Yuval Harari: ‘I Try to Distinguish Fiction From Reality, and Take Reality as My Guide’
The author of ‘Sapiens’ and ‘Homo Deus’ on meditation and smartphones.
When you have the opportunity to ask some of the most interesting people in the world about their lives, sometimes the most fascinating answers come from the simplest questions. The Thrive Questionnaire is an ongoing series that gives an intimate look inside the lives of some of the world’s most successful people.
Thrive Global: What’s the first thing you do when you get out of bed?
Yuval Harari: Try to get in touch with my body. Just observe my breath, and the sensations throughout my body.
TG: What gives you energy?
YH: I practice Vipassana meditation. I meditate for two hours every day, and once a year I go for a long retreat of 30–60 days meditation.
TG: What’s your secret life hack? (Thing that makes your life easier)
YH: I try to distinguish fiction from reality, and take reality as my guide rather than the most common fictions of society.
TG: Name a book that changed your life.
YH: Rene Descartes’ Discourse on the Method.
TG: Tell us about your relationship with your phone. Does it sleep with you?
YH: I don’t have a smartphone. I sleep with my husband, and he has a smartphone, and that’s close enough for me.
TG: How do you deal with email?
YH: I strive to keep my inbox empty, and take immediate action on every email I get, without letting them pile up. It is most difficult when I get back after a long meditation retreat. But I now have four people helping me with all the emails, so I often just forward the problem to them.
TG: You unexpectedly find 15 minutes in your day, what do you do with it? YH: I haven’t reached a point when 15 minutes of free time is something unexpected that demands some special attitude — and I hope never to reach such a point.
TG: When was the last time you felt burned out and why?
YH: Last year I had a tour in China and Korea, and it was just too hectic. I had a blackout on stage, in front of thousands of Chinese; I almost fainted; and for two days lost my voice. My body was just telling me that enough was enough. It is usually very cooperative, but it knows to draw the line when pushed too far. That’s very good.
TG: When was the last time you felt you failed and how did you overcome it?
YH: I tried to write a children’s version of Sapiens, and it wasn’t very good. It is a totally different world compared with writing for adults, and I just don’t know much about kids. I don’t have any, and have no intention of having. It was disappointing for a while, but everyone has limits. So I ask for help. We are now trying to find a professional children books author who would be willing to take up the challenge.
TG: Share a quote that you love and that gives you strength or peace.
YH: “Observe reality as it is. Not as you imagine it to be, or as you want it to be, but as it is”.
Prof. Yuval Noah Harari lectures at the department of history, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He specializes in world history, and is the author of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind and of Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow.