Naval is a special character in my life.
I’ve heard him talk for at least 10 hours but he has never heard me speak.
He is the co-founder and CEO of Angelist, a platform for early stage startups and angle investors to meet. He also runs ProductHunt, a platform for startups to launch their products.
He has invested in well over a hundred companies and has spent a lot of time reading and thinking about huge matters near and dear to me (and I’m sure all of you as well).
Here are my 15 biggest game changing takeaways:
1. Success is attained on a long time scale
His advice to be successful:
i) Move to the hub of the action — Broadway (NY), Startups (SF)
ii) Get up early
iii) put in the work
iv) get wiser each day (make each work better than your last)
v) and on a long enough time scale, you will get what you deserve.
To that point, Naval elaborates:
The best founders I’ve found are the ones who are very long-term thinkers.
Even decisions that maybe they shouldn’t care that much about early on, they fix it because they are not building a house, they’re putting bricks in the foundation of the skyscraper, at least in their minds.
Charlie Munger, the Vice Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, says the same thing — “go to to bed a little smarter than when you woke up.”
Why the need to be long term and “on a long enough time scale”?
2. Luck and timing play a huge role in success
Nassim Nicholas Taleb would characterize this as randomness.
Like it or not, your success in life is influenced by luck and timing. The same way external forces dictate what becomes popular or not.
Musicians would often say that it was their “throwaway songs” — the ones that they record on a whim on the road without much thought — that end up becoming smash hits.
With all this randomness and externalities, how is one supposed to have faith in their efforts?
Naval offers a piece of advice:
“ Most entrepreneurial efforts fail, but great entrepreneurs don’t.”
He says most of the people he met in his 20’s that impressed him with their drive and action — almost without exception — found incredible success later on in their 30’s and 40’s.
You just have to play the game long enough and randomness would have a higher chance to be in your favor.
3. Happiness is a skill
He believes everything we do is a skill — brushing our teeth, deciding which place to eat, and even being happy is a skill.
An example I personally use to find happiness is by creating my ideal day.
Sit down and think about this — if a magic genie would to give you on a silver platter your ideal repeatable day, what would it look like?
Notice the word “repeatable” — so if you say “travelling” or some ultra expensive activity, your spending is capped and energy is limited, so it forces to look at the things you can do now and often which will optimize for your everyday happiness the most.
For me it includes:
- Deep work on 3–4 tasks
- Write 1000–1200 words
- Sleep 7–8 hours
- Read 1–2 hours
- Speaking to at least 2 loved ones in my life
What is Naval’s definition of happiness?
Happiness is the sense that nothing is missing.
Like that time when you are drawn into a book or movie, or observing the sun set, or cuddling with your wife or husband — moments like that are blissful because your mind isn’t wandering off looking for voids to fill. You are content and you feel whole.
4. Be a learning machine
Always Be Reading.
Naval often cites reading as one of the main reasons for all the material success he’s had.
“The reality is very few people actually read and actually finish books … I think that alone accounts for any material success that I’ve had in my life and any intelligence that I might have.”
If you are contemplating the costs of books on your budget, he says:
“A really good book costs $10 or $20 and can change your life in a meaningful way. It’s not something I believe in saving money on. This was even back when I was broke and I had no money.”
“I always spent money on books. I never viewed that as an expense. That’s an investment to me.”
Best way to start reading, according to Naval is
- pick up a lot of books and start reading
- put down any book that doesn’t interest you
- keep continuing until you find something that interests you
How to find time to read?
Here’s what I do —
i) Bring a book with you wherever you go
ii) Read during your commute, use Pocket to save any good articles you found online
iii) When you take a shit
iv) Get the audiobook and listen when walking
There are so many choices out there. Don’t settle for pretty good books, go for great ones.
“I don’t want to read everything. I just want to read the 100 great books over and over again.”
Great books come in all shapes and sizes. Naval is a huge proponent of reading sourcebooks — books that are the fundamental building blocks of a particular topic.
For example, if you read any book on evolution, it is probably good to start with The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin since whatever books on evolution is based on that.
For economics, it would be The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith.
He believes in mastering the basics — a common trait amongst top performers like Jeff Bezos:
“I think learning should be about learning the basics in all the fields and learning them really well over and over.”
He believes the best way to make better decisions is to learn principles and mental models of the basics in all fields (more on this later).
So, how does he go about reading?
5. Treat books like blogs
Imagine a well curated blog like Farnam Street and all the 1000’s of posts they have.
You would search for what it is you want to learn and read only those few pages worth and call it a day.
You skip around once you lose interest.
The same applies to books — there is no obligation to read one from start to finish. Who said so?
In fact, the smartest readers decide what they want out of a book, go after it and put it back on the shelf.
There is an art to how to read books.
The truth is, a lot of books are 10% solid substance and the rest is filler to justify the printing of a dead-tree book and selling it retail for $20.
Sieve and filter the sections you want — it is super liberating and you save a lot of time as a result.
SIDE NOTE: I watched a talk once where book prize panelists were asked how many pages do they give a book before they move on to the next one.
The most shocking answer — the first page. Crazy right?
Can you imagine the novelists who write 1000-page books only to know that their first page made or break them?
While I admire their ruthlessness, I’d like to give my books more leeway.
If you really want to give the book you are reading a chance, use this rule by Ryan Holiday:
100 pages minus your age, e.g. 100–24 = 76 pages before you move to the next one.
6. Run your brain in debugging mode
Most top performers are known to have a mindfulness practice of some sort. For Naval, it’s meditation.
One of the other ways he stays mindful is to run his brain in debugging mode ( a computer term to inspect every line of code).
He would play a third person observing every thought he has and asks “Why am I having this thought?”
He would catch himself wandering off and pull him back into the present.
There was one time he caught himself fantasy future planning about his upcoming podcast appearance while brushing his teeth.
He would ask himself — “Why are you fantasy future planning? Why can’t you just be here and enjoy brushing your teeth?”
And the brush tasted sweeter…
7. The only moment that exists is the present — savor it while you can
You can’t change the past and no one has been ever to predict the future in any way that matters.
This ties into one of the philosophies I deeply believe which is “Enjoy it.”
I asked my dad once what he would do differently if he were young and he said, it would be to enjoy the moment.
Most people go through life either worrying about the future or stuck in the past, never appreciating the present moment. And by the time you are 50 something, you realized that you worried all your way to your 50’s when everything turned out OK.
Even it sucks — enjoy it.
SIDE NOTE: “Enjoy it” is also the best answer Tim Ferriss ever got to the question: “What should I do with my life?”
8. What people say is love, is not love. It’s a transaction.
This hit me hard.
What Naval meant by this is — love is a one way street.
Love is when you love someone even if the other doesn’t love you back.
If you only love someone because they love you back, it’s not love — it’s a transaction.
Are you in love, or in a transaction?
9. Habits are everything
I’ll quote Naval:
I think human beings are entirely creatures of habit… they habituate themselves to things and they learn patterns and they get conditioned and they use that to get through everyday life.
Habits are good. Habits can allow you to background process certain things so that your neocortex, your frontal lobe, stays available to solve brand new problems.
To some extent, our attitude in life, our mood, our happiness levels, depression levels, these are also habits. Do we judge people? How often do we eat? What kind of food do we eat? Do we walk or do we sit? Do we move? Do we exercise? Do we read? These are habits as well.
You absolutely need habits to function. You cannot solve every problem in life as if it is the first time it’s thrown at you. What we do is we accumulate all these habits. We put them in the bundle of identity, ego, ourselves, and then we get attached to that… It’s really important to be able to uncondition yourself, to be able to take your habits apart and say, “Oh, okay, that’s a habit that I probably picked up from when I was a toddler and I was trying to get my parents attention. Now I’ve just reinforced it and reinforced it and reinforced it and I call it a part of my identity.
Is it serving me anymore? Is it making me happier? Is it making me
healthier? Is it making me accomplish whatever I want to set out to
accomplish right now?
10. Know your priority (just one) a.ka. your north star
You can have anything you want in life, but you can’t have everything.
His learning — you can have one thing.
If you want to be rich, you can spend your entire life trying to be rich and you are likely to get it.
If you want to be happy, you can spend your entire life trying to be happy and you are likely to get it.
The problem is when we have a basket of fuzzy desires and never finding a north star of what it is that you want MOST out of life.
Pick one fervent desire above all else and find a way to not make it feel like work so you can outcompete everybody else.
Optimize for one thing in life — it helps determines the orderof the rest of the things that are nice-to-have and to avoid entirely.
11. Life is a single player game
All of us think life is a multiplayer game. Success, money, mates, status are all easily measurable in a multiplayer game.
But internal happiness is not.
Have you ever been lost in a moment with someone and forgot about all the comparisons you always did?
Have you ever run the “if you were the last human on earth” test and find out how much stuff you would actually not give a fuck about?
Socially, we’re told, “Go work out. Go look good.” That’s a multi-player competitive game. Other people can see if I’m doing a good job or not. We’re told, “Go make money. Go buy a big house.” Again, external monkey-player competitive game.
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.
12. Learn principles and mental models to make better decisions
This was a game changer for me.
If you ever wondered what separates those we are able to make good decisions at very high levels, learning principles and mental models is one of them (if not, the main one).
… (T)he 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.
The best mental models that I have found have come through evolution, game
theory, and Charlie Munger…
Charlie Munger is Warren Buffett’s partner. Very good investor. He has tons and tons of great mental models. Nassim Taleb has great mental models. Benjamin Franklin had great mental models.
I basically load my head full of mental models. Different ones apply to every
13. Genius is explaining complex things in simple ways
Beware of charlatans who make simple things complex.
I think the smartest people can explain things to a child. If you can’t explain it to a child, then you don’t know it.
I think it’s the mark of a charlatan to try and explain simple things in
complicated ways. It’s the mark of a genius to explain complicated things in
simple ways. Really they should be able to do it very, very, very simply.
The really smart thinkers are clear thinkers and they understand the basics at a very, very fundamental level.
Another Navalism: If someone is selling you get-rich-quick scheme, they are trying to get-rich-quick-off-of-you.
14. Guard your time — it’s all you have
If you don’t believe in an afterlife, this is especially true.
What is his view after we die?
Our consciousness just disappears.
Remember how it was like before you are born? Just like that.
Zero recollection and experience after we are gone.
Life is short — we are a firefly blinking in the night.
Guard your time — it’s the only thing you have.
15. The advice he would give his 20 year old self
- Chill out, don’t stress so much, everything will be fine
- Be more yourself, don’t try to live up to other people’s expectations
- Say no to more things
- Your time is very precious — on your dying days, you will trade EVERYTHING for another day
- Live in the moment
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