I recently read this exceptional interview with Naval Ravikant by Farnam Street. Naval is the CEO and Founder of AngelList. In this interview, he speaks about reading, habits, decision-making, mental models, and life.
Adding my notes below.
These days I find myself rereading as much or more as I do reading. I think this was a tweet from an account on Twitter that I saw, this guy @illacertus, and he basically said, “I don’t want to read everything. I just want to read the 100 great books over and over again.” I think there’s a lot to that. It’s really more about identifying what are the great books to you, because different books speak to different people, and then really absorbing those.
I’m less habitual than most people. I don’t like to structure my day. To the extent that I do have habits, I’m trying to make them more deliberate rather than accidents of history.
I did a lot of habit changes over the last few years. I’ve now got a daily workout that I do, which is a great habit. I cut down heavily on drinking. It’s not totally eliminated, but it’s mostly gone. I dropped caffeine. I’m not on the paleo diet, although I’d like to be, so I’m on a variation on it that I call the faileo diet. I try to be paleo, but I fail at it constantly. I don’t beat myself up over it because I feel that even approximating toward it is better than where I’ve been historically
In my mind, the mind should be a servant and a tool, not a master. It’s not something that should be controlling me and driving me 24/7.
I do not want my sense of self to continue to develop and become stronger as I get older. I want it to be weaker and more muted so that I can live much more in present every day reality and accept nature and the world for what it is and appreciate it very much as a child would. Then not have to seek happiness through external circumstances, chasing the fits of preconceived notion that I have.
“My number one priority in life, above my happiness, above my family, above my work, is my own health. It starts with my physical health.” Second, it’s my mental health. Third, it’s my spiritual health. Then it’s my family’s health. Then it’s my family’s wellbeing. After that, I can go out and do whatever I need to do with the rest of the world. In the morning, I work out and however long it takes is how long it takes. I do not start my day, and I don’t care if the world is imploding and melting down, it can wait another 30 minutes until I’m done working out.
The brain is a memory prediction machine. It has a memory of things that worked in the past and what it’s read and it’s trying to predict the future. A lousy way to do memory prediction is X happened in the past, therefore X will happen in the future. It’s too based on specific circumstances. What you want is you want principles. You want mental models. (https://www.farnamstreetblog.com/mental-models/)
I don’t believe that I have the ability to say what is going to work. Rather, what I try to do is I try to eliminate what’s not going to work. I think being successful is just about not making mistakes. It’s not about having correct judgment. It’s about avoiding the incorrect judgments.
I think the number one thing that clouds us from being able to see reality is that we have preconceived notions of the way it should be.
The ability to learn, the means of learning, the tools of learning, are abundant and infinite. It’s the desire that’s incredibly scarce.
I think learning should be about learning the basics in all the fields and learning them really well over and over. Life is mostly about applying the basics and only doing the advanced stuff in the things that you truly love and where you understand the basics inside out.
Every positive thought essentially holds within it a negative thought. It is a contrast to something negative. You have to view the negative before you can aspire to and then appreciate the positive
If you view yourself as a bacteria or an amoeba or if you view all of your works as writing on water or building castles in the sand, then you have no expectation from how life should actually be. Life is just the way it is. Then you accept that and you have no cause to be happy or unhappy.
Watch your internal monologue.
Values are a set of things we will not compromise on. When values line up, things don’t matter.
All benefits in life come from compound interest.
Anger is like hot coal that you hold in your hand while waiting to throw at somebody.
I don’t believe in ‘never’ and ‘always’.
I don’t have time is just another way of saying that ‘it is not a priority’
Advise to younger self: Do things with less emption and less anger.
When it comes to learn to be happy, train yourself to be happy, completely internal, no external progress, no external validation, 100% you’re competing against yourself, single-player game. We are such social creatures, we’re more like bees or ants, that we’re externally programmed and driven, that we just don’t know how to play and win at these single-player games anymore. We compete purely on multi-player games. The reality is life is a single-player game. You’re born alone. You’re going to die alone. All of your interpretations are alone. All your memories are alone. You’re gone in three generations and nobody cares. Before you showed up, nobody cared. It’s all single-player.
I try not to have too much that I’ve pre-decided upon. I think that creating identities and labels locks you in and keeps you from seeing the truth. I used to identify as libertarian, but then I would have to find myself defending positions that I hadn’t really thought through just because they’re a part of libertarian canon. The reality is that, if all of your beliefs line up into neat little bundles, you should be highly suspicious because they’re prepackaged and put together.
Social approval is inside the herd. If you want social approval, definitely go read what the herd is reading. It takes a level of contrarianism in saying, “Nope. I’m just going to do my own thing, regardless of the social outcome to learn anything, I think, that’s interesting.”
No one in the world is going to beat you at being you. You’re never going to be as good at being me as I am. I’m never going to be as good at being you as you are. Certainly listen, absorb, but don’t try and emulate.
Your goal in life is to find out the people who need you the most, to find out the business that needs you the most, to find the project and the art that needs you the most. There is something out there just for you. What you don’t want to do is be building checklists and decision frameworks built on what other people are doing. You’re never going to be that. You’ll never be good at being somebody else.
I don’t believe in macro improving the world. There’s a lot of people out there who get really fired up about I’m going to change the world, I’m going to change this person, I’m going to change the way people think. I think it’s all micro. It’s like change yourself, then maybe change your family and your neighbor before you get into abstract concepts about I’m going to change the world.
Easy choices, hard life. Hard choices, easy life.
To see the truth, you have to get your ego out of the way because your ego doesn’t want to face the truth. The smaller you can make your ego, the less conditioned you can make your reactions, the less desires you can have about the outcome you want, the easier it to see the reality.
Vision without execution is a hallucination.
Go find the thing you can commit to for 10 years because that’s how long it’s going to take, minimum, to get a good outcome. You have to enjoy the journey because there’s no guarantee on the outcome.
I don’t subscribe to anything fanciful just because it was written down in a book. It’s basically try everything, test it for yourself, be skeptical, keep what’s useful and discard what’s not.
If I had one wish, the most important thing to me would be I would constantly be running my mind in debug mode. I would literally be watching every single thought I have and letting no reaction pass without it being stopped, inspected, strip searched, examined, understood, and then let go. The reality is that takes a lot of time and we’re highly conditioned creatures. I do view a lot of my goals over the next few years of unconditioning previous learned responses or habituated responses, so that I can make decisions more cleanly in the moment without relying on memory or prepackaged heuristics and judgments.
You have to find your own fundamental truth.
There is no meaning to life. There is no purpose to life. Osho said, “It’s like writing on water or building houses on sand.” The reality is you’ve been dead for the history of the universe, it’s 10 billion years or more. You will be dead for the next 70 billion years or so until the heat death of universe. Anything you do will fade. It will disappear, just like the human race will disappear and the planet will disappear.