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The Almanack of Naval Ravikant by Eric Jorgenson

Read more on Navalmanack.

Rating: 9 / 10

Thoughts

A much needed collection of Naval's wisdom. I learned - and relearned - a lot. Highly recommended. It's not just something you read and forget about. It's something you think about for a very long time. This is a free book. I hope that you read it for yourself.


Tim Ferriss on Naval

Tim takes Naval seriously because he

  • Questions nearly everything
  • Can think from first principles
  • Tests thing well
  • Is good at not fooling himself
  • Changes his mind regularly
  • Laughs a lot
  • Thinks holistically
  • Thinks long-term
  • And...doesn't take himself too goddamn seriously.

Which one might see as a checklist of good traits.

Building Wealth

Making money is not a thing you do — it's a skill you learn.

Understand how wealth is created

Creating wealth is not about hard work.

"Getting rich is about knowing what to do, who to do it with, and when to do it."

Not that hard work doesn't matter — it does. But only if directed in the right way.

The most important thing is to figure out what to work on. Don't work hard before you figure it out.

The 'How To Get Rich Without Getting Lucky' tweetstorm is something you'll have to work into your mind over a long time. You won't get everything instantly. I won't copy it over to these notes. They're in the (free!) book — and on Twitter. Most, if not all, of the tweets are explained and expanded upon below anyway.

Summary of How to Get Rich Without Getting Lucky Tweetstorm: Productize Yourself.

"Yourself" contains unique, accountability, and specific knowledge.

"Productize" contains leverage and specific knowledge.

So basically, you should be asking (in terms of the goal of getting wealthy): "Is this authentic to me? Is it myself that I am projecting?", and then "Am I productizing it? Am I scaling it? With labor, capital, code, or with media?".

The difference between wealth and money

Money is the transfer of wealth. "I owe you"s for work that you've done.

Wealth (what you want) is assets that earn while you sleep. Code, media, labor, and capital.

Not definitive definitions; these are examples:

  • Code: Programs (basically robots) that work for you.
  • Media: Content that you've created. Could be lectures that you sell on the internet; now you won't have to do it in a classroom.
  • Labor: Physical labor.
  • Capital: Investments that create value.

Find and build specific knowledge

Specific knowledge cannot be taught, but it can be learned.

Specific knowledge is like the things you did (almost) effortlessly when you were a kid / teenager. You didn't notice — but the people around you did.

Examples of specific knowledge (from the book):

  • Sales skills
  • Musical talents, with the ability to pick up any instrument
  • An obsessive personality: you dive into things and remember them quickly.
  • Love for science fiction: you were into reading sci-fi, which means you absorb a lot of knowledge very quickly.
  • Playing lots of games, you understand game theory pretty well.
  • Gossiping, digging into your friend network. That might make you a very interesting journalist.

Specific knowledge is found much more by pursuing your innate talents, your genuine curiosity, and your passion. Not going for whatever field is hot.

Specific knowledge is often found on the edge of knowledge. The stuff that's only just being figured out.

And you have to be 100% into it. Because if you're not, someone else will be — and they'll outperform you. By lots — because of leverage and compound interest.

You can make money by being yourself. "Escape competition through authenticity." Nobody can beat you at being you. Just don't copy. Everyone is the best at something — being themselves. So you can go on the internet, find your audience, build a business, create a product, build wealth — and make people happy, just by being yourself.

"The most important skill for getting rich is becoming a perpetual learner." Figure out how to learn anything you want to learn. Things change fast now — so you have to be able to learn quickly. "It's much more important today to be able to become an expert in a brand-new field in nine to twelve months than to have studied the 'right' thing a long time ago."

Foundations are important. For example, arithmetic and numeracy are much more important in life than doing calculus.

"It's much better to be at 9/10 or 10/10 on foundations than to try and get super deep into things. You do need to be in deep in something because otherwise you'll be a mile wide and an inch deep and you won't get what you want out of life."

Play long-term games with long term people

Compound interest is incredibly important. It doesn't just apply to capital.

"All the returns in life, whether in wealth, relationships, or knowledge, come from compound interest."

People in high positions stuck with something for a very long time and did it well — so they're rewarded exponentially. With trust, power, wealth, and relations. They've proved to be high-integrity people.

Intentions don't matter. Actions do. That's why being ethical is hard.

"When you find the right thing to do, when you find the right people to work with, invest deeply. Sticking with it for decades is really how you make the big returns in your relationships and in your money."

Take on accountability

"To get rich, you need leverage."

Remember? Capital, code, media, or labor.

Embrace accountability and take business risks under your own name. Society will reward you with responsibility, equity, and leverage.

Taking accountability is double-edged. You get both rewards and failures. Without accountability, you don't have incentives. You can't build credibility. But it is a risk.

It's hard to fail in your own name. But realize that the downside risk is not that large anymore. Personal bankruptcy can be overcome. Failures can be forgiven — especially if you were honest and made a high-integrity effort.

Build or buy equity in a business

If you don't own a piece of a business, you don't have a path towards financial freedom.

You don't make that much money renting out your time. And you can't work 24/7/365.

"Without ownership, your inputs are closely tied to your outputs."

Even if you are a doctor or lawyer, you're still getting paid by the hour. When you're working, you're not earning. And you can't earn nonlinearly.

"Owning equity in a company basically means you own the upside. When you own debt, you won guaranteed revenue streams and you own the downside. You want to own equity. If you don't own equity in a business, your odds of making money are very slim."

You have to work to get to a point where you can own equity in a business. Owning a piece of a product, a business, or some IP. Stocks, for example.

"But usually, the real wealth is created by starting your own companies or even by investing."

Find a position of leverage

"Following your genuine intellectual curiosity is a better foundation for a career than following whatever is making money right now."

"If your curiosity ever leads you to place where society eventually wants to go, you'll be paid extremely well."

You'll be more likely to have skills that can't be trained. And if someone can be trained to do something you do, they can replace you. And if that's possible, you won't be paid a lot. So you want to know how to do something people other can't — when that knowledge or skill is in demand.

"A lot of people think you can go to school and study for how to make money, but the reality is, there's no skill called 'business'."

Make the product or service society wants but does not yet know how to get. Deliver it, and deliver it at scale. That's the problem you'll have to solve to make money.

You're waiting for the moment when the world wants something, and you have it. In the meantime:

Build your brand on social platforms (Twitter, Youtube) and by giving away free work. That way, you make a name for yourself and take some risk while doing it. When the time comes, you'll be able to move with leverage.

Three broad classes of leverage:

  • Labor (other humans working for you). Not the best form of leverage.
  • Capital — you can multiply your decisions with money. It's harder to use, but people have used it to get very rich.
  • And lastly, the new form. The "products with no marginal cost of replication." Which is books, media, movies, and code. Code is the most powerful. All you need a computer. Don't need anyone's permission.

    • You can multiply your efforts without other people and without capital.
    • This is where the new millionaires come from.

You're never going to get rich renting out your time.

Optimize for independence rather than pay. Independence and being accountable on your output (rather than input), that's the ideal scenario. You want to be in control of your time. Only to be tracked on your outputs.

By having leverage you get outputs disproportionate to your inputs.

But when you have leverage, your judgment is far more important than how hard you work. You have to work on the right things.

Example: working on software that won't go anywhere doesn't do anything. But for example, when Satoshi Nakamoto made Bitcoin — that went somewhere.

Forty hour work weeks are a relic of the Industrial Age. Knowledge workers function like athletes — train and sprint, then rest and reassess.

"Learn to sell, learn to build. If you can do both, you will be unstoppable."

Earn with your mind, not your time.

For each 'level' you go up in life and business, it has more leverage, accountability, and specific knowledge requirements. Keep on taking on more and creating more of it until you get where you want to go.

"You start as a salaried employee. But you want to work your way up to try and get higher leverage, more accountability, and specific knowledge. The combination of those over a long period of time with the magic of compound interest will make you wealthy."

Avoid the risk of ruin. Stay out of jail. Don't do anything illegal. It's not worth it. Watch your health. Never gamble everything on one go. Take rationally optimistic bets with big upsides.

Get paid for your judgment

Aspire to be paid for your unique knowledge.

If someone with better judgment comes along (right 85% of the time rather than 75%, for example), they'll be paid so much more — because that 10 percentage point difference is immense; especially for larger companies. The small differences in judgment and capability really get amplified.

When you have demonstrated that you have good judgment, you are high-integrity, and you are highly accountable, people might just start throwing deals at you. Also, having a clear track record is pretty important, too.

For example, nobody asks Warren Buffett how hard he works, about when he wakes up, nor about when he goes to sleep. They just trust him to do his thing.

We waste our time with short-term thinking and busywork. Warren Buffett spends a year deciding and a day acting. That act lasts decades.

"Just from being marginally better, like running a quarter mile a fraction of a second faster, some people get paid a lot more — orders of magnitude more. Leverage magnifies those differences even more. Being at the extreme in your art is very important in the age of leverage."

Prioritize and focus

Making money doesn't just occur as some 'big bang'. It's more about consistency. Creating businesses, opportunities, and investments. It all stacks up, little by little, over time. Adding a bit more to the pile. And it compounds.

Naval recommends setting an hourly rate that you aspire to. Weight everything against it. Does it make sense to do X, rather than just paying someone to do it for me? If it doesn't make sense to do it yourself, either outsource it or don't do it. If your time is worth more than the cost/value of the task, outsource or leave it.

This rate should seem and feel absurdly high. If it doesn't, it's not high enough. Even when you have selected a high rate, raise it even further.

It's really about not spending time on stupid things. Things that don't earn you any money. Things that don't create any value. You don't want to spend your time on doing $100 an hour tasks when you could spend your time on $1000 an hour tasks. And so on. Focus on what creates the highest returns.

"If you secretly despise wealth, it will elude you."

If you despise wealth, you won't have to right mindset to become wealthy. Nor the right spirit. And you won't be dealing with people on the right level.

It's important to be optimistic and positive.

The two kinds of games people play in life

  • The money game

    • Money doesn't solve all your problems. But it solves your money problems.
    • But some people think "Making money is evil. You shouldn't do it." And they are not playing the money game, they're playing the status game.
  • The status game

    • They're trying to be high status in the eyes of others by saying that they don't need nor want money.
    • And status is "your ranking in the social hierarchy."

Wealth creation is an evolutionarily recent positive-sum game. Status is an old zero-sum game. Those attacking wealth creation are often just seeking status.

In the status game, there's winners or losers. #1, #2, #3. You can't win without others losing. For example, politics and sports. Status games will probably always exist. But just remember; if someone attacks you, they're probably not playing the same game as you. They're trying to gain status at your expense.

Avoid status games in life. To win, you have to put others down. That'll make you an angry, combative person.

Play stupid games, win stupid prizes.

What is the most important thing to do for younger people starting out?

"Spend more time making the big decisions. There are basically three really big decisions you make in your early life: where you live, who you're with, and what you do."

You're going to spend a lot of time with whoever or wherever you end up. So think about it.

What are one or two steps you'd take to surround yourself with successful people?

"Figure out what you're good at, and start helping other people with it. Give it away. Pay it forward. Karma works because people are consistent. On a long enough timescale, you will attract what you project. But don't measure — your patience will run out if you count."

Find work that feels like play

What is your definition of retirement?

"Retirement is when you stop sacrificing today for an imaginary tomorrow. When today is complete, in and of itself, you're retired."

How do you get there?

One way is to save a lot of money that your passive income covers your burn rate.

Another is to make your burn rate zero.

And a third is when you're doing something you love, it's not about money anymore.

How to get out of the competition trap

  • Be authentic
  • Find the thing you know how to do better than anybody

    • You'll know what it is, because you love to do it, and no one can compete with you.
  • And if you do love it, be authentic. And figure out how to translate it to something society wants.

    • Then apply leverage and put your name on it. You take risks, but gain the rewards, have ownership and equity in what you're doing. Then just crank it up.

When you love what you do, you can work all the time without it feeling like work. It'll look like work to others, but feel like play to you. And then nobody can compete, because you're working 16 hours a day, every day.

Money is not bad for you, but...

The lust for money is. It's a bottomless pit. You'll never have enough. There's no magic number, which, when you reach it, you'll think that you have enough.

And as you make more money, you want even more. And you'll become paranoid and fearful of losing what you have.

A way to stay clear of this is to not upgrade your lifestyle as you earn more.

Another thing that helps is valuing freedom. Money can buy freedom, but if it starts making you less free, it probably isn't as good anymore. In any sense, it probably all boils down to your perception of money.

Career

"For someone who is early in their career (and maybe even later), the single most important thing about a company is the alumni network you're going to build. Think about who you will work with and what those people are going on to do."

How to get lucky

What 'getting rich without getting lucky' means

"In 1,000 parallel universes, you want to be wealthy in 999 of them. You don't want to be wealthy in fifty of them where you got lucky, so we want to factor luck out of it."

The four kinds of luck

  1. Blind luck — hoping luck finds you.
  2. Luck through persistence, hard work, hustle, and motion.

    1. Doing so much that you stumble into luck.
  3. Becoming good at spotting luck — being very skilled in a field and therefore noticing when a lucky break happens, which others might miss.
  4. Building a unique character, brand, and mindset, which causes luck to find you.

    1. If you're the best person in the world at something, people will go to you for it.
    2. "Become the best at what you do. Refine what you do until this is true. Opportunity will seek you out. Luck becomes your destiny."

How important is networking?

Naval's philosophy on networking: "Be a maker who makes something interesting people want. Show your craft, practice your craft, and the right people will eventually find you."

Often, people try to network before having done something interesting. If you're making something interesting, you will always have more people who will want to know you.

How do you determine if you can trust someone?

If they're talking about how honest they are, they are probably dishonest.

More generally: if they spend too much time talking themselves up, or highlighting their own values, they're covering for something.

Don't do something that isn't good to others, because it shapes you.

Be patient

Great people have great outcomes — you just have to be patient.

Apply specific knowledge with leverage and eventually, you will get what you deserve.

And don't count. Then you'll run out of patience before success arrives.

Immediate doesn't work — you have to put in the time.

"You do have to put in the hours, and so I think you have to put yourself in the position with the specific knowledge, with accountability, with leverage, with the authentic skill set you have, to be the best in the world at what you do."

"Your real résumé is just a catalog of all your suffering. If I ask you to describe your real life to yourself, and you look back from your deathbed at the interesting things you've done, it's all going to be around the sacrifices you made, the hard things you did."

Building Judgment

There's no shortcut to smart.

Judgment

"If you want to make the maximum amount of money possible, if you want to get rich over your life in a deterministically predictable way, stay on the bleeding edge of trends and study technology, design, and art — become really good at something."

Hard work is overrated. Judgment is underrated.

Can you define judgment?

"My definition of wisdom is knowing the long-term consequences of your actions. Wisdom applied to external problems is judgment. They're highly linked; knowing the long-term consequences of your actions and then making the right decisions to capitalize on that."

Without hard work, you'll develop neither judgment nor leverage.

So you have to put in the time. But judgment is more important. The direction you're heading is more important than how fast you're moving (especially with leverage).

How to think clearly

"Clear thinker" is a better compliment than "smart"

Real knowledge is built from the ground up. If you can't explain something simply (to someone who doesn't understand it), you don't understand it yourself.

It's better to understand the basics at a very fundamental level than to memorize complicated concepts than you can't rederive from the basics. If you can't rederive, you're memorizing.

Part of making effective decisions boils down to dealing with reality. How do you make sure you're dealing with reality when you're making decisions?

We have some preconceived notions of the way things should be. That clouds us from being able to see reality as it is.

You have to get your ego out of the way. Because it doesn't want to face the truth. The less ego you have, the smaller your desire for some outcome is — the easier it'll be to face reality.

What we wish to be true clouds our perception of what is true. Suffering is the moment when we can no longer deny reality.

A good solution is to be open about the situation to others, from which you might otherwise try to hide it.

It's important to have free space in your calendar where you aren't always busy. That's when you'll have the great ideas — not when you're running around from meeting to meeting or task to task.

Very smart people tend to be weird since they insist on thinking everything through for themselves.

A contrarian isn't one who always objects — that's a conformist of a different sort. A contrarian reasons independently from the group up and resists pressure to conform.

Cynicism is easy. Mimicry is easy. Optimistic contrarians are the rarest breed.

So be an optimistic contrarian. Think things through for yourself. Don't just go against the grain for the sake of it. Question assumptions, standards, patterns, and routines.

Shed your identity to see reality

We need our habits — they shape us. But it's important to remove those that don't serve us anymore.

Any belief you took in a package (ex. Democrat, Catholic, American) is suspect and should be re-evaluated from base principles.

"If all your beliefs line up into neat little bundles, you should be highly suspicious."

Learn the skills of decision-making

"The classical virtues are all decision-making heuristics to make one optimize for the long term rather than for the short term."

Here, I am unsure which virtues Naval is referring to. The cardinal / platonic virtues seem to be the 'classic' ones. They are: Prudence, Fortitude, Temperance, and Justice.

Be honest.

One of Warren Buffett's rules is to praise specifically, criticize generally. It's good to follow it. Don't criticize the person, criticize the general approach (or class of activities). But praise specifically.

Collect mental models

When you make decisions, your brain becomes a memory prediction machine.

"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 principles. You want mental models."

The best mental models came through:

  • Evolution
  • Game Theory
  • Charlie Munger
  • Nassim Taleb
  • Benjamin Franklin

But be careful, because:

"If you don't have the underlying experience, then it just reads like a collection of quotes. [...] you forget about it and move on. Mental models are really just compact ways for you to recall your own knowledge."

Evolution

A lot of modern society can be explained through evolution.

"Evolution, thermodynamics, information theory, and complexity have explanatory and predictive power in many aspects of life."

Inversion

It's a good idea to look at the opposite. So instead of thinking "what will work?", try thinking "what won't work?".

"Being successful is just about not making mistakes."

"It's not about having correct judgment. It's about avoiding incorrect judgments."

This reminds me of the Charlie Munger quote:

"It is remarkable how much long-term advantage people like us have gotten by trying to be consistently not stupid, instead of trying to be very intelligent." — Charlie Munger

Complexity Theory

The book doesn't explain complexity theory. So here's my understanding of it:

Complexity theory is the study of complexity and complex systems.

And complexity details the behavior of a system that interacts in many ways and follows local rules, which means that there are no overall guidelines for the interactions. This makes the system difficult to understand.

A complex system is usually 'greater than the sum of its parts'. So the overall system has properties that the individual part does not.

Economics

"Microeconomics and game theory are fundamental. I don't think you can be successful in business or even navigate most of our modern capitalist society without an extremely good understanding of supply-and-demand, labor-versus-capital, game theory, and those kinds of things."

Principal-agent problem

"To me, the principal-agent problem is the single most fundamental problem in microeconomics. If you do not understand the principal-agent problem, you will not know how to navigate your way through the world. It is important to build a successful company or be successful in your dealings."

Naval explains it using a Julius Caesar quote; "If you want it done, then go. And if not, then send." Which just means that if you want something done right, do it yourself.

"When you are the principal, then you are the owner — you care, and you will do a great job. When you are the agent and you are doing it on somebody else's behalf, you can do a bad job. You just don't care. You optimize for yourself rather than for the principal's assets."

For example, in a smaller company, people will feel more like a principal. And that's exactly what you want. Because people will do a better job if they feel less like an agent.

A good way to make someone feel more like a principal is to tie their compensation closely to the exact value they're creating.

When you own a business, obviously you'd want to succeed. So you do your best. That's what you want to inspire in your agents. Make them think; "the better I do, the more I get out!" — which is a good way to make them want the whole thing to succeed. And it's important that it's not just "the more I work", because you want them to work smarter, take on more responsibility, and make better judgment calls. In other words, you want them to be 100% aligned with the direction you want things to go.

Compound interest

Most probably already know about this. But only in a financial context. For example, compounding at 30% per year for 30 years will get you a thousand times your money.

Realize that it can be taken advantage of in other contexts, too.

Basic math

This is really underrated. You don't necessarily need to learn all the complicated subjects. But know the basics well.

Mostly, you'll want arithmetic, probability, and statistics.

Black Swans

"There's a new branch of probability statistics, which is really around tail events. Black swans are extreme probabilities."

So you might want to read The Black Swan by Taleb.

Calculus

It's useful to know. It lets you understand the rates of change and how nature works.

What's important to learn is not how to solve integrals, but to learn the principles of calculus — measuring the change in small discrete or small continuous events.

This is the case for most mental models; you don't actually have to be able to solve equations based on the model. You just have to understand the principles behind the model, such that you can apply it in other contexts than its original field.

Falsifiability

"If it doesn't make falsifiable predictions, it's not science. For you to believe something is true, it should have predictive power, and it must be falsifiable."

If you can't decide, the answer is no

The subtitle really speaks for itself.

Run uphill

Simple heuristic: If you're evenly split on a difficult decision, take the path more painful in the short term.

One leads to pain now, and the other leads to pain in the future. Our brains are wired to avoid pain now, so it'll want to push that away.

If a path has short-term pain, it probably has long-term gain. And that's exactly what you want — because of compound interest.

A pretty simple example is working out. Sure, it is a pain now. It hurts and is hard to get into. But the long term benefits are immense. The same goes for reading a book — or learning anything, in general.

In short: lean into things with short-term pain, but long-term gain.

What are the most effective ways to build new mental models?

"Read a lot — just read."

Reading science, math, and philosophy one hour per day will likely put you at the upper echelon of human success within seven years.

Learn to love to read

There's so much information and knowledge out there right now. "The means of learning are abundant - it's the desire to learn that is scarce."

"The genuine love for reading itself, when cultivated, is a super-power."

Read what you love until you love to read.

"A tweet from @illacertus said, 'I don't want to read everything. I just want to read the 100 great books over and over again.'"

Reading a book isn't a race — the better the book, the more slowly it should be absorbed.

But also, Naval says that he skims. He speed reads. Jumps around in books. "At some deep level, you absorb them, and they become threads in the tapestry of your psyche. They kind of weave in there." This is something I have experienced as well. You might not remember where you obtained some piece of knowledge, but it's there. And you use it — which is the important part.

Naval reads a lot. About 1-2 hours a day. "I think that alone accounts for any material success I've had in my life and any intelligence I might have."

It really doesn't have to be books, either. "I would say for books, blogs, tweets, or whatever — anything with ideas and information and learning — the best ones to read are the ones you're excited about reading all the time."

Naval uses Twitter to take notes. It forces him to distill the idea or concept into a few characters.

Pointing out obvious exceptions implies either the target isn't smart or you aren't.

How Naval reads a book

  • Starts at the beginning but moves fast.
  • If it's not interesting, he starts flipping ahead / skimming / speed reading.
  • If it doesn't grab his attention within the first chapter in a meaningful, positive way, it gets dropped — or he skips ahead a few chapters.

There are too many great books out there to delay gratification.

Most (nonfiction) books only have one point to make. So try to find it. Because after they've presented it, it's just example after example after example. They try to apply it to everything.

The number of books completed is a vanity metric. As you know more, you leave more books unfinished. Focus on new concepts with predictive power.

If they wrote it to make money, don't read it.

How Naval internalizes/organizes information from reading books

Explain what you've learned to someone else. "Teaching forces learning."

What can I do for the next sixty days to become a clearer, more independent thinker?

"Read the greats in math, science, and philosophy. Ignore your contemporaries and news. Avoid tribal identification. Put truth above social approval."

Study logic and math, because once you've mastered them, you won't fear any book.

"No book in the library should scare you. [...] You should be able to take any book off the shelf and read it." Some will be too difficult — just read them anyway. And reread them until you get it.

The pain of being confused and not understanding something is similar to the pain you get when working out. You're building mental muscles. So learn how to learn and read the books.

Because most people are intimidated by math and can't independently critique it, they overvalue opinions backed with math/pseudoscience.

Your foundations are critical. So read the right things. The trick is to stick to science and to stick to the basics.

Both hard sciences and microeconomics are solid foundations. But when you start going outside of these, you're in trouble, because you don't know what is true and what's false.

"Another way to do this is to read originals and read classics." For evolution, you'd start with Darwin. For macroeconomics, start by reading Adam Smith, then von Mises or Hayek.

"Don't read the current interpretation someone is feeding you about how things should be done and run."

Once you've got your fundamentals, you can read anything.

We're taught to finish the books that we start. Abandon that belief. Because if you're stuck with a book, you will stop reading. You don't have to finish a book.

Learning Happiness

The three big things in life are wealth, health, and happiness. We pursue them in that order, but their importance is reverse.

Don't take yourself so seriously. You're just a monkey with a plan.

Happiness is learned

Maybe happiness is not something you inherit or even choose, but a highly personal skill that can be learned, like fitness or nutrition.

"Happiness is there when you remove the sense of something missing in your life."

It's stressed that happiness is the absence of desire. Conventionally, happiness is a state. And there is the opposite state; unhappiness. You can only be happy when you aren't unhappy. But you can't be either all the time. You swing between them. So instead, it's easier — and perhaps, better — to think of happiness as the absence of desire.

"Happiness to me is mainly not suffering, not desiring, not thinking too much about the future or the past, really embracing the present moment and the reality of what is, and the way it is."

"The world just reflects your own feelings back at you. Reality is neutral. Reality has no judgments." This reminds me of the following quote from Marcus Aurelius:

If you are painted by external things, it is not they that disturb you, but your own judgment of them. And it is in your power to wipe out that judgment now. — Marcus Aurelius

So happiness is a choice. Start working on it.

Naval also mentions that realizing the insignificance of the self has helped him. If you are the most important thing in the universe, shouldn't it conform to your desires? But if you aren't, you won't have any expectations for how life should be. Life is the way it is.

"Our lives are a blink of a firefly in the night. You're just barely here. You have to make the most of every minute, which doesn't mean you chase some stupid desire for your entire life. What it means is every second you have on this planet is precious, and it's your responsibility to make sure you're happy and interpreting everything in the best possible way."

Can practicing meditation help you accept reality?

Yes — but not very much. It's better than nothing.

A rational person can find peace by cultivating indifference to things outside of their control

A few things that Naval does, which works for him:

  • Lower identity
  • Lower chattering of the mind
  • Don't care about things that don't really matter
  • Don't get involved in politics
  • Don't hang around unhappy people
  • Value your time on this earth
  • Read philosophy
  • Meditate
  • Hang around with happy people

Happiness is a choice

"Happiness is a choice you make and a skill you develop."

"The mind is just as malleable as the body. We spend so much time and effort trying to change the external world, other people, and our own bodies — all while accepting ourselves the way we were programmed in our youths."

That reminds me of the following quote:

To a disciple who was forever complaining about others, the Master said, ‘If it is peace you want, seek to change yourself, not other people. It is easier to protect your feet with slippers than to carpet the whole of the earth.’

  • Anthony de Mello

Happiness requires presence

Be present.

"There's a great definition I read: 'Enlightenment is the space between your thoughts.' It means enlightenment isn't something you achieve after thirty years sitting on a mountaintop. It's something you can achieve moment to moment, and you can be enlightened to a certain percent every single day."

What if this life is the paradise we were promised, and we're just squandering it?

Happiness requires peace

Try to sit down and do nothing. There'll be some anxiety that wants you to go do something. Be aware that the anxiety is making you unhappy. It's just a series of running thoughts.

Don't try to fight it — try to figure it out.

"You'll notice when I say happiness, I mean peace. When a lot of people say happiness, they mean joy or bliss. But I'll take peace."

Every desire is a chosen unhappiness

"I think the most common mistake for humanity is believing that you're going to be made happy because of some external circumstance." This is fundamental Buddhist wisdom.

"Desire is a contract you make with yourself to be unhappy until you get what you want."

It's not that you should never desire anything. Just be aware that it's what causing your unhappiness.

"By the time people realize they have enough money, they've lost their time and their health." You want all three.

Success does not earn happiness

Happiness is being satisfied with what you have.

Success comes from dissatisfaction. Choose.

All of man's troubles arise because he cannot sit in a room quietly by himself. — Blaise Pascal

Following the Blaise Pascal quote, Naval says "If you could just sit for thirty minutes and be happy, you are successful. That is a very powerful place to be, but very few of us get there."

You can get almost anything you want out of life, as long as it's one thing and you want it far more than anything else.

Envy is the enemy of happiness

Doing something you 'should' do is doing something you don't actually want to do. Eliminate 'should' from your list as much as possible.

But I think this can be done with perspective, more than eliminating situations or tasks from your life. For example, you should work out. That's one perspective. But you could also see it as 'I get to work out'. Eliminating 'should' is not a cop-out for being lazy or getting on the hedonic treadmill. Rather, it's a reason for rethinking external pressures. Just because your dad was X and your dad's dad was X, you don't have to be X.

You should do what you want to do. Not what society wants you to do. There are pressures to become rich. Become attractive. All that. But you should do it for yourself, not because others want you to. Or you don't do them at all — you decide. Just think for yourself.

"All the real scorecards are internal". Life is a single-player game.

On jealousy

Jealousy is a poisonous emotion. You become unhappy, and the person you're jealous of still has whatever you were jealous of. But you can't just say that you want some part of somebody's life. You have to be all of it. So do you actually want to be that person, everything included? If not, there's no point in being jealous.

Happiness is built by habits

When working, surround yourself with people more successful than you.

When playing, surround yourself with people happier than you.

What type of skill is happiness?

Trial and error. See what works.

"When it comes to medicines of the mind, the placebo effect is 100 percent effective."

How does someone build the skill of happiness?

You can build good habits.

  • No alcohol
  • No sugar
  • No social media
  • Video games make you short-term happy but can ruin your happiness
  • Caffeine is another short-term gain & long-term pain tradeoff.

"There's the 'five chimps theory' where you can predict a chimp's behavior by the five chimps it hangs out with the most. I think that applies to humans as well. Maybe it's politically incorrect to say you should choose your friends very wisely. But you shouldn't choose them haphazardly based on who you live next to or who you happen to work with. The people who are the most happy and optimistic choose the right five chimps."

"The first rule of handling conflict is: Don't hang around people who constantly engage in conflict."

If you can't see yourself working with someone for life, don't work with them for a day.

Happiness habits

What has worked for Naval:

  • Meditation — insight meditation.
  • Sunlight.
  • Smiling more.
  • Dropping caffeine.
  • Working out daily.
  • Judge less.
  • Tell your friends that you're a happy person (consistency bias).
  • Use the phone, calendar, and alarm clock apps less.
  • Have fewer secrets.

Meditation, music, and exercise can reset your mood.

"A personal metric: how much of the day is spent doing things out of obligation rather than out of interest?"

The news' job is to make you anxious and angry. Stay optimistic.

Play positive-sum games. Avoid zero-sum games (politics, academia, social status).

"Increase serotonin in the brain without drugs: Sunlight, exercise, positive thinking, and tryptophan."

Changing habits:

Imagine these things in quotes, they're straight from the book:

  • Pick one thing. Cultivate a desire. Visualize it.
  • Plan a sustainable path.
  • Identify needs, triggers, substitutes.
  • Tell your friends.
  • Track meticulously.
  • Self-discipline is a bridge to a new self-image.
  • Bake in the new self-image. It's who you are — now.

Find happiness in acceptance

"In any situation in life, you always have three choices: you can change it, you can accept it, or you can leave it."

Remember that wanting to change it is a desire. It'll cause you suffering until you succeed.

Acceptance is being okay whatever the outcome is.

Try to find the positive of a situation in which you are annoyed.

Embrace death.

Saving Yourself

Doctors won't make you healthy. Nutritionists won't make you slim. Teachers won't make you smart. Gurus won't make you calm. Mentors won't make you rich. Trainers won't make you fit.

Ultimately, you have to take responsibility.

Save yourself.

Choosing to be yourself

When reading books like this, you might read it and think "I need to do this and that and...". But no. You don't need to do anything. Do what you want to do.

Stop trying to figure out how to do things the way other people want you to do them. Do them the way you want to.

Listen and absorb, but don't try to emulate. It's a fool's errand.

Nobody can beat you at being you.

Lots of people talk in absolutes and say things like "if you aren't doing X, you aren't doing it right!". I think that one should just absorb whatever information is given, and evaluate it for oneself. You can't just follow someone else's footsteps. What worked for someone else might not work for you.

Choosing to care for yourself

Your health, both physical and mental, is the most important thing.

Diet

"Most fit and healthy people focus much more on what they eat than how much. Quality control is easier than (and leads to) quantity control."

Fasting is easier than portion control.

"When it comes to medicine and nutrition, subtract before you add."

World's simplest diet: The more processed the food, the less one should consume.

Exercise

The harder the workout, the easier the day.

"I don't have time" is just another way of saying "It's not a priority."

Just do something every day. The best workout is the one you're excited to do every day.

"Like everything in life, if you are willing to make the short-term sacrifice, you'll have the long-term benefit."

Jerzy Gregorek: "Easy choices, hard life. Hard choices, easy life."

Meditation + Mental strength

An emotion is our evolved biology predicting the future impact of a current event. In modern settings, it's usually exaggerated or wrong.

Meditation is great.

Cold showers (and cold exposure) is great.

Naval does Choiceless Awareness (or Nunjudgmental Awareness) meditation. As you go about your day, "you practice learning to accept the moment you're in without making judgments."

Life-hack: When in bed, meditate. Either you will have a deep meditation or fall asleep. Victory either way.

Another way is just to sit down and do nothing for an hour. Don't put in any effort whatsoever. You'll start resolving deep-seated unresolved things. And once you reach 'mental inbox zero' on those, that's a great feeling.

Choosing to build yourself

The greatest superpower is the ability to change yourself

To have peace of mind, you have to have peace of body first.

Try to always be picking up a new good habit, and unlearning an old, bad habit.

Impatience with actions, patience with results.

Choosing to grow yourself.

"I don't believe in specific goals."

Scott Adams: "Set up systems, not goals."

"Use your judgment to figure out what kinds of environments you can thrive in, and then create an environment around you so you're statistically likely to succeed."

The current environment programs the brain, but the clever brain can choose its upcoming environment.

If there's something you want to do later, do it now. There is no "later."

How Naval learns about new subjects

He mostly just says on the basics.

Do you agree with the idea "If you read what everybody else is reading, you're going to think what everyone else is thinking"?

"I think almost everything that people read these days is designed for social approval."

Just like people read hundreds of books on economics, but haven't read any Adam Smith.

Or those who read "one hundred regurgitated books on evolution and they've never read Darwin."

The returns in life do not come from fitting in with the herd. The returns in life are being out of the herd.

If you had to pass down to your kids one or two principles, what would they be?

  1. Read. Everything you can. Not just the stuff that society tells you is good. Read for its own sake.
  2. Related: mathematics & persuasion. Both skills help navigate the real world.

Choosing to free yourself

The hardest thing is not doing what you want — it's knowing what you want.

"Be aware there are no 'adults'. Everyone makes it up as they go along. You have to find your own path, picking, choosing, and discarding as you see fit. Figure it out yourself, and do it."

Naval values freedom. But he used to value "freedom to". Now he values "freedom from".

Freedom from expectations

"If you hurt other people because they have expectations of you, that's their problem. If they have an agreement with you, it's your problem. But, if they have an expectation of you, that's completely their problem. It has nothing to do with you."

Courage isn't charging into a machine gun nest. Courage is not caring what other people think.

"Value your time. It is all you have. It's more important than your money. It's more important than your friends. It is more important than anything. Your time is all you have. Do not waste your time."

"This doesn't mean you can't relax. As long as you're doing what you want, it's not a waste of your time. But if you're not spending your time doing what you want, and you're not earning, and you're not learning — what the heck are you doing?"

"Don't spend your time making other people happy."

Freedom from anger

Anger is its own punishment. An angry person trying to push your head below water is drowning at the same time.

Freedom from employment

"People who live far below their means enjoy a freedom that people busy upgrading their lifestyle can't fathom."

"Once you've truly controlled your own fate, for better or for worse, you'll never let anyone else tell you what to do."

Freedom from uncontrolled thinking

"To me, the mind should be a servant and a tool, not a master."

The modern struggle:

Lone individuals summoning inhuman willpower, fasting, meditating, and exercising...

Up against armies of scientists and statisticians weaponizing abundant food, screens, and medicine into junk food, clickbait news, infinite porn, endless games, and addictive drugs.

Philosophy

The meaning of life

Naval gives three answers

  1. It's personal — you find your own meaning.
  2. There is none.
  3. We accelerate the heat death of the universe. "You're pushing us towards this point where we end up as one thing."

Live by your values

  • Honesty
  • He doesn't believe in any short-term thinking or dealing.
  • Only believes in peer relationships. Not hierarchical relationships. Doesn't want to be above nor below anyone.
  • Doesn't believe in anger.

The present is all we have

There is nothing but this moment. You can't go back in time. You can't predict the future.

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