This post is inspired by a comment on my article about the 10 best self help books ever. Thanks to reader Suhel I’m discussing the topic of how to read books. He wrote:

I really want some tips (why not you write an article?) about how to read well and grasp things. Like how do you read?

It’s strange. It never occurred to me that „How to Read Books“ is a problem. But thinking about it, it makes total sense. Remembering back when I was studying, yeah… there were times when getting the knowledge in and remember it seemed to be very hard. Something has changed…

I personally love learning new things. Well thinking about it, that’s not entirely true. I love learning relevant new things. Having to learn irrelevant knowledge (as in my university) is not only boring and a waste of time, it almost feels like torture. Which brings me to the first and basic question for understanding anything:

1. What’s Your Motivation to Read Books?

Why do you read this book? Or since information can be delivered in all kind of forms today, why do you consume that information?

I personally want to solve a problem when I grab a book from the shelf or from Amazon. I’m looking for a certain insight which solves my very personal problem. And by solving it, I know I will grow and profit from the solution. I think that’s a fantastic motivation. A motivation which helps tremendously to really dive into new ideas, select which make the most sense and suck them in. What it does is the following:

2. Only Take What is Good for You, Leave the Rest

If you have your own motivation for picking up new knowledge (improve yourself, learn to earn more, successpassion, whatever…) you are on the hunt. You are on the hunt for what actually helps you. The one idea, the one inspiration, the one new bit of information that takes you forward.

Don’t consume passively. While you read (or listen or watch) think how what you read relates to your current knowledge. Take a critical stand with what you read and question the new knowledge against your own beliefs and knowledge. Doing so, you work with the new knowledge and improve your mindset, while avoiding to add knowledge that did not pass your internal questioning (and therefore may not be right for you at the moment).

3. How to Understand

This sounds a bit funny, but it is not. Really understanding on a deeper level actually is not easy. To understand something or someone (the author) you have to be open. To a certain degree you have to „empty your cup“ sometimes (see the Zen story „A Cup of Tea“), to allow new knowledge come in without you judging it too soon. You have to get rid of the stereotypes in your head, shake of the social conditioning and think independently for yourself.

Really good knowledge has the power to transform you, to make you grow. And even if you only read it, it will influence you. But you have to be open and really understand it, so it can become part of yourself.

4. Integrate What You’ve Learned into Your Life

Reading and Understanding is one thing. Actually using and integrating something new into your life is another. This is where your initial motivation from point 1. comes in. You had a special thing to solve, a problem why you stated the book in the first place. Now that you read it, use this knowledge to solve the problem.

Sometimes these changes can be subtle. Reading good books influences your state of mind in the background. This can be an application of new knowledge as well. Test, watch the results you are getting and decide if you want to keep the new stuff.

5. Review The Books You Read

I found that one of the best ways to internalize knowledge you read in books is to write your own review of the book. Reflecting on what you just have learned is a great way to deepen it. I wrote reviews on The Power of Now, 7 Habits and The Art of Happiness and many more in my personal journal. While you’re reviewing you will write a summary of the knowledge presented which helps you to really get it. The saying „you only really have understood something if you can teach it someone else“ is true.

6. How to Plan to Read: The Feed Your Mind List

You could also call the habit of reading books to feed your mind. I always liked that phrase. It expresses that in the same way as you put food in your mouth you have to continuously put something good into your mind.

What I do every year is to create a Feed Your Mind List. This is a list of all the books I want to read over the next year. They are divided into categories, so I may have books for personal development, spirituality, relationships, business, money, health and maybe something just for fun like travel. But I’m conscious about selecting different categories and not only focus on one. It helps to stay balanced.

I write these at the top of my yearly personal journal, just below my goals for the year. When I’m finished with one book, I’m reviewing it for myself in my journal. I think feeding your mind is a cool habit to build and it makes sure that at anytime, you are always reading a great book.

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