Take yourself out of the story

What happens when you take yourself out of the story? This post is inspired by wise words from Naval Ravikant on choiceless awareness – the art of taking yourself out of the story.

All too often, all we have to think about is fear itself.

Be absolutely honest with yourself. Think back through all the thoughts you have had since you awoke this morning. How many of them – to a greater or lesser extent – have some kind of fear at their root?

When you boil it right down, fear underpins so much of what goes on in our minds.

Survival (and therefore evolution) doesn’t happen without fear. Fear for one’s immediate life, of what comes from lack of food, lack of shelter, and so on, in descending order of importance. Fear clarifies threat.

Fear can also distort. Fear can create threat when there is none there. Fear plays a major role in the story playing out in each of our minds about this world, and our place in it. What happens when you take yourself out of that story?

The dream that we’re always in


“What I find is that 90% of thoughts that I have are fear-based. The other 10% are probably desire-based. Any Buddhist will tell you that desire is the other side of the coin to fear.”

This is according to Naval Ravikant, from his 2015 appearance on the Tim Ferriss podcast. Naval is a wise and well-read gent, a deep thinker, and a believer in brutal honesty.

He sometimes attempts to practise choiceless awareness, a form of meditation. Choiceless awareness is all about taking yourself out of the story. Allowing your thoughts to occur to you as they will, but not judging them. Naval says:

“When I’m doing the choiceless awareness form of meditation, I realise that the point of meditation is to clear your mind. You can just very alertly watch your thoughts as they happen. And as you watch them, you realise just how many of them are fear-based.”

All too often, all we have to think about is fear itself. But fear thrives on its own invisibility.

“When you recognise it as fear, without even trying, it goes away. And after a while, your mind quietens. And when it quietens, you stop taking everything around you for granted. You start noticing the details of everything around you. ‘Oh my god, I live in such a beautiful place. It’s so great that I have clothes on me…’ So it sort of pops us out of the story, the dream that we’re always in, the story that we’re constantly telling ourselves. And if you stop talking to yourself for even 10 minutes, or if you stop obsessing over your own story for even 10 minutes, you will realise that we are really far up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs*, and that life is pretty good.”

Today of all days

I  love serendipity. I love that these words found their way to me today of all days.

For a years, I have followed Naval Ravikant on Twitter and found his words wise and thought-provoking. But I can’t remember how or why I first followed him, and until today I never knew who he was or what he did (his gnomic Twitter handle – @naval – and still more gnomic bio (Just the one word: “Present”) offer no clues.

I slept badly last night, and woke up far too early this morning, feeling troubled and physically achey. I decided to go for a long walk in the early hours, to try to clear my mind. Almost at random, I decided to listen to the 2015 episode of the Tim Ferriss podcast with one Naval Ravikant.

I’d heard that it was an exceptional listen. I quickly twigged that this Naval was @naval, and also why he has such an immense Twitter following.

The perfect words will find you exactly when you need them. Naval’s conversation with Ferriss is wide-ranging and profound. I won’t even attempt to list the diversity of topics covered. Naval generously shares very wise words on every subject that comes to his attention.**

Naval’s words transformed what had started as a foggy-minded, C-minus day. As I wandered around the empty early morning streets of my town, rapt in Naval’s words, I took some photographs of things I would normally walk right by. Just one example – a roadside poppy, sprouting from the pavement, thriving against the odds.

At the exact moment I arrived home, Naval’s chat with Ferriss reached the point about choiceless awareness. My heart soared as I realised that this was precisely what I had been practising on this walk, albeit inadvertently.

I hope I can be forgiven for inserting myself into this story I am writing, rather than taking myself out of it.

No goals, no judgement

Further serendipity. Writing these words, the penny has just dropped that my
lovely friend Heather Bussing
described a similar approach to taking oneself out of the story, in a Twitter chat I had with her and Jeena Cho last weekend. I asked Heather how one goes about meditating. Here is Heather’s response:

“Meditation helps me see my thoughts and fears as information and energy. It gives me room to sort what to pay attention to and what to let go. There are many ways to meditate, and all are good. At first, I set a timer for 10 minutes and sat on the couch without doing anything else. Just stayed in one spot without doing, fixing, or running away. Now, I sit longer and focus very lightly on my out breath. My thoughts wander off and, when I notice, I come back to my breath. No goals, no judgement, no intense focus, just some breathing room.”

Take yourself out of the story.

All too often, all we have to think about is fear itself.

But, as a wise gent once said, the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.


* Here’s a tweet that I’ve always loved (via my Twitter friends Sarah Miller and Callum Saunders, setting out and updating Maslow’s hierarchy of needs:

** Just one example of Naval’s wisdom from this podcast. He recommends focusing on the principles of the people behind investment opportunities: “Ethics and integrity are what you do despite the money. If ethics was profitable, everybody would be doing it.”


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