How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big

I’ve performed that trick nearly nine thousand times, sometimes successfully.

If you’re already as successful as you want to be, both personally and professionally, all you are likely to get from this book is a semientertaining tale about a guy who failed his way to success. But you might also notice some familiar patterns in my story that will give you confirmation (or confirmation bias) that your own success wasn’t entirely luck. That’s the sort of validation you can’t get from your family and friends who see you as a hot mess.

If I do my job well, I won’t need any credibility to pull this off. In chapters in which I refer to studies, I’ll show my sources. I’ll be like a race-car driver drafting off the credibility of people who earned it.

Most people think they have perfectly good bullshit detectors. But if that were the case, trial juries would always be unanimous, and we’d all have the same religious beliefs.

Realistically, most people have poor filters for sorting truth from fiction, and there’s no objective way to know if you’re particularly good at it or not. Consider the people who routinely disagree with you. See how confident they look while being dead wrong? That’s exactly how you look to them.

In our messy, flawed lives, the nearest we can get to truth is consistency.

In your everyday, nonscientist 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.

Many of you have a smart friend or two already, and you are lucky to have them. But my observation is that a startling percentage of the adult population literally has no smart friends to help them in their quest for success and happiness.

I declined the Valium because I didn’t feel crazy. I didn’t even feel all that stressed, or at least I didn’t feel that way until a doctor and a psychologist agreed that I was probably losing my mind.

Like a stutterer, I learned to avoid problem syllables that would trip me up. If I wanted gum, I knew it would come out as “… um,” so instead I would try a work-around, such as “I want the stuff you chew.” That approach generally failed. People don’t expect riddles in their casual conversations, and no matter how clearly I laid out the clues, all I got in return was a puzzled expression and “Huh?”

Research shows that loneliness damages the body in much the same way as aging.

At this point in my story, you might have the following question: What kind of idiot puts himself in a position to be humiliated in front of a thousand people? It’s a fair question. The answer is a long one. It will take this entire book to answer it right. The short answer is that over the years I have cultivated a unique relationship with failure. I invite it. I survive it. I appreciate it. And then I mug the shit out of it.

My boss, who had been a commercial lender for over thirty years, said the best loan customer is one who has no passion whatsoever, just a desire to work hard at something that looks good on a spreadsheet.

successful passionate people are writing books and answering interview questions about their secrets for success every day. Naturally those successful people want you to believe that success is a product of their awesomeness, but they also want to retain some humility. You can’t be humble and say, “I succeeded because I am far smarter than the average person.”

But you can say your passion was a key to your success, because everyone can be passionate about something or other. Passion sounds more accessible. If you’re dumb, there’s not much you can do about it, but passion is something we think anyone can generate in the right circumstances. Passion feels very democratic. It is the people’s talent, available to all.

Energy is good. Passion is bullshit.

If success were easy, everyone would do it.

If I find a cow turd on my front steps, I’m not satisfied knowing that I’ll be mentally prepared to find some future cow turd. I want to shovel that turd onto my garden and hope the cow returns every week so I never have to buy fertilizer again.

Good ideas have no value because the world already has too many of them. The market rewards execution, not ideas.

From that point on, I concentrated on ideas I could execute.

The company I worked with was premature because Internet speeds were not quite fast enough for online video sharing to catch on. The company struggled for a few years and then shut down. YouTube got the timing right. This was about the time I started to understand that timing is often the biggest component of success. And since timing is often hard to get right unless you are psychic, it makes sense to try different things until you get the timing right by luck.

I believe the way he explained it is that your job is not your job; your job is to find a better job.

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.

I’m not good at any sort of task that has to be done right the first time. I’m more of a do-it-wrong-then-fix-it personality.

I figured I had two ways to leave my job. I could get fired or—and here’s the optimist emerging—I could get promoted. I wrote a letter to the senior vice president for the branch system, who was probably seven or eight layers of management above me, and described all of my naive suggestions for improving the bank. My ideas had one thing in common: They were impractical for reasons a twenty-one-year-old wouldn’t yet appreciate. I closed my letter by asking for a rare and coveted spot in the management training program, a fast track to upper management.

The local phone company, Pacific Bell, unwisely offered me a job, and I accepted.

It’s a bad idea to be a jerk to someone who might be your boss in five years.

On day two, my boss’s boss called and asked what the problem was. I explained the situation and he listened. He was an engineer by training, and he couldn’t find a flaw in my reasoning. I was applying the company policy exactly as it was intended. He wasn’t a smoker, so I think he saw the point. I thanked him for listening and said I would check back periodically to see if the workplace was safe for me to return. I was professional and upbeat about it, in part because I thought it was funnier that way.

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. It sounds trivial and obvious, but if you unpack the idea it has extraordinary power.

That price might be sacrificing your personal life to get good grades in school, pursuing a college major that is deadly boring but lucrative, putting off having kids, missing time with your family, or taking business risks that put you in jeopardy for embarrassment, divorce, or bankruptcy.

Successful people don’t wish for success; they decide to pursue it.

Influence works best when the person being influenced has no objection to the suggested change. Often all one needs is some form of permission to initiate a change, and it doesn’t always matter what form the permission is in, or if it even makes sense.

One of the more interesting surprises for me when I started making more money than I would ever spend is that it automatically changed my priorities. I could afford any car I wanted, but suddenly I didn’t care so much about my possessions beyond the utility they provided.

We humans want many things: good health, financial freedom, accomplishment, a great social life, love, sex, recreation, travel, family, career, and more. The problem with all of this wanting is that the time you spend chasing one of those desires is time you can’t spend chasing any of the others.

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.

When I talk about increasing your personal energy, I don’t mean the frenetic, caffeine-fueled, bounce-off-the-walls type of energy. I’m talking about a calm, focused energy. To others it will simply appear that you are in a good mood. And you will be.

This book is another example of something that gets my energy up. I like to think that someone might read this collection of ideas and find a few thoughts that help. That possibility is tremendously motivating for me.

The paradox of capitalism is that adding a bunch of bad-sounding ideas together creates something incredible that is far more good than bad.

Matching Mental State to Activity 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 midafternoon is a waste of time.

Most people aren’t lucky enough to have a flexible schedule. I didn’t have one either for the first sixteen years of my corporate life. So I did the next best thing by going to bed early and getting up at 4:00 A.M. to do my creative side projects.

You might not think 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.

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.

But it’s a good idea to have an overarching plan to move toward simple systems as opportunities allow. You can chip away at the complexity of your life over time. Simplicity is a worthy long-term goal.

Sleep experts will tell you that the worst place to watch television is in bed. If you do it often enough, you won’t be able to fall asleep without watching television first.

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.

Cleaning and organizing your space is boring work, and you might never see it as a priority. One trick I’ve learned is that I automatically generate enthusiasm about tidying up if I know someone is stopping by. That’s why it’s a good idea to invite people over on a regular basis.

And so it has been with about 90 percent of the topics that have intimidated me throughout my career. When you start asking questions, you often discover that there’s a simple solution, a Web site that handles it, or a professional who takes care of it for a reasonable fee.

Keep in mind that every time you wonder how to do something, a few hundred million people have probably wondered the same thing.

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.

Right choices can be challenging, but they usually charge you up. When you’re on the right path, it feels right, literally.

Your attitude affects everything you do in your quest for success and happiness. A positive attitude is an important tool. It’s important to get it right. The best way to manage your attitude is by understanding your basic nature as a moist robot that can be programmed for happiness if you understand the user interface.

Exercise, food, and sleep should be your first buttons to push if you’re trying to elevate your attitude and raise your energy.

try daydreaming of wonderful things in your future. Don’t worry that your daydreams are unlikely to come true. The power of daydreaming is similar to the power of well-made movies that can make you cry or make you laugh. Your body and your mind will respond automatically to whatever images you spend the most time pondering.

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

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.

Don’t worry if your idea is a long shot. That’s not what matters right now. Today you want to daydream of your idea being a huge success so you can enjoy the feeling. Let your ideas for the future fuel your energy today. No matter what you want to do in life, higher energy will help you get there.

Another benefit of having a big, world-changing project is that you almost always end up learning something valuable in the process of failing. And fail you will, most of the time, so long as you are dreaming big.

Let’s say you wake up tomorrow full of energy for your exciting new project. Over the course of the day you learn a few things in the process of doing your research, and you meet some new people along the way. If you accomplish that and nothing more, you’re succeeding, no matter what happens with your project.

Understanding this two-way causation is highly useful for boosting your personal energy. To take advantage of it, I find it useful to imagine my mind as a conversation between two individuals. It feels that way because I think in sentences, as if talking to another entity that is also me. One of me tends to be rational and reasonable, while the other me is a bit more emotional and instinctual. When the rational me wants to perk up the emotional me—the part of me that controls my energy—the rational me has to act as a programmer and push the right buttons.

I’ve come to believe that success at anything has a spillover effect on other things. You can take advantage of that effect by becoming good at things that require nothing but practice.

The same was true for Scrabble, Ping-Pong, and tennis. I’m better than 99 percent of the world* in each of those games because I put in more practice time than 99 percent of the world. There’s no magic to it.

When my dog, Snickers, wants to play fetch in the backyard, she follows me around and stares into my eyes with freakish intensity, as if using her Jedi doggy powers on me. More often than not, it works. I know what she wants and I take a break from work to accommodate her. The interesting thing is that I’m not sure she understands that it’s my choice whether I go play with her or not. Her mental control of me works so reliably that I’m certain she thinks all that matters is how hard she stares at me and how vividly she imagines† herself chasing a tennis ball.

Athletes are known to stop shaving for the duration of a tournament or to wear socks they deem lucky. These superstitions probably help in some small way to bolster their confidence, which in turn can influence success. It’s irrelevant that lucky socks aren’t a real thing. The socks can still improve an athlete’s performance, even if the wearer has a flawed idea of why.

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.

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.

By reading this book you’ve established yourself as a seeker of knowledge. Seekers obviously find more stuff than the people who sit and wait.

My optimism is like an old cat that likes to disappear for days, but I always expect it to return. And frankly, cumulatively the events in my life up to that point gave me a sensation of being exempt from the normal laws of chance, and that is probably the source of my optimism. If you need a more scientific-sounding explanation, perhaps I’m just bad at estimating the odds of things, or perhaps I have selective memory and forget the things that don’t work out. No

All of this was possible because I had access to a smart friend who told me how to find the simple entry point into the speaking circuit. All I needed to do was overprice myself and see what happened.

It’s a cliché that who you know is helpful for 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 one of those.

“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.”

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.

most successful people had to chew through a wall at some point. Overcoming obstacles is normally an unavoidable part of the process. But you also need to know when to quit. Persistence is useful, but there’s no point in being an idiot about it.

The pattern I noticed was this: 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. Small successes can grow into big ones, but failures rarely grow into successes.

In each of these examples, the quality of the early products was a poor predictor of success. The predictor is that customers were clamoring for the bad versions of the product before the good versions were even invented. It’s as if a future success left bread crumbs that were visible in the present.

Compared with today’s episodes, the first season of The Simpsons was an awful product. Again, the quality didn’t predict success. The better predictor is that The Simpsons was an immediate hit despite its surface quality.

One of the best ways to detect the x factor is to watch what customers do about your idea or product, not what they say. People tend to say what they think you want to hear or what they think will cause the least pain. What people do is far more honest.

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.

There’s no denying the importance of practice. The hard part is figuring out what to practice. When I was a kid I spent countless bored hours in my bedroom on winter nights trying to spin a basketball on one finger. Eventually I mastered that skill, only to learn later that it has no economic value.

If we can’t count on schools to teach kids the systems of success, how will people learn those important skills? The children of successful people probably learn by observation and parental coaching. But most people are not born to highly successful parents. The average kid spends almost no time around highly successful people, and certainly not during the workday, when those successful people are applying their methods. The young are intentionally insulated from the adult world of work.

When writing a résumé, a handy trick you’ll learn from experts is to ask yourself if there are any words in your first draft that you would be willing to remove for one hundred dollars each. Here’s the simple formula: Each Unnecessary Word = $100 When you apply the formula to your résumé, you surprise yourself by how well the formula helps you prune your writing to its most essential form.

I’m a perfect example of the power of leveraging multiple mediocre skills. I’m a rich and famous cartoonist who doesn’t draw well.

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.

During my corporate career I finished my MBA classes in the evening while working full time. I was a learning machine. If I thought something might someday be useful, I tried to grasp at least the basics.

If I had suggested starting every morning by reading the hard news in the Wall Street Journal, it would feel daunting for many people, and it’s unlikely you would follow through. A smarter approach is to think of learning as a system in which you continually expose yourself to new topics, primarily the ones you find interesting.

My one caution about reading the news every day is that it can be a huge downer if you pick the wrong topics. Personally, I try to avoid stories involving tragic events and concentrate on the more hopeful topics in science, technology, and business.

I prefer stories about breakthroughs in green technology, even knowing that 99 percent of those stories are pure bullshit. I don’t read the news to find truth, as that would be a foolish waste of time.

I read the news to broaden my exposure to new topics and patterns that make my brain more efficient in general and to enjoy myself, because learning interesting things increases my energy and makes me feel optimistic. Don’t think of the news as information. Think of it as a source of energy.

In time I learned to avoid the low-percentage tennis shots more often and I won our matches about half the time, exactly as our shot-making skills would predict. So how does any of this help you?

The idea I’m promoting here is that it helps to see the world as math and not magic. It would have been easy for me to assume my tennis losing streak was due to my lacking the will to win.

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.

I made a list of the skills in which I think every adult should gain a working knowledge.

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

I’ll always remember his words. He said, “Wow. That was brave.” My brain spun in my head. Twenty-some students had been thinking this woman had just crashed and burned in the most dramatically humiliating way. She had clearly thought the same thing. In four words, the instructor had completely reinterpreted the situation. Every one of us knew the instructor was right. We had just witnessed an extraordinary act of personal bravery, the likes of which one rarely sees. That was the takeaway. Period.

Adults are starved for a kind word. When you understand the power of honest praise (as opposed to bullshitting, flattery, and sucking up), you realize that withholding it borders on immoral.

If you see something that impresses you, a decent respect to humanity insists you voice your praise.

a real-estate salesperson might show you the worst house first, knowing it will make you appreciate the better home you see later, and it might make you reach deeper in your pockets.

When I look at the list of my personal failures and successes, one of the things that stand out is psychology. When I got the psychology right, either by accident or by cleverness, things worked out better. When I was blind to the psychology, things went badly.

What I didn’t count on—my blind spot—was that my new comic would be compared with Dilbert, not with other new comics. Compared with Dilbert, it was flat and lacked an edge. Compared with all of the new comics that launched that same year from unknown cartoonists, it was fairly competitive.

If I were to disguise my identity and launch a new workplace comic tomorrow, with all new characters, readers would compare it with Dilbert and it wouldn’t stand a chance.

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

Success in anything usually means doing more of what works and less of what doesn’t,

My experience with hypnosis completely changed the way I view people and how I interpret the choices they make. 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 decisions 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.

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.

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.

Your reasoning can prevent you from voting for a total imbecile, but it won’t stop you from supporting a half-wit with a great haircut.

But I do think a working knowledge of psychology is essential to your success—both personally and professionally. Consider it a lifelong learning process. You’ll be glad you did. Over time it starts to feel like a superpower that allows you to understand things that confuse and confound those around you.

I intentionally embedded some noise. Did you catch it? The sentence that starts 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.

Eventually I learned that the so-called persuasive writers were doing little more than using ordinary business-writing methods. Clean writing makes a writer seem smarter and it makes the writer’s arguments more persuasive.

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.

If you’re like me, you were born with no design skills whatsoever. I was amazed to learn, well into my adult years, that design is actually rules based. One need not have an “eye” for design; knowing the rules is good enough for civilians.

For example, landscape designers will tell you that it’s better to put three of the same kind of bush in your yard, not two and not four. Odd numbers just look better in that context. You don’t need an eye for design to count to three, and you get the same result as the expert, at least in that limited example.

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

The secret to making the list of six questions work without seeming awkward is in understanding that the person you meet will feel every bit as awkward as you. That person wants to talk about something interesting and to sound knowledgeable. Your job is to make that easy.

If you’re physically attractive, it probably isn’t a good idea to talk too much. People are predisposed to liking attractive people. Talking can only make things worse.

If you’re unattractive—and this is my area of expertise—your conversation skills will be especially important. It might be all you have to sell yourself unless you’re accomplished in some world-class way. You’ll need to take your conversation skills up a notch. And that means becoming the master of short but interesting stories.

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 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. For example, if I know I’ll be seeing friends in a few days, I make a special note to myself to turn my recent experiences into story form because I know I’ll have a reason to bust one out.

The most important key to good storytelling is preparation. You don’t want to figure out your story as you tell it. If something story-worthy happens to you, spend some time developing the story structure in your head—a structure I will explain in a minute—and practice telling the story in your head until you have it down.

There’s only one important rule for a story setup: Keep it brief. And I mean really brief, as in “So, I took my car in for a brake job …” That’s it. Don’t tell us the problem with the brakes.

Establish a pattern that your story will violate. For example, you could say, “Whenever I take my car for any kind of service, I’m always amazed how expensive it is.” That establishes the pattern. Now we know that what follows will be a violation of the pattern. And we call that hint of things to come

if you are talking to strangers or talking about unfamiliar others, fill in the story with some character traits that will be relevant. For example, “Our friend Bob has been borrowing our power tools for years because he’s too cheap to buy his own.” That sort of brief character profile is essential to any story that involves people. All good stories are about personalities.

There is one topic that people care more about than any other: themselves. Pick story topics that your listeners will relate to.

I credit one of my college friends with teaching me the secret of overcoming shyness by imagining you are acting instead of interacting. And by that I mean literally acting.

When I fake my way past my natural shyness, I like to imagine a specific confident person I know well. I do my bad impression of that person and it comes off much better than my default routine of breaking into a sweat, laughing too hard at my own jokes, and excusing myself to go sit in a corner and perspire.

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. They get bored in a second when the conversation turns to things. Once you know whether you are dealing with a thing person or a people person, you can craft your conversation to his or her sweet spot. It makes a big difference in how people react to you, and that in turn will make you more confident and less shy.

People who appear outgoing are usually employing a learned social skill that you think is somehow natural. It probably isn’t, at least not entirely. Outgoing people usually come from families with at least one outgoing parent. They observe and imitate. Being outgoing is partly genetic, but you still need to know what to say when. That part is learned.

I also recommend exercising your ego the way you’d exercise any other muscle. Try putting yourself in situations that will surely embarrass you if things go wrong, or maybe even if they don’t.

If any of this chapter sounds painfully obvious, keep in mind that lots of different folks will read a book like this. And I remember my own galactic ignorance as a young man. It’s surprising how uncommon common sense is.

A good starting point in learning the art of persuasion is to go to your preferred online bookstore and search for “persuasion.” You’ll see a number of books on the topic. Keep reading those books until they seem to be repeating the same tricks. You’ll be amazed how deep the topic of persuasion is. And you’ll use what you’ve learned in just about every business or personal interaction you have for the rest of your life. Being a good persuader is like having a magic power.

I’ve found that any question beginning with “Would you mind …” tends to be well received. My best guess is that asking a person if he minds is signaling that you have a reasonable request that might be inconvenient. It’s hard to be a jerk and say no to any request that starts with “Would you mind.”

I’ve found that the most effective way to stop people from trying to persuade me is to say, “I’m not interested.” You should try it. Don’t offer a reason why you aren’t interested. No one can say why a thing holds interest for some and not for others. There’s no argument against a lack of interest.

Another good persuasion sentence is “I don’t do that.” It’s not a reason and barely tries to be. But it sounds like a hard-and-fast rule. If someone asks you to attend the annual asparagus festival, don’t say it doesn’t sound fun; that’s just begging the asparagus lovers in your group to endlessly describe just how joyous it could be if only you would try it. Instead, say something like “I don’t do food festivals.” And if anyone asks why, say, “I’m just not interested.” Some of these persuasive sentences work well in tandem.

If you phrase your clarification question correctly, it will shine an indirect light on the problem and provide a face-saving escape path. In many cases the clarification you receive will actually be an entirely new and more rational plan. No one likes to be proven wrong, but most people will be happy to “clarify,” even if the clarification is a complete reversal of an earlier position. It just feels different when you call something a clarification.

Thank-you notes sent by snail mail are always appreciated and still a must for the bigger occasions. But a well-written e-mail is now socially acceptable for most common situations. No matter how you deliver a thank-you, make sure it includes a little detail of what makes you thankful. Was it the surprise, the thoughtfulness, or how helpful the favor or gift was? Be specific.

Any thank-you is better than none, but you’re missing an opportunity if you do a poor job of it. It’s the sort of thing people remember when they decide whom they want to work with, pick for a team, or invite to a party. It seems like a small thing, but it isn’t.

Research shows that people will automatically label you a friend if you share a secret.3 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.

The right approach to sharing a secret is to start small. Make sure the small secrets stay secret before you try anything riskier. One way to judge your risk is to be alert for other people’s secrets that are being relayed to you. Someone who is bad at keeping one kind of secret is probably bad at keeping all secrets. You won’t be exempt.

Anyone who is confident in the face of great complexity is insane. However, some people act much more decisively than others. And that can be both persuasive and useful. Decisiveness looks like leadership.

most normal people are at least a little bit uncertain when facing unfamiliar and complicated situations. 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.

You’ll do everyone in your life a favor by acting decisively, though, even if you have doubts on the inside.

Crazy + confident probably kills more people than any other combination of personality traits, but when it works just right, it’s a recipe for extraordinary persuasion. Cults are a good example of insanity being viewed as leadership.

Suppose you’re not insane. Can insanity help you? The answer is yes, but you want to use a calculated, emotional type of insanity. In any kind of negotiation, the worst thing you can do is act reasonable. Reasonable people generally cave in to 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.

It’s one thing to speak your mind and voice your preferences, but you hope that other people agree with you because of the thundering rightness of your arguments. Sadly, we do not live in a world where good arguments always win.

you have a moral obligation to be manipulative if you know it will create a good result for all involved. For example, manipulating coworkers to do better work is usually good for everyone.

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.

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.

Studies show a commanding voice is highly correlated with success. Other studies suggest that both men and women with attractive voices find partners more quickly than those with less attractive voices.

Throughout my corporate years I used a serious-sounding tone of voice whenever I was in “professional” mode. I was literally acting, but it didn’t feel disingenuous because the business world is a lot like theater. Everyone tries to get into character for the job they

I also noticed during my corporate years that women who had never met me in person flirted like crazy on the phone whenever I used my fake professional voice. I assume the same voice qualities that indicate potential for leadership also influence potential mates.7

Another common speaking trick is to hum the first part of the “Happy Birthday” song and then speak in your normal voice right after. You’ll notice your posthumming voice is strangely smooth and perfect.

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

Do you know what the unemployment rate is for engineers? It is nearly zero.

In two of my other books I talk a bit about my formula for writing humor, so I won’t repeat that here. If you’re interested in creating written humor, check out The Joy of Work, Dilbert 2.0, and Stick to Drawing Comics, Monkey Brain! In those books I talk about the tricks and mechanics of writing humor.

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. For in-person humor, quality isn’t as important as you might think. Your attitude and effort count for a lot.

One of the most reliable, albeit sexist, generalizations I’ve noticed over the years is that women tend to laugh at stories involving bad things happening to people, such as an attractive girl taking a face-plant into a mud puddle on the way to the prom. Guys like that sort of humor too, but my observation is that men are far more likely to enjoy traditional jokelike stories that are more engineered than organic.

The second interesting point is that Jim’s story saves the “bad part” for your imagination. His second day of cleansing will obviously be unpleasant, but the joke ends with the simple knowledge that unpleasant times are ahead. In general, you want your punch line to inspire listeners to complete the story—including the bad part—in their own minds.

It wasn’t a complete accident that luck found me; I put myself in a position where luck was more likely to happen. I was like a hunter who picks his forest location intelligently and waits in his blind for a buck to stroll by. The hunter still has to be lucky, but he manages his situation to increase his odds.

In the eighties, Dilbert would have been nothing but another nerd comic. In the nineties, Dilbert symbolized the type of technology geniuses who were transforming life on planet Earth. Dilbert was unexpectedly and ironically “sexy.”

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

As I write this chapter, I’m sitting in a comfortable chair with my trusty dog, Snickers, while enjoying a warm cup of coffee. I just came from a good workout, so I’m feeling relaxed and in the mood to write. By any definition, what I’m doing is work, but because I can control the timing of it on this particular day, it doesn’t feel like work. I’ve transformed work into pleasure simply by having control over when I do it.

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.

It’s never a good idea to take advice from cartoonists, and that’s a hundred times more important if the topic is health related. I don’t know how many people have died from following the health advice of cartoonists, but the number probably isn’t zero.

I’m sure you’ve had similar experiences in which bland or even bad food tastes great when you’re hungry. Your taste preferences are more like a suggestion from your brain than a result of hardwiring.

Healthy food has a bad reputation with most normal eaters because we associate healthy food with the worst tastes and textures in the category. If healthy food makes you think of tofu, rice cakes, and anything that tastes like soap, you’re probably not too keen to develop a craving for healthy eating. Think instead of delicious salted nuts, a buttery ear of corn, or a banana, and you’re closer to the mark.

The best way to test the food-is-mood connection is to enjoy a hearty lunch at a Mexican restaurant—a virtual paradise of carbs—and monitor how you feel in a few hours. Check your energy level at about 2:00 P.M. Do you feel that you would prefer exercising or napping? I’ll tell you the answer in advance: You’ll want the nap.

For the sake of comparison, experiment for a few days by skipping bread, potatoes, white rice, and other simple carbs. Eat fruits, veggies, nuts, salad, fish, or chicken. Now see how you feel a few hours after eating. I’ll bet the idea of exercising will sound more appealing after eating those types of foods compared with the day of your Mexican-food experiment.

If for several months you give yourself permission to eat as much as you want of the foods that don’t include addictive simple carbs, you’ll discover several things. For starters, you’ll have more energy without the simple carbs. And that will translate into keeping you more active, which in turn burns calories.

I learned a lot about vitamins and minerals. The main thing I learned is that nutrition presents itself as science but is perhaps 60 percent bullshit, guessing, bad assumptions, and marketing.

Here’s a fairly complete list of the foods that are the foundation of my weekly diet. I can eat as much as I want of the foods on this list, which I quite enjoy, and I won’t gain a pound as long as I stay active. 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 also prepare pasta and keep it in the refrigerator, along with veggies steamed in the microwave. When I want something warm and filling, I just mix the veggies and pasta, add some butter, microwave the dish for two minutes, and add pepper and Parmesan cheese. 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.

your brain triggers the hunger sensation and hunger hormones like leptin and ghrelin when you don’t get enough sleep.6 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.

The first rule of eating right is avoiding foods that feel like punishment. No one gives out medals for choking down a big bowl of boredom. If eating a healthy diet feels unpleasant, you’re doing it wrong.

As a public service, I’ve listed below the condiments, seasonings, and ingredients that can add flavor to most foods that would be otherwise bland.

Vegetarian Flavors Soy sauce Cilantro Lemon Salt Pepper Butter (or butter substitute) Garlic Onion Curry Cheese Tomato sauce Salsa Vegetable broth Honey Salad dressings Balsamic vinegar Black-bean sauce Hot sauce

Fitness is a simple thing made absurdly complicated by market forces. If you want to make money as a fitness expert or by selling fitness products, you have to make a novel claim about the value of your product or service. Each new idea is layered on to the old ideas until the entire field is so complicated it becomes intimidating.

How often should you work out? What should you eat before and after working out, and should you have a different diet for cardio workouts versus lifting weights? How much should you customize your workouts for your age, gender, and condition? Will this abdominal exercise hurt your back or help it? How much rest should you get between days of weight lifting? Is long-distance running enough of a benefit to your overall health to justify the pounding on your knees? The questions and complexity are literally endless.

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. (You might call them tennis shoes or running shoes where you live.) Central to my method is that I grant myself 100 percent permission to not exercise, even after getting suited up for it. This is important because I know I won’t take the first step of donning my exercise clothes if I feel it will commit me to something that just seems impossible in my current frame of mind.

This book has just become part of your experience. If I did my job right, some parts of it will repeat in your head and be reinforced by your own observations. As with any experience, you can’t help but be changed by a book, if only a trivial amount.

Another possible reason that affirmations appear to work is that optimists tend to notice opportunities that pessimists miss.1 A person who diligently writes affirmations day after day is the very definition of an optimist, even if only by actions.

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.

The model for success I described here looks roughly like this: Focus on your diet first and get that right so you have enough energy to want to exercise. Exercise will further improve your energy, and that in turn will make you more productive, more creative, more positive, more socially desirable, and more able to handle life’s little bumps.

Once you optimize your personal energy, all you need for success is luck.

Develop a habit of simplifying. Learn how to make small talk with strangers, and learn how to avoid being an asshole. If you get that stuff right—and almost anyone can—you will be hard to stop.

And 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.