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Consume, Comprehend, Apply

How many books have you read in the last year?

I’d say I’ve probably only read about 10-12, and that’s being generous. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been making a commitment to reading more. In fact, I’m posting the books I’m reading to this page if you’re interested in checking them out. More than just reading the books, I’m making a point to really understand them. In my opinion, rather than the number, the more important question is:

How many books have you understood and applied in the past year?

I once listened to a podcast (unfortunately I can’t remember the exact program or author) where a high-profile author and entrepreneur was being asked about how many books he read in a year. He responded by saying that the number wasn’t actually what mattered. In fact, he actually indicated that he was only going to read three books that year (I think he had a fancy name for it called the Rule of Three or something along those lines). However, when he described his reading process, it became evident why.

Not only was this guy reading the books, but he was also writing notes in the margins and bookmarking sections to reread. He made a point to go over each chapter until he fully understood the author’s purpose for those particular words. He would read a book two or three times in that year before stashing it away on his shelf. Compare that to the average reader that speed reads through a book simply to say that they finished it.

This guy understood that beyond flipping pages, there are distinct stages of reading:

Consume

Most people get this area right – at least partially. They grab a book and begin flipping pages and scanning text until they’re done.

Seems simple enough right?

The biggest hurdle with reading (or consuming) books is often time. Without a doubt, people will say that they simply don’t have time to read. The real problem isn’t with the scarcity but rather with allocation.

Put simply, if reading is important, you’ll set aside time.

We’re a consumer-driven society. We’re constantly bombarded with articles, ads, and videos that vie for our attention trying their hardest to earn our clicks and time. Your job (and something that we’re not particularly good at doing) is to correctly allocate your time for the biggest benefit.

Comprehend

Here’s where most people go wrong. Consuming content is just the first step, but it often appears to be the most important in the eyes of a reader. Just like everything else in our society, more tends to appear as better leading people to fly through books as fast as possible simply to tell their friends and family that they read so-and-so.

If your goal is simply to read as many books as possible while you’re alive, then by all means, consume away. But, that’s doing a disservice to both you as the reader and the author.

Chances are, the author didn’t write the book simply to be consumed. I haven’t written a book, but I’d venture to guess that the majority of authors would say that they received much more joy from getting a reader e-mail gushing compliments compared to the final tally of books sold.

Writers write to express their thoughts with the hope that somewhere with someone those thoughts are going to make a difference.

Flipping through pages is just scratching the surface.

I admit to being just as guilty as everyone else in terms of skimming through books just to finish. I remember reading the Lord of the Rings trilogy in 8th grade because the rest of my friends were. I read as fast as I could just to finish. I couldn’t possibly have understood all that J.R.R. Tolkien was trying to convey, but I didn’t care.

Now, I’m taking a different approach. If I catch myself falling into a mental fog and not remembering the main concepts from the last few pages, I’ll backtrack rereading the page several times over if need be. I take notes both through highlighting text, dog-earing pages, and scribbling in the margins (or typing on a Kindle) to help myself remember ideas.

Apply

I’d argue that very few people do this when they read a book. I know I’m sure guilty of falling short. You read a book that has a ton of useful information and hidden nuggets of knowledge. Perhaps you even mark specific quotes that really mattered to you at the time. Then, after finishing the book, it lays on your shelf collecting dust. Sure, when friends mention the title, you’re able to chime in with some key elements of the plot and talk about important characters, but other than that, the book is in the past and doesn’t change your actions one bit.

As I said before, books are meant to make a difference. They’re meant to challenge your level of thinking. Sure, not every book is going to revolutionize the way you live. That’s fair. But, each novel should make you stop and think.

As the consumer-hungry society we are, we constantly want to read, listen, and watch more and more without much regard to value or purpose. We watch shows for a quick laugh, see movies to watch our favorite actors, and read books to join in the popular discussion, but we don’t stop and think: is this going to change the way I do business?

I’m making an effort to read more simply because I believe it will make me a better person. Heck, it has to be better for you than the fifteenth episode in a row of Keeping Up With the Kardashians. Plus, I have a hunch that I will learn a few things along the way. The challenge is not stopping at simply consuming books but really understanding and then applying what the author wrote to my daily life.

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