Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with Naval Ravikant (@naval). Naval is the co-founder and chairman of AngelList. He is an angel investor and has invested in more than 100 companies, including many mega-successes, such as Twitter, Uber, Notion, Opendoor, Postmates, and Wish. You can subscribe to Naval, his podcast on wealth and happiness, on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also find his blog at nav.al.
For more Naval-plus-Tim, check out my wildly popular interview with him from 2015, which was nominated for “Podcast of the Year.”
Transcripts may contain a few typos. With some episodes lasting 2+ hours, it can be difficult to catch minor errors.
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This interview was transcribed by Rev.com.
Tim Ferriss: Hello, boys and girls, ladies and germs. This is Tim Ferriss; welcome to another episode of the Tim Ferriss Show, where it is always my job to interview and deconstruct world-class performers from all different fields. My guest today is a dear friend, he does very few podcasts, we’re going to get into a disclaimer around that. Naval Ravikant, you can find him @naval on Twitter, he is the co-founder and chairman of AngelList. He’s an Angel investor and has invested in more than 100 companies, including many mega successes, such as Twitter, Uber, Notion, Opendoor, Postmates, and Wish. It is a long, long list. You can subscribe to Naval, his podcast on wealth and happiness on Apple podcast, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also find his blog nav.al. For even more Naval plus Tim, that’s me, check out my wildly popular interview with him from 2015, which was nominated for a Podcast of the Year. You can find that and resources and much more at tim.blog/naval. Naval, welcome back to the show.
Naval Ravikant: Yeah, thanks for having me. If I recall correctly, I was crushed in Podcast of the Year by Jamie Foxx, so—
Tim Ferriss: That’s right. So Jamie Foxx—
Naval Ravikant: I need weaker competition this time around. If you could just tone it down this year, please.
Tim Ferriss: I will do my best, yeah. Jamie, basically, I could have been a completely non-responsive, critical care patient; as long as the equipment functioned, Jamie Foxx is the consummate performer. So he is formidable competition of podcasts, but you are a different breed. And I understand that you get asked to do podcasts a lot. So what type of disclaimer would you like to apply?
Naval Ravikant: Oh, yeah. I don’t go on other people’s podcasts anymore, I had to make an exception for you because you are the OG. You put me on the map, you’re a good friend and frankly, I wouldn’t even be known if it weren’t for you. So I definitely have to thank you and honor your request to have me back. I generally don’t do podcasts anymore or at least other people’s podcasts for a couple of reasons. First is, I just don’t believe in sequels, I think sequels suck, right? You look at sequels in movies and whatnot and they’re usually pretty bad. They cost three times as much, they’re long-winded. The person now has an ego and a reputation to defend. They’ve already said what they were going to say so they’re just repeating themselves to some level.
And, maybe the first run, they took an idea they’ve had for a decade or three decades and they expounded on it and it sounded great. And then in the sequel, whether it’s a book or a movie, they have to come up with something equally good, but they only have two years to do it. And it’s just really difficult to do. So I think sequels just make everybody look bad, and I’m not a fan of sequels. Yet here we are. The thing about sequels is they make money, people want them, people crave them because there’s a certain familiarity to it, but hopefully we won’t embarrass ourselves too much. So yeah, I don’t do sequels; we’ll make an exception here and kind of see how it goes. Just don’t have Jamie Foxx back on—at least not this year.
Tim Ferriss: Well, I am looking right now, as a framework for starting this conversation, at your Twitter account. And that might seem like an odd place for me to start. People who listen to this show a lot will know that I don’t often do that, but I want to know two things. You follow zero people on Twitter, yet you have almost a million followers and also trending right now in the United States is Jamie Foxx. I just find that hilarious! He’s right next to [crosstalk]. Cannot keep this guy down. So let’s talk about your account. I find your account fascinating, I find your use of Twitter fascinating, and I’d like to begin with a photograph of a professor at a blackboard that you have as your profile, I suppose header. Who is the person in the photograph? I think I recognize this person, but I want to hear you describe why you chose this photograph and who it is.
Naval Ravikant: Yeah, that’s Professor Richard Feynman, who was a pioneer in the field of quantum electrodynamics. He was part of the Manhattan Project. He’s known colloquially for his book Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! And a couple of related ones like What Do You Care What Other People Think? But he’s also very well-regarded in the field of physics, obviously. He passed away a while back, but he invented a lot of quantum electrodynamics, Feynman path integrals, he was part of the Manhattan Project. A brilliant, brilliant guy. And I loved him because Feynman was one of the first characters that I encountered that did science and serious work and was accomplished in so-called real life. He was a character, he was a happy person. He was deeply philosophical, he didn’t take himself nor life too seriously. He appreciated the mysteries of life, he appreciated living life and he had a lot of fun along the way. To me, he was like a full-stack intellectual hacker of life. And was just very inspirational to me as a kid, growing up.
And even though I read a lot of philosophy and just kind of normal non-fiction, my hero and even though I’m in the business world, the tech world, my heroes are scientists because I think applied science is the engine that pulls humanity forward. It eventually becomes technology. That technology allows us to engage in all kinds of pursuits around civilization, rather than be scrapping for just basic subsistence and survival. And so I think scientists are still the most unsung heroes of human history, and Feynman was one of the greats. And he was admirable in many regards as to how he lived his life. Although I think recently they tried to cancel him, but they try to cancel everybody.
Tim Ferriss: Feynman is a character, certainly he is a character, was a character and a figure who has fascinated me for decades. And actually, I collect very few things but managed to buy some of his papers and drawings at auction a handful of years ago because it was the first time that they had been made available. So hey, I can show you some of his equations from the Manhattan Project, which is wild to think about. And my fascination though is, in many respects, uninformed because I don’t have the scientific literacy to fully appreciate the genius that he brought to bear on physics for instance, but I could appreciate his cleverness and his questioning of assumptions and also his distaste for uniforms and other accolades. Most notably, some of the prizes that he was awarded, that he seemed to have particular dislike for on some level.
Naval Ravikant: Yeah. He famously said that science is the belief in the ignorance of experts. And it’s so funny because these days, so many people are on Twitter saying, “Believe in science,” or “According to science.” And you have to realize there’s no such thing as science with a capital S. The foundation of science is doubt. It is all about falsifiability. David Deutsch, who’s kind of one of my current modern living physicist heroes, is a Popperian. He subscribes to Karl Popper’s philosophy. And he basically says that if it’s not falsifiable, it’s not scientific. If you can’t prove it false. If it’s true up or down or left or right, it’s not science, it doesn’t require belief, you should be able to challenge it at all times. It should make risky predictions that are not obvious, and those predictions should then be tested and you shouldn’t be able to, after the fact, move the goalposts or change how the predictions were set up.
And so those are the hallmarks of good science. Falsifiability, independent verifiability, and making risky and narrow predictions with details that are hard to vary both before and after the fact. And that’s how you end up with good science and good explanations, not by people on Twitter or voting. That’s politics. So everything has become politics now; science has become politics, too. People are politicizing, there’s a big science, but I think Feynman would be very unhappy with that. He was just a generally happy character and non-political, intended not to get involved in these things. But I think he would realize that, that is not actually science, but it’s masquerades of science, it’s almost becoming social science and going to Twitter. Nassim Taleb is one of my favorite Twitter followers, even though he’s a bit—
Tim Ferriss: Cantankerous?
Naval Ravikant: Yeah. He’s cantankerous. He annoys people for sure, but you want to hear the truth, you got to be prepared to be hurt a little bit. But he had a great tweet recently that I retweeted, which I’m sure made a lot of people mad, where he said, “The opposite of education is not ignorance. The opposite of education is an education in social science.” And I thought that was hilarious, but it hurts because there’s some truth to it. If there was no truth to it, it wouldn’t hurt at all. If I said, “Tim Ferriss is fat,” that would just bounce right off of you. But if I said, “Tim Ferriss and Naval are fake gurus,” that might hit us, right?
Because we kind of suspect at some deep level, there’s a part of that, that’s true. So I think the same way with social science does kind of lead you down the road to ignorance because it’s about social and anything social is about groupthink and group behavior. And individuals can search for truth, but groups search for consensus because if a group doesn’t have consensus, it can’t get along. If it can’t get along, it falls apart and there’s conflict. And so the last place you’re going to find truth is in large groups and the moment you make science about large groups and about voting and about consensus, you’re not really practicing science anymore.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, and the science with a capital S is dangerous.
Naval Ravikant: Very dangerous.
Tim Ferriss: As you mentioned —
Naval Ravikant: Yeah, it’s propaganda. Then it becomes macroeconomics. Again, another Taleb line, he says, “It’s easier to macro bullshit than it is to micro bullshit.” And so, big sciences, he called it macroeconomics. Whereas they’re calling microeconomics, little science, which is me in a lab or me with my computer trying out various things. Just like with macroeconomics, you can pick and choose whatever data you want to prove, whatever point you want with big science, you can pick or choose whatever papers you want. So look at the fights right now on the internet about what COVID means. You can go down that hall of mirrors and find scientific quote, unquote, substantiation for many points of view, depending on which papers you choose to cherry-pick. And so then we reduce back to consensus, but again, science isn’t done by consensus.
It should be done by experimentation, verifiability, falsifiability, rigorous testing. And in an ideal science world, you don’t go and survey 10,000 scientists. You actually pick the one smartest scientist. But that’s very hard to do now. No one can agree on who the smartest scientist is. So unfortunately I think that the nature of what science is, is being corrupted and that started the day we let the so-called social sciences masquerade as sciences. The day we said psychology is a science, and politics can be a science, and so on. And you can apply the scientific methods to those things. Then I think that’s the day we started to corrupt science or at least the word science. So real science these days is relegated to a very small corner. Physics, maybe molecular biology and chemistry, mathematics, theory of computation, but it’s a fairly limited set.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. A very quantitatively literate friend of mine said at one point, “Most of the disciplines that have science at the end of them are not actually science.” Although there are some exceptions, right? So computer science.
Naval Ravikant: Computer science.
Tim Ferriss: Neuroscience, if it’s hard, neuroscience would be an exception, but very often, if there’s science appended to it, it is not in fact, something that is falsifiable, according to someone like Karl Popper, right? It cannot be proven or disproven using experiments.
Naval Ravikant: That’s right. If there isn’t some experiment that could theoretically disprove it, then it’s not science. Yeah. It’s like Honest Abe’s Law Firm, right? If he needs to put “honest” in the title, then you have to wonder! So the same way with “science” in the word, other than, as you said, computer science and neuroscience, you sort of have to wonder.
Tim Ferriss: Well, let’s look at a couple of quotes from Feynman. There are few that I think about a lot and these are on Goodreads, but number one—and I think this is really applicable with respect to science in media, particularly a term that bothers me a lot, which is, “studies prove” or “studies show.” Just like “capital S science shows,” which isn’t really a thing. The facts can get contorted quite a lot. The quote from Feynman is: “I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something.” Right? So in other words—
Naval Ravikant: This is a very deep point. And I think that a lot of times that we just define something with another definition, or we just throw out a piece of jargon as if that means we know something. And it’s a difference between memorization and understanding. Understanding is a thing that you want. You want to be able to describe it in 10 different ways, in simple sentences from the ground up and re-derive, whatever you need. If you just memorize, you’re lost. So I think this is one of the things that I get stuck on a lot, which is, just keep going back and reading the basics over and over, trying to understand them. So don’t necessarily have that tall edifice of knowledge, that that is very seductive in academia. But as anyone who’s operated much in the real world knows, in the real world, you get paid for making good judgments and decisions based on the basics.
For example, if you know arithmetic, statistics, probability at a high level, and you understand some basic math, you have all the math that you need to succeed in life. You don’t need calculus or even trigonometry or number theory or set theory or any of these kinds of things unless you’re going into a deeply technical field of mathematics. Yet we spend so much of our time in school covering pre-calc and calculus when the kids who were taking those courses aren’t even that good at basic math. So the basics are really important. That’s the steel frame, the foundation for understanding that you need to get through life and too much of it is reduced to memorization and understanding things as names and as definitions. And I think the Feynman example is, his dad would take him for walks and they would see birds. And his dad would say, “This bird is such and such a warbler,” but that doesn’t tell you anything about the bird; that tells you about humans.
And humans gave that bird that name. Really the bird, it likes to stand on one leg at this point and it likes to pick lice in its feathers, doing this, and it likes to eat these kinds of things. And it flies this way for that reason and that these are its predators and these are its prey. So, I mean, those are the kinds of things that really give you understanding. Who cares what the bird is called? The name of the bird is irrelevant. In professional life, this happens a lot, which is jargon.
People try to protect their knowledge by basically saying, “Well, I understand this term and that term and what this term means.” But the reality is, most people don’t actually know what these things mean underneath. I find this very common in accounting. A lot of business people don’t know accounting, and even a lot of accountants will have fancy words for things. But when you dig underneath, they don’t really understand the principle of what’s going on below it. And if you just understand the principles, and even if you don’t understand the words, you will have an advantage in, for example, negotiating deals, because you will understand underneath how the pieces are actually moving on the board, as opposed to what they’re called.
Tim Ferriss: And I just want to point out—developing that foundational knowledge is akin to learning the basics of shooting foul throws in basketball. It is not becoming Michael Jordan, right? With a very limited set of colors with which to paint. If you spend a few days with a decent YouTube tutorial or book, gathering the basics of accounting, you will be able to make significantly better decisions, right? I just want to underscore that this is not a master’s degree or a PhD or any type of commitment like that, that can separate you from the pack in terms of advantage.
Naval Ravikant: Well, just run a business. Running a lemonade stand will teach you better accounting than a textbook. Now you may need to learn certain conventions because you need those to communicate with other humans. So that there’s efficient communication. When you say one thing, they understand that thing, and that’s where jargon can be useful because it can be a compressed way of communicating knowledge rather than having to try and explain it from first principles every time. But when it’s not useful is when it becomes a substitute for understanding. Understanding is the thing. That’s what separates humans from the other animals.
That’s what separates us from the robots, that we actually understand what’s going on underneath. For example, in the artificial intelligence world, there’s a new algorithm, GPT3, which is the rage, which is text completion. So people are saying, “Hey, I can make up really plausible sounding writing. And so the AI is here and it’s going to take all the jobs.” Well, no, because the AI doesn’t actually know what’s going on underneath. If I were to ask it a question of, “Well, why did you write that?” Or “What does that mean?” It would very quickly fall apart.
So you always want to strive for understanding, not for memorization. You should be able to re-articulate it five different ways in every language that you know. Otherwise, you don’t really understand it. And the good news is, you don’t have to understand that many things. While we’re on the topic of Feynman, one of the quotes from him is he says, “Nature uses only the longest threads to weave her tapestry.” And so what he means by that is that there’s only a few basic principles that you have to understand to kind of understand the sum total of our knowledge in physics. There’s not a lot. And as physics becomes more and more advanced, we’re actually unifying theories. We’re collapsing them into one thing like we do with electricity and magnetism or statistical mechanics and heat and thermodynamics. Those turn out to be one thing.
We’re trying to do currently with gravity and quantum mechanics, we’re trying to reconcile them in quantum loop gravity or in string theory, or what have you. So you just kind of have to understand a few of the basic things and then you’ll see them recurring over and over and over again. For example, I study and read physics and computer science just for entertainment. There’s no practical application for me, but there’s this really interesting theory I was reading about called Solomonoff induction. And it’s basically formalized as Occam’s razor, which is that the shortest answer is the correct one. But it’s more advanced than that.
But it basically says, if you want to figure out why something happened, you take all the different reasons why it could have happened, all the different theories why it could have happened. And then you sort of weigh each of them based on how compressed they are, how short they are, how likely they are. That kind of gives you the explanation for why that theory happened. Now, Feynman has a very similar and elegant thing in a completely different field where he basically says, “If you want to understand why this particle took that path, why did this photon take that path? What you do is, you look at all the possible paths that a photon could have taken, and you sort of weigh them. You sum them probabilistically based on how likely that path was.” It’s actually the same observation, except one is about photons traveling through time. And the other is about the causality and why an event may have happened. And what the theory is behind that.
And these are two completely different fields and two completely different characters, thinking about two completely different things. And these are very, very fundamental theories in their fields, but deep down, they’re actually the same, which to me is fascinating. It just shows how much of what we look at as complexity actually emerges from a set of very simple rules. And it’s just fascinating. So understanding is a thing to strive for, not the word. So even though you use the fancy words like Solomonoff induction and finance path, integral theory, whatever the heck it’s called—I don’t even know what the actual name is—the name is irrelevant; it’s the concept that’s fascinating.
Tim Ferriss: You spoke to learning accounting through building a business. Let’s segue to business. Your pinned tweet is a tweetstorm. So it’s a series of tweets, the headline of which is, “How to get rich,” and then in parentheses, “without getting lucky.” It has, as we record this, 44,800 retweets, 110+1,000 favorites. We’re not going to go through this whole thing; it’s quite long. But I’m curious to know what parts of it you think people are paying too much attention to or over-emphasize and what parts of it do you wish people would pay more attention to? Because there are many different pieces of advice in this thread.
Naval Ravikant: Yeah, that tweetstorm is a series of principles that I kind of wrote for myself in my head when I was 13 and I was trying to figure out how to make money. And it kind of came up with a framework of how to be rich, but not by accident, to do it in a way that I could repeat it over and over. And I would leave very little up to chance because I think there’s kind of this—it’s not completely mythology, but there’s this belief that to make money, you have to be born rich, or you have to be privileged, or you have to be in the right circles, you have to get lucky. And I think that there are still ways to accomplish the original American dream, which is make money, but do it in a deliberate, systematic way.
And when I say money, I mean wealth, I don’t mean a law firm where you make a couple of hundred bucks an hour, but you’re still tied to the clock. I mean, when you wake up when you want, you go to sleep when you want, you live where you want, and you have freedom. So to me, the purpose of money is freedom. And for that, you need to create wealth and can you do it ethically? Can you do it sustainably? Can you do it reliably? Can you do it with people that you like, can you do it doing things that you enjoy? And I think it’s absolutely possible. And I like to think that I’m at least one of many living proof points for that. Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger are examples of others. Not that I’m in their status or their league, but other people have done it.
So that was the whole point of that framework. And the tweetstorm, I just wrote it down one day. And it’s funny because obviously, I have some experience at Twitter, so I know how to craft things. But I think that was written back in the day when the tweet limit was 140 characters too. So it was harder, but I just woke up one night when I’d been thinking about it and I wrote out the whole tweetstorm, almost exactly like you see it. And there are lots and lots of missing pieces. Obviously, that is just a very high level, very Zen koan-like, or, or haiku-like, or even in Hallmark card-like framework. it’s missing a ton of details, which I then tried to extrapolate in my podcast series on the same topic.
Tim Ferriss: What do people overemphasize, and what are people missing?
Naval Ravikant: I think—
Tim Ferriss: And actually, Naval, let me pause and just read a few of them. This is from May 31, 2018. So a few examples, and you don’t have to comment on these specific examples, but just for people who haven’t seen this, I want to give them an idea. So the second of these various tweets in this sequence is, “Understand that ethical wealth creation is possible. If you secretly despise wealth, it will elude you.” End of that particular tweet. And then there’s another one, “You’re not going to get rich renting out your time. You must own equity, a piece of a business, to gain your financial freedom.”
Naval Ravikant: That one right there is the most important one. Which is, in modern life, what happens is the person who is the best at doing something in the world will get to do it for the entire world through a combination of leverage and distribution, accountability, and specific knowledge. All of which I talk about in the tweetstorm. If you’re the best in the world at doing something, if you’re the best teacher in the world at math, you should be teaching the entire world math. If you’re the best podcast interviewer, you should be doing all the top interviews and their returns will accrue to you, especially in this highly digital world where we live in, where the cost of distributing something is very close to zero. And so what you kind of want to do is, you want to productize yourself into a business, and then you want to own that business.
That is the way to make wealth. A clear example is the Tim Ferriss podcast and the Tim Ferriss brand, right? It’s an eponymous brand. Your name is on it. You’re leveraged through this podcast and through the books you write and through the army of followers that you have on the various media platforms. And you’re taking on big accountability and there’s specific knowledge. Only you know how to be Tim Ferriss, the learning machine who can then connect to other learners and extract value out of them and share that with the audience. So that’s an example of you having productized yourself. But ultimately, you own the Tim Ferriss business. Now you can go lower levels down from that. You don’t have to own the entire business. You could be an investor in public equities or private stocks. You could be a partner in a private business. You could be an employee of a startup where you have stock options, but if you don’t own a piece of a business, it’s going to be extremely hard to get wealthy.
It would be nearly impossible, almost not worth that route. So I think that is the most important foundational tweet. I think, where people kind of miss the plot the most though, is we have pain avoidance in life. We don’t want to face things where it’s clear we have made bad decisions because one good definition of suffering is that, that’s the moment when you see things that they clearly are, and you kind of don’t like what you see. Like, for example, if you and your spouse have been fighting for a long time, you’ve kind of been sweeping it under the rug and you’ve sort of been suffering along, but you’re sweeping it under the rug, and then you get divorced. At that moment you can no longer unsee all the damage that was in the relationship and what all the consequences are.
They’re real. The same way if you haven’t been taking care of your health, but then suddenly you find out that you’ve just fallen off a cliff and something irreversibly bad has happened. The moment of suffering arrives and you’re in pain because you can no longer unsee this thing. You can no longer avoid it. So I think the same way—the unfortunate part is that a lot of these principles are written for young people because you can set yourself on a certain trajectory in life earlier.
And so, for example, if you went and you got a PhD in a social science, and now I’m basically saying, “Hey, learn to code,” you’re going to avoid that. You’re not going to want to see that because you have all this sunk cost in the degree. So I think a lot of people don’t want to pick up the new skills that are necessary, or they don’t want to, for example, physically move, or they don’t want to disappoint the people and the relationships that they already have to make room for new relationships.
So everybody wants to start where they are. Nobody wants to go back down the mountain to find the path going at the top. Everybody wants to stay on the path they’re on, maybe make a few tweaks and get to the top or like Charlie Munger jokes. You know, people always ask me like, “How do I get to be rich like you, except quicker? I don’t want to be an old rich guy. I want to be the young rich guy.”
So I think these are the hard parts. The hard parts are not the learning, it is the unlearning. It’s not the climbing up the mountain. It’s the going back down to the bottom of the mountain and starting over. It’s the beginner’s mind that every great artist, or every great business person has, which is: you have to be willing to start from scratch. You have to be willing to hit reset and go back to zero.
Because you have to realize that what you already know, and what you’re already doing, is actually an impediment to your full potential. And most people just don’t want to acknowledge that. And I’m guilty of that too. That’s just human nature. I’m not faulting anybody for it, but it’s just human nature.
Tim Ferriss: And if we look at your specific case, as it relates to equity, you mentioned owning part of a business. You also mentioned in this conversation, productizing yourself. So would you view your success in following that principle predominantly in, for instance, the equity that you own in a company like AngelList, or is it the identity and the brand meaning associations that you’ve built as Naval the human, or is it slash investor, therefore being sought after as an investor? Or is it something else?
How would you think of that principle as applying it most in your own life? Because you’ve created wealth, not just through say your equity and AngelList, but also through many successful investments. And then I’m sure there are other ways that we could identify wealth as coming from your path that you have.
Naval Ravikant: Yeah, what I like about my path is that I’ve made money doing a lot of different little things. So I’ve made money consistently in sort of small to medium-sized chunks. I haven’t had like one gigantic payday that set me up forever. Although it depends on your standards. I’m talking about by Silicon Valley standards, obviously, for most parts of the world, I’ve had many of those gigantic paydays, but they’ve been consistent and they’ve been varied.
Varied in the sense that there are completely different kinds of investments and endeavors, but consistent in that, I get one every couple of years.
Tim Ferriss: I just want to interject for a second, which would seem to suggest that there are principles guiding your approaches or some—
Naval Ravikant: Absolutely.
Tim Ferriss: Systematic approach. Therefore, you’re not relying on winning the Powerball lottery or that equivalent.
Naval Ravikant: No, not at all. No, there’s no lottery here to win. The lottery is for losers. Lotteries are just attacks on people who can’t do math. Your get-rich-quick schemes are just other people getting rich off of you. There are no shortcuts. So what I’m doing is I am taking my specific knowledge, which is my ability to understand deeply technical concepts and communicate them to the rest of the world, to be an interface between great programmers and developers and designers and the capital markets and consumers.
And using that to put myself in a position where then I can identify great trends as they’re emerging, invest in those companies or help start those companies, own equity in those things, help bring them to market, help do the strategy and how to navigate the worlds of fundraising and exiting and recruiting and company building and cultures and technology development and all that, and have a brand around it.
And I used that to kind of make money. And that is just one of several ways. I’ve also done it by investing early on in public markets and cryptocurrencies and starting funds and all kinds of things. It’s funny I don’t really follow my own principles anymore. Like the, for example, the whole podcast thing and the whole Twitter thing, even though I’ve got reasonably good brands and followers, and those I’m not monetizing them at all.
I’m not charging anybody for anything because I’m not trying to make money anymore. To me, that making money is like, you become the kind of person that makes money and you put yourself in long-term situations where you’re always going to make money. So I have the brand and I have deep relationships with a dozen people who I know, and I trust that I can do business with, for the rest of my life.
And they’re very high integrity people. They’re very capable people and just makes it easy to do things. So I’ve set up that infrastructure. Now, the money just kind of makes itself as I go about my life. I don’t want to have to work hard. I don’t want to have to roll out of bed at a certain time. I don’t want to have to answer to somebody. So I optimize for independence and freedom.
I could have made a lot more money by raising a huge fund or joining a big VC firm early on, or being an executive. One of the massive companies in Silicon Valley early on, but I always optimize for independence. I’m lazy. I wake up, at seven, eight, nine, 10:00 a.m. I go to sleep at two, 3:00 a.m. You know, I don’t work a lot of days. Some days I work morning to night, but it’s just based on whatever I’m curious about.
I never want to have to answer to a boss. No one’s ever going to tell me what to do. I don’t want to order people around. I don’t want to have someone reporting to me and kind of asking me all the time what to do. I want peer relationships. I want to flow. I want to be able to do business or walking in a forest, talking on a cell phone, or sitting in a meeting or in front of a computer, or I want to be on a beach if I don’t feel like it.
The ideal would be to make money with your mind, not with your time. So if I can just make one good decision a year, and that makes me all the money that I need for that year, then that’s perfect. And that’s the way it should be, because we’re living in an age of infinite leverage and your judgment just gets multiplied through this massive force multiplier through code, capital, community, labor, what have you.
So if you’re smart and you kind of know what you’re doing, you don’t need to work hard. Working hard is the last least important thing. You have to pay your dues. You have to put in all the iterations, 10,000 iterations, not 10,000 hours, to figure out what to do and how to do it well. But once, you know, you don’t have to put in the time anymore. It’s your judgment.
And the judgment comes from clear thinking. The clear thinking comes from having time to reflect and to pursue your genuine intellectual curiosity. And you’ll see that a lot of the great investors, for example, just sit around reading most of the time, or Warren Buffett famously plays a lot of bridge. Obviously not everyone can be just an investor, although that is becoming more and more democratized.
And I’ve picked something that suits my temperament and particular capabilities, but there’s lots and lots of ways to make money if you apply your mind to it. So I don’t work to make money. I mean, if I make so much money that I’m donating hospital wings and universities and all that stuff, I overshot. I’m not trying to have some influence on the world through money. Ironically, I have more influence over the world through podcasts like this.
And so making more money doesn’t change my life. It doesn’t change the world as much as I could by doing other things. So there’s not much incentive for me to make money anymore. Other than just this practicing my craft.
Tim Ferriss: Well, let’s talk about a few of your missives. Missives is probably not the word.
Naval Ravikant: Yeah. I’m not telling anybody to do anything. I’m not trying to persuade anyone of anything. So if people don’t like it some people get triggered on Twitter and they start arguing, it’s like, just leave. Just don’t listen to it.
Tim Ferriss: Well, this would be great. The one I’m going to read would be a great one for people to get really upset about. Or I would find it comical to look at the comments of people are upset, but the line is this: Imagine how effective you would be if you weren’t anxious all the time.
Why did you put this out? And have you seen highly anxious people become people who experienced very little anxiety? Is that something you’ve seen, but first, why did you put this up? What was behind it? And then have you seen anxious people become largely, I guess an anxious or non-anxious people.
Naval Ravikant: Yeah. Most of my tweets are not very deliberate or thought through. What’s happening is I’ve been thinking about some concept for months, years, whatever it’s been percolating. And then all of a sudden it’ll come to me. It’s sort of like one pithy sentence where I’m like, oh, this is how I will remember this thing. This is how I can distill this down into a pointer for myself, so that when I need to make decisions, I can retrieve that whole line of reasoning.
And so where this comes from is basically everybody, after a certain age, I am taking responsibility for my own happiness and peace and quality of life. And one of the things you learn after you make money is that money doesn’t make you happier. It takes care of your money problems, but it’s not necessarily going to put you in a place where you’re in some kind of bliss all the time.
In fact, there’s nothing out there that will make you happy forever. So you sort of have to take responsibility for guiding yourself in such a way that your mental state ends up where you want it. And so I’ve been working on my mental state and I have—working is a big word. I don’t even want to say I’ve been working on it, but I would say my mental state has gotten to a place which is much better than it used to be.
And people will often say, “Well I don’t want to do that because it’ll take away my ambition. I want to succeed right now.” And so I’ve thought about that a fair bit. And is that true or not? Well, it certainly, for me in the last few years, since I’ve become calmer, my effectiveness has gone through the roof and I’ve been more successful, but it’s hard to disambiguate that from, well, also, maybe you just later in your career, you’re in a better position for it and that’s a valid criticism.
So one of the things I’ve been trying to figure out is like, would I have been as successful and it’s hard to do the counterfactual obviously if I wasn’t as anxious, because anxiety comes from fear and it’s also a motivator. It makes you get off your butt. And one of the ways to make the anxiety go away, at least until the next piece of anxiety comes along, is to go do something about it.
So what is the role of anxiety? Well, firstly, I noted that pretty much everybody’s anxious all the time. It’s a rare human being who isn’t anxious and it makes sense. We’re alpha predators. We took over this earth and domesticated or killed all the other animals. And we did that by being the most paranoid, the most fearful, the most angry predators this world has ever seen.
So anxiety is built into the core of who we are. In fact, you could argue that all the mind does all day long is fear-based scenario planning for survival, and then maybe a little bit of green for replication. So anxiety is at the core level of who we are, but certainly some people are more anxious than others. There’s no question. And some people seem to get much calmer about it.
So which is more useful for effectiveness? So assuming that your goal is your motivation is intrinsic. You’re doing the thing because you love it or because you really want it, and you can separate that motivation from anxiety. Then I think you can take on certain superpowers. And we kind of all intrinsically know this. If you look at Samurai warriors, Miyamoto Musashi is in a duel with somebody else, you know that the person who is calmer is going to win.
In all those movies, it’s the one who’s incredibly still then swipes with a sword incredibly quickly, and is then still again, that’s the winner—the one who has a zen sense of mind. Similarly in The Terminator movies, part of the reason you fear the Terminator is because he’s a robot. He’s unstoppable, he’s implacable. You can’t argue with him. You can’t communicate with him. You can’t make him slow down.
And he has no remorse. He just keeps coming. Or in that old Clint Eastwood movie Unforgiven. The guy who wins the gunfight is the one who doesn’t flinch. He’s just keeping his cool while he’s loading his gun and shooting. He’s not like all over the place running around. So I just think we waste so much energy through anxiety that if you can be calm and still go about your business, it’s a superpower.
And I realized this myself recently, where I was in a conflict situation, business. It was a high conflict situation. It was unfortunate. We, I think we’ve solved it. But as I went through this high conflict situation, I’d been through one like it years before where I was much more anxious. And I remember that time period. And I remember how much I was sweating it and how nervous I was and how I went through bouts of fear and anger and how it kind of worked up I was the entire time, intense and didn’t get much sleep.
But this time I was incredibly calm and I was almost enjoying it because it was like practicing my craft. Now, of course it’s easy to do now because I have more money. But at the same time, it just didn’t bother me. It was just very mechanical. And because of that, I can be very effective about it and it can be effective about it while doing lots and lots of other things. My mind wasn’t constantly spinning in a whirlpool taking on 10 different problems and just fear-based scenario planning all the time.
Most of these things were never going to happen. So I do believe that being calm and still going about your business is the superpower. Now yes, if anxiety is your only motivator, then you have a problem. But I would argue the pure motivations don’t come out of anxiety.
Tim Ferriss: So let’s talk about attribution here. To what would you attribute the, I know this, that it’s difficult to isolate variables, et cetera, but if let’s just say like you have a family, so let’s just say one of your kids comes to you is like, “Dad, I’m suffering from a lot of anxiety. What should I do?”
Or you observe it and you want to help your kid out. What types of recommendations would you make? Or might you make? Another question if you prefer it is what has helped you to go from the whirlpool experience of anxiety in high conflict experience, round one versus calm Naval, and high conflict experience round two?
Naval Ravikant: Yeah. It’s really hard to separate all the pieces out. I mean, it comes from a combination of a philosophy, yoga meditation, and getting older, having kids. Like you, I’ve had some psychedelic experiences, but those are very far back in the past, just a distant memory at this point. But I would say the number one thing that has been very, very important for me is meditation.
And it’s a stupid thing to say, because so trite, everybody just says it now. But when I say meditation, I don’t mean sitting there and watching your breath or chanting a mantra. I mean, self-examination and meditation is a great way to do that self-therapy. It’s sitting there with your thoughts. So anxiety, this pervasive nonspecific anxiety where we’re just constantly on edge about everything, that comes from an unexamined life. I think it was Socrates who said, “An unexamined life is not worth living.” I forget who said that quote—
Tim Ferriss: Something like that.
Naval Ravikant: But it’s—
Tim Ferriss: Aristotle, Socrates—
Naval Ravikant: One of those smart philosopher types, but it’s correct. It’s your unexamined life that is causing the problems. And you can examine it in multiple ways. You can examine it through you can have some crazy mushroom trip where it all comes out one night. You could do a lot of meditation sitting there with yourself and letting your mind run crazy.
And then seeing what’s actually in your mind that your mind wants to tell you, and have you listened to, and have you resolved that is unresolved. It could be through therapy. It could be through reading lots of philosophy and reflection and long walks. So there’s many, many ways to tackle it, but it’s that spending the time with yourself to examine why are you having these thoughts?
Think about it this way. We spend so much time in our relationships. Our relationships with our wives, our relationship with our colleagues, our relationships to our business partners, our relationship with our friends, the most important relationship you have is with yourself. It’s with this voice in your head that is constantly rattling every waking hour, it’s this crazy roommate living inside your mind who’s always chattering, always chattering, never shuts up and you can’t control these thoughts.
They just come up out of you don’t even know where, and those quality of your thoughts, those conversations you’re having in your head all the time. That is your world. That is the world you live in. That’s the worldview you have. That’s a lens you see through, and that’s going to determine the quality of your life more than anything else.
And if you want to see what the quality of your life actually is, put down the drink, put down the computer, put down the smartphone, put down the book, put down the headphones, just sit by yourself, doing nothing. And then you will know what the quality of your life actually is because that’s what you’re always running away from.
That’s why people, when they try to meditate they sit down, “I hate it. I can’t sit still.” Why? Because your mind is eating you alive. Your life is unexamined. Your mind is running in loops over things that it has not resolved. And because they’re not resolved when you run around your normal life. It’s not that those problems have gone away. It’s that they’re just there, they’re there, but they’re provoking anxiety.
And what you think of as the anxiety that’s kind of consuming you and you can’t identify the source. That’s just the tip of an iceberg poking out from underneath the water and underneath this giant pile of garbage of decisions that were made without too much thought of situations that you’re in, that you haven’t resolved, that you need to resolve, of problems that you have, or desires that you have that have gone unmet or unmanifested, or are being, or contradictions that you’re living in a ways that you, which you feel trapped.
So proper meditation, proper examination should ruin the life that you’re currently living. It should cause you to leave relationships. It should cause you to reestablish boundaries with family members and with colleagues. It should cause you to quit your job. It should cause you to change your eating patterns. It should cause you to spend more time with yourself.
It should cause it to change the books you read. It should cause us to change what your friends are. If it doesn’t do that, it’s not real examination. If it doesn’t come attached with destruction of your current life, then you can’t create the new life in which you will not have the anxiety.
Tim Ferriss: Or at least parts of it. Not necessarily whole cloth. So let’s dive into meditation because as you mentioned, it’s a term that is used a lot. And in the minds of most, it is represented by things that you just said, you do not do like the mantra-based meditation or following the breath. And you and I have meditated before.
I don’t know if your approach is still similar, but it is quite a—I’d hate to talk about trite paradigm shift in a sense, at least in the way that I experienced it alongside you, at one point, which was literally doing nothing for extended periods of time. I don’t know if that’s still the case, but could you describe the practice a bit because it was such a burden lifted in a sense when the pass-fail is removed.
And the experience that I had after say a week of doing this twice a day, which is not necessarily what people would do in normal life, but was pretty profound. So could you describe the current practice, which may be different from what I experienced.
Naval Ravikant: Yeah. I actually have two different things that I do, and I almost hate calling it meditation because everyone has in their mind, a preconceived notion of what meditation is. Let’s not even call it that. I would say that there are two self-examination practices that I do, and I don’t even call them practices anymore because sometimes I do them because I feel like them and I enjoy them, or because it feels right.
And sometimes I don’t because anything done routinely sort of becomes its own trap and is not going to get you anywhere. It just becomes like another spiritual high and other check box.
Tim Ferriss: Now is it fair though, to say that you’re able to opt-in and out now because you had a certain front-loading period—
Naval Ravikant: Correct.
Tim Ferriss:—of doing it consistently.
Naval Ravikant: Actually I’ll say the three different things that I do and I’ll go through them. The first, I just read a lot of philosophy, especially at night time before I go to bed.
Tim Ferriss: Which ones? Schopenhauer, Maxims? Who are we talking about?
Naval Ravikant: Yes, Schopenhauer, Western philosophy is my current favorite, although I’ve definitely moved around in that one. Eastern philosophy, I’ll read everything from Osho. I know he’s discredited and been canceled, but fantastic—that makes me like him even more. Krishnamurti, I don’t know, Kapil Gupta, Rupert Spira. I mean, it’s all over the place. Anthony de Mello, he’s fantastic actually.
If going to start with one book. Start with Anthony de Mello’s A Way to Love or his book Awareness. They’re both really good, but there’s a ton of them. I basically read a lot of philosophers. Siddhartha, Vasistha’s Yoga, Bhagavad Gita, Tao Te Ching. I’m always going through one of these books at any given time and usually rereading for inspiration.
And I’ll read these at night. Usually, there’ll be one or two things I’ll catch on to, I’ll reflect on it before I go to sleep. So that is a form of self-examination and it’s not done because it’s a formula it’s done because I’m genuinely interested in these things. So it’s not work to me, it’s fun. The second thing that I do is which I’ve been doing for a long time now is just trying to be aware of my thoughts and not in a sit there and be like, “Oh, I’m going to be aware of my thoughts kind of way.”
But just realizing that a lot of these thoughts that come up are unbidden I don’t control them. It’s not like I decided to have this thought. I don’t even know what I’m saying to you right now. It’s coming out of my mouth at the same time as I’m thinking it. So where is this coming from? Who is this person? What is this person saying? Is this true? Is it correct? Has it been correct in the past? Is he just being paranoid now? Is it being crazy? What are his underlying motivations?
And I’m not even questioning so much, but more just kind of seeing it. And after a while, when you see it, you start seeing through your own BS, you start seeing how you’re mainly just justifying whatever the heck you want to believe, because it’s good for your survival. It’s good for your replication, or it’s good for your money, or it’s going to get you late or any of these various things.
Tim Ferriss: And when you’re doing that reflection is it sitting at a table, pen and paper? Is it—
Naval Ravikant: No.
Tim Ferriss: Half lotus with your eyes closed? What is—
Naval Ravikant: No, it’s really just walking around. Just walking around. It’s just life. Just if you say something to me, I’m always going to listen to it with a slightly critical filter, because you’re external to me. Applying that same filter to my own thoughts, it gives me a level of peace and distance from them and the ability to see through my own BS, which I think makes my life better.
So I’ve just found that to be a useful way of life. But there are lots of times where I forget to do it. I get caught up in some emotion, some runaway train of thought, but usually these days I can catch myself and be like, “Oh, okay, I’m in that mindset again. And having that mode of reactions again,” and when the mind sort of sees me chattering it quiets down a bit.
And like I said, is that back to that crazy roommate analogy, which I originally picked up from Michael Singer, by the way, he has a good book called The Untethered Soul. But the crazy roommate analogy, like you would eventually tell your roommate to shut up, or you would tell them to start justifying their claims, or you would at least at some level, you start dismissing them for just kind of rambling all the time and this fear of paranoid mode.
So I think just kind of viewing your thoughts as sort of these unbidden things that arise from within you, but aren’t really necessarily the whole story and should be viewed with the same level of skepticism that you would apply to an outside observer. I think that framework is helpful. And if you find it to be true, then you’ll find yourself doing it more often. If you find it not to be true, if you’re like, “No, actually I choose these thoughts and I want to have them. And that’s who I am. And this all makes sense to me.”
Then you can stop viewing it with a critical eye that’s up to you. But the last one is the one that I think people think of as more traditionally meditation, which is sitting down and meditating. And on that one, I learned from an Indian gentleman, same character you learn from, who had a very simple system and I just found it the most compelling form of meditation I’ve ever tried.
Which is you sit there for 60 minutes. So unfortunately not less than an hour at a time, because it takes 30 to 40 minutes to sink in past the initial chattering. So you get to the good part or the so-called runner’s high equivalent. And you sit for 60 minutes every day and you do it for at least 60 days. And you do it first thing in the morning. When your mind is clear and you’re alert and you’ve had a good night’s sleep.
And you sit up with your back straight and you can use cushions, or you can use a chair or whatever. There’s no magic position. And just whatever happens, happens, whatever your mind wants to do, you just let it do. If it wants to talk, you let it talk. If he wants to fight, you let it fight. If it wants to be quiet, you let it be quiet. If it wants to chant the mantra or pay attention to breathing, you can do that, but you don’t force anything.
You just kind of let it happen. And so you don’t fight it. You don’t resist it. You don’t argue with it. You don’t double down on it. You just kind of let things happen. And when you do that for at least 60 days, my experience has been that you kind of clear out your mental inbox and all the craziness that was going on. All the chattering will come out. Some problems will get resolved. You will have some epiphanies. You will make changes to your life.
Some will be self-examination, some of it, you just get tired of, some of it just needs to be heard once, and then it goes away. And eventually you will get to a mental state of inbox zero, where now you’re just thinking about what happened yesterday. You’re kind of caught up and your mind is relatively clear and just your anxiety level goes down. You’re living more peacefully. And I’ve been doing this for about two and a half years now.
And I’ve probably missed about a dozen days total. But there are some days where I’ve done two hours a day or more. And I will tell you that is the single most important thing that I do. It is a sheer joy. Much of it is highly entertaining, pleasurable. Sometimes it’s just flat. It’s nothingness. I can’t even tell you why I do it. I can’t even tell you what’s going on in that state, but I will tell you that time spent by myself is the most important time that I have.
And thanks to that, I am now much more self-contained. I don’t feel like I need other people. I don’t need external sources of pleasure or happiness all the time. I drink less. I’m not attracted to trying any drugs whatsoever. It’s just, life is easier. It’s more pleasant. I don’t take things as seriously. I’m not afraid of my mortality as much anymore. I don’t fear aging. I don’t lust after things.
I don’t have this constant pervasive need to find something outside of me to make my life better. When the best hour of my day is spent by myself, then the world has very little to offer me and I can still participate in it, but it doesn’t have that grip on me that it used to. I don’t fear solitary confinement. And I think that is a superpower. And I think everyone should have it. Everyone does have it. It’s easy.
It requires doing nothing. It’s your birthright. You can’t fail at it. There’s no way to fail at it. Literally all you have to do is just sit down and close your eyes and just be by—give yourself a break for an hour every day. Just take the time off from the world.
Tim Ferriss: A few follow-ups. Krishnamurti: do you have any favorites of his or anything that you would suggest someone start with if they have no familiarity with Krishnamurti and I’ll second Anthony de Mello also—
Naval Ravikant: Yeah, I actually don’t recommend starting with Krishnamurti; he’s a tough one, but if you’re going to start somewhere, I started with this book called Think on These Things. There’s also The Book of Life. He’s a very cerebral, very intellectual, and a little confusing, but he definitely speaks truth. And he walks the walk. Anthony de Mello, The Way to Love, Osho’s book The Great Challenge, and I know people think Osho is a fake guru and all that, but he had some real stuff too. He’s very articulate. He understood a lot.
There’s a great clip from him on SoundCloud that says it’s called Life Has No Goals, No Purpose. I listen to that one a lot. There’s a lot of them out there. Once you start going down this rabbit hole, you’ll find them. The classics, the Bhagavad Gita, get a good translation. Stephen [Mitchell], I think, has a good translation. He also has a good translation of the Tao Te Ching. Those are both really interesting.
Again, only if it appeals to you. I mean, there’s ancient wisdom in Schopenhauer, read Counsels and Maxims. These are smart people self-reflecting but overall, the point is not to read. The point is to inspire so that you yourself can reflect. Kapil Gupta has an account on Twitter; he has a couple of great books. Direct Truth is a fantastic book written very recently and pulls no punches, but all of these are basically there to inspire you to self-reflect. And if you’re not interested in self-reflection, if you’re not at that stage in life, then don’t do it. It’s a waste of time.
In fact, I would say the reason to do these things is because they make your life better because they make you more effective because they have some utility to you. If they do not have utility to you, if they don’t make your life better than drop it, it’s useless.
Tim Ferriss: I will also second the reading of philosophy, and this is not for the idle or abstract, like semantic tail chasing, it’s for whatever reason, on a very pragmatic level, deeply soothing to read the insights and observations of those who are considering things that are not of today, they’re not of this week, they’re not of this month, they are for much broader periods of time or timeless in some capacity. It alleviates some of the manufactured emergency and urgency of the bullshit, that is foisted upon us by every possible input.
Naval Ravikant: Oh, yeah, the news and Twitter is so toxic; the human brain is not designed to manage every emergency in the world in real-time. We’re not designed to process all the breaking news on the planet in our heads. And this is one of my recent tweets, but the goal of the media these days is to make every problem your problem; that’s how they get attention. It’s how they get clicks. You have tribal wars going on, zombies battling each other, and they want to pull you in, where even non-participation is not allowed anymore, neutral bystanders are not allowed. So it’s a crazy world out there. There’s a circus going on with the monkeys, flinging feces at each other, and they want to drag you into the fight.
Really, what you want to focus on is what’s timeless. Timeless is great. The old questions all have old answers and they’re best consumed from the old practitioners because they were very clear-minded about it. They weren’t busy trying to fit into the politics of this time, they were fitting to the politics of that time, but that’s lost to us now. So actually, another great source is, I have your Tao of Seneca series on Audible, and I listen to it on repeat when I’m working out a lot, so that’s a great—
Tim Ferriss: Oh, no kidding!
Naval Ravikant: Yeah, those Letters to Lucilius, amazing, amazing stuff, and every time I go through it, I learn something new.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, The Tao of Seneca, The Moral Letters to Lucilius, If people want to look on public domain sources, you can find these letters, The Moral Letters to Lucilius, also spelled, as you might read “Lucilius” by Seneca. And so that’s an audiobook series that I’ve produced, and you can find the PDFs for free, online as well.
Let’s talk about some brass tacks stuff, since I think people will be very interested. You mentioned monkeys throwing feces, tribalism, in times like this, this is being recorded in 2020 and first day of October, a lot of folks are interested in stores of value. They are fearful of what could happen and considering investments like gold or cryptocurrency. And I wanted you to explain one of your recent tweets, this is just from the last few days and it is crypto stablecoins: choose between blowup risk, censorship risk, and fraud risk. What are crypto stablecoins? And what does this tweet mean?
Naval Ravikant: Yeah, just backing up for a second, I think cryptocurrencies are probably one of the greatest inventions in human history and the reason why they’re interesting is because if you look to the technology industry, technology plays in unregulated spaces. It’s very hard for technology to change regulated spaces, as Uber and Postmates and companies like that find out. But generally the reason technology works is because it creates its own frontier. It is a digital frontier that is being created, now that the physical frontiers are all closed and the new world has been colonized and the wild west has been tamed. Where do you go to create new things, free of interference and regulation, and the kind of exercise of maximum creativity. And so that’s been done mostly in the technology space.
And one of the areas that has been protected from technological innovation is Wall Street because there, they have regulatory capture, very bureaucratic, the money industrial complex that runs a lot of our economy and runs a lot of Washington, DC, where 20 percent of our GDP goes into financial engineering and into the Wall Street casino. And so cryptocurrencies are how we get around that, and so they’re sovereign resistant, they’re designed to be completely decentralized, you don’t need the violent power of the state to enforce the value of cryptocurrency. And it allows for truly trustless transactions between humans without some king or authority or government or corporation having to be in the middle. And so it’s very liberating to disconnect wealth creation, wealth storage, and wealth protection from the state. And that’s what cryptocurrencies really enable. And big—
Tim Ferriss: One second, let me just pause to say that at, at one point, you and I did a very thorough cryptocurrency one-on-one conversation with a domain super expert named Nick Szabo, S-Z-A-B-O, which people can also find for more on the history and basics of some of the crypto.
Naval Ravikant: Yeah, Nick is a bona fide genius and a pioneer in the space, he also has a great blog called Unenumerated that I highly recommend. But anyway, so the best-known cryptocurrency is Bitcoin, and Bitcoin is trying to be the new gold or the new Swiss bank count, all rolled into one. And it has some advantages, as a store of value, it can be stored digitally, so it’s hard to seize, it’s very easy to verify, technologically speaking on my goal, it’s easy to send across national boundaries and electronically over the internet. It’s easily divisible and verifiable, its authenticity is very, very verifiable, where gold is hard to do, it can be divided down to millions and trillions of a Bitcoin, very, very easily, it is somewhat programmable, so you can put it inside smart contracts and you can do some intelligent things with it. So it has a lot going for this store of value.
What’s difficult about it is it’s not really private, although there are parts of it that are private, it’s not completely private and it’s untrusted, it’s brand new, as far as stores of value go, it’s only from 2009. And so people don’t know if it’ll be around forever and how dependent it is on the internet and people aren’t really certain about, so like the proof of work mining algorithm that makes it possible and can it be hijacked? Can it be centralized? Can it have a bug? Can it break? And every year, the Bitcoin survives and goes through one of the various challenges facing it. It gets more valuable as people entrust it a little bit more and more but it is extremely volatile. You buy a Bitcoin, you’re buying a very speculative asset at the moment, and you’re speculating that it will become digital gold or possibly even, all store of value, and so be incredibly valuable. But along the way, there’s lots of hiccups and at any point, it could break, it could go to zero. And so a lot of people who are now participating in the crypto world, they’re building a decentralized Wall Street, they call it DeFi, D-E-F-I, for decentralized finance. But I actually think it’s more like DEFY as, just defy the government, DEFY. And so I think, we’re seeing—
Tim Ferriss: Governments love that.
Naval Ravikant: Yeah, exactly. We’re seeing a whole new casino that’s better than Wall Street spring up in decentralized finance. Unlike Wall Street, this one is 24-7 open, it’s 365 days a year, it’s available around the world, to everybody. It’s trustless. And there’s math and algorithms and code underneath that, not Goldman Sachs front-running your trades or whatever, not that I’m saying they do, but there’s Flash Boys and all that craziness that goes on and you can program it to do things and to make bets or hedges or calls that you just can’t even do on Wall Street. So I think we’re building a better Wall Street using cryptocurrencies, but everyone who participates in that doesn’t necessarily want to take on the volatility of these cryptocurrencies.
So we’ve created these things called stablecoins, which track the value of the US dollar, so that when you’re trading, for example, you can still do it in dollar-denominated terms. And this is a tricky thing because the moment you’re now trying to track some asset in the real world, like dollars, then you have to basically peg the value somehow to something that exists in the real world and cryptocurrencies do best when everything is on the blockchain, when everything’s electronic and digital and controlled by computers in the cloud. So these stablecoins have come along that mimic the value of the US dollar and the best-known ones are Tether, USDC, which is Coinbase’s coin, and Make or Die, which is an algorithmically stablecoin, but there’s no free lunch in life.
Tim Ferriss: Pause for one second. Should people think—what would be a comparable that people might be more familiar with? It’s not an index, it’s like an ETF, or how would you think about—is there another—
Naval Ravikant: Think of digital dollars; these are designed so that you can live in crypto land, this is living on a blockchain, it’s math-based code, but really your value is pegged to dollars. So it’s not going up or down. With Bitcoin, it’s just worth a dollar all the time. So if you want to hold a dollar in crypto land, the way you do it is by buying one of these so-called stablecoins. But all my tweet was observing is that there’s no free lunch. What you’re actually doing underneath is you have crypto and crypto is incredibly volatile, and you’re trying to convert a volatile asset into a stable asset. So there has to be a cost for that. What does that cost?
Tim Ferriss: It’s like the subprime mortgage crisis, right?
Naval Ravikant: Exactly, there’s no free lunch. So what does that cost? And all I was saying is that the three main categories of stablecoins today, they each impose one or more of these costs. And so one cause is fraud risk, where people suspect this of Tether, where actually, Distinct says it’s backed by dollars but it’s not actually backed by dollars. I don’t know if this company has dollars underneath, so you have to kind of take their word for it. So now your trust—
Tim Ferriss: Underneath, meaning they would have actual physical dollars, like you’d have physical gold?
Naval Ravikant: Correct, Yeah. So for every Tether they issue you, they claim to have a dollar somewhere. But what if they don’t and you just don’t know, so you’re trusting them and there could be fraud underneath them, I’m not saying there is, I have no evidence, but that you’re basically now back to the trusted third-party model that exists in just putting your money in the bank. The second kind is where you’re dealing with someone like Coinbase or some company that is well known and trusted and is regulated but then it’s no different than holding normal dollars. There’s censorship risk, where if the government says, “Hey, we don’t like this character,” sees their bank account, Coinbase can turn off your USDC account and your stablecoin has basically been seized; you’re no longer decentralized and sovereign like you are with Bitcoin.
And the last kind of risk is a blowup risk, or something like a maker, it’s collateralized but it’s collateralized with Bitcoin and Ethereum and so what they’re hoping is that the price of Bitcoin, Ethereum won’t move so drastically, that the peg breaks and you lose money on your so-called stablecoin. It’s just an observation, there’s no free lunch. And so if you’re trying to create this mythical stable currency, out of thin air, in what is inherently a very volatile space, you have to pay for it and people think today, they’re not paying for it, they’re just getting these free crypto stable dollars or are they getting the stability aspect for free but they’re not. They’re either taking on fraud risk or censorship risk or blow up risk or some combination of them.
Tim Ferriss: So if you were advising—and this is not financial advice, this is just two friends talking obviously, for informational purposes only—but if you’re talking to a friend who has a fair amount of savings or investable capital and they say, “Naval, I want to do something with crypto; how can I get started?” Or “How should I get started?” What do you say to them? Because there’s such a broad spectrum of options, it’s still, even though it’s been simplified a lot, crypto is still quite confusing—
Naval Ravikant: It’s very complicated—
Tim Ferriss: For people who are, who are, who are very smart. I would consider it still quite confusing.
Naval Ravikant: It’s quite a bit confusing, yeah, it’s a domain of mathematicians, hackers, tech entrepreneurs, and a few people who really dig in but it’s still too hard to handle/manage—it’s dangerous, I can’t hold my own crypto, I have to stick it inside funds and custodians because I’m a known public figure and it’s a bearer asset, so ironically, I can’t actually be—
Tim Ferriss: When you say dangerous, you don’t hold it because you’d be a kidnap risk?
Naval Ravikant: Yeah, exactly. Yeah, it’s a bearer asset, so you don’t want to bear a bearer asset. You have to put it inside vaults, the equivalent of the Goldman Sachs and this space. So like there are custodians, like Anchorage, is an amazing one, there’s Bitco, there’s Coinbase. So there are these large custodians or CoinList, which is a company I helped start, who can hold onto your crypto assets for you. But that’s not really the point of crypto, the point of crypto is to be on bank. So if the government is coming to seize money or if they’re printing lots of it, you can always withdraw your crypto assets from these organizations and you can carry it yourself. You can put it on your laptop, which is kind of crazy and risky and hard. You can do it through a hardware wallet, like a Ledger or a Trezor, which are pretty well-known hardware wallets, where do you have a small specific device that’s designed just for carrying crypto.
But you have to understand, you’re replacing the banking system, you are literally replacing the government, all the guns and the police, that backup the banking system, you’re replacing all that and all the control that comes with it, so of course, it’s going to require some level of sophistication, you’re literally building your own Swiss bank. So it is quite complicated.
Where to start, well, I don’t like giving people buy signals because if you’re going to be a good investor, you also have to have your own conviction because then you will know when to sell. If you call me and ask me when to buy, are you going to call me every day and say, should I sell? Should I sell? Should I sell? You don’t know that—
Tim Ferriss: They’re really, really important,
Naval Ravikant: Right, you have to fundamentally understand it yourself. So I would say first thing is, go down the crypto rabbit hole, listen to the interview we did with Nick Szabo, go online and start reading up on Bitcoin, read up on Ethereum, read up on the privacy coins like Zcash and Monero, learn about the different high-level stuff in the crypto space. Decide how much exposure that you want, go buy it at a CoinList or a Coinbase or what have you, figure out which custodian you want to use. You know, put it somewhere safe, probably in the cloud, unless you really know what you’re doing. And if you really know what you’re doing, then you can use one of the hardware wallets and one of the offline schemes, make sure that it is protected, in case that you’re attacked or kidnapped, or someone comes to your house or steals your computer.
You have to cover all those base cases, so it’s not easy, but you’re literally creating extra sovereign money. You’re creating money where if you ever have to flee the country, like the Jews that fled Vienna back in the 1930s, you’re not scrambling for gold, you’re using crypto. If you’re living in some country where they tend to seize all the money in your bank account, then you have unseizable money. If you’re worried about hyperinflation, as we print too many dollars, then you have a hedge against the MMT and all the various excuses that they’re going to use to print money.
Probably the scariest thing that happened in 2020, from a financial perspective, is both the Republican and the Democratic party figured out that, “Oh, actually we can just print lots and lots of money.” And the US has this reserve dollar that’s reserve currency status with a dollar where most of our dollars, I think something like 70 percent, are held by foreigners because the trusted reserve currency of the world, they use it for trading oil, they use it for settling international transfers, they use it just to hide money, they use it to protect money from their local inflationary authorities. So because of that, when we print a dollar, 70 percent of that inflationary attack effect cost is borne by the rest of the world, not born by us. And so the US government’s figured this out and we printed $6 trillion to fight the coronavirus. And so now both parties can agree that they can just print money to get out of any problem that they’re in. A great tweet that I saw was, somebody wrote that, “Now we know what would happen if aliens were to invade the Earth; the Fed would just lower interest rates, the Fed would cut interest rates,” and so, unfortunately, that’s just the situation we’re in. So they’re going to keep doing that until at some point, the rest of the world throws in the towel and says, “this dollar thing is not working for us.” And what we rely upon is that the European euro or the Chinese renminbi and these other currencies are in worse situations but that’s not necessarily always true, I think there are well-managed currencies, like the Swiss franc and the Singaporean dollar. There’s also hard assets like gold and crypto and real estate. And even the run-up in tech stocks, at some levels because equities are tax-efficient, inflation, hedge, or a relatively tax-efficient inflation hedge. Because someone like Google can just raise prices and they don’t have to hire more people because they’re a monopoly, they can lay off half their engineers and the company will work just fine.
So people are realizing this and there is a flight into hard assets to get away from inflation. And crypto is one of the few places where you can really put your money in and defend against something like the dollar reserving as a reserve currency status, and these are black swans. It’s very hard to talk about black swans because obviously since the dollar became the US reserve currency, it hasn’t lost the status, even when we went off the gold standard.
But at the same time, the pound sterling used to be the reserve currency of the world and it lost its status at one point. Money used to be gold-backed and that went away. So it’s not inconceivable that it’ll happen and, if it were to happen, then you would basically have the true reckoning. Then our ability to print our way out of recessions would go away; you would probably have an inflationary collapse in the US and you would just see our global economic system start breaking down. In those scenarios, crypto does really well, assuming the internet stays up. There’s scenarios where the internet goes down too and then all hell breaks loose, and you better have gold and guns, but we’re not talking about that. It depends.
Tim Ferriss: Cigarettes and tampons: fair trade for your water.
Naval Ravikant: Yeah, that’s right. Well, bullets are the ultimate one, as we also see in 2020, what do we have, five million new owners in the US? But it just depends how much of a prepper you are, how paranoid you want to be, and how many standard deviations out you want to handle risk. But I think this is the year where a lot of people feel like risks that were inconceivable has suddenly gotten pulled in.
Tim Ferriss: So let me ask a dumb newbie question, as a hypothetical, so speaking as someone who—I’m a great example of someone who can use words associated with crypto, who really has no fundamental understanding, I’m the guy pointing at the bird, who thinks he’s got it all figured out because he’s able to name the yellow-throated warbler. I don’t think I have it all figured out, but let’s just say I managed to somehow, like a thousand monkeys typing out Shakespeare on a million laptops, given infinite time, I somehow manage to get a bunch of cryptocurrency onto a hardware ledger, or a hardware wallet, rather.
So I have this thing, the US is going to hell in a handbasket, I somehow manage to get that to fill in the blank, I’ll just arbitrarily choose Spain, I got land in Spain. I’m like, “Oh, my God, that was so close, thank God I got out in time,” I managed to make it over. How the hell do you buy an apartment or pay your rent or anything like that with crypto, when it still feels like the crypto landscape and the tools are kind of computers, pre graphic user interface, do you know what I mean? Even smart people can’t quite figure it out, but if that were two years in the future, I think that’s unlikely, but let’s just say—
Naval Ravikant: Yeah, for most of my friends, the scenario I recommend is, you go buy it on something like Coinbase, CoinList, whatever, you move it into a dedicated custodian, like an Anchorage or a Bitco, then you kind of hold it there. Now, if the shit is hitting the fan and you decide you want to get out of town, then you contact your rep there, you move it into a hardware wallet and then you flee the country, or go wherever you’re going. And when you land on the other side, now you have this crypto in your hardware wallet. In theory, you can log into a local crypto exchange, go through their verification process, and upload it, and now you’ve got Bitcoin that could be traded for cash or you can go find any of the local Bitcoin meetup people in groups, the enthusiastic so-called maximalist, diehard believers, and the holders and you can trade any of them, Bitcoin for cash.
Now in the distant future, it’s possible that people will just take Bitcoin directly because it is a fungible, high-quality, hard asset, that can be transported and held like cash. But if you can’t do that, you can always find either a local believer or you can find a crypto exchange, where you can convert it. The thing that makes Bitcoin so interesting, is not that it’s necessarily the best technology, it is definitely a robust in this D-O-G. What makes it really interesting is, it has the most diehard believers and because it has the most diehard believers, as long as there’s 5,000 or 50,000 wealthy, brilliant people who do—
Tim Ferriss: Well that wealthy part is really important, that wealthy part—
Naval Ravikant: Right, they will always trade it for you, trade it with you for hard assets. You know, I think recently, MicroStrategy started, it’s a company, it started moving half of its treasury into Bitcoin and the CEO Michael Saylor was quoted as saying something along the lines of, “I can’t believe people are willing to sell me Bitcoin.” He figured out what it was and then he was just like, “I want to get as much as possible.” So you know, “Here, take pieces of my company, but give me Bitcoin.” And there are lots of people like him, there are lots and lots of people like him and they exist in every major country in the world. And as long as there are believers because it’s as much a movement or a religion, as it is a currency. And cause what is a currency at the end of the day, money is just the bubble that never pops.
It’s just, if we all agreed tomorrow, that if we all managed to come upon a story tomorrow, that it’s not the US dollar, it’s actually the euro that is really money, then the world would switch to euro. Heck, if we agree that clamshells were money, the world would switch to clamshells. Now obviously there’re underlying characteristics that make euros and dollars better than clamshells and so therefore we converge upon those. But if the world were to decide that Bitcoin is better money than US dollars, the world would switch to Bitcoin. It’s a story, it’s a consensus belief.
And the beauty of Bitcoin is that there are these diehard maximalists, and I fight with them on the internet all the time; they don’t like me, by the way. So I’ve had Twitter battles with them plenty. But I still really appreciate that they exist because they are actually the core of what makes Bitcoin always tradable, always valuable. There’s always some guy in some location, somewhere in the world, who will give you his house for Bitcoin. And as long as that is true and I don’t see why it would stop being true because if anything, more and more people are being added to that list every day, it has real value and has redeemable value.
Tim Ferriss: Hmm. What do you think the conceivable, near term looks like with the possible entrance of more institutional investors? In other words, if we see, let me ask a better question, it was very noteworthy and newsworthy when Paul Tudor Jones wrote his memo detailing why he was investing. I think it was something like a hundred million into Bitcoin or Bitcoin-like equivalent, some type of crypto equivalent, if not crypto itself, do you anticipate that more institutionals are going to come in sovereign wealth funds, things like that? And how do you think the story and the landscape could change over the next handful of years?
Naval Ravikant: I think it’s inevitable. Look, Bitcoin and crypto still have risks. A lot of these algorithms and schemes are new, even Bitcoin, through his proof of work mechanism, you could argue that it tends towards centralization because it gets managed by these anonymous miners in data centers and data centers of economies of scale. And so it will end up being more centralized than people would like, their up and coming competitors like Ethereum, there’s privacy issues on the Bitcoin blockchain, that can be tracked forever, so it’s not perfect. People talk about quantum computing breaking it, I don’t think that’s true, I think you can upgrade the encryption algorithm, just as well or better, but there are always potential problems, which are not completely resolved. But every time. We face one of these reckonings and that problem gets resolved, the value goes up, the story becomes stronger.
And so the same way when Paul Tudor Jones or MicroStrategy buy Bitcoin, the story’s becoming stronger, the set of believers is increasing, the validation is increasing and now more people can come in and hang their hat on this and say, okay, if Paul Tudor Jones agrees and Michael Saylor agrees, then I agree to be in that set of people who believe that this is going to be the new way to store value and wealth. And so now I’m joining their wealth storage scheme and the early people then get rewarded for it. So one way to think about a Bitcoin, in particular, is, or even actually any of the cryptocurrencies, is it’s a Swiss bank account but it’s a Swiss bank account with finite space and if you want shelf space in that Swiss bank account with finite space, you have to buy out one of the existing holders in that space.
So imagine a Swiss bank account that’s impregnable, it’s a new one, no government can break into it. It’s secured by consensus, across millions of people using massive computation power on the globe and if you want one of those safety deposit boxes, you’ve got to buy it from someone who’s already there. So as long as the demand for new people trying to get in the Swiss bank account is greater than the supply of people who are trying to get out of that Swiss bank account, then you’re going to have to pay more for that box and that’s what the speculative power of it comes from. And I think it’s going to take a good crisis to really see what crypto is worth. And actually, so far, it’s been weird because when the—
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, the people have said that crypto failed the crisis test with COVID right?
Naval Ravikant: I mean, it did and it didn’t, what it didn’t do was, it didn’t skyrocket. Bitcoin didn’t go to a $100K, as everybody fled the US Dollar but that shows you how resilient the dollar is and how far we are from losing global reserve currency status. But at the same time, it didn’t collapse either, you know, it didn’t go down, it went down briefly, as people needed cash to meet various margin calls and loans, but overall stayed very stable. And I would say the number of people who’ve gotten involved in crypto recently, as a true wealth protection mechanism, is the largest I’ve ever seen. So I do think that the holder base has gone up. I don’t know if we’re going to see $3,000 Bitcoin ever again, in my lifetime, we might see zero if something breaks completely, but I don’t think we’re going to see a bunch of people leaving and losing faith in it and that’s why it goes to $3K.
Bitcoin tends to hit these highs, then crash back down to a plateau, hang out in a plateau for a while and then go back to a new high. And I kind of feel like we’re around the $10K level, who knows, I don’t want to make price predictions, but I feel like there’s a stronger base of holders now than there has ever been. So each one of these people comes and validates it, Paul Tudor Jones validates it, for other hedge fund managers, hedge fund managers validated it for sovereign wealth funds, sovereign wealth funds, we’ll validate it for central banks. Eventually, some country out there is going to say, actually, we inflate our currency too much, our currency collapsed, nobody trusts us anymore. We have to adopt a new national currency instead of pegging to the dollar, let’s peg the Bitcoin, oh, let’s use Bitcoin or let’s use some other cryptocurrency, or let’s be clever and buy up a bunch of Bitcoin and then announce we’re going to use Bitcoin and then Bitcoin will skyrocket and we’re all rich.
So I think there are other scenarios, where it ends up being a lot more valuable but it’s going to be stumbling steps forward and backward, it’s not going to be necessarily in one fell swoop, until it is. That’s the nature of black swans, you can’t predict them and when it happens, it happens suddenly. Like I had a friend who used to tell me, he’s now a hardcore Bitcoin, it’s funny, he actually helped write a big book on Bitcoin now but when I first talked about Bitcoin years and years ago, he said, “what’s the big deal?” He’s like, “if I ever have to flee the country, I’ll just buy Bitcoin then.” And I said, yeah, when you have to flee the country, your entire fortune is going to buy you one Bitcoin, that’s the problem, it’s scarcity, it’s supply and demand. So you can’t, it’s like anything else, a store of value, it’s a hedge, you can’t wait till the last second. And I do think more and more smart people are coming into it every single day.
Tim Ferriss: And I think the psychological dynamics of crypto volatility are a lot like a casino slot machine, this variable reward, with high variability, where you just see things spiking and dropping and then they stay flat and then they spike and they drop, in a way that is unlike most equities that you or I would buy on the polo—
Naval Ravikant: Yeah, even Wall Street, at some level, is a big casino with a potential positive expected value and creating some value for society, in terms of, hedging and liquidity, for companies raising money and so on. And crypto’s doing the same thing, it’s a global, 24-7, 365 casino, where anybody in the world can play but through decentralized finance underneath, you’re actually making loans, you’re protecting wealth, you’re storing it, you’re letting people buy derivatives, you’re letting people hedge. So all of these things are coming up—we now have insurance in the crypto markets, we now have lending in the crypto markets, we have shorting in the crypto markets, we have computation going on that requires crypto underneath.
Look, if two computers are talking to each other, if two mini-AIs are talking to each other in high speed, exchanging resources to run a company, how are they going to exchange money? You think they’re going to send US dollars through PayPal or through Fedwire? Hell no, they’re going to use crypto. Crypto is the native currency of the internet. Of course the internet is going to have its own currency. Otherwise like saying the internet is going to use email through the USPS, US Postal Service. Heck no, it’s going to have its own native on-chain on-wire protocol for communicating data. What cryptocurrencies really are, Bitcoin isn’t a thing. Bitcoin is not a coin sitting somewhere. Bitcoin is an entry in a ledger.
Tim Ferriss: What?
Naval Ravikant: Yeah, exactly.
Tim Ferriss: No, I’m kidding. I’m kidding.
Naval Ravikant: It’s an entry in a virtual ledger and that virtual ledger is maintained by tons of machines running across the world. What you’re doing is you’re communicating value securely across the internet with no third parties in the middle validating that that is the correct communication it’s done by the entire network at once. You’re communicating and transmitting scarcity and value to the internet. That’s a new thing. What the internet gave us before was digital abundance. I can make copies of everything. That was a very big idea. I can make one podcast and ship it to everybody. I can make one webpage and ship it to everybody. That was a very big idea and created huge fortunes and huge revolutions.
The same with digital scarcity is an equally interesting idea, which is I can only have one of this thing. If Naval has a Bitcoin then Tim Ferriss doesn’t have that Bitcoin or vice versa. That ability to create scarcity and transmit scarcity and value through the internet is just as important as the ability to create abundance and transmit that through the internet. The native language of the internet in communications and protocols around valuable things, around finance, is going to be in cryptocurrencies. It’s not going to be any other way.
Tim Ferriss: I want to bring up two more tweets and then we can bring this to a close and put a bow on it. First, I just want to mention again, and I very rarely do this, but I’m very happy with how this discussion turned out. If people want more of the history and the design of cryptocurrency, which is endlessly fascinating, just Google Nick Szabo, S-Z-A-B-O. Then if you’re interested in diving into audio, Naval and I spoke with him. Two tweets, these are both from September. One I’m going to read just because I agree with it super strongly. I also have observed you following this advice very well, which is: All self-help boils down to “choose long-term over short-term.” I would modify the tweet to say, though, all truly effective self-help boils down to “choose long-term over short-term.”
Naval Ravikant: I mean, that is the entire challenge, which is long-term thinking gets you long-term results. I’ve said this a thousand different ways. In business, you want to play long-term games with long-term people. In your modern life and addictions, and kind of just dealing with the avalanche of all the abundance of things that are thrown at you that are really traps, like video games are traps. There’s a shadow career that substitutes for your real career. Smoking weed or drinking alcohol substitutes for like pleasure through more simple things like sunlight and walks and porn substitutes for sex. The list just goes on and on.
Tim Ferriss: I thought you were saying walking, sunlight, and porn. I was like, “Now we’re talking.” Yeah, that sounds good, the trifecta.
Naval Ravikant: Another related tweet I had was: The modern devil is cheap dopamine. Some interesting people on Twitter pointed out to me, actually, the ancient devil is cheap dopamine as well. In modern times, we’ve just hyper-accelerated it. The modern mind is overstimulated. The modern body is understimulated, we’ve just taken all the creature comforts and we maximized them to a thousand times. Literally, all success in life boils down to a variation on the marshmallow test where can the kid hold off on eating the marshmallow for 15 minutes and in exchange, they get two marshmallows. The claim is that turned out to be a big predictor for future success. Although like many psych experiments, I don’t think it replicates well. Anyway, so it just boils down to long-term versus short-term. If you can just adopt long-term thinking in your mindset, you’re just going to have a much easier life, or as our favorite trainer Jerzy Gregorek says, “Hard choices, easy life. Easy choices, hard life.” That’s it. Right.
Can you take the long-term view on anything? Compound interest applies everywhere. It applies in relationships. It applies in money. It applies in health and fitness. Can you change your habits to read the kinds of books that you think will serve you best in the long-term, the foundational books? Can you change your eating habits so that you’re eating healthy food as opposed to unhealthy food? Can you create an exercise routine that you can do every day or every other day, so that it’s a consistent part of your life? I think a lot of it boils down to just choosing the long-term over the short-term and all the hacks, the good hacks basically help make the long-term choice palatable, or they help inspire you to kind of keep your eyes focused on the long-term.
An example is if you’re doing something that you love, if you’re running a business that you enjoy, it is probably going to be more fun than playing a video game. If you come home at night from work and your first instinct is to play a video game, you’re suffering at work, you’re working just as hard in the video game, but the rewards are all fake because they’re going to change the rules on you. Some 13-year-old kid on the internet will destroy you because they’ve played that video game all day long. I used to be a hardcore video gamer. I had a lot of fun doing it, and I did learn playing games for sure. At this point, at this age, I pick up a video game, I’m doing it to get away from suffering and I’m not really getting anything out of it. I could play the video game of investing, or I could play the video game of starting companies, or I could play the video game of go and play tennis and that’ll be good for my health.
It’s good to find, so I think a lot of it is about finding the thing that you can do that is fun for you that feels like play to you but looks like work to others that you can do that sustains you for the long term. For example, in foods, what you want to find is you want to find what is the health food out there that other people consider healthy and has a nutritionally healthy profile but that I find tasty because if I can create those foods, if I can become a good cook and create great foods that I enjoy eating and I’ll like them, and I can eat them regularly, but they’re actually super healthy, that’s amazing. That’s a hack now and I’m eating for the long term, but I’m not giving up too much of the short-term pleasure.
The same way being in a good relationship is going to beat watching porn. Having a good career or working an enjoyable job or hacking on some code that I enjoy is going to be far more productive than playing a video game. I don’t want to sound preachy, but I will just say that as my love for reading came from, another one of my tweets is “Read what you love until you love to read.” Just fall in love with the idea of reading itself. It’s okay to read the junk food stuff, just fall in love with reading and eventually get bored of the simple stuff and you’ll go to the more interesting stuff. I love to read enough that I don’t like watching TV. I don’t watch movies. People start talking about shows that they’re watching on Netflix or what have you and I give them this empty look, I don’t watch shows on Netflix; they’re not interesting.
It’s far more interesting to me to go for a walk and be meditative. I’ll be in a very happy place or to read a book which will be intellectually stimulating and sure, once in a while I’ll watch a movie with friends or with my wife, but it’s a social thing. I’m doing it as a way of kind of, sort of being on the same common ground as them. I would never watch a movie on my own unless maybe I was trapped in like a 15-hour airplane flight and I was really bored and I ran out of everything else to do and I just want to zone out, even then I don’t think I would watch a movie anymore.
I just feel like a lot of it is finding the hacks, finding the things that make the long term feel effortless to you, and then you win.
Tim Ferriss: Okay. Last question, first a recommendation. If you ever do decide to watch something—
Naval Ravikant: Oh, before we finish that topic, very important people find the people that it doesn’t take work to be around. The best relationships don’t feel like work. You make the other person happy being yourself. They make you happy by being themselves, everyone’s honest, no one’s putting on an act that they can’t carry on for the next decade. Same thing with friendships, the best friendships are friendships that were formed over nothing. It’s not because you went to school. It’s not because you studied on the same things. It’s not because you’re working together. It’s not because you enjoy rugby or whatever. It’s because your chemistry matches, your temperament is similar. You can be friends with this person for 30 years, 50 years. The compound interest in relationships part ironically means that the best relationships, whether they’re friendships or family or love, are the ones that you don’t have to work too hard at them so you don’t have to sustain that workload for the rest of your life and you can do it effortlessly.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, totally. Well, one of your quotes that I think of often, and I might be paraphrasing this is: if you want to avoid conflict, rule number one is: avoid people who are constantly involved with conflict, right? I mean something along those lines.
Naval Ravikant: I mean, well, for example, when you’re in a relationship, just watch how the other person treats their worst enemy, because eventually they’ll just redefine you as enemy and you’ll get to feel that behavior. I think the number one criteria I look for in a relationship is that person has to be kind. They just have to be a nice person. Because, eventually they’ll, in a certain context, you can always be reclassified from friend to enemy. You just want to see the boundaries of someone’s ethics. If you see someone being bad to a server or someone engaging in unethical behavior or suing other people or fighting other people all the time, it’s only a matter of time before they fight you. Just stay away from these high conflict people. Everyone has conflict, no one is clean, but that said, there are definitely people who engage in conflict and do it regularly and then make it a part of their lifestyle. Just walk away. It’s not worth it. You’ve met people who are low conflict and easy to get along with.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Low conflict, low maintenance, who can also be brutally candid when necessary. Right? Which doesn’t equal conflict.
Naval Ravikant: Well, the one thing I’ve noticed, and I haven’t written the tweet on this because I’ve had a hard time figuring out how to say it, but the people that I want to spend time around these days, when I look at what the common characteristic is, they’re highly self-aware. They’re very, very aware of themselves. They’re not running on autopilot. They don’t get angry easily. They don’t get unhappy easily. They don’t take themselves too seriously. They have a certain separation from their own thoughts and personality that prevents circumstances and their personality from overwhelming them. They don’t have a victim mentality. They’re not caught up in some story of what happened to them when they were younger. They’ve had those issues for sure, but they’ve just gotten past them and been like, “I don’t want to be that person. I don’t want to be trapped in that mindset.”
They’re not trying to signal all the time how important they are, or who they know, what they’ve done.
Tim Ferriss: How virtuous they are.
Naval Ravikant: How virtuous they are. They’re not virtue signaling or bigoteering. They have low egos. Generally, I can literally plot on a line the more self-aware somebody is, I guarantee you the more attractive they are to a large number of people. To the degree that I’ve achieved any modicum of fame and fame is a trap, and I’m going to pay for this. I know I will pay for this, but any modicum of fame that I have achieved, I think is because I am one of the few people who has been successful in business that thinks out loud in public. Because I’m willing to think out loud in public, that’s a risk that I take on, it improves my thinking, but other people say, “Oh, yeah, he’s somewhat self-aware, he’s thinking about himself.” I think that helps inspire other people to also say, “Okay, it’s okay for me to think about myself.” I just find hanging around self-aware people is a lot easier than people who are running on autopilot, almost like NPCs.
Tim Ferriss: NPCs. What does that mean?
Naval Ravikant: Non-player characters. It’s a reference to certain kinds of video games where it’s like a computer-controlled character, right? They’re predictable.
Tim Ferriss: I got it. All right. Speaking of games, this is the final tweet—
Naval Ravikant: The final tweet, yeah!
Tim Ferriss: Here it is. “The reason to win the game is so that you can be free of it.” My questions about this are, let me read one more time. The reason to win the game is so that you can be free of it. I would be curious to know what game you are free of or what game you’re playing so that you can be free of it.
Naval Ravikant: I like to think I’m free of almost all the games at this point. What are the games? All of life is games, right? You start out with the family game, you do the school game, the grades game, the getting girlfriends and boyfriends game, the getting married game, the having kids game, the making money game, the having the career game, the getting famous game, the dressing well game. It’s so much social games. There are a few that are not games. Meditation you’re not doing, if you’re scoring points in meditation, you’re doing it wrong. Yoga, these are single-player games, right? It’s really the multiplayer games are the ones that suck you into society and into anxiety.
Now you kind of have to play them. You have two choices towards peace in your life. One is you can play these games and you can win them and when you win them, this is the hard part realizing you’ve won and stop playing new ones, or setting new goals for yourself that are even higher and higher. It’s like my friends who have made so much money and they continue, all they try to do is make money. They just don’t seem very happy about it. It’s fine if they’re happy. Elon Musk seems like he’s having a grand old time. That’s fine, but if it’s making you miserable and you continue doing it and you only have one life and you kind of can’t see past that, then I would argue you’re playing the game too far. There’s kind of two ways out of the trap. One is not wanting something is as good as having it, right?
I think it was Liad Shababo said this on Twitter. I thought it was really good. There’s a recent Socrates quote that I retweeted where the story is he was taken to a market back in Ancient Greece. It was full of luxurious and fine items. He said, “There are so many things that I do not want.” Right? It was ridiculous. He looked at all these finery and said, “So many things here that I do not want.” I thought that is freedom. That is power. That is self-contained. That is a person who has found himself and needs nothing outside of himself. That is so inspirational. The same way I look upon the world and I say, well, I could just say that, right? You can’t just say that. If I just said, there’s so many things that I don’t want, it’s not true. I want the money. I want the girl. I wanted the fame or I wouldn’t have gone on podcasts, and I wouldn’t be on Twitter. At some level that is true.
Obviously, there’s certain things that I want. I’m not a monk. I’m not living in an ashram. What I can do is I’ve gotten the things that I want and I’m careful not to want more. I don’t want more fame. I don’t want more money. If I get, it’s fine, it’s part of the craft, it’s part of the bonus. I have to be careful about not unconsciously taking on new desires. If I’m taking on a new desire, I better go fulfill that. These are all just games that I’m playing. You got to play some game. You’re on this planet. You’re alive. You might as well play something.
Now the question is: what game do you play? How do you get out of the game so you’re not just trapped playing that game forever? One way is you choose your games very carefully. If you’re a monk, you only choose very, very few games to play, or you play no games and you live content, blissful, harmonious, peaceful. Or, the other is you play the game and you win it and then you say, “I’m now free of this.” What that tweet is, that tweet is the reason to win the game is to be free of it, it’s a reminder to myself that for the games that I’ve won, it’s time to let go of them and to be free of them and not to unconsciously double down by comparing myself to the Joneses and continuing to level up and level up and level up and level up and then one day you die. Then you’re like, okay, that was pointless.
I did all that work for what? For nothing. If you’re not enjoying it anymore, if you’ve already won the game by the definition you had when you started playing the game and one hack is to set the definition early on so that when you go past it you know you’ve won, to not get trapped into playing this game forever and just living in some anxious future as opposed to actually enjoying yourself in the present. You have to know when to stop playing the game. To me, the reason to play these games is to win them. Then, you can be free of them and to see what else then that you want to do or not do, not to keep playing the same game forever because these games are, the adult games are very cleverly designed.
You can keep playing them infinitely. They’re all ups and downs and ups and downs. I guarantee you, every time you get money, you’ll be afraid you’re going to lose it or you’re going to compare it to the next person who has it. Every time you get fame, now that’s an image that you have to live up to and now insults can hurt you. Now you don’t have your privacy anymore, as you’ve written about. All of these games have downsides, or if you’re good at dating and you have a lot of men or women in your life, then you’re also going to have a lot of relationship drama and you’ve got a lot of tumultuousness, you got a lot of hurt people. You got a lot of emotional drama in your life.
You just have to kind of realize when you won the game and say I’m done with this. I would aspire to be like Socrates and say, “There are so many things in this world that I do not want.” I like to think that I’m kind of there for the most parts. Either I don’t want it, or I have it. Now, of course, there’s a fear of losing it, which is always there, but I don’t want to pick up new desires unconsciously. I don’t want to keep upgrading my lifestyle and my expectations to match my circumstances. Otherwise, I’ll be on this treadmill forever.
Tim Ferriss: We are all playing games. The key is knowing which game you are playing so you can at least attempt to consciously choose the game. Finite and Infinite Games by James Carse is an interesting read. I just want to close with, and then you’re certainly more than welcome to add any closing comments, but a quote that really makes me think of you, it’s one of my favorite quotes from Feynman, it’s Richard P. Feynman. Once again, here’s the quote. “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.”
Naval Ravikant: I love that quote. I love that quote. I read it when I was nine or 10 years old, and I’ve never forgotten it.
Tim Ferriss: It is so important, and none of us are perfect. We all have flaws. We all have weaknesses. We all have vices. I’ll speak for myself, certainly, that’s true of me. You, Naval, as much as anyone else, perhaps more than anyone else I know, have gone to great lengths to become self-aware. Furthermore, and this is, I think, one of the distinguishing characteristics for me, that you represent becoming self-aware and spending time on the timeless while also reserving the right, with competency, to be a very high-level operator in the real world, right? Because you can be not of this world by opting out completely and go into a world of introspection, but in truth, lack the resilience and emotional awareness to interact with any type of real stressor, which doesn’t appeal to me certainly.
You can be so engulfed by being in the world that you lose self-awareness. You stop realizing that you’re playing certain games, you become addicted and self-identified with things that come from sort of consensus reality. That’s also not appealing, but you have managed in a way that I find fascinating to combine the cultivation of self-awareness with operating in the world at a high level. That quote—
Naval Ravikant: I wouldn’t say I’m necessarily there yet, but it gets a little easier every year. Yeah, the Feynman quote is a brilliant one. He’s right. We fool ourselves all the time. I still feel myself all the time because I still have strong beliefs and opinions, for example, even though I don’t tweet a lot about politics, I do have strong political opinions. That is a form of fooling myself because politics is a man-made game. It doesn’t really exist in the real world. There’s no trees aware of politics. I do, even though I don’t like to, even some of my beliefs are filtered and lined up in bundles based on my chosen media sources and whatnot. I fool myself all the time, but if you can fool yourself a little bit less, then you can navigate reality much better.
It doesn’t take a lot. Most people are just living very unconsciously on the unexamined life. It just gives you kind of a leg up. I agree with you in that you can always check out of the game and it’s easier that way, but then you’re fragile, right? You kind of build resilience by working out hard and it’s hard to be calm until you have lost a lot and won a lot. You have to see the ups and the downs and the ups and the downs before you get tired of the dopamine chase. You sort of realized like, “Okay, this is down, but eventually there’ll be an up. Where there’s an up, there’ll be a down. I know how this game works.” One of the things I’ve been tracking recently is I’ve been trying to kind of make a list of what are the activities that are sort of non-dual in nature that don’t create their own opposite down the road.
Chasing money does create anxiety and suffering down the road, as you compare and you win, lose, and so on. Chasing fame also has its downsides where you’re now open to insult and attacks and being canceled and whatnot. What activities are intrinsically true in and of themselves and kind of are a free lunch? Those include things like meditation, yoga, creating art, playing, reading for fun, not necessarily for knowledge or education, writing, journaling, you can even be building a business as long as you’re doing it for the craft of it, for the flow of it, not necessarily for a given outcome, although it’s hard to do that. At least externally, it seems like Elon Musk is doing that. He’s building rockets to get to Mars, not to make money or to be famous, although he’s getting those as the byproducts.
I think that kind of this whole not fooling yourself, paying attention to yourself, not taking yourself too seriously, examining your own thoughts from first principles and kind of doing activities that are intrinsically for you, as opposed to for the external world, they just make your life better. I’m not doing these things to be a stoic sage, right? Honestly, one of the downsides of the stoics is they don’t look like they were having a lot of fun. I still like to have fun, right? Now, obviously, a lot has been lost in translation. I know they had their vomitoriums and they had their orgies and whatnot. The stoics, at least the way it’s modern projected, and this is one of the reasons why I do like Osho, people give Osho a lot of flack and they should, he was a little crazy in some ways, but he was having fun. He had a good time.
You’re alive. You have one very short life. When your life ends, it goes to zero. To you, it’s indistinguishable from your perspective, your death is indistinguishable from the end of the world. As far as you’re concerned, the world has disappeared because when you came into existence the world appeared, when you go out of existence, the world disappears. That is so consequential that it makes the rest of your life inconsequential. That is a form of freedom. You should enjoy yourself. You should not suffer in this life. If you are just constantly suffering, then figure out how to get out of that suffering. If you can’t get out of that suffering, then figure out how to redefine your internal worldview so that you don’t necessarily view it as suffering any more than the extent that you need to to get out of it.
These days, we borrow a lot of suffering on behalf of other people. A lot of people want to be a little Christ carrying crosses for others. It’s a miserable existence. You’re actually not doing them any favors either. You carrying their cross isn’t making their life any better. The better way is for you to be happy and successful and healthy and then go save them. Literally, save them physically. Not necessarily just sit around suffering for them. At least that’s the life that I choose to live.
I’m going to end with one story. There was a guy that I met in Thailand, Craig. I forget his last name, but he used to work for Tony Robbins. I met this guy and we were on vacation in Thailand and he was just the happiest person. He was just happy all the time. He just seemed to be able to laugh it off. As far as I know, he had a good life. He had stuff going for him, but it wasn’t like he had this incredibly enviable life where you would drop everything and move to Thailand and adopt his lifestyle. He had an okay life, but he was just happy and not in a forced way, but he was genuinely happy.
I asked him, I said like, “What’s your secret?” Why not? He said that he used to work for Tony Robbins and used to fly around setting up events for Tony and he was always sitting in the front row and taking notes and setting things up and learning and listening. He just kind of started seeing through his own internal BS. He got to this point where, like you said, he was fooling himself into unhappiness and he just decided one day he said, “You know what? I have no responsibility to anybody in this world other than me. Or, if I do have responsibility, there’s kind of this weight of responsibility that goes on where we’re like, ‘Oh, I need to live up to some imagined self.'”
What he realized was he said, “Somebody in this world, somebody has to be happy all the time. That is somebody’s job to be that role model for people in the world. That might as well be me. I’ll be that guy. I’ll take on that burden.” He decided to be the happy one. I just thought that was simple and brilliant and he did it. He lived it. I want to be that guy who is successful, peaceful, happy, enjoying life, blissful, meditative, spiritual, successful, and as healthy as I can be, and famous, and rich, and not give a damn about any of it. If I lose it all tomorrow, I still want to be happy. That’s it. That’s where I want to be. I’ll just make that decision because somebody has to be that person. It might as well be me.
Tim Ferriss: I love it, man. Naval Ravikant, otherwise known as, AKA, Novel Ravikant, but Naval Ravikant, @Naval on Twitter and N-A-V-A-L. He has the podcast, of course, Naval, N-A-V-A-L, you can find that anywhere you find your podcasts. The blog, Nav.al, previous conversations we’ve had, we’ve had quite a few, you can just search Naval on the website, but tim.blog/naval. Anything else you’d like to add? Any other resources, places people can say hello on the internet, recommendations, asks of the audience, Naval?
Naval Ravikant: I’m mostly on Twitter. Eric Jorgenson recently put out a book which had a bunch of my sayings called The Almanack of Naval Ravikant. It was very nice of him. I don’t make any money off of it. It’s free on the internet. You can just download it. I think at Navalmanac, clever a little turn of phrase. Yeah. I think that’s it. Will see you on the interwebs. I wish everybody has a wealthy, healthy, and happy life. Go get it.
Tim Ferriss: Thanks so much, Naval, for taking the time. This was awesome. To everybody listening, thank you for tuning in. Until next time, don’t fool yourself. Sit down, spend some time with your mind, and don’t be too hard on that roommate in your head.
Naval Ravikant: Hopefully the sequel wasn’t terrible. We’ll see.
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