15 Lessons I Learned About Success, Happiness, Reading, Love and Life from Naval Ravikant

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”?

It’s because…

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.

He says:

“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.

Here’s a quote from illacertus, he mentioned in his highly recommended podcast with Farnam Street:

“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.

Enjoy it.

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
situation…

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
  • Self-actualize
  • 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

References:

  1. https://www.farnamstreetblog.com/2017/02/naval-ravikant-reading-decision-making/
  2. https://tim.blog/2015/08/18/the-evolutionary-angel-naval-ravikant/
  3. https://tim.blog/2016/01/30/naval-ravikant-on-happiness-hacks/
  4. https://www.spartan.com/en/media/podcast/episodes?article=47415

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This 3 Minute Speech Will Change Your Life

“Sal is love. Sal is life.”

That is just one of the comments you will find on this commencement speech on YouTube.

It was at MIT in 2012 when Sal Khan of Khan Academy made one of the best speeches I ever heard.

I have time skipped it to the best part. Enjoy.

Imagine it’s 50 years from now. You are near the end of your career.

Imagine you are on your couch. Just finished watching the news. It’s 2067.

You turn off the channel and start reflecting on your life.

You start to think about the successes you had – career successes, family successes, the great memories that you had.

But then you start to think about the things you wished you did a little bit different.

Your regrets.

You wish you spent more time with your children.

You wish you spent more time telling your spouse how much you love them more frequently.

You wish you spent more time telling your parents how much you appreciate them before they passed away.

And just while that is happening, a genie appears.

And the genie says “I’ve been listening in on your regrets, you seem like a good person. I am willing to give you a second chance if you are open to it.”

And so you say “Sure…”

And the genie snaps its fingers and you blink your eyes.

When you open your eyes, you find yourself right there where you are right now – 12 Sept 2017, reading this post.

And you say “Oh my god, I’m in my 20 something fit, pain-free body again!”

“I am around my friends again, my parents, my girlfriend/boyfriend.”

“This genie was serious – I do have a second chance!”

“I can have all the successes, the adventures I had the first time around. But now I can optimize things.”

“I have my parents. I can finally spend more time with them and tell them how much I appreciate them.”

“I have my other half and when I hug them, I can hug them little harder.”

“When I laugh, I can laugh louder.”

“I can sing more, I can dance more, I can laugh more.”

“I can be a greater source of positivity and empowerment for those around me.”

I often do exercises like these a lot to make me appreciate what I have going for me – my youth and my loved ones around me.

After that thought experiment, how do you plan to live your life starting today? 🙂

***

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Credit or Influence? The Mistake We All Make

To be someone or to do something?

One day you will come to a fork in the road, and you’re going to have to make a decision about which direction you want to go.

If you go one way, you can be somebody. You will have to make compromises, you will have to turn your back on your friends. But you will be a member of the club, you will be promoted, and you will get good assignments.

If you go the other way, you can do something. Something for your country, and for your airfare, and for yourself. If you decide you want to do something, you may not get promoted, and you may not get good assignments. And you will certainly not be a favorite of your superiors. But you won’t have to compromise yourself. You will be true to your friends and yourself. And your work might make a difference.

To be somebody, or to do something.

In life, there is often a roll call. That’s when you will have to make a decision.

To be or to do, which way will you go?

– Colonel John Boyd

The question at hand is whether are you after recognition or are you after the work itself.

 

Has this ever happened to you?

You work day and night on a project only for the credit to be due to someone else?

Or that you made the most significant contribution to the team only to have the leader get the spotlight due to your subordinate and less convincing standing?

 

The frustration

It is very easy to get carried away at the start of our careers. We want every effort we make to be recognized and praised. Every correct decision we make to be remembered by our peers. After all, we deserve it right?

But it doesn’t always go that way, especially if you are novice or a beginner. Some wouldn’t even take you seriously because you are in an entry level position and you have yet to prove yourself over the long run

Sometimes, even if we stay in a position long enough, we still do not get the credit we so desire.

 

The goals

When we finish college and come out to the “real world”, we are starving with ambition and racing against the clock to be somebody.

We want to be that person who is married to a very desirable mate by 27.

We want to be that rising star that climbs up the corporate ladder and become the Vice President by 28.

We want to be that person who is a millionaire by 30.

Are we working for credit? Is the need to be recognized by others for our achievements the driving force of our lives? Is the need to be somebody so important? We often hear our friends say that they want to “be somebody.” The titles, the glamour, the respect and the adoration of the public.

 

Mr Goh

I was reading the late Lee Kuan Yew’s memoirs, From Third World to First and came across a man named Goh Keng Swee. He was the Finance Minister and Interior and Defense Minister in the early years.

The highest rank he ever gotten to was Deputy Prime Minister in his lifetime. Although he was second to Mr Lee on paper, Mr Lee praised him highly for being the man who contributed the most to the building of Singapore.

If it was utter recognition & credit Mr Goh was after, being the center of attention and be adored by international media, he would have been sour about not getting as much press for his achievements compared to Mr Lee himself.

But he wasn’t that type, doing the work is enough. Getting the glamour and adoration of the public was secondary to actually contributing to the public.

 

The practical view

There is another practical view as to why influence is far healthier option to go after than credit.

Influence (the work itself) is within our control. We can manage expectations in the course of our own work. We can choose to take it as a challenge or just enjoy ourselves.

Credit (recognition) requires someone else to validate your actions.

In other words, you are placing your self-worth into the hands of other people. Letting them become the authors of your life story and self esteem. Like being on a leash to the whims and fancies of others, being steered in whatever direction they want to go.

For a young person such as yourself, placing high regard into something highly volatile such as this spells disaster to your self worth in the long run.

 

Remember:

I learnt an important idea early on in my life and it goes like this:

“Accept applause, but don’t expect it.”

 

The One Question To Determine If You Have Found Your Passion

pexels-photo-345135

All our lives we are told to find our passion. Don’t settle, they said. But how?

Is it some type of inner compass that we ought to follow but don’t?

Do you wake up one day and get inspired?

Do you try everything and find it only then?

Like you, I wasn’t satisfied with a lot of these answers.

All the questions above play a role in finding your life’s task.

But I find that there is an acid test that you can use today on anything you are pursuing right now that will more or less determine your passion, which is:

What would you do everyday even if you were failing?

I actually asked my Instagram audience this very question and there was one common answer.

“Football”

Given the fact that most of my audience were young guys, they said they wouldn’t mind practicing football over and over again even if they kept losing to the opposing team.

Now what is something that you found yourself doing again and again regardless of outcome?

Something that you enjoy doing because the work is enough to keep you satisfied, not the result.

You may be closer to your passion than you think.

It’s not easy to find something that doesn’t dampen your enthusiasm even if you fail again and again.

As Winston Churchill once said,

Success is the ability to go from one failure to another without loss of enthusiasm.

Think:

Much like a soldier is asked what would he or she die for, you are asked what are you willing to fail for?

How Marketing Made Me a Better Performer, Lover and Friend

Seriously? Yes, seriously.

Learning marketing since graduation has been a game changer in my professional and personal life.

But I was never always open to it…

Growing up, I always considered sales and marketing to be reserved for the ones who can’t get a decent job.

But boy was I wrong.

 

Since learning about marketing and working as a marketer, I started to notice a change in the way I see things and interact with others.

I think it’s safe to say that marketing changed my life in ways I never expected.

Here are just some of the benefits.

 

1. Learning to get attention made me more romantic

When you scroll down your Facebook feed, do you click because it interest you or because it was so boring that you had to click it?

Marketers are in the business of getting attention. And to get attention, the idea has to be interesting.

But you can’t be interesting overnight.

You don’t take a”World’s Most Interesting Man” pill and wake up super cool. (If there is, please let me know)

You would have to follow trends or at least find creative angles to tell your story.

Turning something boring into something interesting is the name of the game.

This doesn’t just apply to repackaging or re-positioning.

It applies to our romantic relationships as well.

As G.K Chesterton puts it,

We are perishing for want of wonder, not for want of wonders.

Meaning we are not looking for new things per se, but that we looking for new ways to look at things.

I was listening to relationship expert Esther Perel on the Tim Ferriss Show and she said something that I remembered:

“If people only use 10% of their creativity for cheating and put to their current love lives, they will surprised how far they can take it.”

Think about, if you woke up without a memory of your relationship, you would find your partner attractive and interesting as you did in the beginning.

Ever heard old husbands who say they look at their wives as though it was their first time? Sounds familiar eh?

Learning marketing also helped me get excited about the littlest things.

It helps me reframe any situation or thing to make it all the more interesting and exciting.

 

2. Learning to psycho people made me more sociable

 

I was a serial introvert.

If I were an OS, my socializing muscle will be under “Least Used Apps”.

But since getting into marketing, I started to overcome my shyness and nervousness of making new friends.

It all starts with what marketing is.

Marketing is persuasion at scale.

To persuade, you need to understand the basics of psychology.

Like what are your customers like and how to sell to them.

It goes deeper than that though.

Being a marketer demands that you adopt different worldviews to appeal to different people.

In result, creating a growth oriented, open minded person.

A person who is open to different cultures, values and experiences.

You stop thinking that your view of the world is the only one that is correct.

You start listening to what others say more intently.

You take criticism more easily and you don’t let your ego get in the way of your judgement.

 

By being welcoming of other people’s views, you are bound to have more things in common with them.

And the more you have more things in common with people, the easier it is to become friends.

You make more friends and your professional and personal network starts to grow.

 

3. Learn that perception is reality

Here’s a quote from Steve Jobs:

When you grow up you tend to get told the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world. Try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have a nice family, have fun, save a little money.

That’s a very limited life.

Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you and you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.

Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.

Everything you know to be true is only true because you believe it to be.

All the things you were told growing up were made up by people who were just as clueless as you.

As you learn marketing, you start to realize an ugly truth: that all social norms were created out of thin air and most of our beliefs are shaped by the media we are exposed to.

Stories are the currency of our lives.

The diamond engagement was only popular since the 1920s because it was marketed as a thing that only real men do. (oh, and the two-month salary rule, wasn’t created by buyers, it was created by sellers.)

Smoking cigarettes became mainstream because tobacco companies had huge marketing budgets to have celebrities smoke. It became cool. Now, with all the health hazards, the tobacco companies are marketing the act of smoking as a matter of “freedom of choice.”

And one quick question, which you think is more dangerous – using an airplane or using a car?

Most people would think airplane, but statistically driving a car is far more dangerous.
The odds? 11,000,000:1 for airplanes. 5,000:1 for cars.

We think airplane because of availability heuristic. Because the news talks about a plane crash for weeks, we think its more dangerous to use an airplane, but lookup your newspaper and you will see that car crashes happen everyday.

I found out about this learning behavioral psychology and the mental shortcuts we use when making decisions.

Being aware of all this – the stories we are told and the biases we have helps me tremendously when I make important decisions.

It helps me find out my weaknesses.

For example, I haven’t been exercising for months.

But since I learnt about the psychology of nudges, I decided to place my gym clothes on my desk.

It’s the first thin I see when I wake up in the morning.

The result? Just placing my clothes very openly where I can see them made me exercise more.

 

***

As you can see, marketing has had a profound effect on how I see things in the world.

I have become more sociable, romantic, self-aware and effective.

I have since also had a hunger for wisdom. For knowledge that can make my life and those around me more enjoyable.

 

What recently changed your life for the better? 🙂