How to Apply What You Learn Regardless of What You Read

Books are amazing. Filled with knowledge from some of the wisest and most experienced individuals to have ever lived.

You’ve got books on strategy from seasoned military generals, like Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. You’ve got a personal journal from a Roman Emperor in Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations. There are even books that consolidate knowledge from many different people and eras, like Robert Greene’s The 48 Laws of Power.

All the knowledge you could ever want is out there, just waiting to be read.

But, it only becomes valuable once you apply it. You need to be able to use the knowledge you gain from reading in real life in order to benefit from it.

This can be a challenge for some people. When you read a book, the knowledge is presented quite plainly, as facts or explanations. But it’s up to the reader to translate those lessons into real actions.

For every book that I read, I follow the same 3 step process to apply what I’ve learned to my own life.

I’m going to share that process with you here.

#1 Start With Notes

The first step in the process happens while you’re reading the book.

There will be certain moments where you read something that you find extremely valuable. It could be a quote, suggestion, example, or a full paragraph or chapter with a really good explanation of a topic.

From these moments, write down the lessons you learn. This shouldn’t be a direct copy of what you read (unless it’s a one-sentence quote or suggestion). Write your own interpretation of what you read and understood.

The purpose of this exercise is to take the knowledge you gather from whatever book you read and consolidate it. You’re making your own summary of all of the learnings, in your own words, for your own understanding. When you look at the notes again, all of the valuable learnings you wrote down will be preserved, perfectly worded by you.

Personally, I like to do this on Google Docs so it’s always accessible and it comes with bookmarks to jump straight to my notes for a particular book. But you can also write in a physical notebook or on note cards like Ryan Holiday.

If you’re planning on becoming a writer, these notes can be a great source of inspiration or ideation for future articles.

#2 Convert Your Notes Into Actions

From the notes, you want to derive actions that you can take in real life.

Go through the list of notes and convert each one (or grouping a few) into an action item.

For example, when I read the book Superfans the author talked a lot about engaging with your audience. So I wrote down my action: “moving forward, reply to every comment on every one of your Medium posts.”

When I read the book How to Win Friends and Influence People, I created an action based on an entire chapter. I wrote: “when you go to meet with your University professor, listen as much as possible. Only talk if he prompts you.” It worked wonders, landing me my first internship.

The point of this exercise is to convert all of your theoretical notes into real actions that can be implemented immediately. Once they are in this form, you’ll be more motivated to actually apply what you’ve learned. It’s so easy once you have a list of actions that are ready to go.

There are only two criteria you need to follow when doing this.

First, the actions you create should be executable immediately. You want to hit the ground running and move fast. Having some complex actions that need tons of planning will only slow you down.

And second, keep the actions as small as possible. This will ensure that the actions you create are easy to manage, so you can get immediate value out of them.

#3 Execute and Track Your Progress

The final step is to execute, but we’re going to do it in a very specific way.

Go through your list of actions and execute them one at a time. We can’t be multi-tasking trying to apply 5 things at once, we’ll never know what’s working and what isn’t.

One at a time is best so you can really focus on getting the execution right and gathering the maximum value from it.

Also, track your progress.

After you execute an action, review how much it benefitted you. Not every single lesson from every single book is going to change your life. At least not at that very moment.

And that’s OK!

For now, give your action some sort of score or rating or just review how well it went. If the action was very effective for you, then put an extra mark beside it. That’s a special one that you can apply again!

The main purpose of this step is to execute your actions methodically. When you’re tracking them, you’re able to see how well they’re doing, perhaps even tweaking them to your benefit along the way.

Books contain almost infinite knowledge from some of the wisest and most experienced people in human history. To get the most of the lessons you learn from reading books, try this three-step process:

  1. Make notes from the books you read. Summarise all of the lessons you learn so you can come back to them later.
  2. Convert your notes into actions. The actions should be small and written in such a way that they can be executed immediately.
  3. Execute your actions and track your progress. Embed your actions into your daily life so you can be sure to get them done. Track how much value you get out of these actions so you can refine and reuse them.

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