Life-changing lessons learned from Naval Ravikant

While driving back to Pittsburgh after a month in Florida, I listened to two episodes of the Tim Ferriss Show podcast. They made the 14-hour drive the most productive drive of my life. Each episode featured Naval Ravikant, the CEO and a co-founder of AngelList.

The episodes with Naval are the first Tim Ferriss Show episodes I listened to and, since listening to more, the episodes with Naval remain my favorite. Everything he says in them was new but familiar to me at the time. It all just made sense.

Finding someone who speaks to you like this is rare. Naval revealed life lessons to me that I’ve been trying to uncover for years, only I didn’t know I needed to uncover them. I just knew I was looking for something. He told me what that was.

In this post, I’ll review the most hard-hitting, impactful lessons Naval taught me during his interview with Tim Ferriss and his Q&A with Tim’s loyal followers. I recommend listening to each episode, then reviewing the lessons below so they stick.

14 life lessons from Naval

For some lessons detailed below, I’ve inserted anecdotes from my own life to clarify Naval’s intent. After reading through the entirety of the post, I encourage you to pull out a pen and pad (or open a Google Doc) and take notes for things you’ll do differently in life moving forward.

The actions we take now determine how we’ll feel — and where we’ll be — in the next moment, the next hour, the next day, the next month, and so on.

1. Read more

Naval is reading multiple books at any given time. The same is true for many of Tim Ferriss’s other podcast guests. In fact, one of Tim’s favorite questions is Which books do you recommend to people?

Reading gives us the opportunity to ingest information, uninterrupted. We aren’t stimulated like we are in a public learning environment. Instead, our mind is at peace. It’s in the perfect state to acquire new information and challenge our current beliefs and perspectives.

By reading more, you adapt and grow faster. You become more creative (fiction), less likely to make business mistakes (books on entrepreneurship), wiser and more aware (stoicism and philosophy).

Two books recommended by Naval are Meditations and Snow Crash. The former led me to also picking up The Daily Stoic. It offers a meditation by stoics like Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, and Seneca each day for every day of the year. The editors, Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman, distill the meditations into practical advice for the day ahead.

2. Don’t read how you were taught to read

You don’t have to read one book at a time from front to back. You can skip around. This is what Naval does. Once he buys the book, it’s his to own, to do with as he pleases. He can start on chapter 5, 23, or 1. The choice is his. The book is now his to consume and destroy.

Doing this helps you stay engaged in a book. For instance, if you open a book like Tools of Titans or Meditations and the first few pages don’t stick, go to the next chapter, or stick the skin of your thumb between two middle pages at random and go there.

Now, after listening to Naval, if I don’t like a book after reading 50 pages, I put it down. Before, I would suffer through books.

There’s no reason you should do this. If it doesn’t stick, it wasn’t written for you, or it’s not the right time to read it. Either way, it’s fine. There are millions of other books that will pull you in. Go find them.

3. Treat your life like a movie

When you’re indecision, think about watching yourself in the midst of this decision in a movie.

What would you want to see yourself do? What would make the movie enjoyable and fulfilling? Do you start a conversation with the beautiful woman at the cafe, or do you sit there drinking your coffee, continuing to think about how she might talk, what she might say, and what the effect of her stare might have on you?

If you’re a movie lover like me, making decisions from this perspective will light a fire under your ass. Don’t just watch movies, start living your own.

4. You’re only as good as your habits

Habits affect our routine, and our routine affects our happiness. By slowly building good habits into our routine, our happiness will improve.

You can’t have more good habits than bad ones and not have a good life. That’s simple math.

5. Pick up one good habit every 6 months

While we’d all like to immediately start practicing every habit listed in an article by a billionaire titled something like 12 Necessary Habits for a Life Well Lived, the reality is that picking up a dozen habits takes years. Our body is made for change, but not for rapid, multivariate change.

One habit I’m currently working on is doing a reflection every morning — writing down what I ate, how I moved, what I did, and what I experienced the previous day. I started practicing versions of this in January 2017 and have not yet mastered it. I still miss some days, but each month, I find myself hitting more days of the week.

By June 2017, I’m confident I’ll have picked up the habit of writing a reflection every day. That’s what the plot points suggest. And I will have achieved this without stressing myself out. I am gradually working this habit into my daily routine rather than forcing it.

6. Drop one bad habit every 6 months

Don’t balance out old bad habits with new good habits. Instead, work on each simultaneously. This will lead to faster change. To make the process less stressful, you can drop an “easy” bad habit while working on a more difficult good habit. For instance, practice not pissing on the toilet seat while picking up the good habit of enunciation.

“I think learning how to break habits is a very important meta-skill that can serve you better in life than almost anything else,” says Naval. “Although you can read tons of books on it, the reality is you’re never going to learn how to break bad habits until you just break them.”

He rationalizes the process of slowly breaking a bad habit this way: “Everything else will be static. I’m not going to get any worse. That will help move the ball forward. Then you get gradual improvements in your life that you stick with.”

7. Wake up to the sun – not an alarm clock

How does the day welcome you? This is an important question because it determines how you welcome the day. Does each new day jar you with a harsh buzzing sound or slowly usher you in? Do you greet it with anxiety or a growing delight?

Naval rises slowly like the sun. To achieve this, he has a skylight above his bed. It’s a pretty simple solution. No alarm clock needed.

If you can’t install a skylight in your bedroom, Tim Ferriss recommends purchasing a light alarm. As the name suggested, instead of using sound to wake you up, it uses light. There are a few options available: a more expensive, well-reviewed option from Philips and a less expensive option from Vimicy.

8. Stay aware

“Pick your head up from the sidewalk.”

This is a quote from a Chuck Palahniuk book that has stuck with me since my junior year in high school. I believe it’s from the book Invisible Monsters, and it’s referring to something similar as Naval: Unless you’re looking at the sidewalk with intention (to meditate or take a break from stimulation), don’t look at the sidewalk.

Don’t waste your time. Take in what’s around you. Be appreciative of what many people see but don’t notice. This is where great ideas come from.

9. Don’t take life too seriously

This is the advice Naval would give to his 20-year-old self and to himself today if he were an older, wiser man.

If you watch the show Vikings, you’ll notice that the actor who plays Ragnar Lothbrok is always smirking, even when something traumatic is happening. I’ve been trying to mimic his expressions throughout the day, even when something isn’t going my way, or when I feel threatened or uncomfortable.

For instance, I’ve been traveling this year in South America and getting stared at a lot because of my gringo status. Some people look at me confused. Some even wear a tinge of anger. Rather than sharing their feelings, I shoot them a smile or a kiss.

In a more extreme case, I don’t get hellbent emotional when something “bad” happens to someone close to me. For instance, I didn’t cry when my grandma died. Instead I felt grateful for having spent as much time as I did with her. I felt joy that her suffering had passed. I realized that everyone dies.

Also, when my uncle broke his neck and was going through alcohol withdrawal in the hospital, trying to throw punches while strapped to the bed, I joked around with him. I understood that everyone else was upset. Why should I be, too, I thought. Why not approach it differently? Why not smile through it and understand that this is life and it’s okay to smile and breathe through tough things.

10. Phase out mediocre people

I’ll never forget the time I defriended someone outside of Facebook. He was a close friend I met in college — eccentric, funny, outgoing, and addicted to drugs. After graduating, I started living with him. He became jealous, irritable, and worse, degrading. When something good happened to me, he tried to take it away.

After trying to bring me down one day, I told him he wasn’t my friend any longer. It was awkward, but a healthy decision. At that point, his utility as a friend had expired, even though we had shared good experiences that I’ll remember forever.

Again, this is an extreme case. What Naval is talking about are people who waste your time. They don’t contribute anything, only ask you for things. To get rid of them, he slowly stops talking to them. Practice the tip above about being aware and you’ll notice who’s worth keeping and who’s not.

11. Treat time as your most valuable resource

Money is renewable, time is not. When you lose money, there’s always an opportunity to make more. When you lose time, that time is gone forever.

12. Don’t do coffee

In other words, don’t let other people steal your time. If they want to meet for coffee, often they have their interests in mind — not yours. And this is a weird one because there’s a meet-for-coffee option on AngelList. In fact, Naval used to respond to people who asked him if he could meet for coffee with an email like

13. Meditate however the fuck you want

Meditation is trending — the kind of traditional meditation that requires you to be quiet and still. If you’re not doing this, you’re not doing it right. But this approach is wrong, says Naval. You can meditate while doing anything — walking, doing yoga, eating, whatever.

While driving home from work a few years ago, I was listening to a nutritionist speak about meditation on NPR. He mentioned meditation while eating. “While masticating, feel the food, taste the flavor. I mean really taste it,” he said. “Appreciate that you have the food, let it be the only thing you feel. This is called meditating.”

This was news to me at the time, and it made sense.

14. Ask yourself “why” continuously when you’re unhappy

Before going on my year-long trip with We Roam, I was living at home for a few months. After the first few weeks, I became irritable. And I remained irritable until I did Naval’s exercise.

It went like this…

Why am I irritable? Because I’m living at home. Why am I irritable because I’m living at home? Because I’m living with my parents. Why do my parents make me irritable? They don’t, really; they are great people. They love me, feed me delicious meals, and give me anything I want.

So that wasn’t the reason: one option down.

Okay, so why am I irritable? Because I’m stuck. Why am I stuck? Because I’m in Pittsburgh and not traveling yet with We Roam. Why does being in Pittsburgh mean I’m stuck? It doesn’t. I can go anywhere even though We Roam starts in 2 months.

And that’s what I did: I took a week trip to Costa Rica, a two-week trip down the east coast of the United States, and AirBNB’d for a month in the warm Florida sun.

Even more life lessons

If you liked what I mentioned here about Naval’s time on the Tim Ferriss Show, Tim distils more “Navalism” in his new book Tools of Titans. You’ll also discover more life lessons, tips, and tactics by billionaires, icons, and world class performers