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How to Remember 10x More from the Books You Read – in 6 Ways

Why read 52 books in a year if you can’t remember a fraction of the lessons from the books? You’ve probably been called out on the need to read more – because readers are leaders and the more you learn, the more you can earn; which are all true. But here’s the thing: it’s not about how many books you read; it’s about how much you retain what’s important.

Like most people, I used to not have a reading strategy. I just stumble on, and read books I found interesting. I later realized this was not the best approach in the long run if you want to get the best from the knowledge you consume.

I’ll share with you 5 things to do to remember 10 times more from the books you read. You don’t need to remember everything, but retaining even a few more from the books you read can make all the difference in your life.

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1. Define your Purpose

Have you ever read a book, though it was good and then moved on? You couldn’t see how the content of the book applies to your present life. Unless you are just reading for leisure, you want to think about what you are trying to achieve before you think of the book to read.

For example, if you want to start a business someday and are not yet confident in your personality, you can start by reading the autobiography of successful entrepreneurs you admire. This will help you see that you are not so different from these people and help grow your confidence.

Then let’s say you don’t have a clue about starting a business with the potential to grow, you can move on to books about how to start a business on lean capital.

If you eventually start a business, you go on with books on how to work with a team. The point is that each stage of your life demands different types of books. If you are single and want to find a life partner, you can focus on reading about this rather than reading about how to raise children. When you read with a purpose, you are more likely to remember what you learn than reading haphazardly. Only read books that teach you how to overcome your current challenges.

2. Be a Teacher

I used to have a reading partner. Every month we’ll choose a book to read. We met to discuss the book at the end of the month. The most important part of our book review was to drill down every book to its most important takeaway. For instance, when we reviewed ‘Why Nations Fail by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson’, after a prolonged discussion, we drilled the message down to this; “politics is the foundation of real change for the people. And you don’t achieve effective change merely from outside activism – a messiah mentally is a dangerous source of change – you achieve change through political structures that are not built on the back of one man but by a group of people united by a common cause.”

When we reviewed, The Coca-Cola Way by Mark Pendergrast, the take away was, “Marketing and collaboration is the most powerful force to build a global brand”. I could easily remember these lessons despite being a long time ago because I discussed the book with someone after reading it.

You learn more about a subject when you try to teach it to someone else. And you remember more of what you teach than just what you read. Read each book as though you are preparing to teach what you learn. And actually try to teach someone.

3. Highlight and Make Notes

Books should be personal possessions, which is why it’s good practice to have your own personal library. Getting your own copy of the books you read gives you the liberty to highlight, comment, fold pages and make notes on it. If you are reading an ebook, you can also highlight and bookmark pages and texts.

Personalizing your book will help you retain more of what you read and to easily go back to identify specific comments in the book. If you are fond of borrowing the books you read from friends or the library, you’ll want to start practising buying some of them when you can. When reading your hard copy book, always have a highlighter or pen with you. If you read electronic books, use the highlight and bookmark buttons.

4. Make Mental Connections

The more connections you make between pieces of information in your brain, the better you remember it. Do not sacrifice studying to learn with anxiety to finish a book. When reading something that resonates with you, try to relate it to your own life, or other people’s experience.

For instance, when I was reading the Law of Human Nature by Robert Greene, I tried to find how each law relates to me or someone I know – it could be a public figure – who exhibits the behaviour of each character described in each chapter. Each time I try to remember the laws, I recall these people or behaviours and it’s easier to remember. This is a very effective way to remember the important lessons from the books your read.

5. Visualize & Imagine

Another great way to make connections in your mind is by visualizing what you’re learning. We recall this better with images. For instance, while reading Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance – a biography of Tesla and SpaceX founder. The book gave me a holistic picture of who Elon Musk was because I visualized every aspect of the story like a movie. I could see Elon Musk flying back to the US after the Russians turned down selling his team a rocket. I could literally see him seated on the plane, looking through his laptop, getting his light bulb turn on and saying to his team, “we are going to build this thing”. This was the story of a man who made over $100 million dollars from selling PayPal, threw everything into three companies and went broke – having to sleep on a friends couch.

Each time I’m reluctant with making an investment, I easily remember Elon Musk’s story. This is the power of visualization and it’s a great way to retain what you read.

6. Immediately Apply One New lesson

The story was told of a young man who went to the mountains to learn from the wise old man. After long hours of listening to the wise man, the young man said, “thank you, wise man. I have learned a lot for you today”. The wise man replied, “You have learned nothing. You just got information. Now go and start learning”.

As much as you can learn a lot from reading books, the lessons that stick with us the longest and bring the most change, are the lessons we learn from our own experience.

If you follow the first step of defining your purpose for reading and read books that help you reach your goal, it easier to quickly apply what you learn. Understand that growth doesn’t happen by itself. Learning new skills, earning more money, having a great relationship — it all starts with taking action to implement the information you have received so that you can truly start learning. Knowledge without action is completely useless. There nothing more uninspiring than a well-read person without real-life experience of success and failure. So always ask yourself this after you finish a book:

“What’s the one thing I’m going to apply after reading this book or reading this article?” If you have been reading a lot of books, watching a lot of videos or reading a lot of articles, you don’t need to read more or watch more. You need to go out and start applying what you have learned. So what’s the one lesson you are going to apply after reading this piece? I’d like to ask you to write it down in the comment section below. Because you’ll be more likely to remember more from this article0 than anything else you’ve read or watched today

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