Naval Ravikant: The Angel Philosopher on Investing, Making Decisions, Happiness and the Meaning of Life – The Knowledge Project

Check out The Knowledge Project Episode Page & Show Notes

This interview, arguably the best podcast episode ever recorded, was originally posted in February 2017. For its two year anniversary, we decided to go back and cover it. We hope you enjoy. As it is perhaps the best podcast to ever hit the internet, we highly encourage you to give it listen if you haven’t already. 

Key Takeaways

  • One of the best things you can do for yourself is to develop a reading habit
    • Not sure what to read? – The best books are the ones you’re excited about reading
  • View reading as an investment – a book costs $10 or $20 and can change your life in a meaningful way
  • On reading:
    • “I probably read 1 to 2 hours a day”
    • “That alone puts me in the top .00001% and accounts for any material success that I’ve had in my life”
  • Some advice – Only associate with people where you don’t have to drink to be around them
  • When people say they don’t have time for something, all it means is it’s not a priority
    • If you make something your number one priority, you’ll get it done
  • On Happiness:
    • “Happiness is a default state. It’s what’s there when you remove the sense that something is missing from your life.”
    • “Nature has no concept of happiness or unhappiness”
      • In nature – everything is perfect the way it is
      • “It’s only in our particular minds that we’re unhappy or happy”
  • “Every positive thought has a seed of a negative thought within it”
    • An example – if someone says they’re happy, it means they were unhappy at some point
  • When the monkey mind won’t stop, here’s a tip:
    • Ask yourself – “Do I really need to solve this problem right now?”
    • The reality is that 95% of what your brain runs off to do, you probably don’t need to tackle at that exact moment
    • In fact, if the brain is like a muscle, then you’d be better off resting it, being at peace, and when the particular problem arises, immersing yourself in it
  • Naval recalls a Buddhist saying – “Anger is a hot coal that you hold in your hand while waiting to throw it at somebody else”
  • Here’s some advice Naval would give to his younger self – “Do everything you’re going to do, but with less emotion, and especially less anger”
  • On making decisions – “The more of a desire I have that it work out a certain way, the less likely I am to see the truth”
  • And of course, some classic Naval quotes:
    • “All the benefits in life come from compound interest; whether in money, relationships, love, health, activities or habits”
    • “Life is a single player game. You’re born alone. You’ll die alone. All your interpretations are alone. All your memories are alone. And in three generations, you’ll be gone – no one will care. Before you were born – nobody cared.”
    • “All of the real scorecards are internal” – like learning to be happy
    • “Any given time when you’re walking down the street, a very small percentage of your brain is focused on the present. The rest is future planning or regretting the past. That’s keeping you from an incredible experience. It’s keeping you from seeing the beauty in everything and being grateful for where you are. It can literally destroy your happiness if you spend all your time living in delusions of the future.”
    • “The tools and means to learn are infinite, it’s the desire to learn that’s incredibly scarce”
    • “I think education should be about learning the basics in all the fields, and learning them really well over and over, because life is mostly just about applying the basics and only doing the advanced stuff in the things you truly love, where you know the basics inside and out”
    • “You don’t need to do anything. All you should do is what you want to do. When you stop trying to figure out how to do things the way other people want you to do them, then you get to listen to that little voice inside your head that wants to do things a certain way, and then you get to be you. No one in the world is going to beat you at being you.”
    • “Each person is uniquely qualified at something – they have some specific knowledge, capability, and desire, that no one else in the world does”
      • So your goal in life – find the people/business/project that needs you the most
      • “There’s something out there just for you”

Books Mentioned

What does Naval do?

  • He’s the CEO of AngelList as well as an investor in about 200 companies and an adviser to many
  • He’s a regular on Twitter

What does a typical day for Naval look like?

  • “I don’t have a typical day nor do I want a typical day”
  • “I’m trying to get rid of the concept of having to be at a specific place at a specific time”
    • “All I care about is am I doing what I want to do, am I being productive, and am I happy”
    • “I really want to break away from this idea of forty hour weeks, or 9 to 5s, or roles, or jobs or identities. It just all feels like a straight jacket.”

The Origin of Naval’s Passion for Reading

  • “Reading was my first love”
    • Naval and his brother, Kamal, were raised by a single mother in Jamaica, Queens (New York City)
      • The library was his after-school center -“I would just hang out there until they closed”
        • Back then, Naval would read whatever he could get his hands on
        • “I’ve always loved to read because I’m actually an anti-social introvert”
  • “When I was young, nobody forced me on what to read”
    • “The reality is that I just read a lot, that by today’s standards, would be considered mental junk food. Eventually, you just get to like reading, you run out of junk food, and you start reading the healthy food.”‘
      • Naval started out reading comic books, then eventually graduated to mystery novels, fantasy, science fiction  and eventually on to science, mathematics, and philosophy
      • “But I was lucky there was no one around when I was 7 years old saying, ‘You shouldn’t read that, you should read this instead.'”

Books and More on Naval’s Reading Habit

What are Naval’s least favorite books?

  • The ones that go on and on about simple ideas
    • This is why he tends to avoid the whole business and self-help category
    • “You generally have one good idea, and it’s buried in hundreds of pages”

Make Reading a Habit

  • “How you make it a habit doesn’t matter”
  • Reading is like working out – doing something is better than doing nothing
  • The best workout for you is the one you’re excited about and the same goes for books – the best books to read are the ones you’re excited about reading

Habits

  • “Human beings are entirely creatures of habit”
  • Habits you might not even think about:
    • How often you eat
    • What you eat
    • Your mood
    • Your happiness levels and your overall attitude
    • Whether or not you tend to judge people
    • If you read or exercise
  • “We unconsciously pick up habits in the background and we keep them for decades. We may not even realize they’re bad for us.”
    • It’s really important to be able to uncondition yourself from your habits
      • You need to be able to recognize habits that you picked up years ago, that may no longer serve you
  • What habits is Naval working on changing or implementing?
    • Trying to workout daily
    • Cutting down on drinking
    • Dropping caffeine
    • Eating more of a paleo diet
    • Meditating more often, or at least being meditative
    • Doing yoga more regularly
  • “I reject a lot of the stuff that’s being pedaled around today about how you form and break habits”
    • Common wisdom says we can’t break habits, we can only replace them 
      • Naval doesn’t agree – “You can uncondition yourself, you can untrain yourself, it’s just hard”
  • But the biggest habit Naval is trying to implement…
    • He’s trying to turn off his monkey mind
      • “When we are born as children, we’re pretty blank slates, living very much in the moment and we’re essentially just reacting to our environment and our instincts. We’re living in what I’d call the real world. When puberty comes along, so comes the onset of desire. It’s the first time you really, really want something, and you start long-range planning for it. And then because of that, you start thinking a lot, and you start building an identity and an ego to go and get what you want. This is all normal and healthy – it’s all part of being a human animal, but I think at some point it gets out of control, and then we’re constantly just talking to ourselves in our heads. We’re playing little movies in our heads. We’re just walking down the street, but no one’s actually there. If you started voicing the thoughts you have in your head, you’d be thought of as a madman and they’d lock you up.”
        • All day long, we’re constantly judging everything we see, playing back things in our mind of what may have happened yesterday etc. – This just pulls us out of base reality
        • Something like this is good for long range planning and solving problems, but it’s bad for happiness
      • “In my mind, the mind should be a tool, or servant, and I’m the master. It’s not something that should be controlling and driving me 24/7.”
      • On breaking the habit of uncontrolled thinking – “That’s not a 6 month habit. This will take years.”

Alcohol

  • Naval is also working on his alcohol dependence
    • The two main barriers:
      • Availability (alcohol being available and accepted in social settings)
      • Desire 
    • To avoid the availability barrier…
      • You can stay in (but that’s not all that fun)
      • Or you can work out in the mornings, which is what started doing
        • If he drinks the night before, the morning workout becomes a LOT more difficult 
  • With much thought, Naval eventually realized he was drinking alcohol to survive longer in social environments which he wasn’t particularly happy in
    • He discovered a great fix for this – “Only associate with people where you don’t have to drink to be around them”
  • Naval still drinks occasionally, but he much prefers to be in a position where he doesn’t need/desire to

The Habit That Has Most Positively Impacted Naval’s Life

  • His daily morning workout
    • Naval feels healthier, younger, and he doesn’t stay out late because of it
  • “Everyone says they don’t have time [to workout]”
    • This really just means it’s not a priority
    • “If something is your number one priority, you will get it done”
      • So Naval said to himself – “My number priority in life, above my happiness, above my family, is my own health. And it starts with my physical health, and then second is my mental health, and then third is my spiritual health, and then it’s my family’s health, and then it’s my family’s well-being, and then after that I can go out and do whatever I need to do in the world.”
      • “Since my physical health became my number one priority, then I could never say I don’t have time.  So in the morning, I just work out, and however long it takes, is how long it takes. And I do not start my day until I’m done working out. I don’t care if the world is imploding and melting down. It can wait another 30 minutes until I’m done working out.”

What does happiness mean to Naval?

  • “There are no answers that apply to everybody”
    • “These questions have answers, but they have personal answers”
    • “Whatever happiness means to me, it means something different to everyone else”‘
      • Some people say it’s a flow state, some people say it’s satisfaction, others say it’s a feeling of contentment
    • Naval’s answer:
      • “My definition keeps evolving”
      • “Happiness is a default state. It’s what’s there when you remove the sense that something is missing from your life.
        • When nothing is missing, your mind shuts down
        • “In that absence, you have eternal silence. When you have that silence, you are content and happy.”
  • “People believe mistakenly that happiness is about positive thoughts and positive actions, but the more I’ve read, the more I’ve learned, the more I’ve experienced…every positive thought essentially holds within it a negative thought”
    • The book, Tao Te Ching, talks more about this
    • “Every positive thought has a seed of a negative thought within it”
    • If someone says they are happy, it means they were unhappy at some point
    • If someone is attractive, it means someone else is unattractive
  • Naval expands:
    • “Happiness is not about positive thoughts, it’s not about negative thoughts, it’s about the absence of desire”
    • “Happiness to me is mainly not suffering, not desiring, not thinking too much about the future or the past, and really just embracing the present moment”
  • “Nature has no concept of happiness or unhappiness”
    • To a tree, there is no right or wrong, there is no good or bad
    • In nature – everything is perfect the way it is
      • “It’s only in our particular minds that we’re unhappy or happy”
  • Look at children:
    • “On balance, they’re generally pretty happy, because they’re immersed into the environment and the moment, without any thought of how it should be with their personal preferences and desire”

Debugging Mode

  • “I try to run my brain in debugging mode as much as possible”
    • Naval gives an example – “Just this morning, as I was brushing my teeth. I started thinking forward to the podcast, and I started going through this little fantasy, where I imagined you [Shane] asking me a bunch of questions, and I was fantasy answering them, and then I caught myself – I put my brain in debug mode and just watched every little instruction go by, and said, ‘Why am I fantasy future planning? Why can’t I just stand here and brush my teeth?'”
      • “It’s just the awareness that my brain was running off into the future and planning some fantasy scenario out of ego….do I really care? If I embarrass myself on Shane’s podcast who really cares? I’m going to die anyway, and this will all go to zero, and I won’t remember anything, so this is pointless.”
  • Here’s a tip related to this:
    • Ask yourself – “Do I really need to solve this problem right now?”
      • “The reality is 95% of what my brain runs off to do, I don’t need to tackle at that exact moment”
      • “In fact, if my brain is like a muscle, then I’d be better off resting it, being at peace, and when the particular problem arises, immersing myself in it”
  • “Modern humans don’t live enough in our bodies. We don’t live enough in our awareness. We live too much in this internal monologue in our heads.”

Values

  • Values are a set of things you will not compromise on
  • What does Naval value?
    • Honesty 
      • “I want to be able to just be me. I never want to be in an environment where I have to watch what I say.”
      • “Anyone who I can’t be honest around, I don’t want to be around”
    • Naval doesn’t believe in any short-term thinking or dealing
      • “All the benefits in life come from compound interest; whether in money, relationships, love, health, activities or habits”
      • “I only want to be around people who I know I’m going to be around with for the rest of my life, and I only want to work on things that have good long term payout”
    • Naval doesn’t believe in hierarchical relationships
      • “I don’t want to be above or below anybody”
      • “If I can’t treat somebody like a peer, and they can’t treat me like a peer, then I just don’t want to interact with that human”
    • “I don’t believe in anger”
      • Naval recalls a Buddhist saying – “Anger is a hot coal that you hold in your hand while waiting to throw it at somebody else”
    • Freedom
      • Naval still values this, but his definition of freedom has changed…
        • What freedom used to mean to him – Freedom to do anything he wanted
        • What freedom means to him now – Freedom from reaction, freedom from being sad/feeling angry, freedom from being forced to do things
  • To find great relationships, great coworkers, or a great partner…
    • Just find other people with whom your values line up

What’s the biggest mistake Naval has made?

  • Nothing specific, but in general – “Everything that I was doing, I should have still done, but with less emotion, and especially less anger”

Separating Yourself From The Monkey Mind

  • There’s a famous quote – “All of man’s problems arise because he can’t sit by himself in a room for 30 minutes”
  • In a sense, your mind is “like a monkey flinging feces that’s running around the room, making trouble, shouting, and breaking things” 
    • “It’s like an out of control mad person”
  • A huge advantage of meditation – it allows you to realize that you can observe your mental state
    • You have to see the monkey mind in operation before you feel a certain distaste towards it,  and start separating yourself from it
      • “In that separation is liberation”
  • Another way to separate yourself from your emotions:
    • If an email makes you angry, wait 24 hours before responding

A Few Great Quotes

  • “Life is a single player game. You’re born alone. You’ll die alone. All your interpretations are alone. All your memories are alone. And in three generations, you’ll be gone – no one will care. Before you were born – nobody cared.”
  • “All of the real scorecards are internal” – like learning to be happy

Jealousy

  • Jealousy was a hard emotion for Naval to overcome 
  • “It’s such a poisonous emotion, because at the end of the day, you’re no better off – you’re unhappier, and the person you’re jealous of is still successful or good looking, or whatever.”
  • What helped Naval get passed jealousy?
    • The realization that you can’t just pick and choose what aspects of another’s life you want
      • “You have to be that person. Do you want to be that person with all of their reactions, their desires, their family, their happiness level, their outlook on life, and their self image? If you’re not willing to do a whole sale, 24/7, 100% swap with who that person is, then there’s no point in being jealous”

A Thought Too Good To leave Out

  • “Only the individual transcends”
    • Nobody reaches enlightenment or internal happiness, or does serious internal work, in group settings

What has Naval changed his mind on in the last few years?

  • He’s stopped believing in macroeconomics
    • The more Naval studied it, the more he realized the many problems with the field – one of them being that there’s so much data, and people just cherry pick the data to their views
    • “It’s no better than astrology. In fact, it’s probably worse since it’s not as entertaining.”
    • Naval thinks of macroeconomics as a junk science
    • But microeconomics is fundamental
      • “I don’t think you can be successful in business, or even navigating through most of modern capitalist society, without an extremely good understanding of supply & demand, labor vs. capital, and game theory”
      • Naval tries to think in micro terms:
        • For example – Change yourself, then change your family or neighbors, before you get into abstract concepts about how you’re going to change the world
  • Death
  • On the purpose of life
  • On marriage
  • Note from us – Naval doesn’t really expand on these here, but check out some of the Podcast Notes from his Periscope sessions where he touches on these topics

Another Great Thought

  • “If all of your beliefs line up into neat little bundles, you should be highly suspicious”

And Another

  • “Any given time when you’re walking down the street, a very small percentage of your brain is focused on the present. The rest is future planning or regretting the past. That’s keeping you from an incredible experience. It’s keeping you from seeing the beauty in everything and being grateful for where you are. It can literally destroy your happiness if you spend all your time living in delusions of the future.”
  • “There is actually nothing but this moment. No one has ever gone back in time, and no one has been able to predict the future successfully in any way that matters.”

The Education System

  • “There’s no question it’s completely obsolete”
    • College and our current system of schooling originated during a time period where books and knowledge were rare – “Crime was common, violence was prevalent, and there was no such thing as self-guided learning.”
  • Now we have the internet….
    • “If you actually have the desire to learn, everything is on the internet”
      • Just think – there’s Khan Academy, Harvard courses are available online, you can read blogs from some of the smartest people, and get access to any book with the click of a mouse
      • “The tools and means to learn are infinite, it’s the desire to learn that’s incredibly scarce”
  • “I just don’t think schools matter for self-motivated students”
    • What are schools really good for?
      • Keeping kids out of parent’s hair while they go to work
      • Socialization
    • “If it’s purely learning you’re after, that learning can be done much more efficiently on your own or through the internet”
  • Then there’s the problem of what you choose to learn…
    • The current education system has a one size fits all model – everyone learns the same stuff up until college
  • Another great point:
    • “In the age of Google and smartphones, memorization is obsolete”
      • Why should you memorize the state capitals when you can simply look them up?
  • There’s also the pace of learning issue
    • It’s obvious – not everyone learns at the same rate
  • “I think education should be about learning the basics in all the fields, and learning them really well over and over, because life is mostly just about applying the basics and only doing the advanced stuff in the things you truly love, where you know the basics inside and out”
  • There are also a ton of things schools don’t even bother trying to teach – nutrition, cooking, how to be in a good relationship, etc.
  • Naval gave a great answer in these Podcast Notes for how he would change the education system:

More on Books and Reading

  • “If you read what everyone else is reading, you’re going to think what everyone else is thinking, so you need a little bit of diversity” – Shane
    • “If you really want to be successful and happy, you’re looking for a non-average outcome, so you can’t be reading the average things” – Naval
      • “The returns in life come from being out of the herd”
  • Naval knows a lot of people who are successful that were “losers” as kids
    • Since these people didn’t fit within established groups, they started doing and reading what they wanted. This allowed the “losers” to differentiate themselves and thus learn and create something new.

Naval’s Reading System

  • Does Naval take notes on what he reads?
    • “I’m both lazy and really focused on being present, so I think taking notes is the same as taking photos when you’re on a trip – all it’s doing is taking you out of the moment”
      • “And who really sits there years later and looks back at all their trip photos….just go take your next trip”
    • He does highlight with his Kindle, but more so as a way of rereading the text he was moved to highlight in the first place
      • “The reality is I could stop highlighting tomorrow and it would make no difference”
  • More on Naval’s reading process:
    • He skims and skips across chapters until he finds something interesting to read, and then dives in
      • “If it doesn’t capture my attention within the first chapter in a meaningfully positive way I’ll either drop the book, or skip ahead a few chapters”
    • “Most books have one point to make”
      • Once Naval feels he’s found that one point, he feels comfortable putting the book down

Decision Making and Mental Models

  • “Decision making is everything”
    • Someone who makes decisions right 80% of the time, instead of 70% of the time, will be valued and compensated in the market 100s of times more
  • “The best mental models that I’ve found have come through evolution, game theory, and Charlie Munger
    • “I basically load my head with mental models, and they each apply to different situations”
    • Naval also values the way Nassim Taleb thinks about things
  • “I believe, fundamentally, we are ignorant, and very bad at predicting the future”
    • Rather than trying to pin down what will work, Naval focuses on eliminating what won’t work
    • One of the keys to being successful – just try not to make too many mistakes

A Few More Great Quotes

  • “You don’t need to do anything. All you should do is what you want to do. When you stop trying to figure out how to do things the way other people want you to do them, then you get to listen to that little voice inside your head that wants to do things a certain way, and then you get to be you. No one in the world is going to beat you at being you.”
    • So listen and absorb, but don’t try to emulate
  • “Each person is uniquely qualified at something – they have some specific knowledge, capability, and desire, that no one else in the world does”
    • So your goal in life – find the people/business/project that needs you the most
    • “There’s something out there just for you”

How to Tell if You Can Trust Someone

  • Just watch how they treat other people
    • If someone takes advantage of others, they’ll take advantage of you
    • Naval says to himself – “The closer you want to get to me, the better your values have to be”
  • “If someone is going around and talking about how honest they are, they’re probably dishonest”
  • Check out the book The Art of Manipulation

How does Naval gauge someone’s intelligence?

  • “We’re full of a world where it’s so easy to pretend you have knowledge that you don’t actually have” – Shane
  • If someone uses fancy words or big concepts, they don’t know what they are talking about
    • “The smartest people can explain things to a child, and if you can’t explain it to a child, you don’t know it”
    • “It’s the mark of a charlatan to try and explain simple things in complicated ways, and the mark of a genius to explain complicated things in simple ways”
    • Check out the book Thing Explainer
      • The author uses the 1,000 most common English words to explain how complex things work
      • Similarly, also check out Thinking Physics
  • “The really smart thinkers are clear thinkers and they understand the basics at a very fundamental level”

The Ego and Decisions

  • “The number one thing that clouds us from seeing reality are our preconceived notions of the way things should be”
  • “To see the truth, you have to get your ego out of the way because your ego doesn’t want to see the truth”
    • The smaller you can make your ego, the less desire you’ll have for the outcome you want, and the easier it is to see reality
  • When making decisions – “The more of a desire I have that it work out a certain way, the less likely I am to see the truth”

Entrepreneurship

  • “The best founders are the ones who are very long-term thinkers”
    • “They’re not building a house, they are putting bricks into the foundation of a skyscraper”
    • “You’re looking for someone who knows the space well, who understands how difficult it’s going to be, but doesn’t care because they just love whatever they’re doing, and they’re committed for the long hall”
      • Passion and vision alone are not enough
    • “I think you do have to be unrealistically optimistic to succeed, and passionate, but you also have to REALLY know your stuff”
  • Naval’s advice for the short-term thinkers:
    • “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 also have to enjoy the journey because there is no guarantee of the outcome

A Great Way to Go About Life

  • “Try everything. Test it for yourself, but be skeptical. Keep what’s useful, and discard what’s not.”

What’s a common mistake Naval sees people make?

  • “The idea or belief that you will be made happy because of some external circumstance”
    • “The idea that some external thing will bring me happiness or joy is completely delusional.”
    • To think, “I’ll be happy when I get that thing” – this is a HUGE mistake a lot of people make

The 3 Possible Meanings to Life

  • It’s personal
    • “You have to find your own meaning”
    • You have to sit there and dig with the question for decades or years and find an answer you’re happy with
  • There is no meaning
    • “Anything you do will fade”
    • No one will remember you past a certain number of generations – the human race and planet will eventually disappear
  •  There is some meaning to life…Naval explains:
    • The second law of thermodynamics states that entropy only increases (entropy = disorder)
      • For this reason, concentrated free energy only goes down
      • Living systems are systems that are locally reversing entropy (because we have action), but in the process we globally accelerate entropy until the heat death of the universe
    • So the theory –
      • We are headed towards a heat death of the universe where everything is at the same energy level and we’re all one thing
      • As living systems, we’re accelerating the time it takes to get to that state

What does Naval think happens after you die?

  • “It’s just like before you were born. Remember that? It’s gonna be just like that.”
  • “Before you were born, you didn’t care about anything or anyone” – it’s the same after you die

These notes were edited by RoRoPa Editing Services

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