Learning from Books

How to internalize things read from books by highlighting the well explained and the non intuitive and converting them into directives.

Reading time: 3 min(s) · Date published: October 2, 2015

I bet you can recommend me several books that have changed your life in some way. But, can you honestly say that you have internalized the teachings of every one of them? Maybe you can’t, but can you at least summarize them? If not, can you even tell me the key topics?

Are you satisfied with what you remember from those essential and life changing books? If you’re not, then this might help you.

After reading Make it Stick, Here’s What I Learned from Reading 5,000 Pages in 8 Weeks, and Compressing Books into Directives, I realized that I’ve been approaching the whole process of learning from books all wrong.

Credits: None of this information is original. All the credit goes to the cited authors. Also, thanks to Marco Montero, who told me about Make it Stick that started my quest for better learning.

Before Reading the Book

Check the book’s background. The Wikipedia or goodreads entry is good enough. It’ll help you form a general idea of what to expect. It’ll also help you start making associations with your previous knowledge.

Write the outline or table of contents in a sheet of paper. Having it close at hand helps recall previous topics while reading the book.

Skim over the book to pick up the key topics and write them next to your written version of the table of contents. Having them within reach helps building a mental map of the important new topics.

While Reading the Book

Highlight anything that makes you say “Interesting. I want to remember that.”

For the most part it will be counterintuitive information or things that may surprise you. It can also be something written in a particularly clear way that you want to remember.

You don’t need to highlight what you already know. Avoid striving for a self contained summary. These are notes for you to remember and internalize new information. They are not meant to replace reading the book.

After Reading the Book

Open a blank file and copy all the notes to it and then edit them. This step is extremely important.

Try to change the wording converting statements into advice. Re-organize things considering the key topics. Finally, put them in a way that will help you remember the information while reviewing it in the future.

Make them available in your phone and look at them periodically; every time you have 5 or 10 minutes to spare. Try to memorize and really internalize them until it seems like second nature.

Now It’s Your Time

That’s it.

It might be difficult to change your current learning process, but keep in mind that learning is not easy. Make it a priority and give it the attention and dedication it deserves.

I’ve published all my book notes. Look at them to get an idea of what they look like.