Podcast Notes: Naval Ravikand on The Knowledge Project

This podcast deserves its own post. Naval Ravikand shares with Shane Parrish many insights on how to live a better life. Lots of wisdom here. I encourage you to listen to the entire 2-hour podcast:

The Knowledge Project: Naval Ravikand on Reading, Happiness, Systems for Decision Making, Habits, Radical Honesty – February 27, 2017

“I do not want my sense of self to continue and develop and become stronger as I get older. I want it to be weaker and more muted so that I can live much more in present everyday reality and accept nature and the world for what it is and appreciate it very much as a child would and then not have to seek happiness through external circumstances chasing the bits of preconceived notion that I have.” -Naval Ravikand (22:50)

My number one priority in life above my happiness, above my family, above my work, is my own health. And it starts with my physical health, and then second is my mental health, and then third is my spiritual health, and then it’s my family’s health, then it’s my family’s well-being, and then after that I can go out and do whatever I need to do for the rest of the world.” -Naval Ravikand (27:29)

“The answer I would have given you a year ago would be different than what I tell you now, but today I believe that happiness is really a default state. It’s what’s there when you remove the sense that something is missing in your life. We are highly judgmental survival replication machines. We are constantly walking around thinking, ‘I need this. I need that,’ trapped in a web of desires. And happiness is that state when nothing is missing, and when nothing is missing, your mind shuts down. Your mind stops running into the future or running into the past to regret something or to plan something. And then in that absence, for a moment you have internal silence. And when you have internal silence then you are content and you are happy.” -Naval Ravikand (29:20)

“I think people believe mistakenly that happiness is about positive thoughts and positive actions. But the more I’ve read, the more I’ve learned, the more I’ve experienced—because I verify this for myself—every positive thought essentially holds within it a negative though. … To me, happiness is not about positive thoughts. It’s not about negative thoughts. It’s about the absence of desire, especially the absence of desire for external things. The fewer desires I have, the more I can accept the current state of things, the less my mind is moving, because the mind really exists in motion towards the future or the past. The more present I am, the happier and more content I will be.” -Naval Ravikand (29:20)

“If you thought you were the most important thing in the universe, then you’d have to bend the entire universe to your will. Because if you’re the most important thing in the universe, then how could it not conform to your desires? And if it doesn’t conform to your desires, then something is wrong. However, if you view yourself as a bacteria or an ameba, or if your view all of your works as writing on water or building castles in the sand, then you have no expectation of how life should actually be. Life is just the way it is. And then you sort of accept that and you have no cause to be happy or unhappy. Those things almost don’t apply. And what you’re left with in that neutral state is not neutrality. I think people think that would be a very bland existence. No, this is the existence that little children live. And if you look at little children, on balance, they’re generally pretty happy because they’re really immersed in the environment and the moment without any thought of how it should be given their personal preferences and desires.” -Naval Ravikand (32:20)

“Why am I fantasy future planning? Why can’t I just stand here and brush my teeth? And just the awareness that my brain was running off into the future and planning some fantasy scenario out of ego. I was like, ‘Well, do I really care if I embarrass myself on Shane’s podcast? Who cares? I’m going to die anyway. This is all going to go to zero and I won’t remember anything so this is pointless.’ So at that point, I shut down. I went back to brushing my teeth and then I was noticing how good the toothbrush was and how good it felt. And the next moment I’m off to thinking something else and I have to look at my brain again and say, ‘Do I really need to solve this problem right now?’ And the reality is that 95% of what my brain runs off and tries to do, I don’t need to tackle at that exact moment. In fact, if it’s like a muscle then I would be better off resting it, being at peace and then when the particular problem arises, immerse myself in it. So what I would rather dedicate myself to is, for example right now as we’re talking, to be completely lost in the conversation and to be 100% focused on this as opposed to thinking, ‘when I brushed my teeth did I do it the right way?’ Or, you know, planning something else in my mind. So I think the ability to singularly focus is realated to the abilty to lose yourself and be present, happy, and actually, ironically, more effective.” -Naval Ravikand (34:13)

I’m trying to stay in that mode and not activate the monkey mind, which is always worried and freightened and anxious but serves incredible purpose. But I’m trying not to activate that program until I need it because when I need it I want to just focus on that program. But if I’m running it 24/7 all the time, I’m wasting energy. It becomes me and I am more than that.” -Naval Ravikand (36:05)

“You’re basically a bunch of hardware, DNA, that then reacted to environmental effects when you were younger. Then you recorded the things that were good and bad and led you to prejudge everything that’s going to be thrown against you. And then you’re using that to constantly try to predict and change the future. But as you get older and older, the sum of these preferences that you’ve accumulated is very, very large and the sum of these reactions, habitual reactions you’ve accumulated is very, very large and then they end up as runaway freight trains that control your mood. Well, we should control our own moods.” -Naval Ravikand (37:05)

“Why don’t we study how to control our moods? What a masterful thing that would be if we could say, ‘Right now I would like to be in a curious state,’ and then you could genuinely set yourself into the curious state. Or you say you want to be in a mourning state. I’m mounring a loved one and I want to greive for them but I really want to greive. I really want to feel that. I don’t want to be distracted by my computer programming problem that’s due tomorrow.” -Naval Ravikand (37:05)

So I think that the mind itself is a muscle and it can be trained and it can be conditioned. It has just been haphazardly conditioned by society out of our control. And if you look at it with awareness and intent—and it’s a 24/7 job; you’re working on it every moment of every day—I think you can unpack your own mind, and your emotions, and your thoughts, and your reactions, and you can start rewriting this program to what you want.” -Naval Ravikand (37:05)

“I want to be able to just be me. I never want to be in an environment around people where I have to watch what I say. Because if I disconnect what I’m thinking from what I’m saying, that creates multiple threads in my mind, that means that I’m no longer in the moment, that means that I’m future planning or past regretting every time that I’m talking to somebody. Anyone around whom I can’t be fully honest, I don’t want to be around.” -Naval Ravikand (39:15)

“I don’t believe in any short-term thinking or dealing. … Let’s say I’m doing business with somebody and they think in a short-term manner with somebody else, then I don’t want to do business with that person anymore. Because I think all of the benefits in life come from compound interest whether in money or in relationships or love or health or activities or habits. So I only want to be around people that I know I’m going to be around with for the rest of my life, and I only want to work on things that I know have long-term payout.” -Naval Ravikand (39:40)

I only believe in peer relationships. I don’t believe in heirarchical relationships. So I don’t want to be above anybody and I don’t want to be below anybody. If I can’t treat someone like a peer and they can’t treat me like a peer, then I just don’t want to interact with that human.” -Naval Ravikand (40:10)

“I don’t believe in anger anymore.” -Naval Ravikand (40:33)

Buhhdist saying: “Anger is the hot coal that you hold in your hand while waiting to throw it at somebody.” (40:30)

“It’s a different definition of freedom. My old definition was ‘freedom to.’ Freedom to do anything I want. Freedom to do whatever I feel like whenever I feel like. And now I would say the freedom that I’m looking for is internal freedom so it’s ‘freedom from.’ It’s freedom from reaction. It’s freedom from feeling angry. It’s freedom from being sad. It’s freedom from being forced to do things. But I’m looking for ‘freedom from’ internally and externally, whereas before I was looking for ‘freedom to.’ ” -Naval Ravikand (44:15)

Everything that I was doing I should have still done but with less emotion and especially less anger—because I used to be very angry when I was younger—but especially just less emotion. Life is going to play out the way it’s going to play out. Some good, some bad, but most of it is actually just up to your interpretation. You’re born. You have a set of sensory experiences and then you die. How you choose to interpret those sensory inputs is up to you and different people interpret them in different ways.” -Naval Ravikand (45:30)

“When I was younger, I started a company and the company did well but I didn’t do well, so I sued some of the people involved and it was a good outcome for me in the end and everything worked out ok, but there was a lot of angst and a lot of anger. Today what I would do is I wouldn’t go down the angst and the anger. I would have just walked up to the people and said, ‘Look, this is what happened. This is what I’m going to do. This is how I’m going to do it. This is what’s fair. This is what’s not.’ But I would have realized that the anger and the emotion themselves have this huge consequence that’s just completely uncessary. So now I’m just trying to learn from that and to do the same things that I think are the right thing to do, but to do them without anger and to do them with a very long-term point of view. So I think if you take a very long-term point of view and you take the emotion out of it, I wouldn’t consider those things mistakes anymore.” -Naval Ravikand (46:05)

“Socially we’re told, ‘Go work out. Go look good,’ because that’s a multiplayer competitive game. Other people can see if I’m doing a good job or not. Or we’re told, ‘Go make money. Go buy a big house.’ Again, external multiplayer competitive game. But 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. And we’re such social creatures—we’re more like bees or ants in 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 multiplayer games, but the reality is life is a single player game. You’re born alone. You going to die alone. All of your interpretations are alone. All your memories are alone. And you’re gone. In three generations nobody cares. Before you showed up, nobody cared. It’s all single-player.” -Naval Ravikand (50:25)

On jealousy: “I couldn’t just cherry pick and choose the aspects of their life. I couldn’t say, ‘I want his body. I want her money. I want his personallity.’ You have to be that person. Do you want to actually be that person with all of their reactions, their desires, their family, their happiness level, their outlook on life, their self image? If you’re not willing to do a wholesale 24/7 100% swap with who that person is, then there’s no point in being jealous.” -Naval Ravikand (52:20)

“But these are data processing problems. Basically, if I dump huge amounts of real world images into a neural network then I can do better image recognition, no question. That is real. That is a data driven solution. But the algorithms haven’t gotten any better and the structure of how the human brain works and how the human body works is still so far advanced beyond our machine capabilities that, certainly, if there’s going to be a singularity it’s not going to happen in my lifetime.” -Naval Ravikand (1:02:42)

“That’s why the smartest and most successful people I know started out as losers. If you view yourself as a loser, as someone who has been cast out by society and has no role in normal society, then you will do your own thing and you’re much more likely to find that winning path. So it helps to start out by saying, ‘I’m never going to be popular. I’m never going to be accepted. I’m already a loser. I’m not going to get what all the other kids have. I’ve just got to be happy being me.’ ” -Naval Ravikand (1:17:24)

“And no one in the world is going to beat you at being you. You’re never going to be as good at being me as I am, and I’m never going to be as good at being you as you are. So certainly listen, absorb, but don’t try and emulate. It’s a fools erand. Each person is uniquely qualified at something. They have some specific knowledge capabilities inside that nobody else in the world does. That’s just purely from the combinatorics of human DNA and development. And so your goal in life is to find out the people who need you the most, to find out the business that needs you the most, to find out the project or the art that needs you the most because there’s something out there just for you.” -Naval Ravikand (1:29:12)

“For some of the highest integrity people I know, the worst thing you can do is say, ‘I think you are self-dealing on that one.’ And they will get so unhappy because they’ll be like, ‘No, no, no, no. That’s not who I am. I can’t be that person,’ and they’ll bend over backwards. Usually I find that people that I negotiate with who are high integrity, they’re very easy to negotiate with. They’ll give you things that they don’t need to give you because they think it’s fair and vice versa. So negotiations with high integrity people are usually very easy. You’re giving each other things to make sure the other person is happy enough that the deal survives because unhappy deals get unwound and they become short-term relationships which don’t have any compounding benefits.” -Naval Ravikand (1:31:49)

“The closer you want to get to me, the better your values have to be.” -Naval Ravikand (1:34:20)

Easy choices, hard life. Hard choices, easy life.” (1:35:25)

Book suggestion: Thinking Physics (1:38:51)

One definition of a moment of suffering is that moment when you see things exactly the way they are. So this whole time you’ve been convinced your business is doing great and really you’ve ignored the signs that it’s not doing that well, then your business fails and you suffer. It’s just because you’ve been putting off reality. You’ve been hiding it from yourself. So the good news is that when you’re suffering, when you’re in pain, that’s a moment of truth. That’s a moment when you’re forced to embrace reality actually the way it is and then you can make meaningful change and progress because you can only do that when you’re starting with the truth. So I think the hard thing here is seeing the truth and to see the truth you have to get your ego out of the way because your ego doesn’t want to face the truth. So the smaller you can make your ego, the less conditioned you can make your reactions, the less desires you can have about the outcome you want, the easier it is to see reality.” -Naval Ravikand (1:41:30)

“The clear example of this is when we’re going through difficult things like a breakup or a job loss or a business failure or a health problem, and our friends are advising us. When we’re advising them, the answer is so obvious. It comes to us in a minute. ‘Oh, that girl. Get over her. She wasn’t good for you anyway. You’ll be happier. Trust me, you’ll find someone.’ You know what the correct answer is, but that person can’t see it because they’re in that moment of suffering and pain and they’re still wishing that reality looked different. So the problem isn’t reality. The problem is their desire colliding with reality that’s preventing them from seeing the truth no matter how much you say it. So the same thing happens when I’m making decisions. The more of a desire that I have that it work out a certain way, the less likely that I am to see the truth. Especially in business, if something isn’t going well, I try to acknowledge that publicly. And I try to acknowledge it publically in front of my cofounders and friends and coworkers, because that way then I’m not hiding it from anybody else. And if I’m not hiding it from anybody else, then I’m not going to, basically, delude myself from what’s actually going on.” -Naval Ravikand (1:41:30)

Shane: “You once said, ‘Anything you can think of has been thought of and tried. The only way you’re going to find something is if you stick to it at an irrational level and try a whole bunch of things.’ This kind of makes an idea a commodity, but the judgment and execution incredibly rare. How do you evaluate if someone is picking the right idea and if they have the capacity to execute on that idea?”

Naval: “The best founders, I’ve found, are the ones who are very long-term thinkers. So even decisions that maybe they shouldn’t care that much about early on, they fixate on because they are not building a house. They are putting bricks in the foundation of a skyscrapper, at least in their minds. So what you’re looking for is somebody who knows the space well, who understands how difficult it’s going to be, but doesn’t care because they just love whatever they’re doing. They’re into it and they commit to it for the long haul. Passion and vision alone are not enough. I think Steve Case said that vision without execution is hallucination. Execution alone isn’t enough.” -Naval Ravikand (1:43:23)

Great people have great outcomes, you just have to be patient. … All of them, almost without exception became extremely successful. You just had to give them a long enough timescale. It never happens in the timescale you want or they want but it does happen.” -Naval Ravikand (1:47:20)

 

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