Book Notes: The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson

The most unnecessarily wordy book I have ever read. It’s such a simple concept. Notes below with my comments in bold. Top three learnings from me. Top Three Learnings

  1. Using the rule of 1 percent, anyone can do a little more than is normal, thus rising above their current situation.
  2. Success is many small things that add up, which is why so many don’t do it.
  3. Most people do more only to survive then slack off. Real success comes from going 1 percent extra all the time.


I now started questioning whether this was true. I began doing a systematic review of my life and taking a very close look at my actions and my results. Here is what I saw: When people are looking down the barrel of failure in their lives, they will do whatever it takes to get themselves moving, something, anything, to start climbing upward toward the point of survival. And then, once they get to the point where they’re keeping their heads above water, they start heading back down again. As they start getting close enough to the failure line that they can see it coming, they go, “Whoops, I’m headed towards failure!” and then they do whatever it takes to turn their trajectory around and start heading back up … and the cycle repeats.

Once I got a little way above survival and was starting to head up into the warmer waters of success, without realizing it or thinking about it, I would stop doing the things that had gotten me there. Naturally, I would then start sinking back down again, back down toward survival and beyond, back down toward the failure line. And I did that every time. Every time. That’s the only reason our lives follow that roller coaster. It’s that simple. As soon as we get away from failure and up past the line of survival, we quit doing the things that got us there.

And if you can survive, then you can succeed. You don’t need to do some brilliant, impossible thing. You don’t need to learn some insanely difficult skills, or have some genius-level brainstorm of an innovative idea. All you have to do is keep doing the things that got you this far. Which is exactly what 99.9 percent of people don’t do.
Everything these great teachers were talking about worked—but it wasn’t working. People would try to follow it, but when the quantum leap they were looking for didn’t happen in the first thirty, sixty, or ninety days, they would quit.

It’s the same reason diets don’t work. The same reason gym memberships don’t magically make you more fit. Because a diet without the slight edge, a gym membership without the slight edge, a solid and intelligently designed business plan without the slight edge, is like a plant without water.

People everywhere are clamoring for the formula, the secret, the path to improve their lives. And as I found during my years with TPN, there’s more good, solid how-to information available today about all those things than there’s ever been before. But that’s not how it works. If you’re one of the millions looking for cookie-cutter answers to the great questions in life, you can call off the search right now. How to do it is not the issue. If “how to do it” were the answer, it’d be done. It’s how you do the “hows” that’s most important. If access to the right information were the answer, we’d all be rich, healthy, happy, and fulfilled. And most of us are none of those things. Why not? Because the answer is only the answer—it isn’t actually doing the thing. It isn’t applying the answer, living the answer. It’s only information.

By “your philosophy,” all I mean is changing the way you think about simple everyday things. Once you do, then you will take the steps you need to take, to lead you to the how-to’s you need.

You may get inspired by that uplifting story or inspirational pep talk, but you can’t freeze that feeling or glue the emotions of the moment into place. Emotions change like the wind, and you can’t stop them. No one can. They keep moving; that’s why they’re called emotions and not e-standingstills. You can’t dictate how you feel. No matter how much you may tell yourself to feel positive about this how-to step or that how-to step, what if you just don’t? Today, you’re excited about getting fit. You feel like doing your twenty minutes on the treadmill. Great! But what if tomorrow you just don’t feel like doing it? To find the path to success, you have to back up one more step. It’s the understanding behind the attitudes that are behind the actions. It’s the philosophy. That’s the missing ingredient, the secret ingredient. The first ingredient.

Do the thing, and you shall have the power.

Show me what a man does, and I’ll show you his philosophy.

The formula for success is quite simple: Double your rate of failure.

Successful people fail their way to the top.

Success is the progressive realization of a worthy ideal.

Successful people do what unsuccessful people are not willing to do.
There is a natural progression to everything in life: plant, cultivate, harvest.
The wealthy man’s other son lay awake that night, too, but he never opened his copy of the storybook their father had given them. He was too busy thinking to sleep or read. He’d made his decision the moment his father had held out that sheaf of thousand-dollar bills. He was already making big plans for his next thirty-one days.
Stuck in your head, youre dead.

Simple daily disciplines—little productive actions, repeated consistently over time—add up to the difference between failure and success.

It is not heredity, education, looks, talent or inheritance. It isn’t chance, blind fate, or dumb luck, and it isn’t “preparedness meeting opportunity,” either. It isn’t karma. And it isn’t an abundance of sincere wanting and wishing.

The big secret that Stanley and Danko revealed was that the millionaires they studied had developed the habit of doing ordinary little insignificant everyday things with their money. It would make an exciting story if they had gambled their last dollars and amazingly hit it big in the stock market with a little stock that came from behind and stunned the financial world. But, nope. It wasn’t like that. The first of the book’s seven rules is, “Always live below your means.”

Parkinson’s Law goes like this: “Work expands to fill the time available for its completion.” Here’s how that looks when you apply it to the world of personal finances: Whatever I have, I spend. Actually, in today’s world it usually means something more like this: Whatever I have, I spend that—plus a little more.

The simple things that lead to success are all easy to do. But they’re also just as easy not to do. It’s easy to save a few bucks a day. And easy not to.

Fundamentally, we all take pretty much the same actions every day. We eat, sleep, think, feel, talk, and listen. We have relationships and friendships. We each have twenty-four hours a day, 168 hours a week, and we each fill these hours one way or the other with a sequence of mundane little actions and tasks.

People who make lots of money read books. People who are broke read books, too—they just choose different books.

The second reason people don’t do the little things that add up to success is that at first, they don’t add up to success. The doomed frog quit paddling in the cream because he’d been doing it as hard as he could, and it obviously wasn’t having any effect. At least, not one he could see. And that’s the problem. The things that create success in the long run don’t look like they’re having any impact at all in the short run. A penny doubled is two cents. Big deal. Take two bucks a day and stick it into savings instead of into an expensive coffee drink, and at the end of a week you’ve got … fourteen dollars. Big deal.
Success is the progressive realization of a worthy ideal. “Progressive” means success is a process, not a destination. It’s something you experience gradually, over time. Failure is just as gradual. In fact, the difference between success and failure is so subtle, you can’t even see it or recognize it during the process. And here’s how real success is built: by the time you get the feedback, the real work’s already done.

So I skipped a day at the gym. What’s a day? Hey, it’s just a cheeseburger. What’s the fuss?

Everything matters.

The difference between success and failure is not dramatic. In fact, the difference between success and failure is so subtle, so mundane, that most people miss it. They may not realize they have a philosophy, but they do, and it goes like this: What I do right now doesn’t really matter.

How you do anything is how you do everything

What you do today matters. What you do every day matters.

Successful people are those who understand that the little choices they make matter, and because of that they choose to do things that seem to make no difference at all in the act of doing them, and they do them over and over and over until the compound effect kicks in.

People don’t consistently do those simple things for three reasons: 1) while they’re easy to do, they are also easy not to do; 2) you don’t see any results at first; 3) they seem insignificant, like they don’t matter. But they do.

The secret of time is simply this: time is the force that magnifies those little, almost imperceptible, seemingly insignificant things you do every day into something titanic and unstoppable. consistently repeated daily actions + time = inconquerable results.
Time is a multiplier, not an additive

And of course you’d be making the wrong choice, and you would have been fooled, as millions of people around the globe are fooled every minute of every hour of every day, by those two seductive little words: Right now.

There is a natural progression in life: you plant, then you cultivate, and finally you harvest.

In today’s world, everyone wants to go directly from plant to harvest. We plant the seed by joining the gym, and then get frustrated when a few days go by and there’s no fitness harvest. Hey, we joined the gym, right? We put in the hours, right? (All three or four of them.) Why shouldn’t we be looking more buff? But that’s the logic of the lottery: Why should I have to build the skills, relationships, and experience it takes to earn the money? Why can’t I just buy a ticket and have it?

The slight edge is boring. There, I said it. It’s indeed getting over-the-top wordy.  At this point, I was ready to quit reading forever. 

If making the right slight edge choices were a dramatic thing, you’d get immediate feedback. An entire movie theater audience applauding, cheering, or screaming. But that doesn’t happen. And that’s the big challenge of it: no immediate feedback.

What happens if you add one small, simple, positive action to the success side? Nothing you can see. What happens if you add one more? Nothing you can see. What happens if you keep adding one more, and one more, and one more, and one more … Before too long, you see the scales shift, ever so slightly. And then again. And eventually, that heavy “failure” side starts to lift, and lift, and lift … and the scales start swinging your way. No matter how much negative weight from the past is on the other side, just by adding those little grams of success, one at a time (and by not adding more weight to the failure side), you will eventually and inevitably begin to shift the scales in your favor. PREACH

No matter what you have done in your life up until today, no matter where you are and how far down you may have slid on the failure curve, you can start fresh, building a positive pattern of success, at any time. Including right now.

You need to base your choices on your philosophy—on what you know, not what you see.

Every decision you make is a slight edge decision. What you’re going to do, how you’re going to act, what you’re going to read, who you’re going to chat with on the phone, what you’re going to eat for lunch, who you’re going to associate with. How you’re going to treat your fellow workers. What you’re going to get done today. Simply by making those right decisions, or making more of them—one at a time, over and over again—you will have enlisted the awesome power of the slight edge on your behalf. The unwanted circumstances, the poor results you’ve produced in the past, and the evidence of failures in your life, may all continue for a time. There may be no light at the end of the tunnel, or at least none you can see today. But by putting time on your side, you’ve marshaled the forces of the slight edge. Your success becomes inevitable. You just need to stay in the process long enough to give it a chance to win. It starts with a choice.

Pioneers don’t know what’s out there, but out there, they go anyway. That’s why being a pioneer takes such courage. Courage means to have a purpose and to have heart. Once you are aware of and understand how to use the slight edge, you will naturally have both—purpose and the strength of heart to stay on that purpose. The important point is to start on the path and to remember that no matter what has gone on before, you can begin fresh and new anytime you choose. You can start with a clean slate.

But in my experience, in three to five years you can put virtually anything in your life solidly onto the right track. Think of what you were doing three years ago: it seems like yesterday, doesn’t it? Well, three years from now, the things you’re doing right now will seem like only yesterday, too. Yet this brief little period of time can change your life. How long will it take? Chances are it will take longer than you want it to—and that when the time arrives, you’ll be astonished at how quick it seemed.

The reason Ekhart Tolle’s modest little 1997 book on enlightenment, The Power of Now, took the marketplace by storm, selling over five million copies in thirty-three languages, is that his core message is one that everyone knows they need to hear: your life exists only in the moment. But you can’t really absorb or live that truth through reading a book; you absorb and live that truth simply by being fully in the process of living your life—not regretting the past, not dreading the future.

When you enter a darkened room, why does your hand reach out for the light switch? Because you know that when you hit the switch, the light will go on. You don’t have to give yourself positive self-talk about how you really ought to hit that light switch, or set up a system of rewards and punishments for yourself around whether you follow through or not with hitting the light switch. You don’t need any rigmarole; you just hit the switch. Why? Because you know what will happen. You know.

The difficult is what takes a little time; the impossible is what takes a little longer.
And once the momentum of the slight edge starts to kick in it becomes unstoppable, and you reach a point where results do indeed start to happen very fast indeed.

Time is the force that magnifies those simple daily disciplines into massive success.
“Some day my prince will come.…” Good old Walt Disney. Well, that may have worked out for Snow White. Back here on Earth, it’s a recipe for disappointment. In flesh-and-blood life, waiting for “some day” is no strategy for success, it’s a cop-out. What’s more, it’s one that the majority follow their whole lives. Someday, when my ship comes in … Someday, when I have the money … Someday, when I have the time … Someday, when I have the skill … Someday, when I have the confidence … How many of those statements have you said to yourself? Have I got some sobering news for you: “some day” doesn’t exist, never has, and never will. There is no “some day.” There’s only today. When tomorrow comes, it will be another today; so will the next day. They all will. There is never anything but today. And some more shocking news: your ship’s not coming—it’s already here. Docked and waiting. You already have the money. You already have the time. You already have the skill, the confidence. You already have everything you need to achieve everything you want. You just can’t see it. Why not? Because you’re looking in the wrong place. You’re looking for the breakthrough, the quantum leap. You’re looking for the winning lottery ticket in a game that isn’t a lottery.

Any time you see what looks like a breakthrough, it is always the end result of a long series of little things, done consistently over time. No success is immediate or instantaneous; no collapse is sudden or precipitous. They are both products of the slight edge.

No matter in what arena, in life or work or play, the difference between winning and losing, the gap that separates success and failure, is so slight, so subtle, that most never see it.

One of the most radical and remarkable things about the happiness research is the discovery that doing things that make you happy doesn’t just make you happier. It also makes your life work better.

Extensive research since 2000 has shown that people who are happier also: have fewer strokes and heart attacks have less pain and inflammation have greater immune function and more resistance to viruses develop more resilient personalities and handle adversity better have better work performance and more professional success have more fulfilling and longer-lasting marriages have larger and more active social spheres are more involved in their communities are more altruistic and have a greater net positive impact on society are more financially successful live longer And here’s the truly radical thing about it: it isn’t that people who have greater success, more money, and better marriages are happier as a result of those things. The research is very clear on this: the greater states of happiness precede all these outcomes.

“Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success.”
Each morning, write down three things you’re grateful for. Not the same three every day; find three new things to write about. That trains your brain to search your circumstances and hunt for the positive. Journal for two minutes a day about one positive experience you’ve had over the past twenty-four hours. Write down every detail you can remember; this causes your brain to literally reexperience the experience, which doubles its positive impact. Meditate daily. Nothing fancy; just stop all activity, relax, and watch your breath go in and out for two minutes. This trains your brain to focus where you want it to, and not get distracted by negativity in your environment. Do a random act of kindness over the course of each day. To make this simple, Shawn often recommends a specific act of kindness: at the start of each day, take two minutes to write an email to someone you know praising them or thanking them for something they did. Exercise for fifteen minutes daily. Simple cardio, even a brisk walk, has a powerful antidepressant impact, in many cases stronger (and more long-lasting) than an actual antidepressant!

I want the world to be better because I was here. I want my life, my work, my family to mean something. If you are not making someone else’s life better you are wasting your time. Your life will only become better by helping make other lives better.
By this point I’m sure you’ve grasped the central idea of this book: it doesn’t take superhuman leaps to accomplish great things. Whatever success you want to create, whatever feats you want to achieve, whatever dreams you want to make real, you can, and you don’t have to do impossible, extraordinary things to make that happen. Thank god. wordy

Greatness is not something predetermined, predestined, or carved into your fate by forces beyond your control. Greatness is always in the moment of the decision.
Or you could slip back down under the sheets and catch some more Z’s. No, that’s lazy. Compromise: flip on the news. Catch the follow-up on that unfolding juicy political scandal, see what’s happening with the manhunt for the murderer of the week. You reach for the remote. And you just set the direction your life will take. Nobody watching, still dark out

It seems like you’re just choosing how to spend the next hour, not the next forty years. But you are choosing how you’ll spend the next forty years.

There may be times when things seem to be on a steady, even keel. This is an illusion: in life, there is no such thing as staying in the same place. There are no straight lines; everything curves. If you’re not increasing, you’re decreasing.

The predominant state of mind displayed by those people on the success curve is responsibility. People on the success curve live a life of responsibility.
take care with what you think. Because what you think, multiplied by action plus time, will create what you get.

If you are having a hard time making progress in one area—say, in business—take action to make a small positive change in an unrelated area. Start taking a walk around the block, organize that junk drawer that has been haunting you. Feeling successful in one area will provide you with renewed confidence and energy to continue on your journey of attaining that other big goal. Success in one area breeds success in every area.
Where you are right now is poised in the present, with the past stretching behind you and the future lying ahead. At any moment in your life, you can choose to change which side of that curve you’re on. You cannot change the past. You can absolutely change the future.

In all, this book should have been a tweet thread. Very simple concept overstated x1,000

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