5 Lessons by Naval Ravikant That Flipped My Thoughts on Reading
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A few months ago I stumbled upon what seemed to be a compelling series of books. It was Nassim Taleb’s Incerto. I didn’t know it was called that. Rather, I only came across the other books in his Incerto when I read Black Swan.
I vividly remember the experience of reading Black Swan. It’s almost 400 pages which is not a lot considering I’ve been an avid reader in the past. Yet, there’s a catch. These were the early days of re-building my reading habit.
I read a lot of non-fiction books during high school and the initial years of college. The habit soon fell out when I got busy with work, my own startup, and other priorities. I never left reading completely but it was erratic.
Like most of us in the digital world, I’d switched to podcasts, tweets, blogs, and so on. And as many will attest, none of them are equivalent to the joy of reading a book.
Surprisingly, my excitement started to wane after the first 100 pages of Black Swan. The book was good, recommended by hundreds and the author seemed to be interesting as well. Even then I couldn’t muster up the willpower to read.
The inability to finish a book comes with two problems:
The guilt of not finishing the book
The inability to pick another interesting book until I finished this one
It took more than a month to force myself to finish this book and then move on to another one from his Incerto — Antifragile.
This time, the same process repeated itself. I didn’t have the willpower to drag through another 500+ pager. Ergo, I was sick of reading itself and stopped for a while.
1. The Sunk Cost Fallacy
As it turns out, my situation was quite common. Naval Ravikant says,
“Everyone I know is stuck on some book. I’m sure you’re stuck on some book right now. It’s page 332, you can’t go on any further but you know you should finish the book, so what do you do? You give up reading books for a while. That for me was a tragedy, because I grew up on books, and then I switched to blogs and then I switched to Twitter and Facebook, and then I realized I wasn’t really learning anything, I was just taking little dopamine snacks all day long.”
After investing time to read more than half of the book, you can’t leave it. You want to finish it because you feel that the time spent coming so far will be wasted — that’s the sunk cost fallacy.
But you don’t have to do it. In fact, the last few pages of most non-fiction books aren’t as important. The main points are already made halfway through.
Every minute you waste on forcing yourself to read a book can be spent reading interesting and fascinating works which you like. Otherwise, you’ll start to hate reading and default to the short-form junk content that pervades the web today.
TL;DR: Allow yourself to quit a book if you’re forcing yourself to read it. Pick a book that satisfies your intellectual curiosity instead.
Note: Here’s the best part. Sometimes you’re not ready for the message in a book. You can come back to it later and love it. The book isn’t going anywhere even if you don’t finish it.
2. The Money Spent On the Book Doesn’t Matter
Often the fact that we spent money on a book forces us to complete it. Consider what Naval says,
A really good book costs $10 or $20 and can change your life in a meaningful way. It’s not something I believe in saving money on. This was even back when I was broke and I had no money. I always spent money on books. I never viewed that as an expense. That’s an investment to me. I probably spend 10 times as much money on books as I actually get through. In other words, for every $200 worth of books I buy, I actually end up making it through 10%. I’ll read $20 worth of books, but it’s still absolutely worth it.”
First, books are an investment rather than an expense. One idea from a book can change the way your whole life works. Mine did when I read the Autobiography of a Yogi.
Second, the opportunity cost of being stuck at a mediocre book (or worse, giving up reading) is much more than the price of a book.
**TL;DR: **Treat books as an investment to start reading more guilt-free.
3. Read More Than One Book at a Time
“I open up my kindle, I look through. Based on my mood, I’ll flip through to whatever book matches my mood…The most important thing that does for me is it lets me read on a regular basis.” — Naval
Naval reads 10 to 20 books at a time. I’m nowhere close but I do have 4–5 books going on along with others that I check for reference every now and then.
Every book has a different mood and time to read. Before meditation, I like to read from the Bhagavad Gita for inspiration. When I’m looking for relaxation, I can pick up a murder mystery by Agatha Christie.
Sometimes I feel motivated to read about history which is why I just finished Sapiens. Other times I feel the urge to dive into a new topic like human nature, writing, biographies, and so on.
The hidden benefit of doing this is to **interconnect ideas from different fields. **For example, while reading Sapiens I also read Holy Science that gives up a completely different view on history and human evolution from a cosmic perspective. It’s been an amazing intellectual exercise to find similarities between the ancient teachings and archeological interpretations.
The power of this approach is you don’t have to wait to finish your current book before you start something new. You don’t need to check a book off your reading list to add another. And that makes reading much more fun.
If you’re thinking you can’t do it, think about your childhood — didn’t you manage to read several different textbooks for different subjects simultaneously? Then why can’t you do it now?
**TL;DR: **Read multiple books at a time (anything you like) to make reading more fun and form creative connections between ideas.
4. Follow Your Own Index, Not the One in the Book
If the book is getting a little boring, I’ll skip ahead. Sometimes I’ll start reading a book in the middle because some paragraph caught my eye and I’ll just continue from there, and I feel no obligation whatsoever to finish the book. — Naval
Here’s my old approach to book selection — If two or three chapters in a book caught my eye, I’d start to read it *from the beginning. *Every second I read was spent in anticipation of my favorite chapters. And when I get to those chapters, they seldom felt as great as I thought them to be.
I wasted my time reading less exciting chapters to get to the ones which I actually want to read. Seems stupid, but that’s how we roll! You don’t have to read the book from cover to cover.
There’s no reading commandment that tells you to read sequentially. Skip to what you like and then jump around.
There’s a good reason why this works — most books are based on 2–3 key ideas and the rest of it is filled with mere anecdotes. As readers, we need to search for those key ideas and move on. Yes, if you like reading the anecdotes, by all means, do it. But don’t feel you have to read them.
Naval advises treating books as blog archives. Read only a few posts that catch your eye, don’t force yourself to read the whole archive.
**Takeaway: **Follow your intellectual curiosity. Don’t box yourself by how others tell you to read a book
5. Find Books That Speak to You and Go Deep in Them
“You skim very very quickly to find the ones that grab you, that are important and interesting for you, and then you stick to those and go really deep. There’s exploration, and there’s exploitation. So you explore a lot of books until you decide that there’s something there to exploit.” — Naval
Lest you think I’m advocating skimming all books you come across, I should bring this point to your attention.
When looking for which books to read, we question others and take inspiration from lists of other avid readers. Yet, it seldom works because everyone has a different list of books that speak to them. Your list — the composition and order — will be unique to you. Because as people we all are unique.
The act of skimming books (and treating them as archives) helps you determine if a book is worth investing time into.
If you find a book interesting enough, throw everything out and go as deep as you can in that one book. Exploit it as Naval says.
For me, one of those books is the Gita. Another one was the Untethered Soul of which I made notes obsessively.
Reading is about learning, not about the number of books you read. Your Goodreads reading list is a vanity metric that you think will impress others. But if you never learn anything deeply, what good does it do?
“I would rather read the best 100 books over and over again until I absorb them rather than read all the books.” — Naval
**TL;DR: **Explore books without committing to them until you find one you want to exploit. Then read it voraciously and absorb every concept in it. You’ll be a much better learner instead of a hollow avid reader that learns nothing.
“Just like the best workout for you is the one that you’re excited enough to do every day, the same way I would say the books…to read are the ones that you’re excited about reading all the time. — Naval
Reading is one of the few crucial meta-skills you should have. You can swap it for anything you want to learn — get healthy, improve your skills, gain knowledge, have harmonious relationships, and anything else you can imagine.
Ergo, the important thing is to develop a reading habit, not how you do it. You don’t have to follow conventional reading styles if they don’t speak to you.