Intellectual Learning

7 Steps To Turn Your Reading Into Results

readingWe spend a great deal of our time reading. And the more committed we are to personal growth, the more we want to learn and, therefore, the more we are likely to want to read.

Sadly, the growth in our reading pile doesn’t necessarily reflect the personal growth we experience. It seems that a lot of time and effort is spent reading, without experiencing any lasting results. And we assume that we’re simply not reading enough.

But the truth is, the problem isn’t lack of reading, but lack of effective reading.

These 7 steps will help you gain more out of what you read.

Step 1 – Shift Your Focus

Imagine all your reading material to your left. All the physical books, journals, and magazines you want to read; your Kindle device loaded with your Amazon purchases, your laptop with the rest of your digital library, and the Library of Congress, if you happen to be that ambitious.

And imagine your life to your right. Your kids playing in the yard, you working at your desk, your spouse reading a novel, etc.

What many of us do is face the reading pile on the left, and see life as a distraction from our reading. Your children want your attention, your spouse wants your love, your business wants your commitment, etc.

“How the hell am I supposed to get all my reading done when this stupid life thing is getting in the way!?”

Reading feels like an obligation, and a pretty heavy one at that. There’s too much to read, and not enough time to read it.

And the more we discover we need to read, the less reading we get done.

The first step you need to take is to shift your focus from reading to living.

Turn to your life on your right and ask yourself: What do I need to read about to improve my life?

You don’t live to read more. You read to live better.

Focus on the results you want and the life you want to live, not the books you have to read.

Step 2 – Pick What’s Relevant

Not everything you want to read is applicable to your life. At least, not right now.

You don’t want to read a step-by-step guide on writing a business plan if you’re not thinking of starting your own business this year. You might want to pick out a book on the feasibility and advantages of starting a business, because that’s more relevant to where you are.

By reading what’s relevant, you’ll have better retention, and can apply what you read in your life to get the results you’re after!

Not rocket science, I know.

But how many of us take relevance into consideration? We’ve been brainwashed to think that knowledge is power, and so we seek to acquire it without being selective about what knowledge to acquire. In fact, we often let others decide what we should be reading (usually what they’re selling), and don’t stop to consider if it’s the best thing for us to read or not, given our own lives, and not their bank accounts or traffic ratings.

Look to your life on the right and ask yourself: What areas of my life are in desperate need of my attention? What problems need urgent solutions? What can I read to help me address them?

Now look through your reading pile and see what you can pick out from there. If nothing matches your needs from your reading pile, look elsewhere. Just because you already have those books doesn’t mean they’re more important than what’s relevant.

Relevance trumps convenience.

I would encourage you to consider 3 factors when picking out what’s relevant:

  1. The elephant in the room: If you’re facing a serious problem in your life, it will need your attention more than any other topic. Don’t ignore it and hope the elephant will graciously leave the room. It might cause a lot of damage on its way out.
  2. Your comprehension level: If you’re clueless about a subject, it might be more helpful to read a Dummies guide than an expert’s manual. You don’t want to feel lost while reading. Otherwise, you could lose your motivation to continue reading, or your confidence in getting the results you want. Read the stuff that makes you feel confident, not confused.
  3. Life balance: Focusing on improving a single life area won’t serve you well in life… or in that life area. Every area of your life impacts every other area, which is why I encourage people to take all life areas into consideration. I identify our life areas as: Spiritual, Intellectual, Psychological, Social, Professional, Recreational, and Physical. You want to make progress in each and every life area.

After picking out the most relevant reading material for yourself, you can ignore the rest (for now).

Step 3 – Find Alternatives To Reading

Now that you know what’s relevant to your life, consider ways of acquiring the same information, but without having to do any reading (your focus should be on the results you want, remember?).

What if you can listen to a book, rather than read it? That way, you get to go through the same content, but at times where you won’t be able to read (while driving, for example).

How about meeting up with an expert on the subject, or having a Skype conversation with a friend?

You could get someone else to summarize the book for you, or find videos that deal with the topic you want to learn more about.

Whatever the alternative might be, since you’re after the results, you can find one that’s more appropriate for you than reading, and offers advantages over reading.

Step 4 – Take Notes While You Read

This step is at the heart of the reading process. Taking effective notes will help you make the most out of what you read. Some people highlight sentences, or leave one-word notes in the margins. But how are they going to use them? And – more importantly – what for?

I need your undivided attention here.

This is an extremely important practice for you to get acquainted with, and it tackles the reason why we don’t get much out of what we read.

The first principle to effective note-taking is: Separate the theory from the action steps.

Not all information is created equally, or can be used in the same way. You need to divide information in a way that reflects how you’ll be using it.

Some of what you read influences your understanding, and some asks you to take action. Lumping the two together under the same list of notes means that you’ll read what you should be doing, when you should be doing what you’re reading. You shouldn’t read an exercise. You should do it. Maybe not while you’re reading through the book, but certainly afterwards.

Summarize the key ideas of what you read, and keep a separate list of the things you will do after reading.

And in case you’re wondering: nodding in agreement isn’t an action, which might help explain why we don’t usually get the results we want. 😉

Step 5 – Write Down Your Own Thoughts

One of the most common misconceptions about reading is that it’s a passive process, where you simply take in the information presented to you.

You might get ideas that are unrelated to what you’re reading.

You could strongly disagree with what you read, and end up making notes that suggest a completely different approach to the one being recommended by the author.

You might also find yourself building on what you read, or filling the gaps that haven’t been covered.

Your mind is active while reading. Don’t overlook its wisdom simply because you want the information being presented to you. You’ll be surprised by how much you already know, and what great insights you can come up with!

Step 6 – Put Your Reading into Practice

Now that you have a to-do list, you know what to do after reading. If you don’t go through the to do list, and get the tasks done, then it’s very unlikely that you’ll experience any results from your reading. In other words, what you have read hasn’t contributed to your life, or helped you improve it.

It’s essential that you are keen on getting results, and not simply going through the mechanics of reading, without generating an output. But reading is only part of the process. Doing is the next phase we need to go through to achieve our goals, and experience personal growth.

This may sting a bit, but it’s important for you to acknowledge: Many of us use reading as an excuse to avoid doing. It’s a distraction we can convince ourselves is essential and productive, but remains a distraction, nevertheless. If you have to confront your partner about an issue, then confront your partner. Don’t read more and more books about how to improve your relationship, so that you can put off the confrontation.

If you want results in your life, you will have to put the books down at one point, and do what they ask you to do, or what you know you should do.

Step 7 – Evaluate What You Read… and How You Read

To improve your approach to reading and, therefore, the results you can get out of reading, it’s important to evaluate the quality of what you read, and how your approach can be improved.

Did a writer get you feeling motivated while reading, but failed in helping you sustain that feeling in your life?

Why did that happen? Did you not follow his advice properly, or was it impractical?

Is there a writer with a style that resonates with you, and can get you to apply his advice with ease?

Be aware of what you find useful in what you read, and what you find ineffective.

You may realize that you’re taking too many notes, or not enough notes, or don’t understand the notes you take when you look back at them.

Use these observations to guide what you read, and how you read.

With these 7 steps, you can increase the chances of getting more out of what you read, without feeling guilty for not having read everything you can get your hands on.

If there are more steps or guidelines you can share that have helped you get more results out of what you read, then I’d love to hear from you!

Please share your thoughts in the comments section. 🙂

Photo credit: striatic

Intellectual Parenting

Why It’s Wrong To Obsess Over The Right Answer


“I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.”
~ Mark Twain

Parents and teachers often have the greatest of intentions and genuine concern for their children’s well-being and education, but it is all too common for educators to take the wrong approach to education, which impedes learning rather than facilitate it.

Many of us carry psychological scars as a result of our schooling, which continue to our adulthood, without us ever consciously addressing these scars. We have come to accept that learning is difficult and is taxing on the brain, without realizing why that is.

One of the worst mistakes educators commit is obsessing over the right answer, rather than encourage independent thinking.

This isn’t to say that any answer is equally valid to any other, or that we all have unique answers based on unique perspectives. In many issues, there is a right answer and a heap of wrong answers.

But that’s not the point.

The point is, as human beings, we need to know how to use our brains for thinking, in the same way we learn how to use our legs for walking.

Being told to memorize answers, without knowing why they’re true, bypasses the thinking process, and sees the human brain as a storage house, with no cognitive apparatus that acts on and analyzes the information it stores.

But the human brain is a marvelous computer, not a hard drive.

It is crucial that we feel comfortable thinking for ourselves, without being afraid of making mistakes every now and then. And the more we refine our thinking, the fewer mistakes we are likely to make. In the same way an infant struggles to walk at first, and constantly falters during his initial attempts, then walks more and more steadily as he learns how to use his legs and body, we need to go through a similar learning process when it comes to the use of our rational faculty.

This learning should have come at an early age, but well-meaning educators were too concerned with filling our brains with information rather than encourage us to develop our own thinking.

It is impossible to develop understanding without knowing how to think. We can memorize information without too much mental processing. But understanding involves connecting bits of information together, and looking for consistency between them to form a bigger picture from all the smaller pieces. That involves thinking.

Understanding is an essential component to healthy living. It helps us make sense of daily events and allows us to reach conclusions based on the knowledge we already possess, thereby expanding our knowledge through mental effort. Trying to hold disconnected factoids about the world in our brains can become too taxing for our memory recall. Understanding helps us make our way from one piece of information to another, based on the connections that link them together and the context they share.

I usually don’t ask my students for the right answer. I ask them for an answer (any answer that conveys their understanding), and base my explanation on what they already understand (or what they have misunderstood). That way I respect their own thinking, but offer them guidance on where they went wrong and how they can reach the right answer. Some students feel too embarrassed to reveal their ignorance, or to give a wrong answer (a sign of bad education), and opt for a shrug of the shoulders or a blank: “I don’t know.”

Learning involves a great deal of mistakes, and there’s no reason to feel guilty or bad about making intellectual errors. We don’t learn by hiding our ignorance. We learn by revealing what we know, and being open to opportunities to improve our thinking. We should also encourage our children to think for themselves, rather than snap at them whenever they say something nonsensical.

For example, if your child came to you and said: “Pigs can fly!”

It’s not wise to reply: “You idiot! What made you think they can fly? Pigs can’t fly!”

A better approach would be to encourage your child to think for himself by asking thought-provoking questions and offering facts for him to consider: “How can pigs fly? They don’t have wings.”

If your child says: “They can use a rocket!” then his initial statement was right, and there’s no need to undermine his creative thinking process. That’s a mark of intelligence, not wild imagination, because he considered an alternative way to flying that doesn’t involve wings!

It’s this kind of thinking that should be encouraged by educators, and exercised by children and adults alike.

Photo credit: jurvetson


Life Goals and Learning Curves

We are often told that with the right attitude we can achieve anything. If we believe in ourselves, the sky is the limit.

But while attitude and mindset play a crucial role in achieving our life goals, most goals are just not a walk in the park. They require some effort to climb uphill and cross a learning curve.

To simply ignore the fact that you don’t already know everything there is to know to reach your goal means you’ll be running around in circles wondering why you’re not making any progress. And the reason why you’re not making any progress is that you’re refusing to go in the direction where the learning curve is. You can’t see your goal and can’t find a way to get there because you have to go past the learning curve to get to your goal.

No climbing, no success.

Knowledge & Skills

When I talk about learning curves, I’m usually referring to two kinds of curves:

1) Learning something new

2) Developing a new skill

You can memorize what a keyboard looks like. That’s knowledge. But fast typing is a skill. You need both knowledge and skill to reach your goals. Both require practice. The more you learn, the easier it is to learn more.

What knowledge you need to acquire and what skills you need to develop depends on the goal you’re pursuing.

But what matters is acknowledging that you need to pass the learning curve to get to your goal.

Admit That You Don’t Know

One of the main reasons why we struggle to reach our goals is the refusal to admit when we don’t know. We find it offensive to say that we’re ignorant. It’s demeaning. It expresses a lack, when we should be singing our own praises and repeating positive mantras.

But if you’re unwilling to admit that you don’t know, you’ll never have the courage to face your learning curves. You will struggle to make sense of an incline when you’re expecting a flat surface. But rather than admit that the ground isn’t flat, you try to motivate yourself to believe that it is!

That’s not dedication. That’s delusion.

Learning curves can only be passed by learning something new. Admitting that you don’t know isn’t an insult. It’s a fact, and one you should embrace wholeheartedly.

Let people know you’re struggling to understand a concept. Ask for support. Seek out recommendations. Read up on the basics of a new subject, without thinking that it’s below you to admit that you’re a novice. You are, so act the part. You can only climb a learning curve if you know where you stand along the curve.

And remember:

Before you know, you don’t.

Before you can, you can’t.

At least that’s what Nature seems to tell us.


Rationality and His Evil Twin

Rationality is a celebrity, adored and respected by many. Known for his wise counsel, sound arguments and fair judgment.

But not everyone knows the dark family secret of Rationality, which many dare not think about, let alone mention.

Since I know the secret, I find it necessary to reveal it to my readers, so that they are no longer fooled by this ongoing deception.

Rationality has a twin brother. An evil twin brother.

What’s more, the evil one often pretends to be his good-natured brother, and takes advantage of his brother’s prestige for his own wicked plans.

The evil twin is known as Rationalization.

The twins are identical. They look the same and sound the same.

They are both logical. They are both consistent in their arguments.

But while Rationality upholds truth, Rationalization finds consistency in falsehood.

Rationality ensures that every statement is factual, whereas Rationalization often relies on assumptions.

Rationality respects evidence, but Rationalization values opinions.

Rationality uses reality as his guide, but Rationalization selects from reality that which serves his purposes.

Rationality judges ideas according to Reality, whereas Rationalization judges Reality according to his beliefs.

The twins sound the same, but their arguments are worlds apart.

Rationality equips Man with the right understanding of Reality to ensure his happiness, but Rationalization makes Man’s ignorance sound reasonable. What made this possible is the trust Rationality has built for himself, and the many accomplishments he helped Man achieve.

When Rationalization spoke, people thought it was Rationality, the brother they were fond of. Not knowing that Rationality had an evil twin that was sabotaging the good he worked tirelessly to establish.

And now, when Rationalization is to be condemned for the false arguments he has presented, his brother is taking the blame and losing his credibility and hard-earned reputation.

Which is why it’s important to know that the evil twin exists, and that we must not judge Rationality for the crimes Rationalization has committed in his name.

What conforms to reality is the work of Rationality. What doesn’t is the work of Rationalization.

What’s based on facts – and only facts – and never uses fallacious reasoning is the argument of Rationality. What mixes fact and fiction and fallacy is the concoction of Rationalization.

Whenever you use any logical argument, ask yourself:

Whose work is it: Rationality or Rationalization?


Increase Your Learning Capacity

Our capacity to learn is not determined by our intelligence as much as it is determined but our attitude towards learning and our impression of how much we know.

Oddly enough, the more we think we know, the lower our capacity to learn is.

Why is that the case?

Because when we focus our attention on what we know, we do not seek to acquire new information. This can be especially deadly when we begin assuming that we already know everything about the world and about the topics we commonly read about. We can even assume that we already know what others believe and think that we fully understand their points of view.

We then stop listening, and content ourselves with what we already know, even though we may have misunderstood the beliefs of others, or we can learn more from them.

Advances in science have only been possible by the willingness of scientists to explore further and to reconsider their current understanding of the world.

Learning and The Glass Analogy

When it comes to learning, it is better to see the glass as being half empty than being half full. That way, we will seek to fill the empty half rather than be pleased and contented with the full half.

If we want to learn more, we should never be contented with what we already know.

Sadly, it’s very easy to imagine the cup as being full while overlooking the fact that it is half empty. This is when what we know contributes to our ignorance more than our own ignorance!

How Big Is the Container?

If we truly want to increase our capacity to learn, we must imagine our learning capacity to be a massive container that can be filled with a great deal of knowledge that we have yet to acquire. This will lead us to observe more, become better listeners, ask more questions and be open to take in more information than we would if we think that we already know everything.

“The doorstep to the temple of wisdom is a knowledge of our own ignorance.”
C. H. (Charles Haddon) Spurgeon