5 Simple Ways to Retain More From Anything You Read

When I was growing up, it wasn’t cool to read. These days, every coffee shop is packed with folks that’re reading a book while sipping on a latte.

That’s a great shift. I’m also finding myself 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.

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.

Here’s how I remember more of what I read:

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 you choose should align with what’s currently going on in your life.

I’ll give you an example: When I met one of my mentors in 2011, he recommended I read Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. I listened to his advice, bought the book, and started reading it.

But I didn’t connect with the content at the time. Does that mean Flow is a bad book?

Absolutely not. In fact, I read it recently and really loved it. But back in 2011, that kind of stuff wasn’t on my mind. I’d just finished my degree, and I was hustling like a moron and only thinking about growing our business.

What’s going on in your life? Are you 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, and that information is more likely to stick.

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—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. And I better know my stuff.”

3. Highlight and Make Mental Connections

The more connections you make between pieces of information in your brain, the better you remember it, says science. I do this by taking lots of notes.

If you think books are sacred and shouldn’t be tampered with, you’ll never retain a lot from them. So, make notes, fold down pages, and highlight text (books are meant to be well-loved).

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 important, I take a picture of that page and upload it to my notes.
  • Then, I immediately write down why it’s important and how I can use it.

I use this process because when I look back, I often think: “Why did I highlight this?”

You don’t have to do this for every highlight—just do it for sections that you immediately have an application for.

4. Visualize and Imagine What You Learn

Another great way to make connections in your mind is by visualizing what you’re learning.

What I like to do when I read is to have imaginary conversations about the stuff that I’m reading. I imagine myself sitting 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, you’re that much closer to the real thing.

5. Immediately Apply One Piece of New Knowledge

Look at your life and 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 great relationships—it all takes hard work.

But, you can make that growth a lot easier if you apply the things you learn in books. There’s nothing sadder than a well-read person who holds himself captive by the four walls of his room. Once you do that, you’ll 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.

You can also apply these tips to everything you read (not just non-fiction)—even to something 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.

This article was originally published on Dariusforoux.com. It has been republished here with permission.

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About Richard Moy

Richard Moy
Richard Moy is a Content Marketing Writer at Stack Overflow. He has spent the majority of his career in talent management, including a stint as a full-cycle recruiter and hiring manager. In addition to the career advice he contributes to The Muse, he also writes test prep and higher education marketing content for The Economist. Say hi on Twitter @rich_moy.

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