Choose to fish, not to be fed fish.

The kind of questions a person asks can tell you a lot about their intelligence.

Perhaps the most defining trait of smart people is that they want to learn the principles, the fundamental ideas behind something more than the specifics.

They can work out the specifics for themselves once they get the concepts.

I use the word “principle” here to mean “concepts” and not moral values.

Concepts are nothing but the ideas that are the underlying rationale for doing something.

Principles are probably the most important thing in any endeavor.

There are quite a few ways to go wrong with principles.

It might be simply not having any principles, or having unsound principles you’ve never thought through but simply copied off someone, or having principles but not using them.


I might be wrong or condescending, but I get the impression that too many people operate without any principles at all.

I’d guess it’s because having principles is a lot of work.

You have to think about what you’re doing, whether it’s likely to work, and why it will or won’t.

We’re lucky that we don’t have to solve every problem from scratch though.

Any path you take, there are always plenty of people who’ve already forged the path by doing great work.

There’s nothing wrong in analyzing their principles.

In fact, it’d be stupid not to learn from them, for you’ll grind simply to re-invent what they’ve done.

Newton himself “saw farther because he stood on the shoulder of giants”.

Even then, it’s not as simple as reading a book or listening to a talk where someone shares their principles.

It always comes down to intellectual effort – a principle is worthless if you don’t own it. If you don’t make it your own.

Ownership involves thinking and reasoning it out.

This makes sense because…”

It takes a lot of time and effort to develop ownership and come up with your own principles.

You know you’ve got a principle when you begin to see the idea, and more importantly, to use it, everywhere.

That’s the nature of principles; core foundational ideas that you apply to different situations.

They’re like Lego pieces; you build different structures at different times, but you use the same underlying pieces.

And if you really understand something, you can apply it nearly anywhere.

Mathematics, economics, physics, chemistry, biology, computer science – all of these have powerful ideas you can use everyday, and they’re mostly intuitive, almost common sense (Farnam Street’s The Great Mental Models has a list of these).

Learn Principles

If I have to learn something, I’d much rather it be a principle or concept than a random fact.

So I would recommend – if you have to ask something, try to understand the principles instead of the specifics.

That’s how you learn to learn – instead of memorizing a solution to a specific problem, learn the idea behind the solution, and you can apply it anywhere you want.

If you’re learning weightlifting, it’s better to learn how to select exercises – to understand what you should look for – than to ask if you should do a particular exercise. You can figure out what exercises to do yourself then.

If you’re preparing for an exam, it’s better to understand how you should prepare, instead of asking if you should read a specific book. You can figure out what books to read yourself then.

A principle is modular and therefore scalable – and thus powerful. You can use it anywhere.

Learn the principles and you can figure out the specifics yourself and find your own way.

Learn how to exercise and you can come up with your own routines; learn how to study and you can come up with your own book list.

It’s nothing but the idea of teaching someone to fish, rather than giving them fish.

Unfortunately, it seems like too many people would rather be fed fish than learning how to fish themselves.



From my experience, it is from the interplay of principles/concepts that real growth happens. A few weeks back you wrote a post on compound interest. I have been familiar with this concept for a long time intellectually but was not able to use it in real life. But When I applied it to the short-term vs long-term gratification concept, I got it all.

Earlier I used to think that sacrificing happiness/pleasure now will increase happiness/pleasure at some point in the future, but that’s now how it works.
When you exercise the health benefits are for life from that day onward, it’s not that you will be healthy in the future, but you are more healthy for the rest of your life unless you do activities that are detrimental to your health. Similarly, when you study, you can use those concepts/understanding for the rest of your life in many things.

So if you are watching a movie or playing a video game for let’s say 1 hour, you have not simply wasted 1 hour but you have also missed out on the compound interest of a lifetime from useful activity.

I did not intend to say that watching movies or playing video games is bad, in fact, I had more personal growth from a video game than from hundreds of books I have read but it’s better to know the real consequences and not perceived consequences.

Another example, knowing that your body needs around 8 hours of sleep is not enough, If you combine it with circadian rhythm, melatonin, that’s when you get the real deal.

Another example, While reading “beyond human”, the more I understood the initial chapters, the more I was able to understand the latter chapters which in turn made me understand the initial chapters better and so on. Though the chapters were on different topics, they are very much dependent on one another.

Sweta Tripathi

Everywhere we see this especially on social media where people keep on reading quotes which are based on “The principles of Bhagavad Gita,Dhamapada and many great philosophers” instead of reading such books people just scroll down into those pages to feel better which they can never because without knowing the real meaning one can’t really benefit oneself for too long .But maximum people in this world these days prefer facts rather than concept because that is faster and do not cost much time .Whatsup fake news travel fast why because people do not want to look deeper into what is being served to them they just want to share the fact .
Patience is what we lack these days that’s why no real thing so far being developed even after having so much resources in hand unlike our past heroes.


I tried this principle thing i read a lot because i went for principle rather than asking books.. and because i didnot asked about what book should i read i wasted 3 years in clarifying what book should i read to get a qualifying mark.
I don’t know why it didn’t worked out for me. My people’s say cause i’m dumb.

Sweta Tripathi

You have to be specific about books because so many authors are available in the market and each one claims that they are best sometimes in the name of concept you get unnecessary trash go with the reviews before buying a book and all over work upon your writing skill plus read things which are important sometimes we try to be Emperor but at the end we feel pauper of ideas .

Sweta Tripathi

According to Existentialism philosophy there is no absolute truth in this world , world is futile and in this futile world you have to decide how you can make your life meaningful plus truth is a relative term so is moral . Alcoholic person or junk food addicted person they both know it is not right for them but they still practice it because they love doing it and hence they justify it and giving up is way more harder for them than continuing their job so they go for easy .
Look most of us go for easy things we want but breaking the habit is hard so most people simply justify their failure to justify themselves like some people justify their lack of hardwork when needed by saying that they didn’t get the environment .So they all know they have to work but they fail to detach themselves from their long lived routine that’s why at the end they make themselves feel good by giving excuses.

Same with me I don’t know why I am visiting this page for the third time to read this topic again 😂😂 habit .

Madhav Yagnik

Excellent 👌

Shobhit Raina

Do you know Kamala Harris personally?