“The Achievement Habit” by Bernard Roth

Did you know that achievement can be learnt? As Bernie Roth Explains, achievement is a muscle. And once you learn how to flex it, you’ll be able to meet life challenges and meet your goals. In this regard, haven’t you noted that the 1st key to success is getting started? I just like the Nike promo pick up line–just do it! So for the last few days I’ve been hooked up with getting up, recollecting myself and getting started on few aspects of life. Among those encompassed a wonderful great read authored by Bernard Roth entitled“The Achievement Habit”The author of this incredible book has been a Stanford University engineering professor for over 5o years. This book is all about applying design thinking to the most important design projects of your life. He expounds on how to effectively optimize our lives…actualize our potential…and make achievement a habit.

In this book, Roth shares life strategies that almost knocked my socks off. It is evident that there’s distinct difference between trying and doing, which remains the central objective of the book. The extremities of how deploying resiliency to reinforce what you do rather than what you accomplish sparks an astounding move for anyone willing to get started and transcend from zero to hero. 

In this blog, I’ll share my major key Ideas. Enjoy!



1.  Odd Schmodds


2. Do V.s Try

Start doing!

3. The Final Countdown

 What picture will it portray about you?

4.Design Thinking

Activate it!

5. Being The Cause

You can if you think you can

I honestly wish I read this book when I was 10 but thank God I finally did.Lots of awesomeness in here. So let’s jump straight in!


“Statistics show you trends, they can’t predict your life.

Likewise, consider that the odds have always been against greatness. If one were to decide on a career path just by the odds of financial success, we would have no movie stars, authors, poets, or musicians. The odds of any one person becoming a professional, self-supporting musician are very low—and yet turn on the radio and you hear hundreds of them. The odds were against the Beatles, Elvis, and the Grateful Dead, too. They could have been ‘scientific’ about the whole thing and chosen more reasonable career paths, and what a loss for the world that would have been!

If you succeed, the odds are then meaningless. Any path may have a 2 percent success rate, yet if you’re in that 2 percent, there’s a 100 percent chance of success for you. The long shots are often the most rewarding.

—Bernard Roth from The Achievement Habit”


That’s a passage from the chapter “Doing Is Everything.”

It precedes a section called “The Gift of Failure” where Bernie tells us about the fact that Oprah was FIRED from her first job as a television anchor (hah!), Dr. Seuss’s first book was rejected dozens of times (it only got published because a friend decided to publish it himself!), and, of course, Edison failed countless times in pursuit of a commercially viable light bulb.

As Bernie tells us: “Almost without exception, people who have done great things have also experienced great failures.”

But you. (<— I’m talking to you and the guy in my mirror. 🙂

You think you need to achieve success without even the slightest failure.


Not gonna happen.

We come back to this idea again and again. Let’s get it. When we have a bias to action and DO things, we’re going to fall short of our goals. And, we need to know that’s awesome.

Speaking of awesome, here’s how Tony Horton puts it in The Big Picture:There’s nothing wrong with failing. In fact, failure needs a new name. ‘Failure’ should be renamed ‘awesome.’ Everyone loves awesome… Most folks think of failure as the opposite of success, but I beg to differ.

It’s like what Winston Churchill said: Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm. Failure and success are Siamese twins; they don’t exist without each other. There’s no way around it. The problem with the word ‘failure’ is that it connotes that you’re a loser—and losers don’t succeed or win or get the girl (or guy or pie or pot of gold or whatever it is you want to get). As a result, many people would rather play it safe, not take chances, not explore, and never, ever stick their neck out to actually try.”

Any failures you need to reframe as awesomes?

Now a good time to do that?

P.S. I love the way Bernie frames the odds of success. If you’re in that 2% who wind up succeeding, your chance of success is 100 percent. Hah. That’s fantastic.

Reminds me of my Grandfather’s wisdom to me 20 years ago when I was disheartened by the fact that only one out of hundreds of people would achieve a certain goal I found appealing at the time.“Sounds like great odds,” he said. “How many of you are there?”

Here’s to having a clear sense of what we *really* want, believing in our ability to make it happen and taking the smart, massive action in pursuit of that cherished goal.


Roth shares that there’s a distinct difference between doing and trying. The concept here is that its always far prudent to favor action over thinking…rather than trying, do it. The catch here is that most people always weighed down by obstacles. They gain momentum, enthusiasm,and confidence… then when few obstacles show up, their determination wanes and melts away. Always remember that obstacles are results of an experiment called life. I once shared in my blog post“The Lab of Life” that “We are all experimenters in the lab of life…and that “all life is experiment, the more experiments the better.”

Here is a caption: 

“We are all experimenters in the lab of life,

Whether it’s a joy ride or a strife,

It’s all fun since experiments never fail!

We’re all safe in the sail,

Since it’s all about collecting data,

So  let’s join the ride and test the lab of life”

The summary here is this: Obstacles are just mere data that you obtain on your way to your ultimate goal. Always remember that when you make 100% commitment, you’re not laid down by obstacles. 

The trick is simple, either do it or don’t. There’s literally nothing like “trying.” Don’t try doing, simply do it. It’s time to move from trying to doing it. 


In this concept, Roth shares the idea that our lives are going to end some day…and the final countdown is so unpredictable. It maybe in few hours time..or maybe tomorrow…or next week or next year. Always remember that tomorrow is an additional day to that countdown. The big question here is this: suppose you had only 10 more days or 10 more hours to live…what would you do–differently–to define yourself? It’s unfortunate that it’s a mystery when you or I or anyone else may take a french leave from the universe for instance. Whats the point? Now is the time to become the person you aspire to be. We don’t know when the final countdown is going to come, that’s intricacy. You better stay guarded with your dreams completed when that fateful moment dawns.

Roth further affirms that one sure thing we know about tomorrow is that you’ll be one day closer to that final countdown. When we come to terms with this, this can catalyze us to do the things we want to do NOW…in order to optimize, actualize and achieve. I think Roth was quite elaborate. (Moment of Silence).

As I wind up, I need to affirm the Odds Schmodds concept. Always remember that all great things were achieved against the odds. And if all you did was to live our life based on what it has the best odds of success–if everybody did that–we’d literally never have achieved anything great. We’d have no movie stars or musicians and so forth. 

We need to have a good relationship with our odds…and if you’re in the 2% that can can succeed (as quoted in Idea 1),then your chances of success are 100% 


There are 5 key tenets to design thinking.

  1. Empathize– This is where it starts. When you design, you’re not primarily doing it for yourself. You’re doing it with other peoples needs and desires in mind. start focusing on the person/client that you are serving. Manufacture ways to serve them better. Help them get better each day. Empathize, 1st. Don’t worry about the money, let service precede and money will surely flow in. 
  2. Define the Problem-narrow down to the cause of the problem at hand. Just dive in with an open mind, no criticism or opinions. Seek to understand before you are understood. 
  3. Ideatecreate ideas to solve the problem identified in step 2 above. 
  4. Prototype Here, we place the concept of being perfect aside. In summary, we embrace failure and master the process. We ship, find the appropriate type of prototype we need, then proceed to step 5. 
  5. Test-here, we cultivate self awareness by asking ourselves, “what do I really want to see or experience?”

It’s all about cultivating the achievement habit. Cultivate the flow from step 1 to 5 from designing your thinking and never limit yourself.


I really enjoyed this book. Some books have a great message but are a chore to read. Some are easy reads but don’t have great content. This book has both.

There were so many great messages, like reasons are often just excuses that keep us from doing the things we really want to do. There are also tips on how to get unstuck – the author explains that you have to change the way you think about a problem – and then he tells you how to do that using “design thinking.” He also provides 22 creative strategies to use when you’re stuck.

In each chapter, he includes a section called “Your Turn” where he provides exercises you can do to apply what you’ve just read. I didn’t do them all, but I did the ones in the areas where I most needed help and found them very effective.

A few quotes from the book I particularly liked:

“You can make a decision right now to see yourself differently, and then to become different.” This was a good reminder to me that the past does not have to equal the future. If there’s an area we’d like to change, we can.


“Nothing is what you think it is.” His point was that WE give things their meaning.


“It’s not about me.” This thought comes in handy when we find ourselves thinking that other people’s actions are related to what we did or did not do. Their actions are usually about them & what’s going on in their lives, not us.

Loved the book!

decision to be different

“There’s always a degree of inelasticity in the edge of an accomplished target… a lustre of unpolished competence… unearthed creativity or unveiled drama.. all which can be outstretched to blend a masterpiece”
–Vincent Wambua


About the Author of “The Achievement Habit”

 Bernard Roth


Roth is one of the founders of the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford (the d.school) and is active in its development: currently, he serves as Academic Director. His design interests include organizing and presenting workshops on creativity, group interactions, and the problem solving process. Formerly he researched the kinematics, dynamics, control, and design of computer controlled mechanical devices. In kinematics, he studied the mathematical theory of rigid body motions and its application to the design of machines (from https://profiles.stanford.edu/bernard-roth ).

About the Author of This Note



Vincent Wambua is a lover of wisdom (aka a “Philosopher”) and a passionate student of life who’s committed to inspiring and empowering millions of people to live their greatest lives as he studies, embodies and shares the universal truths of optimal living. He harts his job.


As always,Let’s Keep Optimizing and see you at the top where there’s enough room for everyone 🙂

Connect To Me, I’m quite Social!


Follow me on:Twitter 

*If you are looking for poetry and my life empowerment program materials  click, Here






4 comments on ““The Achievement Habit” by Bernard Roth

  1. Pingback: Links To Motivation And Leadership Articles – My Daily Musing

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