Book Review: The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson

The Slight Edge
Picture from

Author: Jeff Olson
Published: 2005

Goodreads: 4.4/5
Barner&Noble: 4.6/5
Amazon: 4.7/5
(Feb 2020)

The Slight Edge, written by Jeff Olson, is an exceptional self-help and self-motivation book, which tries to lead everyone to the path of a millionaire, not just of money, but also a millionaire of health, relationships, and happiness.

The main idea this book contributes is the slight edge philosophy, which is essentially how we view the world, how we perceive things that affect our success. This philosophy is notably simple that everyone can understand, extraordinarily easy so all of us can apply, and extremely effective that all should follow.

Reading The Slight Edge, I was really impressed, firstly by the many feedbacks of the previous readers about how the proposed method actually transformed their lives, and secondly by how Olson tells the stories, so enticing and persuasive that I couldn’t resist. Indeed, each of his stories is impressive in its own way, from real-live ones (his life, his mother’s life and also his daughter’s) to the fables (the story of one penny, the 2 frogs and the water hyacinth).

Some of the readers commented that this is the book that makes every other personal-development book actually work, that this philosophy should be taught as soon as children take their first steps. I just couldn’t agree more with them. To me, this is one of the best, if not the best, self-help, self-motivation and personal development books I ever read.

In order to give a summary, I would structure the content by the big points as follow:

  • Be confident and positive
  • The slight edge
  • Easy to do, easy not to do
  • The 2 life paths
  • Time
  • Happiness
  • Your environment
  • Make the slight edge your friend
  • Start with a penny

Be confident and positive

Jeff was an average boy in every aspect until his late teens. However, he then succeeded. Deciding to not be mediocre anymore, he struck for success and after all, he was handsomely rewarded with As in school, multi-million dollar companies, a wide and healthy network of relationships, and most importantly, a fulfilled life.

With that, here comes the first lesson:

You all possess the potential to be great, much greater than you may think you can, no matter how you are now.

From books, podcasts, TV programs, and the internet, we have seen countless examples of normal and even much-less-than-normal people who succeeded, which makes it crystal clear that everyone can flourish and thrive, including you, of course.

You have failed many times, everyone has, especially the most successful. The fact is successful people tend to fail even more than the unsuccessful ones. Failures may give you despair, however, if you are confident and positive, what failures bring are only lessons and experience to have a higher chance of success in your next adventures.

The slight edge

So what did the great men do to achieve? How should normal people change themselves in order to excel?

You may think that for a so-so man to succeed without lucks, he must pass through a near-death situation, a life-changing event or something like that. No, fortunately, we do not need our lives to be as much of a drama. What we need is just a little bit, just a little bit of change is perfect. Spending 15 minutes for exercise, reading 10 pages of a good book, use your 5 minutes before bed to appreciate life, etc., each of those actions can transform your fate to be much better if you do it every day. And that is the definition of the slight edge. Amazingly simple.

The truth is: it is much easier to succeed than we think it has to be. It just boils down to simple actions that we all know and likely tried before. The matter is we skipped doing them. We know those habits are good, however maybe they are good for someone else but not us, as we have tried and didn’t see any results, or maybe we are too busy, for parties or for watching a blockbuster movie. All those reasons stopped us from what we should have done, and that is exactly what makes us normal.

And yes, each of us, including the great men, was born normal. We are not so special at all, so do not think that those good habits are good for others but not you, you are not that special. In fact, those habits work for every one of us. If they haven’t gained you something yet, that is because you did not practice them regularly.

When Olson failed with his company, here is what he learned: when people are dimmed to failure, they tend to try hard to go up to the survival point. However, at this point, they let loose and let themselves sink again to the failure point, and they try to swim up again, looping like forever.

when people are dimmed to failure, they tend to try hard to go up to the survival point.
The picture is taken from The Slight Edge book.

This gives us a hint, that if at the survival point, we do the same thing we did at the failure point, we will thrive to succeed. We already know how to be successful, we just don’t keep doing that.

Easy to do, easy not to do

So if those changes are so easy and effective, why most people skip them?

Firstly, the fact is that these actions are very easy, they are too easy to do, but also tragically too easy not to do. It is Saturday and you wonder to yourself if you are allowed to skip your morning exercise to sleep in, as today is the day of rest after all? Sometimes your answer is No, and congratulations on that wise decision, however, the other times you say Yes, and that is what breaks you, what makes you lose the habit that is meant to change your life.

Secondly, you tend to overlook them because they seem insignificant in your eyes, especially in the starting stages, when you see no differences between doing and not doing. If you skip that morning exercise, will you be threatened by obesity immediately? no, if you do that exercise, will you lose 30 pounds right at the time you finish (or maybe after a week of diligent exercise)? no. At the starting point, there is almost no difference in result between to do and not to do, and that is what discourages you.

Thirdly, they lack drama. You are not forced to a life-and-death situation. Nothing really surprising, intriguing, plot-twisting happened. Well, if it is like in the movies, the world is in danger and the only way to save it is for you to do your morning exercise today, your decision will be positive. However, we are living in the real world, not in the movies, you will not face those situations (and we are glad about that), so it is not practical to expect those climax to happen and urge you to change, you have to do it yourself.

There are 95% of people who do not follow the slight edge philosophy, they lose. In the meantime, the other 5% thrive. The key lies in the simple, everyday actions that we all know, the mundane. And your mission is to master the mundane.

The 2 life paths

It is worth noting that we are not only pursuing money. It’s true that your finance plays a role in your life. However, we want success in all aspects of life, including but may not limit to financial state, health, relationships, career, personal development, and overall satisfaction.

The slight edge works, however, it may work for you or work against you. The simple daily disciplines pave your path to success, while simple daily errors break you. The little choice you choose every day shapes your fate. Everything you do adds up. There are only 2 paths, to success and to failure, there is no something in between.

There are only 2 paths, to success and to failure, there is no something in between.
The picture is taken from The Slight Edge book.

And it is good news that at any time you can step to the success path, it is bad news that you can also step to the failure path at whatever time. You change your path by replacing your habit. A bad habit is being replaced by a good one improves your life, while the other way around worsens it. If you spend 2 hours a day reading romance novels, do change it to reading personal development books, if you like playing computer games, why not switch to programming? Remember that you do not have to make the entire change all of a sudden, just a little bit a day and increase it over time when you feel comfortable.

Olson has a good statement: Philosophy creates attitudes, which create actions, which create results, which create your life.

This concurs with a Chinese’s old sayings:

Watch your thoughts, they become your words;

watch your words, they become your actions;

watch your actions, they become your habits;

watch your habits, they become your character;

watch your character, it becomes your destiny.

Lao Tzu

however, Olson adds the philosophy to the beginning of the chain, and that totally makes sense.


There is also one factor that plays a big role in the abovementioned transformations, the factor of time.

People these days are so rushed. The reason may be because we are immersed in the world of instant services: fast food gives us something to eat in a minute, instantly-clickable-links responses to our requests in a second, movies show us an entire plot (in which the movie characters live days or months or years) in 2 hours, etc. Being used to those fast feedbacks, we tend to forget the importance of time. In fact, because time is so crucial, thus in order to increase the satisfaction of customers using the services, the providers attempted to reduce the waiting time and that is what caused our instant world today.

However, humans are not capable of changing one’s philosophy, or actions, or habits or destiny that fast yet. Perhaps in the future, there would be technology to make changes to our brains in a wink, but that is the future, we are not there yet. We of today still need to follow the ancient rule of progress: plant, cultivate, harvest. And that cultivate-phase takes time.

Have you ever read a self-help book but get nothing or little impact from it? The fact is, everything you learned from a good personal-development book does really work. However, you didn’t do it or you tried but failed, so you stopped doing it. Many are like you. Those books show you how to do, what you lack is the method to do the how-to-do. Those advices actually work, however, not in the blink of an eye. We are not able to feel the difference yet, but if we keep doing and doing over day and day, you will become the master before you realized it.

Consistently repeated daily actions + time = inconquerable results.

There is no secret of great men. They are just mortals with a big dream plus some diligence. You only know the great men when they shine, you don’t know what and how long have they gone through. They went through no quantum leap. That quantum leap term is ear-catching, despite they are not real. These breakthroughs do happen but after a long time of steady, seemingly-boring work. Yes, those are boring, but they give you success, so are they boring anymore? Keep doing and you will have the power. Keep learning and trying to work better and your salary will rise, keep being nice to people and your relationships will get steadier. It eventually will, just not right now, or not next week or maybe even next month. Keep doing.

Positive and negative results don’t show up overnight. Be patient, look toward improving just 1% a day and then after a year you will gain more than triple of your initial value.


Here we step back and talk about another factor, which affects the process of you building on your slight edge philosophy, that is happiness.

In his The Happiness Advantage book, Shawn Achor showed that after intensive research, the conclusion is: happiness comes first, then success. This seems unintuitive to most of us since we used to think that success will bring us happiness, but actually it is the other way around: happiness brings success. The feeling of happiness enhances our brains and bodies, makes us more productive, more confident, more positive, braver, more conscious, give us more motivation to practice the slight edge and achieve more.

And the good news is: we don’t need to chase after happiness, happiness already inhabited inside each of us. It is up to you to perceive if you are happy or not, that happiness has a lot less to do with your circumstances than you think. It is your view of things that matter, do you see a half-full or half-empty glass of water? I hope you perceive it as a chock-full glass.

On another point of view, happiness is like health, in terms that you need to spend time to do exercise regularly. Below is the list of suggested daily exercises for you, however, you are not obliged to limit yourself to this list, you also do not have to do all these exercises, just pick some and do it daily. Time will add the value up.

  • Write 3 new things you are grateful for.
  • Close your eye and journal for 2 minutes about a positive experience from the past.
  • Meditate a few minutes.
  • Write an email to someone praising or thanking them.
  • Spend 15 minutes for cardio.
  • Practice savoring the moment.
  • Think about the good side of things around you.
  • Practice forgiveness.
  • Giving.
  • Read 10 pages of a good book daily.

Practice being happy and you will see your philosophy of the slight edge also improved, which then leads you to success in every aspect of your life.

Your environment

So happiness helps with your slight edge philosophy, now, let’s trace back to see what helps happiness.

We have stated above that happiness lies inside ourselves and depends on solely our views. However, it is not so bad to get some help from others either. We are living in a world of collaboration and nobody is able to live alone without help from others and helping others. That general rule is also applicable to your happiness, that your happiness also depends on the environment around you.

Keep surrounding yourself with positive and mind-like people. Research shows that every aspect of your life, including your relationships, financial health, attitudes, level of success, etc. all tend to be the average of your closest 5 associates. Live with positive pals and help each other to maintain your healthy minds. This also means that you should disassociate negative people. This may be tough, especially when those people are your family or relatives. However, it is not necessary to ignore them completely, but instead limit your time with them.

When talking about your environment and relationships, that would be a loss if we don’t include the mentors and mentees. Being a mentor of someone and a mentee of some other is always advisable, those are the mutual-benefit relationships that, in one way or the other, affect your success the most.

Make the slight edge your friend

Up till now, we have gone through the definition, explanation and other aspects that have influences on your slight edge philosophy. Next, we come to the 4 tips to keep you consistent on working the slight edge, those are:

  • Momentum. Make good actions a part of your routine. When you have enough exposure to them, you become comfortable with them and then they eventually move into your comfort zone.
  • Completion. Write the work down and keep it in your vicinity.
  • Reflection: list up the little work and cross it when you have it done. You can also make a streak-record, which counts the number of consecutive days you have done the work. If it is possible, have a coach.
  • Celebration: catch yourself when you do something right. Take several seconds to acknowledge that.

Start with a penny

You have done with the theories. Now, it is time to practice.

The future is in your hands. Don’t hope for something happens someday that will completely change your life. It is up to you to actively do it. You have read all the above, but everything will be useless if you just keep it there. Your life will change starting the time you take action, DO IT NOW.

It is very easy, you just need to start with a penny. You don’t need to do big things, just start with an easy act. Add 1% to your skill or knowledge a day, after a year it will be more than tripled. To start with, even 0.1% is good enough. Do it. If you plan to exercise 15 minutes a day to lose weight, just start today with 5 minutes, and gradually increase in the next days, do every single day.

The slight edge works, happiness is so useful, you know that. However, there would not be anything changed if you just know but not getting started.

Write your plan down (remember to be specific, clear what to do and when to do) and start it now. A plan may not get you there, your plan will likely change, however it gets you started.

Your greatness awaits you, do a little today and every day.

My final thoughts

I’m sure I could not cover all the great insights Olson gave in his book. His skills in telling the stories are also exceptional. This book is very easy to read, as easy as the slight edge, but also so powerful. I would definitely recommend everyone to read this.

Do not focus much on the goal but on little things every day.

The book: The Slight Edge: Turning Simple Disciplines into Massive Success and Happiness by Jeff Olson

One thought on “Book Review: The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson

  1. 👍🏻 I’m going to read this book tonight.
    It has something similar to the 7 effective habits that I’ve learnt before.

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