Book Notes

“How To Live”, Derek Sivers

Be independent

Never agree with anything the same day you hear it, because some ideas are persuasively hypnotic.
Wait a few days to decide what you really think.


Marriage is for getting through the times when you’re not in love.

Expect things to get bad.

Your mutual commitment gives you the security to weather the storms, knowing they won’t destroy the relationship.

Be loving even when you’re not feeling loving.

Do nothing.

The ten commandments said what not to do.

Most of being a good person is not doing bad.

Don’t be cruel or selfish.

Don’t lie or steal.

Just do no harm.

People always think they need to do something.

People will appreciate your silence, and know that when you speak, it must be important.

Shallow rivers are noisy.

Deep lakes are silent.

Go straight for the emotion.

Practice feeling emotions intentionally, instead of using actions to create them.

If an action feels necessary, and you can’t let it go, just write it down for later.

Everything seems more important while you’re thinking of it.

Later, you’ll realize it’s not.

Think super-long-term.

Serve the future.

Do small things now with huge benefits for your older self, your descendants, and future generations.

When you choose a behavior, you choose its future consequences.

Make memories.

Turn your experiences into stories.
A story is the remains of an experience.
Make your stories entertaining, so people like to hear them.
By telling good stories, your memories can last longer, because people will echo them back to you occasionally, or ask you to tell them again.

Your story about an experience overwrites your memory of the actual experience.
So use this in your favor.
Re-write your past.
Embellish adventures.
Disempower trauma

When you make a big mistake and want to learn its lesson, deliberately amplify the pain, the deep regret, and the consequences.
Keep the bad feelings vivid and visceral.
Make the lesson memorable, so you won’t do it again.

Master something.

Mastery is the best goal because the rich can’t buy it, the impatient can’t rush it, the privileged can’t inherit it, and nobody can steal it.

Don’t ask, “Is this the real me?” or “Is this my passion?”
Those questions lead to endless searching and disappointment.

You need to understand something very counter-intuitive about goals.
Goals don’t improve your future.
Goals only improve your present actions.
A good goal makes you take action immediately.
A bad goal doesn’t.
A goal shows what’s right and wrong.
What moves you towards your goal is right.
What doesn’t is wrong.

You need ritual, not inspiration.
Every day, no matter what, you must practice.
Your practice ritual is your highest priority — an unbreakable commitment.

If you get stuck, just stop and close your eyes.
The vacuum will extract your actions again.
How many push-ups could you do right now?
But how many could you do if you took a ten-minute break between each set?
Many more.
That’s the secret.
Take tiny breaks when working, to go longer than most.

If you’ve been head-down on a task for too long, lift your head up to make sure you’re going the right way.
Don’t do well what you shouldn’t do at all.

You don’t get extreme results without extreme actions.
If you do what most people do, you’ll get what most people get.

Don’t be normal

Society’s guidelines are for the lost — not for you.

You can do anything, but not everything.

Let randomness rule.

When talking with people, ask deep open-ended questions — like “What’s your biggest regret?” — that will lead to unexpected stories.

Randomness helps you learn acceptance.
You can’t take the blame for failures.
You can’t take credit for successes.
You can’t regret what you didn’t cause

Pursue pain.

Difficult conversations save your relationships.

But if you avoid pain, you avoid improvement.
Avoid embarrassment, and you avoid success.

Comfort is a silent killer.
Comfort is quicksand.
The softer the chair, the harder it is to get out of it.

Stop lying, completely.
You lie when you’re afraid.
You lie to avoid consequences.
Always say the truth.
Take the painful consequences.
Do whatever you want now.

Most problems are not about the real present moment.
They’re anxiety, worried that something bad might happen in the future.
They’re trauma, remembering something bad in the past.

Be a famous pioneer

Your job is not just to act, but to tell a fascinating story of how you did so, and inspire others to do it.

Pursue massive media attention, not for vanity or ego, but so your stories can open minds, spark imaginations, and lead to further explorations.

Chase the future

Work as a futurist and technology journalist.
Stay on the cutting edge of things so new they barely exist.
Every new invention will come to you first, before the world has heard of it.

Slavery was a convention.
Human sacrifice was a convention.
Denying human rights to women was a convention.
Some day our current conventions will seem as wrong as these.
Since you live in the future, start condemning them now.

Value only what has endured

New things have some benefits but deeper downsides like addiction, pollution, scattered focus, or wasted time.

Ignore all marketing and advertising.
Nobody is pushing what really matters.
Friendships, nature, family, learning, community.

The best things in life aren’t things.
They create a false sense of urgency, social status, fear, shock, or any tricks…
The world is acting crazy because it doesn’t know who it is anymore.

Learn time-tested skills that were just as useful in your grandparents’ time as they are today.
Speaking, writing, gardening, accountin


The biggest obstacle to learning is assuming you already know.
Confidence is usually ignorance.

Don’t believe what you think.
Have questions, not answers.
Doubt everything.
The easiest person to fool is yourself.
If you’re not embarrassed by what you thought last year, you need to learn more and faster.

Communicate knowledge to others to make sure you understand.
Don’t quote.
Put it in your own words without looking up or referencing what others said.
If you can’t explain it yourself, you don’t know it.

Public speaking tests your writing on a real audience.
Great public speaking comes from great private thinking.

As you age, you’ll lose muscle and beauty, but you won’t lose your wisdom.

Follow the great book

You don’t lack direction.
You have too many directions.

Stop swerving and chasing new leaders.
Stay on a single steady path.
Following your book is how to live.

Choose the pain of discipline, not the pain of regret.
Your self-control is highest in the morning and diminishes during the day, so review your book’s rules every afternoon.

Laugh at life

Humor is the spirit of life — a sign of a healthy, vibrant mind and soul.

To laugh at something is to be superior to it.
Humor shows internal control.

No matter what you need to do, there’s a playful, creative way to do it.
Playing gives you personal autonomy and power.

Everyone wants to be with someone who’s having more fun.

Prepare for the worst.

How can you thrive in an unknowable future?
Prepare for the worst.
Train your mind to be ready for whatever may come.
This is how to live.

Never worry.
This isn’t emotional.
Just anticipate and prepare.

People talk about pessimism and optimism by saying, “Glass half-empty or glass half-full?”

But a caveman would say, “Oh my god! A glass! What a great invention! I can see what I’m about to drink! This is amazing! A blanket! A chair! A bed! Food, ready and waiting?

Imagine the people you love dying tomorrow.
Never take them for granted.

Luxury makes you soft, weak, and harder to satisfy.

Practice being uncomfortable, even in small ways.
Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
Skip eating for a day, or sugar for a month.
Go light-weight camping for a week.
Befriend discomfort so that you’ll never fear it.

Trying to control outcomes makes you disappointed and resentful.
Focus only on your thoughts and actions.

Nothing is good or bad.
You just reacted as if it was.
When something bad happens, ask, “What’s great about this?”
Instead of changing the world, just change your reactions.

Shallow happy is having a donut.
Deep happy is having a fit body.

Visit your favorite places.
Listen to your favorite music.
Taste your favorite food.
Touch your favorite people.
This might be the last time you do all these things, so appreciate each moment fully.

Live for others

Never say, “Not my problem.”
We’re all in this together.
What’s good for your community is good for you.
You can’t be healthy in a sick society.

Psychologists, philosophers, and religions all agree on one thing.
Helping others is a better path to happiness than helping only yourself.

The most miserable people are self-absorbed.
So aim to be the opposite.

Ask open-ended questions, asking people’s thoughts.
Ask them to elaborate on whatever they’ve said.
Show that you’re interested.
Allow silence.

Withhold angry thoughts, and let the feeling pass unexpressed.
Never lose your cool.
Never vent.
Always be kind, no matter how you feel.

Imagine if you found out someone was going to die tomorrow.
Imagine how much attention, compassion, and generosity you’d give them.
Imagine how you’d forgive their faults.
Imagine what you’d do to make their last day on Earth the best it could be.

Success in business comes from helping people — bringing the most happiness to the most people.
The best marketing is being considerate.
The best sales approach is listening.

Get rich

Your biggest obstacle to getting rich is the harmful meaning you’ve attached to it.
Your biggest advantage can be projecting a helpful meaning onto it.
Make it mean you’re on the right path.
Make it a game.
Make it mean you’re free.

To get rich, don’t think about what’s valuable to you.
Think about what’s valuable to others.
To do the opposite is the cliché of the starving artist: creating something that’s valuable to you, but not to others.

Making money is a skill like any other.
Learn it and practice it as you would anything else.

Charge for what you do.
It’s unsustainable to create value without asking anything in return.
Remember that many people like to pay.
The more something costs, the more people value it.
By charging more, you’re actually helping them use it and appreciate it.
Charge more than is comfortable to your current self-image.
Value yourself higher, then rise to fit this valuation.

Be fully committed to getting rich, or it won’t happen.
Adjust your self-image so that you congruently feel that you should and will be rich.
If you subconsciously don’t feel you deserve it, you’ll sabotage your pursuit.
But if you truly feel you deserve it, you’ll do whatever it takes.
So adjust your self-image first.

If you aim to be comfortable, you won’t get rich.
But if you aim to be rich, you’ll also be comfortable.

The world needs more boldness.
Refuse the comfortable addiction of a steady paycheck.
Boldly jump on opportunities.

A recognized brand can charge a premium price, earning more than unrecognized names.

Instead of thinking of customers as leading to a sale, think of each sale as leading to a life-long relationship with a customer.

Use other people’s ideas.
Ideas are worth almost nothing.
Execution is everything.
The world is filled with ideas, yet so few take action and make them happen.
Better to be filled with action than ideas.

Best of all to be the owner.
Own and control 100% of whatever you create.

Avoid difficult business problems.
Your time is more profitably spent doing what comes easily to you.

Avoid competition.
Never be another contender in the crowd, fighting for scraps.
It doesn’t pay to do something anyone can do.
Be separate — in a category of your own.
Invent something completely new.
Invent for a very small niche of people who need something that doesn’t exist.
Instead of making a key, then looking for a lock, find something locked, then make its key.

Once your business is successful, stay paranoid.
Technology is improving faster, so a successful business model doesn’t last as long as it used to.
You’ll be disrupted by others if you don’t keep improving or disrupting yourself.

As soon as you have extra money, invest it.
Investing is counter-intuitive.
You need to ignore your gut and heart.
Follow dispassionate reason.
Be disciplined, not clever.
It’s a matter of math, not mood.
Emotions are the enemy of investing.

Be humble, not arrogant.
Never think for one second that you know the future.
Remind yourself over and over again that nobody knows the future.
Ignore anyone that says they do.

The less you buy, the more you’re in control.
Forget lifestyle.
Forget yourself.

Stay 100% focused on creating value.
Everything else is a corrupting distraction.

Don’t loan money to a friend, or you’ll lose your money and your friend.
You’d be better off just giving them the money.
The return is the same ($0), but you’d skip the bad feelings.

When you win a game, you stop playing.
Don’t be the dragon in the mountain, just sitting on your gold.
Don’t lose momentum in life.
Once you’ve done it, take it with you and do something else.

Reinvent yourself regularly

Putting a label on a person is like putting a label on the water in a river.
It’s ignoring the flow of time.
You’re an ongoing event — a daily improvisation — responding to the situation of the moment.
Your past is not your future.

Whatever happened before has nothing at all to do with what happens next.
There is no consistency.
Nothing is congruent.
Never believe a story.

Your past self needs to step down, like a previous president, to let the new you run the show.
Doing what you’ve always done is bad for your brain.
If you don’t change, you’ll age faster and get stuck.

The way to live is to regularly reinvent yourself.
Every year or two, change your job and move somewhere new.
Change the way you eat, look, and talk.
Change your preferences, opinions, and usual responses.
Try the opposite of before.

Get your security not from being an anchor, but from being able to ride the waves of change.

Every reinvention is the beginning, which is the most exciting time.
Like a promise, just given.


If you are apathetic about or against something, learn more about it.
Actively listen to people.
When they’re succinct, ask them to elaborate.
People aren’t used to someone being sincerely interested, so they’ll need some coaxing to continue.
But never try to fix them.
When someone tells you what’s broken, they want you to love the brokenness, not try to eliminate it.

Break down the walls that separate you from others and prevent real connections.
Take off your sunglasses.
Don’t text when you should talk.
Avoid habitual comebacks and clichés.

Admit what you’re really feeling, even when it’s uncomfortable.
Keep communicating instead of shutting down.

We think walls protect us from enemies, but walls are what create enemies in the first place.

The hardest part of connecting with someone is being honest.
If you say what you think someone wants to hear, you’re preventing a real connection.
Manners are shallow.
Always tell the real truth, or they’ll never know the real you, so you’ll never really feel loved.

Don’t downplay.
If you downplay your achievements to make someone else comfortable, you’re preventing connection with that person and even with yourself.
Just be honest.
If you’ve done something great, say so.
If you’re not doing well, say so.

You could live with others, pleasing only them.
You could live in solitude, pleasing only yourself.
But ideally, when with others, be the same person you’d be when alone.

Notice how you feel around people.
Notice who brings out the best in you.
Notice who makes you feel more connected with yourself — more open and more honest.

On marriage

Between any two people is a third thing: the relationship itself.
Actively nurture it.
If you improve it, it will improve you.

It’s easy to love someone’s best qualities, but it’s work to love their flaws.
Don’t try to change someone, or teach them a lesson, unless they ask you to.

When one of you is being childish, the other needs to be the adult.
Like a dance, you can’t both dip at the same time.
One of you has to stay upright to keep the other from collapsing.

Don’t make a life-long commitment based on an emotional state.
It’s illegal to sign contracts when drunk, so you shouldn’t sign a marriage contract when drunk on infatuation.

On parenthood

You don’t love someone to shape their future.
You don’t judge your friendships by how successful your friend becomes
So don’t love and judge your children that way.
Don’t try to change them
Just give them a great environment where they can thrive.
Give them the safety to experiment, make mistakes, and fail up.


The most valuable real estate in the world is the graveyard.
There lie millions of half-written books, ideas never launched, and talents never developed.
Most people die with everything still inside of them.

Calling yourself creative doesn’t make it true.
All that matters is what you’ve launched.
Make finishing your top priority.

Don’t wait for inspiration.
Inspiration will never make the first move.
She comes only when you’ve shown you don’t need her.
Do your work every day, no matter what.

It’s better to create something bad than nothing at all.
You can improve something bad.
You can’t improve nothing.

Never think you need to be normal or perfect.
Flawless people don’t need to make art.

Imitate your heroes.
It’s not copying because it won’t be the same.
Your imitation of anything will be unrecognizably warped by your own twisted perspective.

The public comments won’t affect you, since they will be about your past work.

Like your bedroom, your work space needs to be private.
This is where you dream and get naked.

There are no unknown geniuses.

People don’t value what’s free.
Charge for their sake as much as yours.
Charge even if you don’t need the money.

(Have a side job)
Something effortless that covers your bills.
Something you can do a few hours per day, but otherwise not think about.
It gives discipline and regularity to your life.
It gives deadlines and freedom to your art.

Don’t die

The winner is usually the one who makes the least mistakes.
This is true in investing, extreme skiing, business, flying, and many other fields.
Win by not losing.

But a lack of negatives is harder to talk about.
So people focus on having the upsides in life.
Instead, focus on avoiding the downsides.

Make a million mistakes

Try absolutely everything, all the time, expecting everything to fail.
Just make sure that you capture the lessons from each experience.

Writers say you should quickly finish a bad first draft, because it gets the idea out of your head and into reality, where it can then be improved.

Learn by hands-on experience.
The more mistakes you make, the faster you learn.
Once you’ve made all the mistakes in a field, you’re considered an expert… only really learn when you’re surprised — when your previous idea of something was wrong.

If you’re prepared for endless failures, you’ll never think of yourself as a failure.
There’s only one difference between a successful person and a failure.
A failure quits, which concludes the story, and earns the title.

If you aim for what you know you can do, you’re aiming too low.

Share your stories from all your mistakes for the benefit of the world.
Every plane crash makes the next one less likely.

Make change

But all progress comes from those who ignore the boundaries, break the rules, or make a whole new game.

Every time you hear a song, watch a show, or read an idea, think of how you’d change it or combine it with something else.

Balance everything

Imagine the different aspects of your life as the spokes in a wheel: health, wealth, intellectual, emotional, spiritual, or however you divide it.
If any of these are lacking, it makes a lopsided, wobbly wheel, causing you to crash.
But if you keep the parts of your life balanced, your wheel is round, and you can roll easily.

Instead of ignoring one, make sure you balance them.
Balance time with others and time alone.

Someone who’s rich but fat has different needs than someone who’s fit but broke.

On scheduling

Schedule everything to ensure balance of your time and effort.
Scheduling prevents procrastination, distraction, and obsession.
A schedule makes you act according to the goals of your highest self, not your passing mood.
Schedule quality time with dear friends.
Schedule preventative health checkups.
Schedule focused time to learn.
Schedule each aspect of your life, ignoring none.
List what makes you happy and fulfilled, then schedule those things into your year.

The balanced schedule protects you from hurting yourself, from getting overwhelmed and ignoring important needs.

You won’t over-work, over-play, or over-indulge.

Even creative work needs scheduling.
The greatest writers and artists didn’t wait for inspiration.
They kept a strict daily schedule for creating their art.

A routine triggers inspiration because your mind and body learn that ideas emerge at that time.
The world’s greatest achievements were squeezed into existence by deadlines.

Obey your schedule, no matter how you feel.
Schedule every hour of your day.
Distraction steals what’s not locked down.

By balancing everything in your life, you postpone nothing.
You won’t postpone happiness, dreams, love, or expression.