This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Almanack of Naval Ravikant" by Eric Jorgenson. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.
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How often—and for how long—should you meditate? What’s the best way to learn? Why should you seek to live in the present?
Naval Ravikant believes that you should keep your mind conditioned to support your happiness. He asserts that, if your mind isn’t functioning well, you’ll have a harder time dealing with life circumstances. To that end, he discusses four ways to keep your mind at peak function: meditate, learn, maintain social contact, and live in the present.
Keep reading for details on Ravikant’s advice on how to take care of your mind.
Caring for Your Mind
Caring for your body is one way to support the health of your mind, and Ravikant recommends four other ways you can do so. Here are four pieces of his advice on how to take care of your mind.
1. Meditate. Ravikant is less interested in the spiritual aspects of meditation than the biological ones: Meditation techniques help you control the signaling in your brain, making you more relaxed. Ravikant has tried many different meditation techniques, and he suggests you do the same. Whatever technique you try, he advocates sticking with it for two months at a time for one hour each day.
(Shortform note: Ravikant’s advice to meditate for two months at an hour per day may be daunting—especially for those who haven’t meditated before. However, while research suggests that regularity is helpful for reaping the health benefits of meditation, just 13 minutes per day appears to be enough.)
2. Learn. Learning helps grow your mind and keep it healthy and engaged. The best way to do this is to read. While Ravikant specifically recommends reading basic math, philosophy, and science books, as we saw earlier, he also recommends reading anything you’re interested in. The main reason for this is because learning to love to read is vital for actually learning at all—if you’re interested in reading something, read it.
(Shortform note: While a host of evidence confirms that reading is beneficial for learning, reading alone isn’t as effective as it could be. Evidence indicates that one of the most important ways to increase your learning is to test yourself on what you’re trying to learn. Experts recommend that you first read, then recite what you’ve learned to yourself or a friend, then review the material to correct anything you may have misunderstood.)
Another way to ensure you make reading a regular part of your life is to be okay with not finishing the books you start. For Ravikant, believing that you must finish every book you begin gets in the way of your enjoyment of reading. Instead, read as much as you’re interested, have several books going at once, explore a variety of topics—just read.
(Shortform note: Famously voracious reader Bill Gates disagrees on this point. It’s his practice to always finish the books he starts even if he doesn’t like them. Because of this personal rule, he’s careful about selecting books to read—he wants to choose books that are going to be worth reading all the way to the end.)
3. Maintain social contact. As Ravikant sees it, humans evolved to be in small social groups: We function best in such environments. When you’re frequently in close proximity to friends and family, you have fewer opportunities to get depressed or lonely. This contributes to your sense of contentment and happiness.
(Shortform note: Social contact has been shown to have an important effect on happiness. A recent study found that people who pursued activities to increase their happiness had better results when those activities kept them in contact with others than when the activities were independent.)
4. Live in the present. You’ll only find contentment by embracing your experience as it is right now—don’t look for things to be different than they are. Ravikant says that thinking about the past is the source of a lot of unhappiness. Maybe you regret something you did, or you wish things could be like they used to be. Similarly, looking to the future is often motivated by desire (for a change in circumstances, for instance). For Ravikant, to desire anything is to be discontent. This is unhappiness. According to Ravikant, all you really have is the present. Embracing it is key to finding contentment and true happiness.
(Shortform note: Contrary to Ravikant’s view, evidence suggests that thinking about the past may actually be beneficial for well-being. Nostalgia is a certain form of reflecting on the past that’s been shown to have numerous benefits, including making you feel better about yourself and others, making life seem more meaningful, and making you feel more connected with friends and family.)
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