Naval Ravikant: “Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.”
Do you ever open a book and worry whether reading can really change your life?
If you feel like reading is a time-waster, it’s likely because you haven’t reaped the rewards yet. As Naval Ravikant once said:
“Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.”
You don’t see the desired results within weeks. If you stop too early, you’ll never get where you want.
But once you read for years rather than weeks, you see it’s the shortcut to get where you want without trial and error. You simply borrow the brains of the greatest minds and apply their nuggets of wisdom.
Through the 197 books I read, I learned from some of the best thinkers. Here are three specific ways reading has improved my life.
1.) Automating Your Path to Financial Freedom
Financial literacy is inherited. If your parents aren’t smart about money, you don’t learn the essential investing principles unless you read.
Books taught me wealth isn’t about how much you make. It’s about how much you save. Don’t save what is left after spending but spend what is left after saving.
Your paycheck won’t make you rich. Your investments will. Ramit Sethi uses 50–60% for Fixed costs (rent, utilities, debt), 10% for Investments (401(k), Roth IRA, ETF saving plans), 5–10% for saving goals (vacations, gifts, emergency fund) and 20–35% for guilt-free spending money (dining, drinking, movies, clothes).
Reading made me set up my investment plan. Right now, I invest 25% of my income. From my paycheck, 15% go to ETFs, 7% to cryptocurrencies, and 3% in lower-risk assets like bonds. On top of this, I sometimes cherry-pick stocks. But stock-picking is gambling. Here’s why.
Risk and return are interrelated. If you want to invest successfully, you can’t eliminate risk. The money market rewards investors with interest in the risks they take.
Smart investing isn’t about avoiding risks. Instead, it’s about diversifying your risks. But with stock-picking, you’re betting on a single company.
Here’s another insight that altered my path to financial freedom: You’re never going to get rich by renting out your time.
Wealthy people built systems that make money independent from time. They sell products with no marginal cost of replication — things like books, media, movies, and code. You can multiply your returns without working more.
“The way that people build true wealth for themselves is they see money differently than everyone else. They don’t see it as something they ‘have.’ They see it as something they deploy, and use to build and grow from there.”
2.) Cutting Workdays from 11 Hours to Five Hours
I used to work long hours. I worked hard to get what I felt was a success in life, including building my own companies next to a purposeful 9–5 job, my Master’s degree, a handsome fiancé, a specific amount of workouts and books per week, a number on the scale.
I was on an eternal quest for the next achievement. I never paused.
But one book after another, my life changed. Eckhart Tolle made me redefine success. John Strelecky revealed my life priorities. Brené Brown transformed my inner voice. Cal Newport helped me build deep work habits.
My workdays averaged 11 hours. Now, they‘re down to 5. The time spent is less. But my focus is higher. The equation for knowledge work is as follows:
High-Quality Work Produced = (Time Spent) x (Intensity of Focus)
The more hours your work, the harder it is to focus. Working 11 hours a day with zero focus leads to zero high-quality work. That’s why there’s a diminishing return on input working hours. Putting in more hours can worsen your results. And your life’s quality.
I get up around six. After an hour of meditation, yoga, journaling, and whatever feels good, I write for about three hours. Then I read and add notes to my Roamkasten. At 11, I workout. Then, I take a long lunch break with my partner. Only after lunch, I turn on my phone.
My afternoons vary. I go for a walk with a friend. I take a bath. I have another deep work session for one of my clients, record an interview or volunteer for my NGO. But whatever I do, I make sure my phone and computer are switched off at 8 PM.
I still have workdays where I work too much. But whenever I do, I keep Glennon Doyle words in mind:
“Hard work is important. So are play and non-productivity. My worth is not tied to my productivity but to my existence.”
3.) Learning How to Learn Anything You Want
Learning is the only meta-skill you need to master because all other meta-skills depend on your ability to learn.
If you know how to learn, picking up philosophy or graphic design, or coding is so much easier. If you don’t, learning new skills is a daunting path.
In the first years of my reading journey, I ignored learning. Whenever a conversation revolved around a book I read, I could never remember much. I thought forgetting is my personal flow. But it isn’t.
Forgetting is essential for learning. Spaced repetition, one of the most effective learning strategies, allows some forgetting to occur between sessions. Thereby it strengthens the cues and routes for faster retrieval.
We learn something when we try to access it at different times (spacing) and in distinct contexts (variation). We learn when we connect existing knowledge to what’s in front of us (elaboration) and when we recall what we learned (retrieval).
Here’s how to remember anything you want from books:
- Elaboration. Think while you read. Pause to make notes on how and when you could use this new insight. How does it relate to anything you already know? Write it down.
- Retrieval. After you finish a book, think about what you want to remember. Recall from your mind what you want to stick with you. Write it down in your favorite tool — a journal, GoodReads, Notion, or RoamResearch.
- Variation. Share what you learned with your friends. Talk about your insights in a mastermind group or use the Feynman technique and teach it to somebody else.
- Spacing. Browse through your old book notes. Look at the title and test yourself on what you remember. This process feels slow and frustrating, but that’s how meaningful learning works.
When I first learned about the process, I fear it’s a time waste. But it isn’t. In Sönke Ahrens words:
“Not learning from what we read because we don’t take the time to elaborate on it is the real waste of time”
I could go on indefinitely because reading has also improved my life on so many levels (10-day fasts, slow sex, nose-breathing, psychedelic experiences, etc.). But I’ll stop for now and leave you with one powerful thought.
Reading is liberating. Freedom means choosing from a set of options. The more options you have, the freer you are. But most people don’t know about all their options. And that’s where reading kicks in. It helps you explore options you never knew existed.
“One cannot apply what one knows in a practical manner if one does not know anything to apply.”
— Robert Sternberg