How to apply what you've read

I don’t apply enough of what I read. Here’s some advice to myself to help fix that. Maybe you can use it too.

I love learning. Consequently, I love reading. I’m always working through some book, usually a technical, non-fiction one. The point of these books is to acquire knowledge and then apply it. I feel proficient at the former, but inadequate in the latter.

I’ve been thinking about how I can get better at using what I’ve read. Here’s what I intend to do.

Read slower

Reading is not a contest. While I do have an ever growing list of books I really, really want to read, speed reading is not the answer. It’s ok to slow down and enjoy reading each book. This helps me grasp more information and better retain it.

One practical example of reading slower is working through a book’s exercises and questions. I often skip over these and only read the content. Just doing the exercises and questions already forces me to apply what I’ve read.

Apply what I’m reading, not what I’ve read

Apply now what I’m reading about, instead of reading a book and then vaguely intending to apply that knowledge in the future. This can take the shape of exercises provided by the book, as mentioned in the point above.

For a book with no exercises, this involves finding an application of its information. Or even better, read books that apply to existing problems in my life.

Reread

Instead of reading a new book, reread an old one – in whole or in part. Each reading of a book offers new insights and re-illuminates forgotten ones. Each rereading also triggers new ideas for how I can apply that knowledge.

Practice “tactical rereading”. When life confronts me with problems that remind me of passages in a book, find that book and reread the passage. I’ve done this often for books like I Am That by Nisargadatta Maharaj, On Writing Well by William Zinsser, and Getting Real by 37signals.

Now, go forth and apply what you’ve read.