Reading and retaining information from books doesn’t really change much from the school days. There are people who are amazing at absorbing everything they read, others can’t remember what they read five minutes ago.
Nothing is more frustrating than learning something awesome but then forgetting it or when your book talked about a particular topic that you are now talking about with your friends but you have forgotten what it said so you just stand there smiling, filled with regret and disappointment.
Not much can be done about these natural abilities to remember things. What can be practised though is the ability to retain more information than you could before. That just comes from good methods, some of which I am going to highlight for you today. Not only will this article explain how to remember what you read more effectively, but it will also explain how they work and why it’s important for you to implement them right away.
Fit Books to Context
If you have just started a podcast, there is not much point in reading a book about ‘How I Made My First Million Selling Books’. On the flip side, if you are facing a particular challenge in life then it makes sense to read some books around the topic so you can navigate the stormy waters a little more easily.
Going on a retreat or an adventure? Read an inspiring story like The Alchemist. Struggling to get your business off the ground? This Is Marketing is a great place to start. Really finding it tough to hit the gym these days? Inspiring, bad-ass stories like Can’t Hurt Me will help you out. Whatever your situation is, if you manage to fit a book to context, you will be much more likely to remember the lessons from ‘that day you had a breakthrough’.
Discuss It With Others
This method can be a bit tougher to do as most people are consuming their own books at their own pace. However, if you do have a friend or family member that has read the same book, take some time to discuss it with them. What were your favourite parts? What overall message did you get? Did it change the way you think about anything?
If you ever had group revision sessions at school or have done group-work in business, you will know that discussing subjects and topics with others is a great way to remember and consolidate everything that you have learned. If no-one reads the books that you do, consider joining a book club.
Compound Your Knowledge
One of the smartest ways to remember what you have read on a subject is to keep reading about it. If you read about quantum mechanics once and never again, it’s unlikely you are going to remember much. Reading about sleep in one book one time long ago isn’t going to make you an expert at it either.
In order to stack all of the information you are consuming, you need to read around what you are reading. Read more on the subject, on the author, on the time period, on the genre. In no time, you will start to see all the pieces come together like an expert.
Finishing Is Optional
For some reason, lots of people out there abide by the ‘unwritten rule’ that once you start a book, you have to finish it.
Not only does this ‘rule’ make your life boring as hell as you chore through the remainder of the pages that you don’t even want to read, it makes you a ‘safe book reader’. A safe book reader is someone who only reads a book if it has been recommended by more than ten people. The fun of reading comes from picking up a book that a friend recommended that you have never heard of before. If you like it, you’ve found a hidden gem. If you don’t, you move on to a new book. Life’s too short to be reading unmemorable books, so move onto ones that you love without looking back. The more you love a book, the more you will remember its messages.
Give It Your Full Attention
This point goes without saying really but it is still one that I struggle to implement all of the time. Every book features a lull in the storyline, a quiet period where you have gone through a few pages without anything particularly note-worthy coming up. This is prime reaching for the phone time, seeing what else is going on around the house time and especially peak mind-wandering time.
Needless to say, you can’t remember something that you haven’t paid your full attention too. So put aside the distractions for just a little while and focus on the pages in front of you. You’ll be glad that you did.
Read a Summary Before and After
Some people might consider reading a book summary beforehand as ruining the ‘surprise’ of the book but I disagree. Summaries usually give a general overview and help you to map what you are reading as you go along. When you have a general idea of what the book is about, its key themes and where the author wants to go with it, you have the puzzle board. Once you have the puzzle board, all of the details that you read fit very nicely into the board and they become much easier to remember.
Reading a book summary after reading the book is also an awesome way to recap all of the key takeaways and ideas from the book that you might have missed or not paid enough attention to. Blinkist is my favourite book summary app and I have written about how to use it effectively previously, but there a number of other great book summary apps out there. They are popular because they work.
Taking notes is possibly one of the most underrated ways of remembering what you read and it is incredibly effective. Summarising the main themes, picking out your favourite ideas and writing down the quotes that struck you the most are all ways of taking the information and consolidating it in your brain.
I have pages upon pages of book notes in my Evernote account and it is where I pull all of the excerpts for my annual ‘Big Book Review‘ post. Taking notes on the best bits of books not only makes them memorable and more accessible in the future, it forces you to slow down as you read the book and truly digest all of the knowledge that is coming your way.
Just as there is no rule to tell you that you need to finish a book, there is no rule saying that you should never re-read a book. In fact, you should re-read your favourite books as it is a great way to keep absorbing all of the knowledge that they are filled with.
Think about it. What is the point of reading a spectacular book once, absolutely loving it, and then never seeing it again? Even with taking notes and all of the other techniques from this article, it is very difficult to remember all of the best bits from any book by just reading it once.
What’s more, it is worth remembering that although the words on a page don’t change, you do. Even if you read the same book a couple of years down the line, you are likely to enjoy different parts and notice meaning and key points where you didn’t before. As the wise words of Anthony de Mello:
You see persons and things not as they are but as you are.
You are always changing. So keep reading those books.