The Slight Edge: Principles of Success Over Time

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Slight Edge" by Jeff Olson. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What does it take to achieve success? More importantly, what does it take to sustain success over time?

In his book The Sligh Edge, author Jeff Olson argues that success is built over time with small disciplines executed on a consistent basis. Further, he presents six core principles that, when adhered to, will create continual success in whatever it is you are striving for.

In this article, we’ll explore the six The Slight Edge principles by Jeff Olson.

How to Sustain Success Over Time

There is no doubt that rising to success—whatever it means for you—is hard work. Many people fail to sustain their success long-term because it often comes a boost in ego, which can sabotage all the hard work they put into it. According to Jeff Olson, the author of The Slight Edge, the following six principles will help you achieve success in any endeavor:

Principle #1: Show Up to Take the First Step

Olson explains that showing up means determining a goal to pursue and taking the first step to pursuing it. For example, if you want to become a psychologist, you have to apply for school and show up to class. Olson argues that showing up is the first step to achieving your goal, as no progress can occur without it. After all, you can’t go on a journey if you don’t show up to the train station.

Principle #2: Be Consistent and Stay Committed

Next, Olson suggests that you commit to showing up for your goals on a consistent basis. Taking the first step on its own isn’t enough—the more consistent you are with your efforts to achieve something, the more likely you are to achieve it. For instance, if you want strong arm muscles, you can’t just do one push-up. You have to do push-ups consistently

Build Consistency Using the “Seinfeld Strategy”

How can you build consistency in your efforts to grow? Olson doesn’t elaborate; so, let’s explore the strategy of Jerry Seinfeld, one of the most consistently successful comedians of all time. 

Seinfeld has always produced his work at a steady, productive rate. (He may not always produce his best work, but he is at least consistent in his output.) According to young comedians who’ve discussed consistency with Seinfeld, his strategy is simple: He writes every single day, and every day that he writes, he marks an “x” on the corresponding day on a calendar. Overall, he follows one rule: Don’t break the chain of productive days. 

You can follow this strategy with any goal using the following steps:
Make a list of the consistent actions you need to take to get closer to your goal.
Buy a calendar and a red marker.
Mark an “x” on every day you complete those actions. 
Don’t break the chain of marks.

Principle #3: Maintain a Good Attitude

Olson argues that maintaining a good attitude is essential for success in the face of life’s ups and downs. For example, you might practice finding the humor in your failures or challenges. 

Olson believes that positive energy benefits your ability to perform. Furthermore, studies show that if you maintain an optimistic outlook, you’ll live longer, be more productive, and have increased resilience.

The Overall Benefits of Positivity

Olson’s argument here is backed up by research: In fact, positivity is arguably even more powerful than he suggests. Johns Hopkins Medicine found that just thinking positively has a tangible benefit to every aspect of your health, in the following ways:

It increases your ability to handle stress and challenges.
It promotes psychological stability.
It gives you a stronger immune system and overall sense of physical wellness.
It makes you less likely to become depressed.
It gives you a longer lifespan.
It leads to a lowered risk of heart disease or heart attack.

Principle #4: Lead With Success Over Time Integrity

Olson notes that having Success Over Time integrity means going the extra mile each day to solidify your success, even when no external force is motivating you and nobody is around to check up on you. For example, if you run your own business, no one is going to create a schedule for you, and no one is going to keep track of how much work you’re putting in. Further, no one is going to praise you for any of your efforts. To be successful in your ventures, you must be willing to work hard even when no one is watching. 

The Long-Term Value of Personal Integrity

When you have integrity, you live your life according to your vision for yourself and you don’t compromise it for anything. This tracks with Olson’s view of integrity above; when you live
with Success Over Time integrity, you stick to your vision for your future success—even when nobody’s watching.

Not only does maintaining a sense of integrity in the pursuit of your goals create more success, as Olson describes, but research shows it also makes you a better, happier, and healthier person. The happier and healthier you are, the more motivated you’ll be to succeed. 

Furthermore, cultivating long-term integrity has the following benefits:
You are more trustworthy. Being consistent in your integrity makes you more reliable to yourself and others.
You experience more peace. When you show up for yourself and others with integrity, you experience less frustration and stress overall, creating more personal peace.
You have more confidence. Integrity builds self-esteem and confidence because you are secure in who you are, what you want, and what you’re capable of.
You have stronger relationships. When you live with high standards of integrity, you bring that standard to your relationships, improving both their quality and security.

Principle #5: Stay Hungry and Keep the Faith

Next, Olson recommends that you be so hungry for your success that when you encounter obstacles, you see them as opportunities to get closer to your goal rather than insurmountable problems. This is important because if you see your obstacles negatively, you’ll feel less confident about overcoming them. Meanwhile, viewing problems as opportunities inspires you to find solutions. 

Olson suggests that to stay hungry, you must remind yourself on a regular basis why you are pursuing your goals and why they’re worth persevering for. For example, you might write about this in a journal or talk about it with others. This keeps you focused on what you’re working towards, instead of what might get in the way.

Principle #6: Be Willing to Pay the Price

Finally, Olson cautions that nothing comes for free: You will always have to sacrifice something to achieve your goals. For example, if you want to start a business, the price is working long hours, likely with no immediate monetary payoff. You may lose friends who don’t agree with your ideas or who are resentful at being prioritized less. 

Olson suggests figuring out what price you are (and are not) willing to pay. If your planned route to success requires you to pay a price you’re not comfortable with, consider revising your goals. 

The Success Over Time Philosophy: Action Steps

Now that you understand The Slight Edge principles, you can initiate action towards your goals with full awareness and clear intentions. Use these two steps from Olson to put the power of the Success Over Time Philosophy into action.

Step #1: Create Something to Represent Your Vision

First, Olson recommends, write your vision of success out or creating a piece of visual art to represent it. For example, make a vision board: a handmade poster full of images that represent your goals (they can be magazine clippings, drawings, photographs, or anything else visual that inspires you). According to Olson, creating a tangible representation of your vision is critical because it allows you to get clear and specific with your goals. 

Step #2: Plan Out Your Goals

Now that you have a clear sense of your vision, Olson recommends you create a step-by-step blueprint for carrying it out. Even if your plan is rudimentary and liable to change, it’s valuable as a starting point because it will help you to take initial action. If needed, Olson states, you can adjust the plan as you go along. 

For example, if your goal is to run your own successful company, you might start by planning to make a simple website. The next step might be to write a blog on topics that relate to the goals your company will have. This could help you to build a foundational community that will buy your products or services when you reach that part of the journey. Later, after you get started, you might adjust the plan and start a YouTube channel to create this community instead. However, taking action on the blog still helped you to begin building momentum towards your ultimate goal of running a thriving business. 

The Slight Edge: Principles of Success Over Time

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Jeff Olson's "The Slight Edge" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full The Slight Edge summary:

  • Why some people fail and some succeed despite having the same tools
  • How small practices, executed consistently over time, will give you an edge
  • How you're getting in the way of your own growth by neglecting simple things

Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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