Summary of the Excellence Habit by Vlad Zachary

Subtitle: How small changes in our mindset can make a big difference in our lives

I persuaded the librarian to purchase this book. I was searching for books that glorified the small and the tiny because I read about ’Tiny Habit’ by Stephen Guise and thought it had great potential. Also I was bored of books promising earth-shattering changes only to realize that nothing much has changed in my life after reading dozens of such books.

Readers of motivational books face a problem similar to that of porn users. At the start, a simple quote can make you motivated and excited. But the more you read about getting motivated, the harder it is to get your butt off the couch and do your work. You need more intense, more profound insights (more hardcore, more pervert sights in the case of porn) to get by.

I know the author has probably written three or more drafts and sent it to the editor. The editor in turn made more changes. I appreciate the effort authors generally put to convey the message and so my idea of summary is just quoting the author verbatim. It’s a hard job though. If there is a strong theme running throughout the book or if every other page in the book contains a deep insight, the summary is going to run across pages.

However that’s not the problem with this book. I was able to (poorly) summarise in less than two pages. There are some nuggets of insights which you’ll find interesting. So here we go.

The idea behind the excellence habit: “The main source of success is excellence, and excellence depends  more on our internal circumstances. Grit, determination and the discipline to put in the hard work as a matter of habit, and not a matter of need, are crucial.”

On the difference between success and excellence:

Success is about results. Excellence is about process

How to achieve excellence

  1. Practise
  2. Pay attention ”while doing the boring practise stuff”
  3. Improve the process by the data you have garnered during practise

The three rules of excellence

  1. Iceberg principle: majority of our efforts are invisible to the eye -> so keep at it though your efforts don’t have an immediate payoff
  2. Not selling out: no matter what the circumstances, keep intact core values, beliefs and principles
  3. The journey mindset: In any field and endeavour, we are the sum of all our preparations.


What are the small changes in our mindset that can make a big difference

  1. When time starts running out, so does our capacity for reaction, problem solving and creativity. Awareness and preparation are critical to how well we perform when short on time.
  2. Two minutes of power posing can change the outcome of important events like a job interview. See Amy Cuddy’s Ted talk here. The author seems to be a big fan of Amy and her story runs in couple of his chapters.
  3. Understand the type of motivation you respond to: If you’re a high achiever, make sure you think of your assignment as serious and important. Describing tasks as enjoyable will undercut your performance. If you have a hard time getting motivated, think in terms of doing it for fun rather than contemplate on the seriousness or urgency.
  4. N-Effect: When the total number of competitors you are about to face reduces our motivation to complete, you have the N-Effect.  When you have the N-effect, make sure you don’t see the total number of competitors. It could be achieved by choosing a field where competition is less, opening shops where there are no competitors, going to interview early in the day at a time where all the candidates hasn’t turned up, taking examination in a small room with few applicants.
  5. The way to motivate ourselves for excellent performance in any task is to imagine that we are getting immediate feedback.
  6. Navigate by resistance: “Like a magnetised needle floating on a surface of oil, resistance will unfailingly point to true north, meaning that calling or action it most wants to stop us from doing. We can use this. You can use it as a compass. We can navigate by resistance, letting it guide us to that calling or action we must follow before all others. “ Steven Pressfield

Quotes I liked:

All the quotes are from the entrepreneurs he interviews.

Luck matters

Part of the game is being able to stay functional long enough to allow for your lucky breaks to come. I personally believe that luck is part of every success story. Talent is important. But if you are at the wrong time, at the wrong place, things won’t happen. – Taffy Williams

On the need for healthy ego

If you don’t have a healthy ego, you probably shouldn’t be an entrepreneur. It is not a question of whether the company will stumble but when and how badly. This requires entrepreneurs  to be confident  and aggressive as business people. – Taffy Williams

The magic formula for start-up success

There is no magic formula to start-up success. It is a lot of dedicated tenacity to beat your own fear of failing. The persistence and dedication to simply exist, move forward, and continue to fight is outrageously important to young companies. So part of the importance of being able to reach a successful outcome is, as boring as it sounds, to simply survive. If you could be lucky, rather than good, I would always take that first. And if you can be both lucky and good, than it maximises your chances.– Alan Knitowski

Entrepreuners are lonely people

The harsh reality of being an entrepreneur is that it often feels pretty lonely. What people don’t see behind the scenes is what typically motivates you to do whatever is needed to move things forward. You have to get out of bed every day ready to fight and continue that day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year. You have to know what to do when you get curve balls. You need to be self-aware what mental framework influences you. And you need to execute violently. – Alan Knitowski

Building awareness:

  1. Get to know your personality. It involves five main dimensions: extroversion-introversion, conscientiousness, agreeableness, neuroticism, and openness to experience. Myers-Briggs test is a good one.
  2. Get to know how others see you. There are seven components of perception: cultural background, personality, friends and family, regional background, gender, race and religion, social skills.
  3. Five steps to effective perception management:
  • Identify how you think you’re perceived
  • Learn how you actually are perceived(set-up honest, relaxed, casual conversations with people who know you for more than three months)
  • Define how you want to be perceived ( write it down)
  • Take steps to change perception
  • Build perception management into a habit
  1. Four principal temperament types
  • Extroversion Vs Introversion
  • Sensing Vs Intuition
  • Thinking Vs Feeling
  • Judging Vs perceiving

Leveraging Temparaments

16 different tempering types are possible. The author has presented four of them with a description of how to best manage.

  1. The steady(sensing-judging traditionalist) – serious, responsible, straightforward, consistent
  2. The Driven(sensing-perceiving experiencers) – easy going, seemingly carefree attitude, informal
  3. The Analyst (intuitive thinking type) – logical, objective, long-range thinkers, sophisticated vocabularies
  4. The visionary – spend long hours thinking and talking issues of global concerns

However people can have more than one temperament or they can exhibit one temperament at home and one in office. The critical part is to identify the temparent and frame your requests in a way that resonates with the particular temparament type.

Then the final part deals with navigating office politics. In office, you need to get to know the influencers, have an agenda, create alliances and take sides in line with your agenda. Also you need to understand the trigger words – words or topics that get the emotions high and use them to your advantage.  In a way, this book focuses on career and productivity to the exclusion  of other aspects of life.

Did you like the summary? Do you have any questions? Tell me about it.

Also do reach out to me if you’re feeling down and miserable. I’m a ‘Happiness coach’ and I live by the mantra: pain is inevitable, suffering is optional. If you’re suffering, it’s time we meet. No matter whether it’s anxiety, addiction, depression, compulsions, phobia, shame or guilt, together we’re going to tackle it in a way you never thought possible. Contact me now.


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