How to build a better version of you by reading more.

Theodore Roosvelt's Library

Theodore Roosvelt’s Library

I believe in the discipline of mastering the best that other people have ever figured out. I don’t believe in just sitting down and trying to dream it all up yourself Nobody’s that smart. – Charles Munger.

At the start of this year, I took a big decision. To explore, examine and enhance myself physically and mentally (or if you’d prefer spiritually).

Physically to enhance just means a good diet, not eating trash and working out daily. It’s not easy but it’s simple.

But how do you develop mentally? That was the question I couldn’t get any clear cut answers to.

So I went to the internet to see what people had to say. A starting point and one at the very foundation of being better as attested by a lot of smart successful people is reading more.

That seemed like a good starting point.

So I asked myself a few questions.

  • How does one read more?
  • What does one read more of?
  • How does one use all that is read?

Why should one read?

I don’t think I need to justify why one must read more. Thousands of people have been quoted on it.

But here is my favourite reason.

Human beings have been recording their knowledge in book form for more than 5,000 years. That means that whatever you’re working on right now, whatever problem you’re struggling with, is probably addressed in some book somewhere by someone a lot smarter than you. Save yourself the trouble of learning from trial and error–find that point. Benefit from that perspective – Ryan Holiday

Reading is learning and if you’re not learning, you’re not improving in your craft. Whatever craft that might be. I quoted that you need to read 5 books on a subject to know more than most people. If you can manage to dedicate a year of reading on a particular subject, you are pretty much the 0.01% on it.
This is probably not the case for programming though. That knowledge, like a physical sport requires regular practice to get better at and understand more.

Not everyone HAS to read to be successful but I don’t see the pitfalls of reading more. I know that Deepinder Goyal from Zomato doesn’t read much.

He’s an intuitive guy that reads people and takes decisions. Few of us can function like him. Fewer more can depend on waiting for that skill. All of us can read more though.

How does one read more? What does one read more of?

Tip 1 : Pick a subject.

The simple answer is you choose a subject and read everything you can on it. Start with the first book then look through the appendix. Look at the author’s recommendations and look at the top 10 books in that field.

It is important to note that you must have a strategy to reading more. For non fiction reading you must know why you are reading this and what are you going to use this knowledge for.

I tested a theory that Ryan Holiday had proposed, when you read more about a particular subject you start to notice patterns. The first book is the hardest. By the 3rd book you can start skipping sections and by the 10th book you can complete what the author is saying. This happened to me when I started to learn the basics of Hearthstone and swarmed by about 25 articles I sort of knew what to expect already.

So you go through more books on the specific topic by everyone that’s reputed.  That’s step 1 to read more. Just accessing and reading more on a particular subject.

Tip 2: Reading to Lead.

There’s this blog post I want you to read about this tip. It’s really that good. Go on I’ll wait. It opens up in a new window. So you can come back here once you are done with that.

Once you have read that, you’ll see there are some vital points I took from that post. Place. Names. Dates. These are unimportant. The lessons matter.

1) What does it mean?
2) Do you agree with it?

You shouldn’t be wasting your time figuring out what the author is trying to say with the book. Instead, your energy needs to be spent on figuring out if he’s right and how you can benefit from it.

If you’re reading to lead, you’re going to come across concepts or words you’re not familiar with. Don’t pretend like you understand, look it up.

After you finish a book go back through it.

Mark passages you want to read again and pieces of book that you want to return to.

Tip 3: Speed reading (but not really).

wpm

There’s Tim Ferris on reading 300 % faster. There’s the definitive speed reading course by Wade Cutler. Quit sub vocalization. Read 10 words together. There are 1000’s of tips on how to read faster.

A lot of it is gimmicky. Lifehacker agrees too.

Take the Staples test for fun and see how you do. I scored 751 wpm and got 2 out of 3 right in the question.

It sounds cool to be called a speed reader. But it’s better to be a sound reader. To do that there’s no gimmick. Just reading more on the same subject will make you a faster reader. A friendly tip is to skip the exorbitant descriptions authors use. Some of the authors need to write for number of words and some need to feel good about number of pages. Kinda like the size of your penis. It’s not the size, it’s how you use it.

Taking in 500 word per minute (measure of speed reading) and remembering 100 is not better than taking in 200 and remembering 180. When I began I thought this tactic was amazing and something I needed to absolutely learn to become a better reader. That was 6 years back in the height of my 52 books a year phase.

I read more now than I did when I was learning speed reading. Mainly by skipping useless details and reading more on a particular subject using the swarm strategy.

Tip 4 : Find high quality sources of content

Quality is measured by a few things. Is the author providing insight? Does the author write well? Does he reference well enough? Does the material that he provides have an expiry time limit?

There are a 1000 blogs for each article. A lot of them just don’t provide any insight. A lot of them are gossipy. Some of them are just the terribly named Listicles. The type of books matter a lot too. For example a category I immersed myself in that turned out to be largely useless (3 books out of 80 helped really) are Self Help books. The strategy for self help books is to fill pages noting one thing that worked for them in their specific given environmental conditions with their specific genetic makeup but place it like a tablet of commandments while hiding the fact that what they did is never a formula for reproduction. In other words, what worked for the author is not guaranteed to work for you. Avoid them. Read biographies instead.

The idea being that if I really, really want to learn about something, casually pursuing one book to another. No, you must set upon it consequentially, concurrently and comprehensibly. Nothing works in learning quite like total immersion. Immersion allows you to make connections. It allows you to challenge the authors you’re reading.
– Ryan Holiday.

To pick quality sources, go through the bibliography of your favourite author. Look at his twitter feed who does he follow? Look at sources cited. Look at comments linking to other great (or similar articles). Look at who the author is inspired by. Look at the top 10 best sellers in that particular field of interest. Look at subreddits. Look at Quora. Read reviews about what people are saying. Test the different things by seeing if you learn something intelligent in the first 50-100 pages (or the first 3 paragraphs in an article, if not discard instantly).Lastly, google the shit out of that subject.

All those things worked for me.

Tip 5: Kindle reading vs Paperback

This is a debate that has been going on internally within me for the last 5 months. I bought a kindle paper white to read books in the night. It’s really annoying reading on the phone because of the size and well a countless number of people have talked about why you shouldn’t read 1-2 hours on a screen before bed. I don’t know if that theory works too well but I can tell you I sleep much later because of it and that’s something I wanted to avoid.

I find books read on paper to be more pleasurable. The smell of paper and the weight of a book while watching a page turn is something that brings back a lot of good memories but more important, comfort.

But I can’t carry 8 books with me on the flight or in my luggage wherever I go. Thus the kindle. A big advantage of the kindle too is the dictionary and immediate tap and reference option available which isn’t there in a hard cover book. Given these advantages, I think the kindle’s better. But the convenience and technology comes at a cost. It’s not cheap. I highly recommend the Kindle reading for now though you can download the Amazon Kindle app on iTunes, Android and Windows PC.

Tip 6: Note Taking

I saved the best tip for the last because this is crucial. And also if you plough through the rest of the tips, this is the cookie you get. When you take notes you commit them to your memory space. They don’t appear immediately but they are transferred to your subconscious. I have tried taking notes on the phone but I realize I’m much faster on the computer but far more efficient when it’s on paper. When I write something down on paper, I pretty much seem to have it in my head. The time to refresh that concept is lesser. When I take notes on a digital device (especially the phone), I don’t seem to have the same level of recall capacity. This is something you’d need to try first though and see which works better. But once you take notes, categorize them according to title/book/quotes. Some people use index cards to write them on. I use alternote on the mac when I’m reading to jot down stuff. It syncs to my evernote ( which I don’t like but I haven’t found another solution yet) and is thus available “in the cloud” for my reference.

Thomas Jeffersons notes.

Thomas Jeffersons notes.

We fail to remember a lot of the stuff we read because it’s not building on any existing knowledge. We’re often trying to learn complex things (that change rapidly) without understanding the basic things (which change slowly or not at all).  Or, worse still, we’re uncritically letting other people do the thinking for us. This is the adult equivalent of regurgitating the definition of a bolded word in our high school textbook.

Farnam Street has a great post on remembering what you read with great tips on choosing a system.

Tip 7: Start small

I lied. One more extra tip. Pretty awesome right? That tip is to get you started. If you have read so far into this post, then I know that you are genuinely interested in wanting to be your Iron man version of you. Or the Elon Musk version of you. You get the point.

That tip is to start small. Read 20-30 pages a day. It doesn’t take much time and it won’t seem intimidating. If there’s a 200 page book. That’s 10 days of about 15-20 mins daily. Not that hard at all right? Try it and tell me how it goes.

But what if you have kids. You have a 9-5 job? What if you want to read more but you can’t because you are busy?

I’ll not be sarcastic here and say this is the only investment that’s guaranteed to return far more than anything else in your life. Also Warren Buffett has all that and FAR more, so what’s your real excuse?

For the betterment of you, you owe yourself this much. Sure kids are great to have you see little mini yous. But you shouldn’t stop learning about yourself. The only other greater investment is in real estate.

 

More links to read if you want to know more.

How to keep a library – I have a fair amount of books at my home to build a library. Once I get my own place I think that’s something I’m going to build towards.

How to read more by James Clear. I got the 20 pages tip from here.

The 4 stages of reading and learning. Another great post at Farnamstreet Blog.

Long exhaustive breakdown on speed reading and how to retain it through impression, association and repetition. Some of these tips are good if you have no idea about what speed reading techniques exist and what are some of the methods people use to read.

Pretty good read on how to read better and some key techniques included.

ZenHabits. As it seems with most articles there this is very basic. Not really insightful into tactics or strategies but if you want something to read as a total starter this one could be it.

Zenhabits has some more about reading more. This is a little bit better.

Austin Kleon is an artist + writer. He read over 70 books in a year. This is how he did it.

More Austin Kleon in a commandment sort of form on reading more.

The why, not necessarily the how of reading more books.

Julien Smith actually inspired me to read a book a week for a year. Here he gives tips about reading 52 books a year. I almost did.



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