How To Read Books For Maximum Retention & Learning
When I grew up, it wasn’t cool to read. These days, every coffee shop is packed with folks that are reading a book while sipping on a latte.
That’s a great shift. I’m also reading more books than ever. But here’s the thing: It’s not about how many books you read, it’s about how much you retain from what you read.
Most people I talk to don’t have a reading strategy. They just pick up something and start reading. I used to be like that. But now, that’s unthinkable to me. Sure, you might read a novel for entertainment.
But think about it; why do you even read a non-fiction book in the first place? Exactly, you want to get something out of it. You want to learn things that you can apply in your life to grow. That’s the whole point.
I’m often asked: “How do you remember information you read in books?” In this post, I’ll explain my system.
1. Have A Purpose
Before I even think about which books I’m going to read, I think about what I’m trying to achieve. I strongly believe that the content of books should align with what’s going on in your life. I’ll give you an example.
When I met one of my mentors in 2011, he recommended me to read Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. I listened to his advice and bought the book. I also started reading it. But I didn’t connect with the content at the time. Does that mean Flow is a bad book? No. In fact, I read it a while back and really loved it.It’s the best book on working habits that I’ve read.
But back in 2011, that kind of stuff wasn’t on my mind. I had just finished my degree and started a business. I was hustling like a moron and only thinking about growing our business. That’s why you need a purpose to read.
What’s going on in your life? Are you building a business? Going through a divorce? Looking for a job? Trying to take the next step in your career? Do you want to get more things done?
Only read books that teach you how to overcome your current challenges.
2. See Yourself As A Teacher
Knowledge is only good if you apply it, right? But here’s one thing a lot of people don’t consider: Sharing knowledge is a great application. You might not be a teacher, but if you act like one, you’re already applying knowledge. All it takes is a mindset shift.
Don’t just ‘read’ a book. No, devour a book and talk about it with others.
Say to yourself: “I must focus on the book at hand because I’m going to share everything I learned with others. I better know my shit.”
3. Highlight & Make Mental Connections
The more connections you make between pieces of information in your brain, the better you remember it. I do that by making a lot of notes.
If you think books are sacred and shouldn’t be highlighted and written on, you will never retain a lot from books. Making notes, folding pages, and highlighting text is simple and practical.
That’s why I always keep a highlighter and pen with me. If you read digitally, you only need your finger — just don’t forget to highlight interesting passages.
Here are some other tips that help me to make better connections between information:
- I have a separate “Book Notes” folder in my note-taking app.
- When I highlight something very important, I take a picture of that page and upload it to my Book Notes.
- Then, I immediately write WHY it’s important and how I can use it.
I use this process because I often highlight things, and when I look back, I think: “Why did I highlight this?”
So always write down why you highlighted something. You don’t have to do it for every highlight. Just do it for sections that you immediately have an application for. I often write down how I can use a piece of advice in my business. And when I get an idea for an article, I think of a title and attach a picture of the text that I highlighted.
4. Visualize & Imagine
Another great way to make connections in your mind is by visualizing what you’re learning. We’re visual learners, and our memories are also visual.
What I like to do when I read is to have imaginary conversations about the stuff that I’m reading. I imagine myself sitting together with a friend and talking about the subject. Or, when I read a piece of useful advice, I visualize myself actually doing that thing.
I remember vividly when I read How To Win Friends And Influence People by Dale Carnegie for the first time. One of the pieces of advice Carnegie gives, is to become genuinely interested in people.
So I visualized myself having a conversation with a stranger and being genuinely interested in what that person had to say. When you visualize something, it’s almost like the real thing.
Visualization is also a common self-improvement tool that’s been used many top-performers. Recently retired NBA-player Paul Pierce once explained how he uses it before a game:
“I probably visualize myself, the shots I’m going to get in the game, how I’m going to play defense, what we have to do to stop the other team’s best player, what it’s going to take out of me, the whole aspect of the game.”
5. Immediately Apply One Piece Of New Knowledge
Look at your life. Ask yourself: How can I grow? That can be personally, financially or spiritually.
Understand that growth doesn’t happen by itself. Learning new skills, earning more money, having a great relationship — it all takes hard work.
But you can make that growth a lot easier if you apply the things you learn in books.
Remember: Knowledge alone is completely useless.
There’s nothing sadder than a well-read person who holds himself captive by the four walls of his room. You must go out there and apply things you learn.
Once you do that, you will grow. No doubt about it. So always ask yourself this after you finish a book:
“What’s the one thing I’m going to apply after reading this book?”
You see, it’s about what you do with your knowledge, not about how much you have. Don’t read more. Read smarter.
Also, apply this strategy to everything you read. Even something little like this article. So let’s do a little exercise to close this off:
What’s the one thing you’re going to apply after reading this article?
Answer (and visualize) that, and I’ll bet you’ll retain more from this article than any other thing you’ve read today.