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5 Rules for Reading Books that will Improve Your Mind

13 Minutes
Reading Time

Rules for reading that can help improve your mind are best not researched on Twitter. There is a broad spectrum of contrarian advice on reading, and this troubles me. Reading offers us a wonderful way to learn - both in practical and emotional ways. Love is an emotion most of us feel, but struggle to describe until we've read. Then there is our quest to grow and improve as humans. Our brains become exposed to the best that someone else has already figured out.

Reading is one shortcut to a more fulfilled life.

Twitter's finest offer a platitude of polarizing comments on how to read. I stopped searching after reading this tweet though.

Why bother picking up the book in the first place.

An overriding consensus that's gloated over is the power of speed reading. Skimming the contents page, and then skimming chapter by chapter to pick out the elements that are relevant or of meaning.

It appears context doesn't matter anymore.

Why we need Rules for Reading Books

In a polarized world, it seems right to push back. Why should we speed-read a book? Why should we skim and skate over the surface of the author's arguments? To fully understand the point the author is making, it's equally important to see the relationships, the journey, the discovery, and the outcome of the book - or article.

We need rules for reading.

You see, I read a tonne of stuff every day. I read newsletters, articles, and books, and social media posts as well. My pocket account is drowning in saved articles and then there is my kindle which holds many titles - all of which I've consumed.


There is always an interruption from me. It drives my wife mad, and frustratingly for her, it is an intrinsic quality of my INTJ type. I question everything, so 'but' seems a suitable word to use as I challenge the accepted knowledge outlined in the beginning. 

It comes in the form of the following questions.

  • How can I better filter what I read before I read it?
  • How can I remember more of what I've read?
  • What can I read and understand better to help others?

I want to get more from my reading - I think you do too. So, this is my quest. To create a framework that will help me learn more, improve my life more, and help others at the same time. I need rules - now more than ever as the hands of time seem to be spinning ever quicker. In sharing it here, I give you the chance to take my rules and use them yourself.

The Strategy behind my Rules for Reading

We think of strategy as a function of business - or war, not of an article we might have in our lives. We talk about plans or personal development, but most of us don't have a strategy in place for life or anything more granular.

Effective and successful strategies offer a means to overcome a problem and grow from it. Apple created the iPhone because other smartphones weren't that smart. By adopting touch screen technology, Apple brought together a phone, an internet device, and a music player into one.

Building a good strategy starts with a diagnosis of the current problem. Having a diagnosis leads to a guiding policy, followed by coherent actions.

Here is my reading diagnosis:

I don't read with the right Intent

My mental process for reading stems from learning to read as an act of pleasure. My English teacher did her best to introduce me to literature, and in part, she succeeded. Fiction was my tipple. Historically, my book choices come from seeking entertainment, not to learn. Looking back, I didn't consume a non-fiction book until I was in my thirties.

Since then, people like Tim Ferriss, Shane Parrish, Bill Gates, amongst others have guided my book choice. Yes, I've wanted to learn, but I’m guided by others on topics.

Rarely have I chosen a book having first thought about what I don't know and filling that gap. 

I'm reacting to the knowledge and insights of others to guide me in my book choice. But who's curiosity am I fulfilling?

I'm not Learning from what I Read

A quick look at my Goodreads account shows the seventy-five books I’ve read. I can remember some bits of information from them, but not the best bits. Not the bits that might inform or help me with problem-solving or making decisions.

I can recall the great chapters from Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, especially the ones on capitalism, and Yuval Noah Harari’s explanation on how imagination and communication used religion to build collaboration.

Then there are the two systems for judgement and choice from Daniel Kahneman's, book. Thinking Fast, and Slow. I can remember that.

A glance at the books I've previously read draws some sorrow. I can vaguely recall the great strategy lessons from the Steve Jobs biography by Walter Issacson, or from Benjamin Franklin. Better yet, there's Stephen Covey and his excellent 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I remember little of note from these books.

I'm running out of Time

Lastly, I'm forty-six. If I'm lucky, I've forty-four years of reading ahead of me. I was reminded of this from Tim Ferriss and his one decision on not to read any new releases. He was led to this, in part by the tail end. Reading just five books a year leaves me with 220 books to consume.

I also experienced starting three books I couldn't finish. Each one was repetitive, with the insights lost in a sea of excessive words and thoughts. That's 1% of my reading opportunities gone.

When I chose a book, I want it to enlighten me. I know some of the words will be blatant filler - but I can live with that if the context is right. I must choose better.

My Guiding Policy for Reading Books

Accepting the 220 books I can comfortably - and hopefully - read before the end of my time, I will implement a top-down approach to reading.  A thoughtful examination of what I don't know will leave me with a focused choice of topics to research. The focus within the research will be to find the book titles that might fulfil the knowledge gaps I have.

An assessment of each title will consider reviews - both good and bad - on Goodreads, Amazon, and Google. 

I’ll add the title to my Future Reading List with notes made as to why I selected the title and why.

My reading will take place on my Kindle, with highlights and notes made as I read. I will refine these as I add them to my Roam database; the home of my second brain. The purpose of which is to enable me to think more clearly and thus, make better decisions.

The focus is on extracting information that will improve my decision-making and problem-solving abilities.

I will still read for pleasure, intermixing biographies, and nonfiction throughout the year.

Coherent Actions: 5 Rules for Reading Books

  1. Read with Intent

George Raveling, at the age of eighty-two seeks to know what he doesn't know. I accept that reading is a crucial way for me to learn. Therefore, I will think about what I don't know and list topic areas to focus on.

Focusing on the right topics offers a return on investment to the effort of reading.

  1. Research Book Titles

There are thousands of books in circulation. Don't opt for the current best sellers; In fact, don't opt for any newly published book. Most of the gaps in our knowledge are out there in a book. The issue is that you haven't found that book yet.

Once you have you several titles to consider, review the reviews.

Why shouldn't you read this book?  

We always look for why we should do something, never the opposite. Inverting gives the value of perspective, an alternate question and answer to the normal. You might think this sounds excessive. Consider you're going to read just five books in the next twelve months; each title needs to be high in quality to make the shortlist. Apply your filters so.

  1. Read Slowly

Speed read; speed read. It's all the rage, with some saying it's an essential skill to get ahead. At what cost - I challenge.

Read slowly, thus letting each sentence sink in. Observe the writer's point of view. What is their perspective? Why is the author coming to these conclusions? I argued earlier that most of what we read; we forget. Yes, making notes will overcome this (see point 4), but to learn, rather than consume the emphasis changes.

  1. Record notes and share observations

I want to improve the process of clearing my mind. To achieve this, I must better manage the information I'm consuming. This means filtering information; books, article, and the like so I'm more able to digest the right information. It also means developing my second brain. The goal to keep more of the right models and biases to improve my thinking. 

  1. Don't forget to read for pleasure

Nothing conveys excitement, drama, and tension the way a book can. The prized moments of pain, glory, and love enlighten my imagination in ways more visual entertainment can't.

Never stop reading for pleasure.

Concluding Thoughts

My rules for reading books include some strong views on reading with intent, filtering, note-taking, and the pleasure of reading. My views come from a period of life I've wasted. Lost to a lack of understanding about what it takes to learn from reading a book. Like others, I've become caught up in the 'read more' game of speed reading and consuming content like it's a badge of honour.

Without a rigorous process of highlighting, note-taking, and absorbing the context of what's written, it's a lost cause with little value in play.

The Resolve Blog is my opportunity to give back. To help others learn from the mistakes I made. Not having any rules for reading books was one mistake I've made.

Don't let it be yours.

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