The Slight Edge: Turning Simple Disciplines into Massive Success and Happiness
I really, really like this book.
It’s not perfect; it’s repetitive at times and a bit too invested in anecdotal experience. Yet, it’s easily one of the most powerful and influential books I’ve ever read. It’s helped me and I know it can help you.
Here are my key takeaways:
- Hard work is not enough. This is obvious when you look around; there are plenty of people who put in back-breaking hours but don’t achieve much success in spite of their efforts.
- Better information isn’t enough. We have all had the experience of knowing what we should do — and even knowing why it was so important — but failing to act on that information.
- Wanting it isn’t enough. Even when we know what we must do, we genuinely want to do it, and we genuinely work hard, we still are not guaranteed success.
- Beyond hard work, better information and desire, your philosophy is the missing link. Your philosophy informs your attitude, which in turn inspires your actions, which in turn produce your results (or lack thereof), which finally define your life. Your philosophy is where it all begins.
- Countless, unsexy and seemingly insignificant decisions, when added up over time, will make all the difference. This is the Slight Edge, in a nutshell: each simple act of productive discipline will move you slightly forward; each simple error in judgment will move you slightly backward. Added up over time, each of these seemingly trivial choices will make or break your pursuit of what you want most in life.
As another one of my favorite authors, James Altucher describes it: strive to be 1% better each day.
The quality of your life won’t be measured by whether you’re a good or deserving person; it will be dictated by the choices you make.
- Be willing to master of the mundane. In their best-selling book, The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America’s Wealthy, the authors emphasized the ordinary, everyday nature of the success of the book’s wealthy subjects. They weren’t lottery winners or stock market savants; they simply (and regularly) did unsexy things like spending less than they earned.
- Doing the right thing, right now, is hard because we don’t usually receive meaningful feedback right away. Think about this: if you go to the gym and do a great job and then come home and eat a super nutritious dinner, will you wake up tomorrow morning and look like a fitness model? Of course not.
On the other hand, if you skip the gym and eat half a dozen donuts today, will you be noticeably fatter tomorrow? Also, no.
But think about doing those things faithfully every day for six months, or even three; would you see a difference then? Absolutely!
This premise extends into virtually every corner of life; building a business, investing in the market, cultivating more intimate relationships and more. It’s easy to become discouraged by a lack of apparent progress or to believe that today’s indiscretions will prove an exception and not the rule.
Doing the right thing, right now, is so difficult largely because we receive no immediate feedback, good or bad. For this reason, keeping faith in the process — leaning upon our philosophy, regardless of whatever we feel like doing or not doing at that moment — is vital.
- What you do right now, in this moment, really does matter. With each passing moment, you’re either taking a tiny step toward your most important goals, or further away from them.
- With very few exceptions, there are no shortcuts. There is a natural progression to almost everything in life; you plant seeds, you cultivate and tend to your crops, and finally, you harvest.
Our culture’s fascination with instant gratification and the “overnight” success story undermine our concept of what it really takes to achieve important, meaningful things.
- Every magnificent achievement arose from humble, uninspiring origins and progressed one step at a time. The Apple juggernaut began as little more than a computer club of two nerds in a garage. Facebook was originally an unsophisticated prank. Commercial flight, modern agriculture, the printing press, Amazon.com, the civil rights movement, the antibiotic … every massive success story started out as a meager dream and a laughable prototype, and in many cases not even as those things at all. A journey of a thousand miles really does begin with a single step.
Hoping for the “big break” is actually dangerous in that it can prevent from you from taking the steps necessary to make your dreams come true.
- Just get started, already. You can always improve upon what you’ve already done, but you can never build upon what you haven’t actually started.
- Success doesn’t produce happiness; happiness produces success. Doing what it takes to become happier — committing to the simple, unsexy acts of discipline — lays a foundation and puts you in a position to succeed at what matters most.
- Only 1 in 20 people achieve a significant measure of his or her goals in life; only 1 in 10 are willing to commit to the difficult but rewarding work of improving themselves. Jeff estimates that in all of his years of working with people, only a tragic minority are willing to do what it takes to be happy and successful.
- Negative or difficult things happen to all of us; the difference between winning and losing is in how you react. Winners accept what is but believe that with the right approach, they can make it better; losers blame everyone and everything.
- Life is in the present moment. Resist the urge to live in the past (“If only ____”) or future (“I’ll be happy when ____”). The present moment is the only moment each of us every truly possess.
- We are what we choose to think about. A little-known — but well-demonstrated — fact of human psychology; the things that we choose to think about shape our perception of the world.
If we choose to bask in optimism or gratitude, we’ll become happier or appreciative (not to mention, optimists tend to live longer and healthier lives). If we choose to dwell in pessimism or fear, we’ll become more negative or anxious.
All of this occurs independently of any objective change in our circumstances.
- Slow and steady wins the race. Building habits builds momentum; it’s better to meditate for ten minutes each day than it is for an hour one day, and then to take six days off. Eventually, our habits become a part of our identity; expressed as “who we are”.
Learning to do all of these things is honestly like learning anything else in life; deceptively simple, and yet it can be difficult.
My six-year old son is learning to tie his shoes and I think that’s an appropriate metaphor. At first, it’s hard to get going (and it’s harder for adults, actually; we don’t like being bad at things). You have to think about what you’re doing intently; you make many mistakes, the days pass, and it doesn’t really feel like you’re getting anywhere. Then, as you continue to work at it, you become better and the practice becomes second-nature.
On this topic, here are a few of the slight edge disciplines which have made my life immeasurably better over the past year or so. Unfortunately, I still don’t always do these things, but have been practicing them with increasingly regularity.
- I spend ten minutes each morning meditating; now, I tend to think more clearly and react less.
- I spend about five minutes each morning journaling; I feel happier and more in touch with the good things in my life.
- I spend about two minutes each night reviewing and answering my daily questions; I’m more aware of what I’m doing well and what I need to spend more time on improving.
- I began scheduling my social media use and disabled notifications for virtually all apps on my phone; I’m less distracted and work more effectively.
- I write 500 words each day; doing so helps me to develop a habit of producing content which I hope is of a high quality and helpful to someone just like you.
- I began counting and eating many fewer carbs; now, I feel better and have more energy than I did ten years ago.