How to Read for Knowledge

Reading AnalyticallyReading of any kind is important work, and a critical element to the development and evolution of the human psyche.

It’s how you expose your mind to new ideas, it captures the human imagination. You can find the entirety of the human experience within the confines of a single library.

But to harness the full potential of these opportunities, one must elevate their level of reading beyond just processing words on a page – you have to read analytically.

How many times have you read a book, and a month later can’t recall a single thing about it? Or you finish a well renowned book, but feel as if nothing sunk in.

Maybe you can remember some concepts, but in nominal value only; you know what the book said, but not what it meant. The ideas haven’t sunk in enough for you to be able to readily apply them to your everyday life without going back and re-reading part of the book.

You gained more information, but you didn’t get any wiser.

“If we encounter a man of rare intellect, we should ask him what books he reads”

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

If you want to really grow and expand your capacities, and capitalize on the time end effort you are putting into your reading efforts, one must engage in specific styles of reading.

The three levels of reading:

  1. Reading for Entertainment – This is your prototypical novel reading. The intent is not to learn anything new, but simply to enjoy the story or what the author has to say.
  2. Reading for Information – This is what we are typically taught to do in school. You are focused around learning information on a new topic, or maybe getting an in-depth look at a topic you have already been introduced to. You’re learning what you didn’t know before
  3. Reading for Knowledge – This is reading for concepts and ideas. You are going beyond learning some new information, and are instead focused on internalizing what you are reading to alter some part of how you think.

Now each of these styles certainly have their appropriate time and place; I’m not advocating that you never read a mystery novel again.

But we are here in the pursuit of growth, and growth involves evolution. You have to internalize what you are reading to derive the intellect and enlightenment required to expand your capacities.

At the third level of reading, you’re not just reading the words as they are on the page. You are taking them off the page and into your own head; bringing your own personal experience into what you are reading, or maybe the reverse: taking the words you are reading and testing how they might apply to various circumstances that have occurred in your life.

What you read should become a part of how you think.

When you read analytically, this is the desired result: that the topics, ideas, and arguments from various books become ingrained in your head and become a part of your intellect.

You can recall ideas from what you have read instantaneously, and you find yourself bringing these various themes to bear in your everyday life and decision making.

This third style of critical, analytical reading involves several practices that are typically overlooked:

The first is reading slowly, not for speed

Speed reading is most useful for Level 2 reading activities, when you are just trying to gain some level of understanding about a particular concept (just-in-time information).

But that is not our objective here. We are after knowledge, not just information (this is the ‘recall’ ability mentioned before).

We want to fully engage ourselves with what we are reading, wrestling with what the author is saying and what our experiences tell us, with the objective being that the material becomes integrated into our decision-making process.

To do this, you have to take your time with each book to let it soak in. It’s better to read four books a year that change some of your perceptions of the world, than to read one hundred books and remember nothing but the titles, subject matter, and how quickly you finished each one.

This is your education, not a contest.

The second practice is taking detailed notes

Again, this goes beyond note taking on factual information (dates, names, ages), and should be more focused around what you are thinking or taking away from the passages in the book. Mark key passages or quotes, and record the thoughts that come to mind, or connections you begin to make with other books or life experiences.

How you take these notes is largely up to personal preference. Everyone has their own unique twist on a note taking system that works best for them.

Whether it’s highlighting, writing in the margins, flagging pages, or keeping a separate journal to write in, detailed note taking forces you to engage with the author and the words you are reading. You can start wrestling with the book, and correspondingly, the author, and analyze whether you agree/disagree with what you are reading, and therefore how it is impacting your worldview.

 “The only important thing in a book is the meaning that it has for you”

– W. Somerset Maugham

This all culminates in a state of active reading – reading for concepts, ideas, and insights, not just for factual information or entertainment. When you read a book on Napoleon Bonaparte, what is important is not when he took the throne as Emperor. No one is going to quiz you on which islands he was exiled to.

What is important is how he revolutionized the military strategies and tactics of his age, and executed on them. How he gained near absolute loyalty from both his troops and the larger French population, despite bringing France back into a monarchical fold on the heels of the Revolution. What lessons in leadership can be gained from his final defeat at Waterloo (one example: his generals had lost their ability to take initiative, after years of Napoleon’s micro-managing and thinking for them).

These are ideas that you can bring into your decision-making models, and alter how you interact with others on a daily basis (ie. limit micro-managing. The short term benefits are far outweighed by the cumulative negative effects that are eventually realized over the long haul).


When you read analytically, you’re wrestling with the ideas presented to really internalize what is being said. You read slowly and intently to thoroughly process the argument or story, and what your takeaways are.

Only then will what you read become a part of who you are, and shape the way you see the world. The ideas that you read will stick with you long after you have set the book down, and you will come to find that you have in fact grown just a little bit wiser, with each passing page.



Doing the Unthinkable – Networking as an Introvert

Networking1Networking gets a tough rap from virtually all parties in its own right. But as an introvert, the word ‘networking’ is essentially a deal breaker.

No way I am going to spend my night or weekend in a room with a bunch of strangers, forcing a smile until my face hurts and trying to keep up small talk for hours on end. Shoot me now.

Yet everywhere you look, seemingly every article you read on career and personal success, it talks about networking.

“It’s not what you know, but who you know.”

– Anonymous 

“What can networking do for your success? The right contacts and connections can make or break it. If you’re trying to be successful, it’s the difference between mediocre and big”

– Jeffrey Gitomer, Little Red Book of Selling

And to a large degree, this is all true. No one is Superman, and you can’t possibly go on to lead a life of success on the sheer strength of personal effort. You can’t do it alone, you have to rely on other people to some capacity to help you along the way.

Hence, networking.

I’m not going to get into defining what networking is and specific reasons of why you should do it. But read virtually any networking or relationship management book, and they will say the same thing: networking is not about working the room and collecting as many business cards as possible. It’s about building concrete, meaningful relationships.

This, my friends, is excellent news. For as I’ve said before, it is these exact types of relationships that introverts excel at forming.

The strength of introverts lies not in their ability to give public speeches or being the life of the party; very few introverts are ever the popular kids in school. Instead, they are much more adept at forming a small, close-knit group of friends that they rely on for just about everything. They would much prefer having 3 or 4 really close friends, and simply being cordial with the rest.

After all, when your back is against the wall and you really need some help, what would you rather have: a contact list of 50 names, yet no one picks up the phone, or a list of 3 names of which you know at least two will pick up and be there to help you within 20 minutes?

Break Large Events Down into Smaller Groups

This exact same concept can and should be applied to your professional life.

It’s not about having 3,000 connections on LinkedIn. It’s about having the kind of professional relationships where people trust you enough to give you their personal email addresses and phone numbers, so you can reach them in a moment’s notice when you really need some help.

To accomplish this end, you can use the exact same strategies you use in your personal life, whether you realize these are strategies or not.

How did you find your current group of close friends? If you’re an introvert, it most likely was not by attending some party or out at the club. Maybe you attended an event, like a work function, book club, or sports game, and hit it off with one of the attending members when split of into smaller groups.

Or maybe you were invited to hang out through a common friend. The point is that you used your strength in connecting with small groups of people to build lasting relationships, and while it may not seem like it, this is indeed a strategy – one that can be applied to network successfully in your professional life

The key is to maximize your strength in small group settings, interacting with people on a one-on-one basis as much as possible, instead of trying to overcome your anxiety in large group settings. It’s hard enough to go to events like this when you know a couple of people attending, but going to a business conference by yourself? Good luck.

This will require a bit of proactivity on your part, but taking the time to plan out who you want to meet with and how you want to do so is well worth the effort. Use email and technology to its ultimate effectiveness

Next time you attend a large networking event or a industry conference, do your research ahead of time instead of just winging it upon arrival.

You can typically find a registration list of attending companies and speakers, and sometimes even find the entire guest list. Comb through these lists and identify individuals who you would like to get to know or speak with, and email them in advance. Tell them you are attending the event as well, and would love to meet up with them and talk about whatever it is you are interested in. I’ve personally used this to great effect before conferences or local business events in my community, offering to meet people for breakfast/coffee, or simply to talk after one of their presentations.

People get extremely busy once an event starts, as most people come in with the same above-mentioned wing-it strategy. Fill up people’s calendars beforehand, utilizing your research skills to communicate with people in a one-on-one setting. Even if you can’t set up a meeting beforehand, you will be more comfortable at the event knowing that you have established warm leads with the key people you would most like to speak with, and it will help alleviate any stress or awkwardness when you go to approach these people later on.

Another great strategy for networking events is to simply show up early. It allows you to get more comfortable when there are fewer people at the event to speak with and get to know.

This way, as more people gradually arrive, it feels like they are entering your space, and you can introduce yourself to people on more of a one-on-one basis again, as opposed to that terrifying feeling you get in your stomach when you walk into a room of a hundred people you don’t know very well, and all eyes are on you as you walk in the door. Talk about paralyzing. This is when most people make a beeline straight to the restroom or the back of the event, neither of which put you in a position to meet with or talk to anybody new.

Beat this anxiety by connecting with people ahead of time, and utilizing your disposition toward more intimate conversations to not only eliminate (as much as you can) this anxiety, but to make better connections with people you actually want to get to know.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t still hand out lots of business cards if you can. Market yourself as much as you’re comfortable with, but no more. Don’t try to push yourself into low-leverage activities.

Maximize Your Strength in Intimate Settings

These same strategies also apply outside of large networking events to meeting people within your surrounding community, even within your current company.

The end goal is to simply get to know people on more of a personal level in your professional life. That’s all networking is, and as an introvert, this can be readily accomplished by applying your natural strengths; we are better communicators in intimate settings and close environments.

Invite people to lunch, or to get coffee. Hell, even a simple phone call will work (and was my preferred method for a long time). Introverts are naturally great at listening and reading other people. This is a skill that is best utilized in personal settings.

If you identify someone you want to get to know better, or that would provide a great future resource, try and find a way to speak with them on an individualized basis or in a small group setting so you can get to know them better without the anxiety and intimidation that comes with your prototypical networking events.

So next time you find yourself headed to a conference or event, don’t stress out. Just plan ahead. Do your research, identify people you would like to meet, and reach out to them beforehand.

Same goes for general networking within your community or industry.

Use your natural abilities and tendencies to your advantage over, say, a cup of coffee, and you will start to see that networking is really not all that hard. You can get to know the individual across from you on a more personal level, and you will feel more comfortable in opening up and communicating with them, building towards the close relationships that introverts so innately desire.



Systems for Your Mind with Calendars

This is a follow up to last week’s post, but is less focused around reducing your stress levels as much as it is about knowledge retention.

I talked before about creating systems to reduce your stress and free up more time, by putting aspects of your life on auto-pilot. These systems do the work for you, so you don’t have to waste any mental capacity on making unnecessary decisions.

But there are other systems you can implement that function more like a calendar. Calendar’s aren’t there to get things done for you, they are for jogging your memory, helping you to remember to do something that you otherwise would have forgotten or not accounted for.

We all use systems like this for remembering certain things: birthdays, meeting minutes, doctors’ appointments. But they can be extended for use in so many more areas of life:

Note Taking

I like to think I read a decent amount, averaging around a book a week. The intent here is not just to read for readings sake – I read to learn. But you only have so much mental capacity. It would be impossible to think you can remember all that you read and be able to access that information on a moment’s notice.

Even Einstein himself, when asked what the speed of sound was, responded: “I don’t know. I don’t burden my memory with such facts that I can easily find in any textbooks.”

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Creating Systems to Reduce Your Stress

Ever had to think so hard that your head hurt?

I know I have. And it used to happen all the time. I was (and still am) a frequent receiver of stress headaches.

It is well documented that there are limits to our daily mental capacity. We have a mental decision quotient each day – you can only devote a certain amount of brain power to making decisions throughout your day before you go to mush, and stress begins taking over.

Having systems and structures in place can help alleviate the need to make unnecessary decisions throughout your day.

Most people already do this with things like their personal finances. Why receive a bill that you then have to take time to write a check for or fill out an online form, when you can set it up to automatically withdraw the necessary money from your account for you? It’s a no-brainer really. It eliminates the mental decision for you, and you can now use that time in some other more productive fashion, with the peace of mind in knowing that your finances are taken care of.

This same approach can be used for so many other areas of life, and the following are various strategies I have put in place for myself to eliminate unnecessary mental stress and generally make myself a happier and more productive person in general. Hopefully some of these can serve as ideas for systematizing your own life:

Personal Finance

As I mentioned above, personal finance is one of the easiest areas to systematize in your life. Personally, I have as many bills as possible set for auto-pay, as well as deposits into my savings and investment accounts.

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Do Nothing to Do Everything – Meditating and Reflection

How many times do you go to bed with a headache, completely flustered by the events of your day? Only to wake up, check your email, and have it hit you all over again. You wake up feeling refreshed and ready to take on the day, but then you check your email, or Twitter, or whatever else, and immediately let the stresses and concerns of other people hit you, and the headache immediately returns (or maybe you still wake up with all the mental baggage from the day before weighing you down).

In today’s age, its increasingly easy to get lost in the agenda of your day, to let the multitude of things you feel that you have to get done come crashing in on you and wear you down mentally. By the end of the day, you feel exhausted, but at the same time you don’t feel as if your getting anything done. Or maybe you did, but it wasn’t what you wanted, or wasn’t really that important to you. Part of this issue is setting proper goals for yourself, and time management. But the other part is just getting through the daily grind, staying committed to those goals when life gets you stressed out.

We all have the ability to fight this feeling. The ability to stay focused on what it is we want to do, no matter what gets thrown our way. This ability is MeditationMarcus Aurelius calls it ‘retreating to your inner citadel.’ Hosts of other successful people do this exact same thing; putting life on pause, taking a step back, and reflecting. You have to make time for yourself before all else, even if that time is only 5 minutes (as Tim Ferriss says: “If you don’t have 30 minutes to meditate, you need 3 hours”). Continue reading

The Process of Goal-Setting

Think back for a minute to when you were younger, and you were told by your parents and teachers about having dreams and goals. “You can be anything you want to be if you put your mind to it,” or “Don’t be afraid to reach for the stars.” And while the intent behind these statements is commendable, its lacks substance. Even as an adult, it can be hard to fully embrace the message when the idea remains so abstract. We’re told to chase our dreams, and then left to figure out how to get there on our own.

The problem is that life goals aren’t immediately tangible. The solution is therefore to break these broader goals down and make them so. Split up the end goal into more readily achievable chunks, and the path to achieving your goal becomes far more lucid:

Every duty is the completed sum of certain actions.” — Marcus Aurelius

As I eluded to in my last post, setting goals is not a one-step process. Its long, its detailed, and its iterative. You need a plan, a succinct strategy and framework for how to get to that end goal. Because shockingly, once you know where you’re going, you will find getting there a much simpler, though still arduous, process. One cannot expect to find El Dorado without a map. Likewise you can’t expect to run a company, become a professional athlete, or write your own book without direction and a vision of how to get there.

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