“That book changed my life.”
Have you ever heard someone say that (or perhaps you’ve even said or thought the same thing)?
I believe that statement is, by definition, false.
A book cannot change your life (or my life).
Only you can make that change.
There are many books that have had an impact on my life as a stimulus for a change in my thinking or behavior. But let’s be clear – the book didn’t change my life – the book was the stimulus for change.
This of course doesn’t reduce the importance books, nor is it meant to dissuade you from reading. Rather, it’s meant to put books and the reading of words in the proper place in your personal or professional development process.
If you, not the book, make the change then it makes sense to look at what you can do to take a book and use its ideas and lessons to make a difference in your life and work. Here are five ways to do that.
Read With Purpose
Any speed reading or reading acceleration program will teach you to pre-scan a book before beginning it. While the techniques are different depending on the program, the basic scanning concept is to look over the book; read the table of contents and scan the chapters, sub heads and sidebars before beginning to read. Using this strategy gives you a sense of the book and its purpose and messages as well as it’s layout before you begin.
While this will help speed up your reading, it also helps you answer a very important question. “What do I want to get from this book?”
Spend a few minutes after your initial scan thinking about your goals and fondest wishes for the book. If you have a journal (which I highly recommend) write down the key questions you want answers to, or what you want to learn.
While books can surprise you with knowledge or ideas you didn’t expect (one of my great joys in reading), when you have established a clear purpose at the start, it will help you maximize what you can glean from a book, and not just be sitting back and waiting for the big “aha moments.”
Read With a Pen
In school you probably read with a highlighter, to highlight key passages you thought might be on the test. While this advice may seem like a “back to school” comment, it really isn’t. To get the most from your reading you may want to highlight ideas that you can use. However, it’s important to highlight not as a student, but to capture the things that will make a difference for you.
A highlighter is great, and I suggest a pen or pencil as well. Lose the belief that you can’t write in a book. Litter the margins with questions, thoughts and connections. If you do use a journal or a notepad, you also can make your notes or expand on the ideas there.
Most important, remember that your notes should be about actions you can take in connection with your purpose for reading the book.
Read Through the Filter of Your Goals
Even with a great pre-scan, you won’t know exactly what is in the book or what it will teach you. So as you read, keep thinking about questions like:
- How can I use this?
- How does this relate to my personal and organizational goals?
- What is the big message for me here?
Asking questions like this as you read allows you to synthesize the writer’s thinking for your purposes, rather than just accepting or letting their prose bath over your brain. When you read through the filter of your goals you begin to actively use the book for your purposes.
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Read to Translate
As you read consciously look for the action steps. Some books help you with this – as the author outlines at the close of a section or chapter what you can do. This is a very helpful component of a book, but is still incomplete. No author (unless it’s you) knows your situation or goals perfectly, and so it is your responsibility to determine exactly what you can do with the ideas.
Reading to translate is about determining what actions you will take as a result of what you have read.
These four ideas are important strategies, and while they will help you improve the value you get from a book, it is this final item that will make the real difference.
Transform Your Ideas into Action
This is the logical extension of the last point, but with an important difference. If you want the ideas, strategies and breakthroughs from any book to make a difference, you aren’t done when you read the last page. Your most important task is just beginning!
Take all of your notes and ideas and capture them in your journal, in a notebook or in a computer file. This review process is important to help you lock in the knowledge you gained from the book. And, this step is about more than knowledge, it is about action. As you are taking your key learning points from the book and putting them down in your own words, start creating the short list of actions you want to take.
Here is where the first step of “Reading with a Purpose” is important. Hopefully you’ve received many great ideas from the book. Your job now is to prioritize the best, most important and most valuable actions you can take as it relates to your goals.
Yes, you may have gotten many other cool suggestions, and perhaps one or more of them warrant your immediate attention, but you must start in relationship to your goals; otherwise you will get overwhelmed by the number and quality of all the ideas and ultimately do nothing. (By the way, that is what most of us do and is one of the reasons I wrote this article to start with).
If all of this seems like work, it is.
The bottom line is that if you want to have a book be the impetus for change, you must do more than read it. You must use it as a tool to fuel your personal growth and development, which means you must engage in an active process of learning.
Of course there will be times you “just want to read,” and that is absolutely fine. Just don’t expect that type reading to lead to significant change, growth or development.
Books can be a powerful source of learning and growth; they are after all the knowledge and wisdom of an expert distilled to the written word. And, when you want to take full advantage of that knowledge and wisdom, you must do more than read. You must engage, think and take action.
Potential Pointer: Reading can be a hobby and a pleasurable pastime, or it can be a conscious approach to learning and growth. In order to make it the latter, you must adopt strategies that help you take what you learn and translate it into ideas and action.
To continue to grow and improve leaders must be learners, and reading is certainly one of many ways to continue learning. Many leaders around the world also are continually learning the skills they need as a member of The Remarkable Leadership Learning System – a one skill at a time, one month at a time approach to becoming a more confident and successful leader. Get $748.25 worth of leadership development materials including two complimentary months of that unique system as part of Kevin Eikenberry’s Most Remarkable Free Leadership Gift Ever.