I look at my shelf and I am overwhelmed. Books range from subjects like investing, to counselling, to subjects like language acquisition. This has been 3 years of compilation from the libraries at my University. I wanted to use this time to reflect on how one can grow better through his reading.

            When I was in the army, I once heard my friend describe himself as a ‘full-time book reader’. He was a clerk for an officer, and he often had much free time on his hands. He is a person I deeply admire. From rejecting a place at the University of Warwick to read economics, to quitting his data analytics degree at a Singaporean university, he has shown me that he is fully living out the lessons he has learnt from books.

            How then can one learn better from books? I have been thinking deeply about this question over the past 3 years. Whilst much of the advice has been about the importance of reading, how we can read faster, I have not managed to find much information about how we can read better. How can we read more effectively, so that what we read translates into tangible differences in our lives?

Firstly, I have realised that it is important to have a plan. I used to pick up any random book off the shelf to read, depending on my life’s circumstances and what I thought would speak to me. Whilst this can be useful, I realise that having clear goals in terms of how much you read is important. This year, my goal is to read one book a week. I then write down a series of books that I want to read over the month, so that I am not distracted by other fancier books that appear. I put these ‘fancy’ books on a wish-list, so that I can read them after I have finished with my month’s aims.  

Secondly, applying what you have learnt – immediately! Now! Don’t wait until you record them down or reflect on them. Instead, apply it within your life. Over the past years, I have been drawing mindmaps about what I have read. However, I have realised that I often don’t remember much from these mindmaps I draw. It’s probably because I slot these mindmaps away, barely remembering where I put them. In the past few weeks, I begin to see the wisdom of applying what you have learnt immediately. Whether it be through teaching, giving a speech on it, or discussing about it, make sure that it doesn’t simply go in through your eyes, and then out through your brain. As the learning pyramid below shows, teaching others about it can bring tremendous learning for yourself.

Lastly, we can follow the 3 Cs Daniel Wong (2012) talks about in his book The Happy Student. Conviction, commitment, and change. According to Daniel, whenever we read a book or watch a Ted talk, we feel inspired, and convicted. However, this conviction seldom lasts beyond a day.

We then need to commit to applying what we have learnt. For example, one habit that I have been building over 2018 was the habit of thankfulness. No matter how ungrateful I felt, I still sat down each morning to jot down an entry on what I could be grateful for. Commitment trumps motivation. In a recent ‘Chimp Management’ conference (run by Professor Steve Peters) I attended, I found that motivation always fails. As Zig Ziglar says,

‘People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.’  

Next time you feel unmotivated, remember, it is not the feeling that matters. It is the commitment.

Lastly, change. Change happens when we start putting our commitment to practice, day after day, month after month, year after year. Over the last 3 years, I have been committing to weightlifting week after week. Initially, I thought, why aren’t any of my six-packs appearing? Instead, only my huge family pack seemed to exist. But as I have continued working out, rain or shine, snow or no snow, I have started to see effects. Today, even if you ‘don’t feel like it’, remember, change happens when we least expect it. It is only through our disciplined action that we will begin to see change. Just as a cocoon often shows no outward sign of change, there are inevitably inwards signs of change. But one day, one day, your butterfly will emerge!

So, to read effectively, remember – plan, apply, and change! PAC-man!