Book summary: The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson

We (or certainly I) regularly need to re-affirm that things are heading in the right direction, and that progress is being made. Bookshelves are full of such good information.

But The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson is not just more good information. All the “new and better” information is already available and has been for years. This book is a precursor to help you use that information.

If “how to do it” were the answer, it’d be done. It’s how we do the “hows” that’s most important. How we take action. It isn’t that our actions are wrong. It’s that we don’t keep doing them.

Focusing on the actions (the what-to-do’s and the how-to-do it’s) is not enough, because it’s the attitude behind the actions that keep those actions in place. The secret ingredient is our philosophy. The secret is to change the way we think.


Lesson 1: Easy to do, but easy not to.

A man holding a checklist of all the small things he has to do. This shows that it s not easy to even to the easiest things - and in order to succeed, we need to take the small steps. Don't just look at the quantum leap.

Successful and unsuccessful people both do the same basic things in their lives, day in and day out. Yet the things successful people do take them to the top, while the things unsuccessful people do take them down and out.

So what’s the difference? Successful people do simple things that are easy to do. Small, seemingly insignificant actions—all of them easy to do, and none of them mysterious, complex, or difficult actions that create success.

But here’s the problem: every action that is easy to do, is also easy not to do.

Why are these simple yet crucial things easy not to do? Because if you don’t do them, they won’t kill you…at least, not today. You won’t suffer, or fail or blow it —today.

Something is easy not to do when it won’t bankrupt you, destroy your career, ruin your relationships or wreck your health— today. What’s more, not doing it is usually more comfortable than doing it would be.

To accomplish anything worth accomplishing, to create success, to achieve your dreams, you don’t have to do impossible, extraordinary, superhuman things. But you have to do something.

But we make excuses: I don’t have the money, the time, the skill, the confidence. Some shocking news: 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! No success is immediate. Nor is any failure instantaneous.

They are both products of the Slight Edge. Mother Teresa’s efforts to end poverty, Gandhi’s to end colonial oppression, or Martin Luther King’s and Nelson Mandela’s to end racism—are classic examples of what a “breakthrough” looks like in the real world.

None of them anticipated instant success but they all understood the principles of the Slight Edge.


Lesson 2: Moving Forward

A man carrying a next arrow, showing moving forward. This shows that in life, we are always moving, no matter which direction. We are inevitably in motion, but in which direction? That is your choice.

It may seem to you that today was much like yesterday. It wasn’t. It was different. Every day is. Appearances can be deceiving—and almost always are. 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. There is no Status Quo. You are either going up or going down.

In a constantly and rapidly changing world like ours, you simply cannot remain the same as you were yesterday. You are in motion—you have no choice in that. But in which direction?

You have total choice in that. If you’re not improving, enriching, building, unfolding, if you’re not adding assets to your personal and professional value every day—then you’re headed on the down curve.

But here’s the good news: where you are right now is poised in the present, with the past stretching behind you and the future lying ahead. You cannot change the past. You can absolutely change the future.


Lesson 3: Productive or Busy?

A woman multitasking with a cup on her hand, a chart on the other, while writing down notes, calling, and on her laptop. This teaches us a difference between productive or busy. Are you just busy to fill out your day or doing the right actions towards success.
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Being productive and being busy is not necessarily the same thing. Doing things won’t create your success; doing the right things will. Everybody’s busy. Everyone does the actions. But were they the right actions? Were those actions productive? Did you take a step forward?

Some people check progress by keeping a journal. If you choose this approach, here’s the key to making it work: don’t just write down a record of what happened today, along with your thoughts and feelings about what happened.

Ask yourself the specific Slight Edge questions.

In each area of my life, what are the critical, simple little things that are easy to do, and easy not to do? Did I do them? Did I move forward? Did I ride on the success curve?

Keep your Slight Edge activities, your right choices, and incremental successes, right out in the open where you can see them and celebrate them.

Remember that all the activity ever required to apply the Slight Edge for your success is nothing but a series of baby steps. Trust the process.

Acknowledge those steps, no matter how small or insignificant they may seem at the time. Nothing breeds success like more success.


Lesson 4: The 7 Slight Edge Principles – How to take the Slight Edge

A man with an 'all good' finger sign. Showing that in order to take the 'slight edge', we need to have a good attitude, be committed, and etc. Positive actions over negatives.
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1. Show Up

Woody Allen once said that 80 percent of success is showing up. You have already won half the battle if you will commit to showing up every day. The rest is left up to skill, knowledge, drive, and execution.


2. Be Consistent

Showing up is important, but its natural companion consistency is what makes it a powerful duo. Showing up consistently is where the magic happens. Consistency Yields Results.


3. Have a Good Attitude

When all things are equal, attitude will set you apart from anything else. When you’re going for a job, it’s the difference-maker.

If a girl has a choice between two guys where one has a great attitude and the other one has a lousy attitude, nine times out of 10 she’s going to pick the dude with the best attitude. Attitude really is the difference-maker.


4. Be Committed for a Long Period of Time

The fourth Slight Edge principle is to practice these principles for a long period of time. Just as a farmer has to wait a full season to reap his harvest, you must do the same.

This is the hardest principle for our microwave and fast-food culture to deal with because we want instant results now, not in 120 days or a year from now!


5. Have Faith and a Burning Desire

As Napoleon Hill says repeatedly in “Think and Grow Rich” - There is one quality which one must possess to win, and that is definiteness of purpose, the knowledge of what one wants, and a burning desire to possess it.

Desire is what gets you up early and keeps you up late. It’s what keeps you motivated to press forward when adversity hits.


6. Be Willing to Pay the Price

Anything worth having is worth working and paying a price for. That’s the price of entry. And if you’re not willing to pay a price for whatever it is you want, the price of neglect is far worse than the price of commitment.


7. Practice Integrity

There are many definitions of integrity, but the one most applicable to the Slight Edge is what you do when no one is watching. It is also doing the thing you said you were going to do long after the mood you said it in has left you.


Lesson 5: Slow and Steady

A woman walking her dog at the park. This shows us that slow and steady wins the race. Do it step-by-step, search for improvement, be discipline.
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Who won the race—the tortoise or the hare? We all know the answer to that one. Yet we live in a world where most everyone has come to expect instant this and instant that, and if we don’t get the results we’re after fast and faster, we quit.

But faster can end up being slower; too fast often puts the system’s (or the person’s) survival at risk.

The optimal rate of growth is always served best by a step-by-step approach of constant, never-ending improvement, which lays solid foundations and builds upon them over and over. The Slight Edge is the optimal rate of growth.

Simple disciplines compounded over time. That’s how the tortoise won; that’s how you get to be a winner, too. Another way to gather momentum and harness it to your advantage is by practicing an activity called completion.

Every incomplete promise, commitment, and agreement sap your strength, because it blocks your momentum, inhibits your ability to move forward, progress, and to improve. Incomplete things keep calling you back to the past to take care of them.

So take on any one of your “incomplete” projects, one at a time. And if even that one project seems like too huge a mountain to climb, rummage around its foothills until you find an initial step you can take.

Make a phone call. Write a letter. Give fifteen minutes to completing something every day.


Lesson 6: Continuous Professional Development

A male doing online learning. This shows that to continue improving, we must not stop studying through book, doing, and modeling.
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Continuous, lifelong learning is the material from which you continually build your philosophy. There are three principal kinds of learning.

The first is learning by study, which includes reading, listening to CDs and audio downloads, and attending classes and seminars.

The second type is learning by doing. You can’t excel based purely on knowledge learned in the study; you can’t excel purely through knowledge gleaned through action. The two have to work together. You study, and then you do an activity.

The third type of learning will tremendously accelerate the first two. It is knowledge through modeling. We need some way to process all that information and experience and integrate it.

And there is only one reliable, solid way to do that: find someone else or a community of people who have already mastered an area, and model yourself based on their experience.

Set a goal that you would like to achieve, and find someone who has achieved it or is well on the way. Meet with them, ask questions, and then emulate their guidance.


Lesson 7: The Mantra of Successful People

A male being thrown up by a group of people while holding a trophy and celebrating. This shows that to be successful, there are mantras that they say to themselves. Focusing on the small things will bring them greater success.
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Successful people are experts in applying the Slight Edge. They are aware that small incremental improvements and a commitment to taking these small steps for the long term will realize the greatest benefit and ultimately success.

In a nutshell…

Successful people never blame circumstances or other people.

Successful people practice the daily disciplines that are assured to take them to their final destination.

Successful people focus on having a positive outlook. Successful people use inertia to build momentum.

Successful people acquire the three kinds of knowledge they need to succeed. They create an ongoing support system, learning through study and through doing.

Successful people are always asking: “Who am I spending time with? Are they the people who best represent where I want to be headed?”

Successful people go to work on their philosophy first, because they know it is the source of their attitudes, actions, results and the quality of their lives.

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