life.

    It’s worth buying simply because of the many ways he explains that you don’t need to be a special person to have an absolutely extraordinary life.

  • Johnathan

    Decided to check on the blog after your post on WF. You don’t disappoint. I do the exact same thing with books but tend to re-read after application and success.

    Everybody should journal. Can’t wait for your new stuff.

  • Barman I am glad you are delivering on your promise.

    I have read a lot of the books you have suggested over the years. This seems to be one more I need to add to the list.

  • Jeremy

    Hey man, I’m glad you’re back on the I think I need this book big time, and love your idea about taking notes on this type of book.

    Maybe I’ll write about how to get fat and fail too, cuz I’m a fucking guru at that.

  • Ridvan

    Lots of great information! Amazing explaination about negative effects of working with goals. Actually most of goals are anachievible because of building goals without any action plans. This way, people write their dreams as their goals.

    I’ll read the golden book, great advice of the day. Thanks Barman!

  • hackventure

    I have the ebook but haven’t got around to reading it yet; seems like time to go get the physical version since both you and charles highly recommend it!

  • boy

    I see you have turned face from heel. Awesome and keep up the good work buddy :)

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