How to Read like Naval and Seneca (Most People Don’t Read This Way)

“Read what you love until you love to read.”

Naval Ravikant

Growing up, Naval Ravikant, an angel investor and philosopher, had a burning desire to be perceived as smart.

He would read something once, but never bothered to really understand what he was talking about. He would, instead, focus on using big words in his conversations.

Naturally, this tactic didn’t work for long, and he received push-back from his peers when they found out that he didn’t really know what he was talking about. Contrary to his intentions, it didn’t make him appear any smarter.

As Naval grew older, however, he learned that to really understand something, he would need to study that subject thoroughly. It didn’t matter how many books he read if he didn’t understand their contents.

So, in order to avoid only being perceived as smart, he needed to actually be smart. He needed to learn deeply and understand — not merely to show off how many books he had read.

Reading What’s Important

For Naval, then, reading the best books became more important. He said:

“I would rather read the best hundred books over and over again until I absorb them rather than read every single book out there.”

Seneca, a stoic philosopher, expressed similar views:

“You should be extending your stay among writers whose genius is unquestionable, deriving constant nourishment from them if you wish to gain anything from your reading that will find a lasting place in your mind. To be everywhere is to be nowhere.”

To find which books to read yourself, you either need to look for advice or explore on your own. But once you’ve found your books, do your best to understand them.

Because reading books just to read books is a waste of time. It’s a status-move. You should read to understand, not to show off how many books you’ve finished.

Reading by Interest

In addition to reading what’s good, Naval had a complimentary suggestion. He said:

“I read for understanding. So with a really good book, I’ll flip through it. I won’t actually read it in consecutive order. I might not even finish it. I’m looking for ideas and things that I don’t understand. When I find something really interesting, I’ll reflect on it, research it, and then when I’m bored of it, I’ll drop it or I’ll flip to another book.”

Seneca had similar views on this topic as well, and said:

“Always read well-tried authors, and if at any moment you find yourself wanting a change from a particular author, go back to the ones you have read before.”

This means you shouldn’t feel obligated to finish a book just because you started on it. If you grow tired of a particular book, feel free to switch to another one. Because this will allow you to keep reading.

I struggled with this when I first started to read. I would stick to a book until its completion, no matter how boring it got or how much I wanted to read something else. And on the occasions I did manage to stop, I would feel guilty for not finishing it.

There’s actually a psychological term for this. It’s called the sunk cost fallacy, and explains that when you have invested into something, it’s harder to give it up because you want your time to yield a return of the investment.

Luckily, however, I’ve realized (much thanks to Naval and Seneca) that I can read in other ways than the “normal” way. Now I have 10 books that I’m in the middle of (yes, I actually counted), and some I might never finish. But that’s ok.

Because reading is about more than just completing books. It’s about exploring, understanding, and seeking wisdom. It’s about developing yourself as a human being.

Now go read something.

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2 thoughts on “How to Read like Naval and Seneca (Most People Don’t Read This Way)

  1. Hei Jonas. Jeg leser av og til bloggene dine. Det er interessant. Men dine råd skulle jeg ha fått/tilegnet meg for 60 år siden…., begynner å bli for gammel nå.🤔 Men takk likevel! Jeg er så imponert at jeg av og til tviler på at du, unge mann, har produsert dette selv…😉 Klem fra grandtante Solveig.💕


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