The best knowledge is useless unless applied.
Yet, when I stumbled upon this quote by Ratna Kusnur some time ago, I started to question the power of books:
“Knowledge trapped in books neatly stacked is meaningless and powerless until applied for betterment of life.”
Admittedly, Ratna caught me right on the spot. Before building my first business, I had read dozens of books for each stage in the business lifecycle. But when it came to starting, the most significant impact was doing it.
Yes, reading can be the fast-track to a happier, healthier, wiser life. But unless you apply the lessons from the greatest thinkers to our lives, reading is mere entertainment.
Here’s a self-tested way to apply what you read to your life and thereby, lead a better life:
This advice doesn't apply to fictional books. It applies to reading non-fiction books for knowledge and practicality.
Choose the Right Book for Your Life Situation
“Knowledge isn’t power until it’s applied.”
— Dale Carnegie
You can’t apply irrelevant knowledge. By reading a book that has no connex to your current circumstances, there’s no way you can integrate new knowledge in your days.
I fell into this trap many times. I’d buy the books my mentors recommended reading. Back in 2016, I spent hours working my way through Ray Dalio’s Principles to realize that this book had no connection to my student life.
When you try hard to find applicable lessons, but you can’t find any useful advice, it’s not your fault. Instead, it’s either the wrong book or the wrong time for the book.
Bill Gates finishes every book he starts. Not because he forces himself through a bad book. Instead, he chooses with intent.
The clearer you know why you’re reading the book at hand, the more natural you find ways to integrate the learnings into your life.
How to do it:
Before starting any book, ask yourself:
Which big questions do you face in life, right now?
Which skills do you want to build?
If a book doesn’t promise to deliver on your topics, skip it. You won’t be able to use the lessons. Do your research before reading a book. Choose wisely, then, read thoroughly.
By picking the right content with the right timing, you’ll enjoy the words in front of you.
Create Action Items
“It’s not knowing what to do, it’s doing what you know.”
— Tony Robbins
Most persons on this planet read a book, have some “aha” moments and then, after finishing the book, forget everything they just learned.
Unless you think and act while reading, you’ll never integrate book lessons to your life. You will never revisit a specific concept later.
Yes, it does feel comforting to postpone action for later. But let’s be honest: By procrastinating your actions, you’re wasting your time.
Unfortunately, I write from experience. I’d say to myself: “Oh, what a great insight. I should do this. I’ll do it once I’m done with the book”. And then, the application part never happened.
Re-reading the same concepts again and again won’t improve your life. It’s the application of these concepts that will change your life forever.
If you don’t apply the knowledge you read at the same moment you read it, it will get lost. Unless you follow the advice from books and do something, even the smartest information is a waste of your time.
Once you started reading the right book, beware of procrastination. Instead, apply a book’s wisdom while you read. Stop at the page and integrate useful lessons into your life.
In High-Performance Habits, for example, we learn about the power of morning affirmations. I stopped during the chapter and recorded my own affirmations.
In Stillness is Key, Ryan Holiday explores the benefits of journaling. When he convinced me, I placed an empty notebook with a pen on my nightstand and started journaling the same evening.
How to do it:
If you stumble upon useful advice, create an environment that invites you to do what you’ve just learned.
Put an item on your to-do list or place an action item on a specific spot. If you read the 5 Languages of Love, try one out the same day. If you read Cal Newport’s Deep Work, start changing your work schedule tomorrow morning.
By forming action items from your books, you’ll make the most out of any book. You’ll be able to apply knowledge from books to your life.
Reread Life-Changing Books
“In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you.”
Many people treat the number of books you read as the level of your wisdom. This logic is flawed. It’s not the number of different pages you can get through that will make you happier, wiser, and healthier.
When you focus on the number of finished books, you tend to rush through the content. With a goal of completion in mind, it’s easy to overlook meaningful passages.
By rereading a book, you can check which parts you applied and which sections you’ve forgotten. You can then focus your effort on the parts that need more application.
Ryan Holiday is an impressive example of the power of rereading. He read the same book 100 times over 10 years. Undoubtedly, this habit led to Ryan’s unparalleled understanding and three bestselling books.
How to do it:
Focus on the process of reading, not on the total number of books you’ve read. Revisit the books that have influenced you the most.
Books change as we do. You’ll be amazed at how many new things you can discover that you may have missed before.
Reading is the fastest way to expand your world view and improve your life.
Yet, don’t set your goal of reading a specific number of books per year. Instead, make sure you choose the right book for your life situation, create action items, and revisit life-changing books.
Mere reading expands your knowledge, but the application will change your life. Reading a few great books a year, with time for implementation, will make you happier, healthier, and wiser.
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