Scott Adams is the creator of the Dilbert comic strip and author of a number of popular books. I heard about Adams’s recent book, “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big” from a number of people, including Mike Cernovich’s website. Adams can also be found online on Twitter, Youtube, and Dilbert.com.
I read Adams’s book, “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big” with the intent of growing as both a teacher and a person. I could tell within a few pages that Adams is both hilarious and brilliant.
The early sections of the book touch on his professional and personal failures. One story of his personal failures is about the time he nearly froze to death returning because he didn’t want to wear a jacket to a job interview. He broke down on the way home from the interview in New York in the winter. He didn’t get the job either.
Adams knows how to tell a good story and the book reads like an underdog who makes it big story. Adams makes clear to the reader repeatedly his humble background and his journey to becoming a world famous cartoonist and author. You are taking through all of the failures along the way.
My attraction to books like Adams’s is that most books on teaching are stale. You’ve heard a lot of what fellow teachers have had to say about education. It’s exciting seeing fresh ideas that you can bring to your career and personal life.
What are successful people, like Adams, doing to achieve peak performance? To get so many people’s attention? How did he motivate himself to provide so many years of quality content? How did he improve his health so much?
If becoming healthier, more productive, and more entertaining to your students and family don’t interest you you won’t like this book.
I am familiar with affirmation from reading Napoleon Hill, Tony Robbins, Zig Ziglar, Brian Tracy and Earl Nightingale. Affirmations look a bit like goals or visualization. In an affirmation you type, handwrite or speak aloud something you want to happen in your life. You do this daily. Adams says there is no best format. No certain number of times. No certain time period.
You’ve been conditioned to think this is corny. The more successful people you discover use something similar to affirmations the less you believe the “experts.”
Adams talks more about why he thinks affirmations work than debating if they work. To him, there is no doubt that they do work. Or at least worked for him.
He had an affirmation about becoming rich that would have come true if not for him failing to follow through on some stock purchases. He used affirmations to date a girl he viewed as well out of his league. Still not sold on the affirmations he tried one more. His next affirmation convinced him they worked.
Adams repeated an affirmation that he would become a world famous cartoonist. That turned out pretty well.
Adams thinks that there are laws about the world that we don’t yet understand as a possible explanation. He think selective or false memories are another possibility. He does endorse the use of affirmations in the book saying they don’t cause any harm. Don’t overthink affirmations. Adams has said that the format of the affirmation isn’t important or the volume.
An affirmation looks something like this, “I, Mark Eichenlaub, will help one million teachers have more fun teaching through my website.”
“Selfishness” has a bad reputation. I wrote about “selfishness” here. Selfishness sounds ugly but can be a good thing. I don’t believe that thinking only of yourself is going to make you happy but it’s a step along the way to helping others.
If have your own needs met you are better able to help those around you.
Adams states that once his financial needs met he found great joy in financially helping others.
He further states that those who can’t meet their own needs are not only relying on others for support but lose out on the joy of being able to help others. It is an interesting topic and argument.
As a runner I am in tune with how my body feels most days. A few minutes into each run I am aware if something is “off.” I have a GPS watch that tracks my pace. I am aware of my effort in relation to it. When I am running slower than normal I get instant feedback and my diet is usually the cause for a poor run.
Adams details in the book the importance of diet in his life. He talks about maintaining a high level of energy by properly fueling his body.
He’s convinced a healthy diet is one of the most important aspects to a successful life.
It sounds simple. It is simple but it isn’t easy. As I sit here now I can see my pile of “snacks” for the day. It’s the same snacks I have eaten all week (apples, nuts, carrots, bananas). I’ve felt fantastic physically and mentally despite being woken up multiple times each night by my 2-year old son almost every night this week.
You’ve heard it plenty of times. But, it’s worth hearing again. You can control your mood and energy level through your diet.
Keep it simple. Eat fruits and vegetables. Protein bars. Nuts. Keep healthy snacks around. Plan your own meals. Track your own energy. Write down what you eat and how it makes you feel after. How is your energy level? Your mood? Keep the ones that are positive and remove the negatives. It sounds simple because it is.
What About Exercise?
Adams exercises in the middle of the day. That works for him. Unless you are planning on exercising during a break at work this isn’t an option for teachers.
I have had the most success exercising first thing in the morning. You already know all the things that come up during the day to sidetrack you. You need to decide what time works best for you to exercise and stick to it according to Adams.
Adams cites diet and exercise as two must-haves for maximum energy and happiness.
I agree with his belief. And, these are not luxury items only available to the rich and famous. They are there for you to take advantage of if you decide to. I’ve monitored my own energy levels and mood in relation to exercise and diet. It’s no contest that I feel better and have more energy if I work out in the morning and eat right. The difference is almost magical.
Adams says the type of exercise, volume, etc. aren’t important. He advocates doing something each day as simple as cleaning the garage.
When optimizing your body I would add fresh air and sunlight. Thought I was pretty clever in identifying your body as your hardware and your mind as your software but Cernovich and likely others had already used the analogies. I will refer to your physical body later as working on your hardware.
In reality your hardware and software will work best when “synced” up and both at peak levels and towards the same goals.
Reaching Your Peak Mindset and Mood
Adams addresses both physical and mental performance in the book. The sections on mental performance have some interesting sections for teachers.
Adams manipulates his mindset, mood, and emotion. He talks about how he manipulates them in the book. First, is simply being aware that you can manipulate these things.
Adams calls us moist robots and says that we can “program” ourselves to be in a better mood and get more done.
Adams studied hypnosis and psychology and reveals how he has used on himself. He states that you can hypnotise yourself to be in a better mood by doing simple things like smiling. Adams cites research showing smiling releases a chemical shown to improve mood.
He talks about controlling your posture to send messages to your brain about what your mood and state should be. If you are slouched over you can guess what message that sends to your brain. I’d also add it sends a similar message to your students.
Another “trick” Adams uses is optimism. Day dreaming about a better future also releases brain chemicals. These chemicals are associated with better brain function and mood.
You can know those day dreams are far fetched but the chemicals will still be released if you true.
On the topic of meditation Adams mentions having success early in life with it and even writing a (failed) book on it that bombed but didn’t mention it much in book. I would assume he still meditates.
How to Take Advantage of Struggle and Failure
It’s fascinating to hear a man worth $75 million be so humble.
His thoughts on struggle and failure match up well with this Denzel Washington commencement speech.
Behind some of the most successful people in history are a trail of failures. Like Adams, these people didn’t give up but learned from those failures.
This is a key message our students need to hear. It’s something we need to hear.
Our students can NEVER hear enough rags to riches stories. They can never hear enough about successful people in history going through hardship and still succeeding. Work these kind of stories into your class lessons and discussions.
Must Have Skills and How to Get Them
I had written off a number of personality traits that I actually realized were acquirable as I read the book. It’s pretty exciting (when you get past the embarrassment) knowing you can improve at public speaking, relationship building, writing, and networking. Even more exciting is that combining these skills together magnifies their effect.
Below are some of the skills that that will benefit teachers. This is similar to my “Prosperous Teachers Manifesto” but on steroids. I am in the process of updating this and creating a student manifesto. Sign up at the top of the page and I will email you a copy of them when they are done.
- Public Speaking – Adams had no desire to ever become a public speaker. Once Dilbert took off he got a request to speak to a group in Canada. He wasn’t interested. Eventually, he decided to give the speech and learned a lot from the experience as well as professional speakers and mostly a Dale Carnegie class he’d taken. To speak your best to a crowd be enthusiastic. Think of one positive thing about yourself as a speaker. Speak to one person. Keep it simple. Use pauses and speak for the audience, not for yourself. He now finds speaking to groups exhilarating.
- Better Conversations – Just call this small talk. You might be an introvert and not know it. It’s ok. In at least some settings most people are. Start asking questions until you find a common interest. This is great advice for building relationships with students, their parents, colleagues, and administrators. Good topics are hobbies, their family, where they live.
- Writing – Simplify your writing! Follow a simple sentence pattern. Eliminate as many words as possible. (I tried in this post). Write in a subject-verb-object structure to make it easy for the reader. Adams was speaking about writing to adults. This applies to teachers even more.
- Minimalism – I don’t believe he uses the word minimalism in the book. He refers to simplifying. But minimize your commitments and distractions. Eliminate as many trivial decisions per day as possible (which workout should I do? What salad dressing should I use?) Just make a decision and move on. Fewer decisions leads to more brain power on reserve for when you need it.
- Pattern recognition – Look for patterns in your day. Is Johnny is in a bad mood every Friday morning? Find out why. This applies to yourself as well.
This is a fantastic book for teachers. It’s fascinating for anyone seeking to improve themselves. Adams doesn’t discuss lesson plans or behavior plans once. It is a refreshing break from that and loaded with advice on having more success, energy, and happiness in your life and being more optimistic.
Buy the book here:
PS – The book is really good. Buy it here if you didn’t already.