Naval: People who ask for stock tips aren’t really serious about investing. People who ask for book recommendations aren’t serious about reading. People who ask, “What, what business should I build?” aren’t really serious about entrepreneurship.
Kapil: Take the person who “made it” and became world-class in whatever he did. If he went back and retraced his steps and did everything again the same way, but this time he did it by mimicking himself, he would fail.
Naval: I can’t watch Roger Federer play tennis and then swing the racket the same way. Nor will any description from him on how to swing the racket get me to swing it the right way. Then we go to intellectual efforts. We ask Warren Buffet why he invested in a company and he can try and create a mental construct as to how he thinks and how he invests in a company. But there are just as many details to Buffett’s activities, when he decides what to invest in and how he lives his life and how he thinks, as there are to Roger Federer’s body running around a tennis court, hitting a ball. At some level, the details are not transmissible. They’re not copyable.
Kapil: The things that you do greatest are the things that you know not how you do.
Naval: Society is a set of collective lies that we all believe so we can get along. It allows us to establish a lower common denominator consensus so we don’t all kill each other and we can cooperate. We have to maintain these shared fictions for society to function. But there’s a cost to that, and the cost is borne by the individual.
Naval: One of the ways in which I know that I am finding truths is that then problem is solved for good.
Kapil: Any freedom that leads to the desire for more freedom is not freedom.
Kapil: Freedom comes from the understanding of where things come from, not the conscious attempt to end them.
Kapil: A human being becomes his environment. It is critical to savagely and surgically arrange one’s environment in accordance with where he wants to go.
Kapil: Looking for progress is essentially looking for pleasure. It is the pleasure of self-image, which says, “I’m in a better place now than I was before.”
Submitted by Anthony Garone
Naval: What’s interesting about talking to you, Kapil, is that you’re not for everybody. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. The things you think about and the way you speak really only applies to a very small set of people. This discussion is going to be unique in multiple ways and one of those is that it’s just not going to make sense for most people. It doesn’t mean that you should try and have it make sense to you. It’s not something to aspire to. It’s not some graduate level course. It just doesn’t have interest for most people. But again, it’s not advanced, it’s just different.
Another way in which this differs is that I’m nervous to have this conversation and normally I’m not that nervous about podcasts or conversations. In fact, I’m very confident about them. In this case I’m a little nervous because all the questions that I want to ask you and all the things that I want to discuss with you are intensely personal. If I’m not genuinely interested in the answer, then I’m not really asking the proper question, I’m just showing off for the audience. I’ve been working with you, Kapil, for years now. I forget how long, actually. It’s been quite a while and I’m not proud of that. [Laughter] It’s actually a failure, right? Because whatever I need to figure out, I should have figured out by now. Why do we still have to keep going over the same old ground? But the territory that you’re walking or the things that you’re interested in and your take on them is so unique that it takes time to even just understand the vocabulary and the grammar of how you speak and how you think and how you behave and how you view the world.
There are a couple of keywords we could start with. I’m going to start with the hardest one. It’s hard because it’s the most unique. It’s a word that you use over and over and I don’t think other people really understand what you’re saying. Even I still barely understand what you’re saying. I have some concept of it, but it’s a mental shift that is so important that I think it’s really important to understand and to examine carefully what you mean before we get into the rest. And that word is: prescriptions.
Let’s talk about prescriptions.
Kapil: Prescriptions are “how-tos.” They are hacks and they are techniques and methods, various methodologies to get somewhere. When you talk about something from the standpoint of a mechanical behavior–turning on a computer or riding a bicycle–prescriptions are useful. The problem is that whenever you venture into the realm of art in any form, be it in business or sports or even in the setting of finding peace in your life or freedom or arriving at enlightenment–all of these so-called spiritual pursuits–those things cannot be prescriptionized. If you attempt to prescriptionize them, what happens is: the prescription becomes the new god. You begin to try to live up to the prescription.
In the beginning, you had a place to go. “I want to go to X.” Then you introduce an intermediary: the prescription. “This is how you get to X.” Then what will happen is that your mind will begin to focus upon the intermediary and it will enter into a deal, which it never signed up for. That deal is that for the rest of your life you will attempt to satisfy the intermediary.
In all domains, you have many people who do great things. The Buddha attained enlightenment. You have Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods doing amazing things in golf. Elon Musk and various individuals who do great things in business. Even yourself. If you take what those people did and you write a book and say, “These people did X.” If you follow that, you will not become them. You will not!
Naval: I’ve found business biographies to be useless for building a great business. They’re good for inspiration. I can read Steve Jobs’ bio and be inspired, but I can’t be Steve Jobs. And if I want to be amazing at something, then I have to find my own way there. For mechanical things, how-tos work, but when you’re trying to to operate at the top of a field or when you’re trying to do something creative, how-tos don’t work beyond the most extreme basics. When you’re first starting something, it is actually a mechanical endeavor. You’re just figuring out how to drive a car, but when you’re trying to figure out how to race it around a track faster than anyone else, then all coaches and techniques and prescriptions have to fall by the wayside and you are at the edge of the art.
Kapil: That’s correct. Now the problem is conditioning. There’s only been one loudspeaker in a person’s ear for his entire life, then that is his norm and that is the only language that he knows. That paradigm of “how-to” is so embedded inside the culture. It is so deeply embedded inside the cortex of the human brain that the idea of omitting it, or the idea of even challenging its existence, is completely off-the-wall. It is so otherworldly and antithetical that it takes years to even get to the point where the idea of prescriptions being an impediment to whatever you seek begins to dawn.
Naval: People consider you to be a “spiritual guy” on Twitter. In my understanding, you’re not like that at all. Spirituality is a pointless word. It’s about utility. It’s something useful. Does it get you where you want to go? You’re always talking about extreme performance and that’s why your brand is Siddha Performance. It’s seeking performance, essentially, and seeking the truth that gets you to the highest performance in all things, whether it’s business or sports or peace of mind. This drive towards utility, reality, truth, performance–they somehow wander into spirituality. People interpret them in spiritual ways, but it feels like spirituality is so cluttered with nonsense that it gets lost. Your model makes sense if one realizes that it’s designed to go after extreme performance. If you want to be the best in the world at anything, you cannot follow prescription. If you want to be “okay” at it, then sure you can follow prescription. If you want to learn how to lose a pound a month and get in decent shape, then you can follow a calorie counting worksheet. But if you want to be a shredded bodybuilder or an olympic athlete, you’re not going to get there through how-tos. You’re going to have to create and forge your own path that is unique to you. Would that be a good way of putting it?
Kapil: Well, what I would add to that is that one does not have to want to become the greatest in the world. If you look at the lives of human beings, there’s intense struggle. The guy who works three jobs doesn’t want to work three jobs. He may not want to become Tiger Woods, but he wants to be beyond being forced to work three jobs. What keeps him working three jobs is prescriptions.
The futility of prescriptions does not just “harm” one who wants to become world-class. It gravely harms the one who simply doesn’t want to struggle.
Naval: The way I think about it in the business world is that hard work has very little to do with effectiveness. The grocery store owner or the person working at a restaurant might work 60-80 hours a week and that might be all Elon Musk is working, but Elon is making a lot more money because of his specific knowledge. Knowledge that cannot be taught, but can be learned on the job if you have a strong enough desire. Because Elon is doing the right things, he is far more effective in earning power and the right things (at least in business) can’t be taught because it’s a moving target. It can only give very vague principles that inspire people to head in the right direction, but I can’t teach you how to make money or trade the stock market. It’s like when people ask you for stock tips. No one who’s any good at stock trading gives actionable investment advice in a public forum because all the details are too hard to convey. I can always tell people who ask for stock tips are not really serious about investing. People who ask for book recommendations aren’t really serious about reading. People who ask, “What business should I build?” aren’t really serious about entrepreneurship. People who say, “What career path should I take?” are not really serious about their career. When someone’s asking for a how-to in anything, they aren’t actually that serious about it. If they were truly serious about it, they would figure it out. But, then that leaves the paradoxical question: “Well how do I figure it out?”
Kapil: Take the person who “made it” and become world-class in whatever he did. If he went back and retraced his steps and did everything again the same way, but this time he did it by mimicking himself, he would fail. Even he wouldn’t be able to do it. What has to be understood is that where greatness comes from is a very murky affair. It is nonlinear. It is unpredictable. Perhaps nature and the universe set it up this way that you have to jump in. And once you jump in the soup and you’re being bombarded from all sides and you live in confusion and you have no idea which way is up, if the obsession is there, then what happens is through messy process you find a way. You see light at the end of the tunnel. You forge a path through the jungle. That was not done according to a “how.” You were flailing the entire time. There was no “how” to flail. When you come out of the tunnel and someone asks you how you did it, you have no idea. The thing that’s almost laughable is when you ask a great athlete, “Can you show me how you did that?” They won’t go on and say, “I have no idea.” They will provide you with some semblance of an answer, which is a non-answer. And what they will do is, because there’s a gun pointed to their head and their back’s against the wall, they will create the highlights. When the human being who watches that follows the highlights, he misses. And the reason that he misses is that it’s all the small things.
Naval: I can’t watch Roger Federer play tennis and swing the racket the same way, nor will any description from him on how to swing the racket get me to swing the right way. Then we go to intellectual efforts. We start asking Warren Buffet why he invests in a company and there he can try and create a mental construct as to how he thinks and how he invests in the company, but there are just as many details to Warren Buffet’s activities when he decides what to invest in and how he lives his life and how he thinks as there are to Roger Federer’s body running around a tennis court hitting a ball. The details are not transmissible. They’re not copyable. You can be inspired to try it yourself, but without that sincerity, that obsession, you won’t get there.
Kapil: Not only are the details not transmissible, the detail’s not even knowable.
Naval: Ah, so Warren and Roger don’t even know it themselves.
Kapil: Absolutely not. No great artist knows. The things that you do greatest are the things that you know not how you do them.
Naval: I would argue that you’re not even there when you do them. You’re not consciously thinking about it. I find that when I’m speaking, I do best when I’m not thinking about what I’m going to say and I won’t even hear what I’m going to say until it comes out of my mouth.
Kapil: You become as surprised as the audience as to what you’re going to say. That is just pure. What does pure mean? Pure is not morality and pure is not good. There is not good or bad. That’s a whole other topic itself.
Naval: That’s actually the next topic I want to go to. That’s another set of assumptions that everybody has that to understand, you have to be left by the wayside. What we are doing here is we’re trying to focus on what is true and that means we’re going to speak as honestly as possible, which means that we’re going to be vulnerable, which means we’re going to say things that are socially unacceptable and we’re going to say things that are potentially surprising. It’s very difficult to speak truth in a public forum. Why is that?
Kapil: Because there’s an internal dialogue which says that a person wants the audience to understand.
Naval: There’s definitely that. There’s also a piece of it that society is a set of collective lies that we all believe in so we can get along. It allows us to establish lowest common denominator consensus so that we don’t all kill each other and we can cooperate. But there are these shared fictions that we have to maintain for that society to function, which is fine. There’s a cost to that and the cost is borne by the individual.
Kapil: It all comes back to DNA. Not genetic DNA. DNA in one’s sensibilities, the way that he is wired. For some people’s DNA, what society thinks is almost an insult. If we don’t discuss truth here, then what’s the point of having a conversation? Any compulsion that the audience should understand–and it doesn’t mean that I go out of my way to try to be arcane and abstract, but it isn’t about anyone understanding. It’s about speaking the truth.
Naval: Now that we’ve established that prescriptions don’t work and that we’re here to discover the truth and we’re looking past good and bad and right or writing, and we’re just trying to figure out the answer, let’s pick the first thing that we’re going to dive into. Freedom. What does “freedom” mean to you?
Kapil: Freedom is freedom from the mind. The only reason that any human being is not free is because of his mind. It is the mind which creates his tortures. It is the mind which creates his anxiety. It is the mind which creates his conflicts. It is the mind which creates his rules. All that he is confined by, all that he is imprisoned by, is the mind. Not anything else.
Naval: When I was young, I wanted freedom, but I wanted freedom in the sense that I didn’t want to be trapped inside the house. I wanted to live wherever I wanted. I wanted to be able to make money. I wanted to have a girlfriend. I wanted to go to a place where I could do whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. That’s what I wanted. In my mind, freedom was just getting away from physical constraints, material constraints. I got all that stuff. I traveled the whole world. I ate all the food. I made all the money. I got all the things that I wanted in life.
Yet, the quality of my life did not change that much. The quality of my moment-to-moment experience didn’t change that much. That’s because I hadn’t changed that much. My internal experience was still very much the same. Every time I got something, I wanted the next thing and wanted the next thing and wanted the next thing. All the same pains, tortures, and miseries were still there. Maybe some were better. Obviously, it’s better to be rich than to be poor. It’s better to be healthy than to be sick. But beyond a certain point, my baseline level of peace had not changed that much.
Then I started making a transition to what you’re talking about. Realizing that a lot of these traps were in my mind. But you’ve just jumped all the way. You’re saying, “No, it’s all from the mind from the very beginning.”
Kapil: Yes, any freedom that leads to the desire for more freedom is not freedom. If there’s a bleed, you don’t clean the tributary vessels. You want to look at the source of the bleed. Even if it took someone thirty years to learn the source of the bleed, to learn the truth about what freedom really was, it would be far more effective to begin that journey at the very second as opposed to doing it piecemeal because that will take 900 years.
It is not abstract to say that freedom comes from the mind. What it is is revelatory. The belief is that anxiety and fears and pain arise from circumstance. That they arise from other people. As long as that belief is invested inside of someone, he will spend his life trying to change circumstance and that will be a monumental waste of life and you only get one. So, quite frankly, there isn’t enough time to go piecemeal. It is far better to not understand than it is to go piecemeal because then you’re going on a tributary and that tributary leads to other tributaries. Very soon, you’re way off course.
Naval: What we’re really talking about here is that all of the problems that we struggle with, we tend to externalize. We tend to solve them in the external world. There are certain ones that are practical in the external world: Do I have food? Do I have shelter? Those kinds of things. But beyond a certain basic level, a lot of the problems we’re trying to solve in the external world are actually internal problems. And even if we manage to solve the current manifestation in the external world, the new problem will just pop up tomorrow in the external world.
Kapil: Everyone’s looking for truth, whether they profess to look for truth or not. The evidence for that is that everyone is looking for a way out of their problems. If they weren’t, then there wouldn’t be 14,000 prescriptions on every single corner from the spirituality to self help. The very fact that those things exist and the very fact that they are populated by millions means that there’s an enormous appetite for relief from problems.
This relates back to prescriptions. No human being actually wants to be told what to do. There’s something within a human being which rejects the idea of being told what to do. Quite frankly, even when you do give prescriptions, most don’t follow it. And they will beg you for years to give the prescription and when you give it, they won’t do it. People look at that and say, “See? You’ve been given the prescription and you didn’t follow it. It’s your fault.” No it’s not. The fault is believing that that’s what they really wanted.
No one wants prescriptions. Freedom really is what everyone is looking for. It is just that they’ve been sold many lines. They’ve been sold many lies that it’s about meditating and it’s about practicing mindfulness and it’s about doing all of these things. None of those things are wrong. It’s all about the question. If your question is: “I’d like to feel better for 20 minutes a day. It gives me a sense of peace. What can I do?” There’s nothing wrong with that. If the question is: “I really want to have peace in my life. I don’t want to have problems every single day. My entire life spent putting out fires. I don’t want that anymore.” That’s a different question and those prescriptions are invalid for that.
Naval: So what is the most important question?
Kapil: I would begin with the one that’s most acute for a given individual. Now, broadly speaking, everyone’s problem is problems. Anxiety, fear, concern, worry, conflict, confusion…
Naval: This persistent, non-specific anxiety is probably the single most common human condition that most people are trying to get away from. The naive version is, “I have anxiety because I don’t have enough money, so I need to go make more money.” Then the slightly more sophisticated version is, “Boy, I wish I could just get over the anxiety of feeling like I don’t have enough because, practically speaking, I have enough but for some reason I’m still anxious, so I’d love to get rid of that anxiety.” What’s the next level after that?
Kapil: It’s a more fundamental level. The next level is: zero. The idea that someone should get rid of anxiety is the problem. The problem is not, “How do I get rid of anxiety?” The way is actually to learn where anxiety comes from. The people who have conquered anxiety are the ones who had a clear understanding of what it is and where it came from.
The solution to a problem is never the solution. It’s always the problem. The solution to any problem lies squarely deep within the problem. There are not two things. There’s only one. Everyone is taught to look for solutions and they believe that the solution is independent of the problem. But ingeniously, nature has hidden the problem inside the solution and maybe it did it because it wanted human beings to look inside the problem. The definition of the problem is the key.
Naval: Can you go through a specific example?
Kapil: Absolutely. So in the case of anxiety, a person asks, “How do I get rid of anxiety?” The problem isn’t that they have anxiety. The problem is that their anxiety will never end as long as they look for a solution to it. “Well, if I don’t find a solution, then I’m always going to have anxiety.” That’s correct.
The solution is to go backwards. It’s to look at what actually is the anxiety. Put a name on it. When does it arise? What part of the body does it arise in? In what situations does it arise? Know the face of anxiety, not run from it like a boogie man.
Naval: Is this something that’s solved on an individual basis?
Kapil: There’s no solving. It is simply the understanding: The solution to any problem lies in diving deep into the problem. The answer lies in the anxiety. Every single thing that I say is fraught with peril because the prescription givers have highjacked the English language. They’ve already attached an image to every single word that I use. When I say that you have to look into the anxiety, where that will go is (thanks to the spiritual jargon), “Oh, I must face my anxiety.” No. No you don’t. “Oh that means that I must watch my thoughts.” No. No you don’t.
Because if you do that you’ll be doing so prescriptively. You’ll simply become an automaton who sits there and watches his thoughts. And then you will say, “I’ve watched my thoughts. Nothing changed. I went into the anxiety. I faced it and nothing changed.” The prescription is so subtle that any attempt to follow it removes you from the solution. Even as you’re listening to my words, it isn’t about finding out what I’m telling you to do. It’s about understanding and through understanding, you can take your destiny in your own hands.
And even when I say that, I don’t mean to motivate you by telling you that you “can take your destiny into your own hands.” Forgive me. A thousand apologies. I have no interest in motivating you because if I motivate you, then you will get “Ra Ra!” and say, “Yes! I too will do that.” And you will fail. It is about very quiet, very serious examination of what actually is being said. Never just listen to the words.
People send me all these messages saying, “What does it mean? No prescriptions? That’s a prescription. Don’t follow prescriptions?” It’s not about prescriptions. Go into the source of why it was being said for yourself. It is never about the words, it’s about where they come from.
Naval: That’s what makes these conversations so difficult. Even inspiring other people is hard because if they’re inspired, inspiration doesn’t last. It fades. It’s like reading inspirational quotes or motivational posters. You spike up and then you crash back down. There are times where I’ve actually inspired people to go and start a business. And I regret it because if they’re not inspired naturally, they’re not going to be able to sustain it for a long period of time without me being around.
Kapil: Well it isn’t about them. I would say that the only real problem would not be whether their inspiration is sustained. The real problem would be if there’s a desire to inspire them. That’s the non-starter.
Naval: A desire on my part to inspire them?
Kapil: That’s right. There is no other. That’s another one. I can’t say two words without it being a whole other thing.
Naval: Let’s get into it. There is no other. I’ve said life is a single-player game. You’re just competing against yourself. You’re mostly arguing, having conflict with admiring, looking at yourself. You’re born alone. You die alone. How you interpret things is purely through you. How you view the world is purely through you. That’s what I mean by it. Perhaps you mean something deeper than that.
Kapil: “There is no other” means that there’s no problem outside of yourself and that all conflict is self-conflict. These things in which pain arises from a circumstance aren’t really caused by the circumstance. The circumstance does not cause pain, it reveals it. If someone’s intention is that “I wanted to inspire him,” that’s a problem. If the intention is that “I didn’t care to inspire him or not,” then that’s not a problem.
The problem arises in the individual because if he tried to inspire, then that came from a place of ego. Ego isn’t bad, but if a person tries to inspire someone, they’re really trying to attain significance in their own mind. That isn’t bad, either. The problem is it creates problems. That’s the “badness.” If you did not care whether you inspired or not, then you’d be free.
And freedom isn’t good either! It’s just that freedom does not create problems.
Naval: So a simple example: If I’m on Twitter and I send out a tweet and I do it to get compliments. I get a whole bunch of compliments. I like those. I go and click “like” on all the compliments. Then I get a few insults and the insults sting and I feel bad. It only takes one insult to cancel out dozens of compliments, moodwise–just the way the human mind is built.
After you’ve done this for a long enough time, you realize that it’s because I’m liking the compliments that the insults hit me. They’re hitting some deep fear that they might be true. If someone called me a hippopotamus, I don’t care. It’s not real. But if someone says, “Oh, you’re trying to play a fake guru,” that might hurt because sometimes I am trying to do that. And so if it reveals something about me, some conflict and some pain that already existed, then it hurts. Just by understanding how compliments puff me up, I can realize that insults bring me back down and the freedom comes from realizing that it’s not good or bad. I can continue to make that trade, but at least now I’m aware of why I feel bad when I see an insult.
Kapil: All of that would circle back to: “Do you really want to know? Are you the type of individual who really wants to know and understand where these things come from because you have a longing for getting over that for good?”
Naval: One doesn’t necessarily have to go through the understanding. It’s helpful to have these kinds of illusions because that’s how we function in society. You could argue society conditioned us in that way so we could be functional in normal society. But as you understand more of these things, one of the interesting things I’ve noticed is: as you peel the onion, it has to be done genuinely. Otherwise, it’s not real. Otherwise, it’s just another pleasure chase.
Kapil: Even “genuine” isn’t a rule. There’s no need to be genuine. That isn’t “good.” Like humility, it isn’t good to be humble. Nothing is “good.”
Naval: Yeah, if I’m engaging in self-improvement and I’m feeling good about it, then my mind will eventually be occupied with this new image of being this guy who’s good at self-improvement and I’ll just create another trap for myself.
Kapil: It’s all a shell game. That’s exactly right.
Naval: One thing I’ve noticed is that one of the ways in which I know that I am finding truths out is that problem is solved for good.
Kapil: That’s exactly right.
Naval: I don’t have to revisit that same problem again because that problem is solved for good. Both my internal state and my external state “improve.” They change. “Improve” is a big word, so it’s more “they change.” Internally, I’m quieter. Externally, my life is less complicated.
Kapil: You have brought up a seminal point, which is: it is not about the journey. It absolutely is about the destination. You want to get to the point where you don’t have it anymore. You aren’t looking for treatments, you’re looking for a cure. There is a destination. It isn’t about spending the next 90 years getting assaulted and then feeling better, getting assaulted then putting tiger balm on it. It is about wanting to get over it.
Destination and journeys–that’s another lie. It’s not about journeys. It’s about destinations. Destinations require journeys, but everything that you do in your life is defined by the destination. The moment that you leave your house every single day, you have a destination. And the destination creates the avenue.
Naval: This is one of the social lies where everyone says about the journey, the journey is the reward. Yeah, the journey is the thing that you’re actually one. That’s where you are right now. But if you don’t get to a destination, you sort of wasted your time.
Kapil: Well, if there was no destination, no one would begin any journey. If there was no compulsion to arrive anywhere, then no one would begin any kind of journey at all. It is just that most people’s destination is the prescription. Wearing the orange color robe, sitting in front of the incense, and having the self image that “I’m a yogi” and “I am meditating” and “I am doing all the spiritual things.”
That becomes a destination in itself: that I have achieved that self image where I view myself that way.
Naval: So what is a worthy destination?
Kapil: Oh, there is no “worthy.” It is not about enforcing rules. There are no rules. Rules should be avoided at all costs if one is sincere because wherever there’s a rule, there’s insincerity. Like stoicism, it’s a rule. It can’t go anywhere. It’s more self image creation.
Everything begins with the truth. What is the truth? The truth is that in a human being’s life, he has problems. That’s the truth. In a human being’s life, he has specific problems. Some problems that are more acute for him than for his neighbor. His most acute problems are his living reality. They’re not abstract. They’re not spiritual. They are in his face and he lives in that every single day. That is where it can begin.
Naval: So one begins very concretely with one’s own problems. There are real problems that everybody faces and if you have a genuine desire to solve these problems once and for all, the way through them is not to follow some routine or build up some image of the person who solves the problems. It’s to examine them for the truth no matter how unpopular or how untransmissible or unexplainable it might be. If you look for the truth and you find it, you’ll know you’ve found it when you’ve solved the problem.
Kapil: If you go back to zero for a second, zero is the understanding that problems can be solved forever. Society believes in journeys. Society believes in endless treatments forever. Practice, practice, practice, practice, practice, practice forever. When the whole game has been set up to practice forever, then there is no conclusion. There is no arrival of anything.
Naval: There’s a way for people to see that. If you look at how we think about spirituality and solving problems internally, it is considered to be, “Oh I’m just going to work on it forever. I’m going to see a therapist forever. I’m going to meditate forever. I’m going to read forever. I’m going to talk to a counselor or to a coach forever. I’m going to work on it. I’m on the path. I’m on the journey.” But if you go into a very practical thing, like making money, nobody says, “I’m going to work forever.” No, they’re like, “I want to make a pile of money.” Right? If I’m starting a company: “I want the company to be successful, I want the company to go public, or to get acquired, or generate so much cash flow that while I’m still alive, I can spend that cash.” In the money-making context, we’re extremely practical. We want to make that money while we’re still young enough and alive enough to spend it. But in the internal context, we get all spiritual and start talking about, “Maybe the next life, maybe in heaven or in hell, or my reincarnated life, or I’m just going to keep doing my self work, my self improvement until the day I die” and it’s considered acceptable to never arrive at a destination.
Kapil: There’s a very simple truth as to how to arrive at getting over your problems without having to lift a finger.
Naval: You’ve got my ears.
Kapil: It’s all about exposure. If a person sat on his couch for the next 50 years, his internal environment–from his mind to his brain, everything within him is a direct resonance–it’s like a tuning fork. It responds to the inputs. Same as a microphone. If that human is exposed to truth on a regular basis, his ears don’t even have to hear it consciously. Something inside of him will internalize that truth and that will become his new norm. A human being becomes his environment and that is why it’s absolutely critical to savagely and surgically arrange one’s environment in a way that is in accordance with where he wants to go.
No one does that.
If a person is exposed to truth on a regular basis–and not prescription. It’s gotta be straight truth. Then that becomes his norm. That becomes the way that he thinks. His brain begins to rewire itself. There isn’t a single amount of work that needs to be done. There isn’t a single amount of psychotherapy that needs to be done. No medications. The human body treats itself. It all depends upon the input. It is all about one thing and one thing only: exposure.
You become that which you are most consistently exposed to.
Naval: In a modern context, the people who are very interested in truth and in conquering the mind and internal freedom tend to coalesce on reading the same books, thinking about the same things, listen to the same podcasts, talk to the same people. Even though prescriptions don’t work and no book is going to make you conquer the mind and listening to any podcast is not going to give you internal freedom, eventually at some point, it does soak in. You’re attracted to what you want to be. And as you immerse yourself in it, you have no choice but to become that over time.
It’s like in wealth creation, if you want to start a company, you go to Silicon Valley or you go to a pool of entrepreneurs and you spend enough time around them. You hang around the tech business long enough and you’ll be in the tech business. You hang around a bunch of techies, you’ll be talking tech all day. So, we’re naturally drawn to certain things and immerse ourselves in them. It creates inevitability to the future.
Kapil: And to take it to the next level, it’s about titrating that environment because any environment from Silicon Valley to anywhere else, while it has the benefits, it will also have the detriments. It’s about titrating out all that is not wanted and titrating all that is. It can very much be fine-tuned, like a buffet.
Naval: I want to talk to you about a specific issue I’ve noticed with myself. I’ve known this for a while, but it’s just really bad. I don’t fully understand why it persists even though I see it. Every time I am figuring something out for myself and I’m going down a good path of figuring it out–as an example, I was reading something recently. It was resonating with me and every time I’d read a sentence, then I would get into thought about what that meant, how that applied, my own interpretation. It was going well. Naturally, I found myself in my mind’s eye lecturing it to other people. Teaching it to other people. This invariably happens with me. As soon as I start figuring something out or understanding it, I start turning it into a tweet or a podcast or some lecture to tell other people. I see this over and over again in my mind. Why is it that I keep converting everything into instruction for somebody else? Why does it not feel real unless I’m teaching someone else?
Kapil: Why does that matter?
Naval: So there’s two things that are wrong with that. One is of course the social thing, which is you should be humble and figure things out yourself and why are you telling everybody what to do? That’s the societal one. I care less about that. The one I care more about is: You can’t give society the raw truth on almost anything. The moment you have to turn it into something in your mind that is being taught to others, you’re actually weakening it. You’re introducing falsehoods and caveats. You’re not facing the raw truth, necessarily.
Kapil: But that doesn’t matter because the greatest desire always wins. If the desire to share it and to turn it into a teaching is there, it’s there. If you genuinely want to get over that, then the quickest way there is–guess what–to allow yourself to teach it because any suppression is regression.
Naval: It’s just more self conflict. It’s another “should” and it’s slowing things down. So just go right through it?
Kapil: Don’t even go through it. Just understand that if you do, then you do. The very fact that you caught yourself doing it is enough. There’s no need to do anymore. When fire burns, as long as it’s allowed to burn, it’ll eventually burn out.
Naval: I do not want to engage in self conflict. I’m now very aware that when two parts of my mind start fighting each other, there is this tendency that we all have to favor one versus the other. “Oh this is the good part and this is the bad part. This is the angel and this is the devil.”
Kapil: The “shoulds” and the “shouldn’ts” are pure poison. Never try to reel your mind in. Give it free reign. Your greatest weapon is the understanding and the awareness of where it’s going, not watching your thoughts like a mechanical automaton. It is just the understanding that you know where the mind is going and that you do see yourself doing this. That sight itself has already poked a hole in that behavior.
Naval: Let’s talk about using the mind to understand the mind because this is where spirituality gets very confusing. Some people believe that you’re failing if your mind is even running. They’re trying to suppress the mind. Others believe that there’s a right way the mind should work and a wrong work the mind should work. The right mind should suppress the wrong mind. That’s a classic–call it the Christian or the Jewish or the Muslim view. “These are good thoughts and these are bad thoughts.” Then there’s the self inquiry nature, which is a little bit of what you’re saying, which is the mind can be used to understand the mind but not necessarily interfere with it.
Kapil: That all depends upon: Where do you want to go? Without that, there is no conversation. And the reason why all these philosophies exist is because that question hasn’t been asked.
Naval: Right, they’re trying to accomplish different things.
Kapil: Everyone dives into the prescription. Everyone’s impetus for entering the game is the “should” and the “good” and the “bad” and the “should not.” That’s the impetus. The impetus has to be: Where do you want to go? Because the answer to that question will create the path.
Naval: So let’s say I choose “freedom.”
Kapil: Okay, if someone truly wants freedom, then the truth behind that is freedom from the mind. The idea of trying to understand the mind with the mind, that’s intellectual. It’s irrelevant. That’s just a mind-created phenomenon. Understanding is in a certain place and we’re not going to label it with any anatomy. We’re not going to call it “mind.” There is a capacity to understand. And whether that’s one part mind or two parts mind or zero parts mind, it’s irrelevant. That’ll just take you on another path. Forget it.
The understanding will come from a certain place. It’s almost like sincerity and genuineness and seriousness create this one organ.
So, freedom comes from the understanding of where things come from, not the conscious attempt to end them.
Naval: At least for me, the problem is, “Oh I’m more free than I used to be, so I’m making progress.”
Kapil: Looking for progress is essentially looking for pleasure. It is the pleasure of self image, which says, “I’m in a better place now than I was before and that’s why I get excited when I get some progress.” It is not about prescriptionizing and turning it into a rule that pleasure is bad. That isn’t truth. Truth is the understanding that the pursuit of all things in a human being’s life are motivated by pleasure.
Naval: Nothing wrong with that.
Kapil: Nothing wrong with it at all.
Naval: It’s a motivator, but is it effective if you’re trying to get to freedom?
Kapil: No, it’s a different path. And it isn’t a wrong one. Pleasure, you will always be on the lookout for when the ship will come in. As long as one is always on the lookout for when the ship will come in, his attention will necessarily be on the horizon.
Naval: So, it’s hard for me to have freedom when I’m recording little gains and I’m creating this image around this person who is recording gains and getting better that traps me–that image. I’m always thinking about that. I’m always experiencing that pleasure. Then there are setbacks. So if I suddenly get angry or unhappy or I don’t have my freedom for a moment or I think I don’t have my freedom, that pleasure gets withdrawn and I’m truly un-free. I’m trapped again.
Kapil: Yes, that is the game of the mind. You’re back in the mind. That’s why freedom really is beyond the mind. It is freedom from the mind. What you have just described is a game of the mind. Now, whatever game that is, whether it’s a spiritual game or a materialistic game doesn’t matter. As long as the mind has you captured playing a certain game, “it’s fine.” It “rests in harmony” knowing that it’s got you.
Naval: A friend of mine said that no technique of the mind will free you from the mind. But at the same time, we’re talking about approaching truth and understanding. Isn’t that just the mind again that’s doing the understanding? Or it’s something beyond the mind that is understanding?
Kapil: Where there is sincerity and where there is seriousness, that is its own instrument of examination.