Get More Out of Your Read? Know Your Brain.

Do you ever pick up a book with full hearted intention to read, yet you can’t get into it?   You know its a great book;  you really want to read it… but its just not speaking to you at that moment?  What do you do?

Most of us put it down and move on to something else — our I-Phone, our email, an internet cruise, or a Netflix movie — never to come back to that book.

Next time you want to get some reading accomplished, why not check with your brain first — then choose the book you’re going to read?

Our brains are complicated mechanisms — often with minds of their own — we take them for granted and rarely think about how to best utilize their capacity.   We rarely think to check in with our brains — especially when it comes to doing a task we take for granted — like reading.  Who needs to think about how we read?   We just do it;  often with very little thought or planning put into the act.  I know how to read a book, we tell ourselves.  Just do it.  But any cognitive scientist will tell you,  the act of reading is a complicated brain function that deserves more study and increased attentiveness from those of us who are readers.

Not All Reading is the Same

Over the years I’ve learned I can only read certain authors or certain books when my brain is in a particular space.  And it’s no use trying to force the matter; my brain has a mind of its own.   So I’ve learned to stop and assess where my brain is at — before I grab a book to read.   Below are a few quick steps to implement next time you’re planning to read.  Try these steps and see if they don’t result in better reading!

Reading Assessment Steps

1.  Always have several books from different genres, writing styles and reading platforms available.  Your brain’s not always ready, willing or able to focus so have a range of books that require different focus available.

I’ve become a huge fan of non-fiction books on audio.  If you haven’t tried it, I’d urge you to give it a listen.  I am not a fan of fiction books in audio — but have been able to increase my consumption of non-fiction books by using audiobooks while walking the dog.  An important note of caution — Be careful when listening to audio books while driving — you may impair your ability to concentrate and safely operate your vehicle.

2.  Assess your general attentiveness and where your brain is focused — before you grab ‘that’ book.   Are you anxious?  Pre-occupied?  Tired?  Have you just finished a frustrating day at work?   Is your brain on overload or feeling jumbled?   Or is your brain calm, empty and ready to focus?   Match your brain’s focus to the book you’re about to read.  You’ll have much better reading results.

3.  Experiment with a note-taking, flagging, or underlining methods for certain books.  You’ll need to find what works for you.  Certainly you won’t want to do it for every book but for those books that are important to your professional or personal growth, you might find a note taking method a good way to better incorporate the information into your brain. Science has proven that writing it down — with pen and paper — helps you remember.  

Suggested Note-Taking Methods

Ryan Holiday author of  Ego is the Enemy, Perennial Seller, The Obstacle is The Way, Trust Me I’m Lying and Growth Hacker Marketing once worked as an assistant for Robert Greene (48 Laws of Power, The Art of Seduction, Mastery and most recently The Laws of Human Nature).  He credits Greene with teaching him how to get through copious amounts of reading & to take good notes.   Here’s Ryan Holiday’s blog post on the method he uses for notetaking that is adapted from Greene. 

If you’ve got any note-taking tips, send me an email and let me know:

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