How to Get the Most Out of Your Reading

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I live by a simple philosophy.

Learn it. Live it. Lead it.

Learning is easy. We listen to podcasts. We watch webinars. We read books. We gain knowledge from meaningful conversations. 

We are inspired by knowledge.

But it’s the living part that proves to be a bit more difficult. When we live what we learn, our lives begin to change. That newly acquired knowledge has moved from our head to our heart. We have taken an idea, a concept, a belief and rooted it in our lives and it comes out in our actions and behaviors.

In a previous post, I shared the top nine books that have changed my life (so far) and a list of others that I’m currently reading.  Where I love soaking up all the good stuff from these amazing authors (many of them are at mastery in their work), my biggest struggle is getting their knowledge into my bones.

Why read a book if it somehow doesn’t change you or invite you to think from a new perspective? How can I learn it and live it in my everyday life?

Here is how I move from learning to living...

1. Choose a book in an area you want to grow.

One of my values is life-long learning and with that comes a drive for my own personal and professional growth. I find an area that I want to grow in or learn more about and then find books that speak to that area. It’s not typically one source but a couple.

For instance, when concentrating on my business growth the books I read were The EMyth, The 4 D’s of Execution, and Traction.

When wrestling with authenticity and self-worth, I read Daring Greatly, You are a Badass, and How to Stop Feeling Like Shit.

When I needed to think bigger about where I was, I read Playing Big, The Big Leap, and High Performance Habits.

Where do you find yourself striving for more in your life right now?

There are at least 20 books out there that you can read right now that will help you, challenge you, validate you, teach you… go find two of them and start with chapter 1.

2. Actively read expecting to learn something. 

Every book I’m reading has a pencil in it.

This pencil does 2 things: 1) it holds my page like a bookmark and 2) it marks the passages or quotes that mean something to me.  I’ll underline sentences or complete paragraphs that are meaningful. I’ll write in the margins if I agree, disagree, or have another thought I’m connecting with the author’s point. If the entire page is a story I want to remember, I’ll make a squiggly line all the way down the side of the page.

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If a page has something remarkable, I’ll dog-ear (or puppy fold) the corner. If I want to use the thought in my work, I’ll attach a post-it note and jot the theme on it for quicker reference.


At this point, this would be passive learning. I’ve read the book, highlighted certain passages, enjoyed the author’s thoughts and perspective, and closed the book.

3. Develop a system to capture (and retain) what you learn.

To move from a passive learning state to a massive action state takes a bit more work. This is where we are intentional about moving from learning it to living it so it’s important to develop your own system of how you integrate what you’ve underlined into your every day life.

John Maxwell notes the thoughts by writing it on the inside front cover with page number and topic. His staff then copies those pages and puts them on a 5X8 card.

James Clear, author of Atomic Habits (haven’t read that one yet) keeps all his notes in Evernote, which makes them easy to search.

My method changes from year to year. I have journals dedicated to books I’ve read where I take physical hand written notes. I’ve typed notes into a Word document and dropped into a specific Book Notes folder.

But these practices don’t help me live the concepts I learn, rather just recall them.

My current system is using note cards.

I read Brendan Burchard’s High Performing Habits (it’s a juggernaut) and I was convinced it would be filled with life altering practices.

So I sat down with an orange Sharpie pen (I love colored Sharpies that don’t bleed through paper) and a stack of note cards. For each a-ha moment, each high performing habit, each model, I would capture it on a single notecard. In the upper right hand corner, I would write the topic (Clarity, Generate Energy, Courage), capture the thought, draw the model, or jot down his journaling prompts, and then note the page number and book title on the front or back of the card. 


I then punched a hole in the top left of each card and fixed them together with a ring. This little stack of cards is now a summary of Brendan’s book (and it fits in my purse. Bonus!) I can rearrange the cards depending on the habit I’m forming, the mindset I’m shifting, or the character trait I’m developing.

I might pull the card out to journal my thoughts on a quote, work through a concept, study and apply a model, or even offer it as a tool or thought in a coaching session.

Eventually I graduated to using this Oxford Just Flip It Note Card system. The cards are bigger and a bit more protected so they don’t curl, bend, or discolor in my purse.

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How can you remind yourself on a daily or weekly basis to implement what you learned into your every day life?  How do you memorize quotes and concepts? 

The key is having a system and following it. Whether it’s a paper or electronic system, find one that works for you.

Once you learn it, get it in your bones and really live it yourself, then you're ready to lead it and teach it to someone else.