Remember and Apply What You Read: A Quick and Effective to Guide

Chances are you’ve read dozens of articles on the internet this week.  Maybe you’ve even finished reading book or two. You may have even underlined or highlighted a few passages in what you’ve read. You’ve thought to yourself “I can’t wait to implement that in my life or business.”

A few days later you can’t even remember what you read or where it came from. And this continues the vicious cycle of excessive consumption. It limits your creativity and prevents you from consuming less and creating more.

Practical application of what you read reinforces what you’ve learned. You’re forced to integrate it into your life. If all you do is consume, you’re much more likely to forget what you read.

  • If you want to a remember what you read, and take action on it, develop a system.
  • You can utilize the notecard system that Ryan Holiday learned from Robert Greene.
  • You can use Evernote to build a second brain.


Regardless of the method, having a system is essential to remembering what you read, and acting on it.


1. Capture Your Highlights and Insights


remember what you read

Most people mindlessly browse the web and share whatever gets their attention in the moment.

What they don’t do is capture things that they find value in. What might have been worthwhile insights eventually just fade into oblivion. But if you capture what catches your attention, you’re more likely to remember and act on it.   

Underlining and Highlighting

If you all do is underline and highlight sections of a book, you’re not going to benefit. You have to actually do something with what you’ve underlined and highlighted. While reading, it’s not uncommon to highlight and underline several parts of a book.

When you go back to capture what you’ve read, this is when you want to be discerning. And the simple way to discern between what you should capture and not is by asking yourself the question “is this important to me?”  Many of the quotes I end up capturing from books are often used in my blog posts.

I break the way I underline my books into a few categories.

Beautiful language: If I  love the way a particular sentence or phrase sounds, I’ll underline. In her book Tiny Beautiful things Cheryl Strayed used the words “soul smashingly beautiful.” I underlined it. And I decided to steal like an artist and use in some of my own work.

Research for my own projects: I write about human behavior, productivity, flow, and neuroscience.  So, I underline anything related to my own projects.

Actionable Ideas: This could be exercises or specific directions to try something. Insert example from Anna Yusiim’s book on capturing your dreams.

How I use Evernote: A few days ago I finished reading the book Insight by Tasha Eurich. I had underlined many passages and wanted to make sure I had an easy way to retrieve all the things I’d learned from it. I read physical books so having to go back to the book wouldn’t be particularly efficient.

After my conversation with Tiago Forte on the Unmistakable Creative podcast, I decided to I would use Evernote to capture what resonated with me most from Tasha’s book. This is how I’ve broken it down.

I take a picture of the cover from Amazon and drop it in the note.

I write a paragraph or so summary of that book.

I type in all the quotes/highlights. The first time I did this I tried to take pictures. But I found the process to be less efficient.

I write down any ideas for blog posts that came from it or actions I have. For example, I followed this process for The Happiness Advantage.  I had an idea for a blog post titled Scientifically Proven ways to Become Happier.

One other method that I use capturing ideas for podcast blog posts is Notion.Our editorial calendar is organized as follows.

  • Ideas
  • In Progress
  • Ready to Proofread
  • Published

This allows me to plan out our editorial calendar a few weeks in advance. Regardless of your method, capturing your insights is critical to taking action on them.​


2. Discuss Books with Friends

remember what you read


If get a lot of insight from a book, I’ll recommend it to my friend Brian. I do this for very selfish reasons. His brain works differently than mine, and if I make him read the book, I’ll get insights that I wouldn’t have otherwise. We recently did this with Ray Dalio’s book Principles. It had a big impact on our planning and goals for 2018. Discussing what you read with colleagues, business partners and friends amplifies value of what you read.


3. Write About the Things Your Read

There’s a great deal of power to writing about things you read. One of best ways to reinforce what you learned is to teach it to someone else. Many of articles and book chapters are often inspired by things I’ve read. When we write about the things we read, we not only reinforce those ideas. We synthesize them and gain our own insights from them.


4. Ask Your Self Questions 


By asking questions about what we’re reading we move from passive consumption to active engagement. You’re better off being actively engaged with 10 pages of good writing than passively consuming 50 blog posts.

The authors of How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading pose 4 key questions.


1. What is the book about as a whole?

2. What is being said in detail and how?

3. Is the book true, in whole or part

4. What of it?

I ask myself some other questions as well.

1. Where might I apply this in my life?

2. Where have I seen this play out in my life?

3. Does this give me any ideas to write about?

You can either be a passive consumer in your reading or an engaged participant. The latter is far more valuable and rewarding.


5. Read a Book More Than Once

remember what you read


I’ve written before about the hidden benefits of reading a book of more than once. When you read a book for the second time, you discover insights that you overlooked before. There are many books on my shelf that I revisit regularly. Revisiting these books leads to ideas for articles to write about and even parts of my books.

I asked my community on Facebook how they implement the things they read. This is what my friend Maria said:

I find that I have to read a book several times to really get it – and I take notes and action. Right now I’m on my fourth reading (over 3 years) of You Were Born Rich by Bob Proctor and each time I’ve read it I significantly increased my income. I kept notes of what my goals were for each reading and it’s so interesting to look back and see that I’ve achieved nearly everything from the previous readings.

Sometimes the greatest value you get from reading a book is by reading it more than once.


6. Apply What You Learn, But Start Small

remember what you read


People fail to implement what they read because they bite off more than they chew. They read some book and attempt a massive overhaul of their life. Because this isn’t sustainable, they usually find themselves right back where they started. They assume the ideas in the book don’t work. So, they look for the next book to read or the next guru to worship. This continues the vicious cycle of personal development.

When I read Shawn Achor’s book The Happiness Advantage, I wanted to implement so many ideas.  But the one that stood out was the concept of a activation energy. I decided to apply it my writing habit. I reduced activation energy by placing my journal on my desk and blocking distractions the night before.

That led to my keystone habit of writing 1000 words a day. The first habit eventually lead to reading 100 books a year, and a meditation habit. It was one small thing that lead me there.

One of the best pieces of advice I can give you for habit creation is that it should be easy to do daily, even effortless.If you only do this once and never do it again you’ll fail to see the value in it. That's like going to the gym once expecting to be in the best shape of your life. The more difficult and time consuming, the more difficult the habit to adhere to.

The trick to remembering what you read is to apply what you learn in small doses. Do it for 10 books. Before you know it, you’ll have a new system remembering and applying what you  read.

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