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5 Ways to Get the Most Out of Books

5 Ways to Get the Most Out of Books

Whether you’re reading for school, pleasure, self-improvement, or to expand your knowledge base, there are “right” ways and “wrong” ways to delve into your material. If you’ve ever found yourself drooling onto the pages of a book after having read the same paragraph 50 times, you may not have been reading in an effective, productive manner. Here are a few ways in which you can ensure that you absorb as much as you can from the items that you read.

1. Don’t Read Important Materials When You’re Tired

This applies to school assignments, training manuals, or the permission slip for your kid’s field trip to Dan’s Hungry Dingo and Alligator Playland. If you’re overly tired when you try to read something of substance, you won’t absorb a damned thing and you’ll end up with neurotic nightmares that are fraught with failure, reprimands, and worries. If you’re the type of person who is most alert first thing in the morning, then make a point of waking up 20-30 minutes early so you have some time to read before tackling the day. If you tend to be hyper-focused in the later afternoon or evening, set aside a block of time when you can be left alone so you can devote all your attention to the task at hand. This leads into the next tip:

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2. Eliminate Distractions

When I was in college, I was once invited to a friend’s house so we could work on an assignment together. The girl I was working with had the radio on in the kitchen, the TV blaring in her bedroom (where we were trying to work), and she’d interrupt me every 5 minutes to ask my opinion about some outfit, or try to make plans for the following weekend.

Guess how much work we got done.

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It sounds like common sense to eliminate as many distractions as possible when you’re trying to concentrate, but many people don’t realise that having sensory input from all directions is incredibly detrimental. To really be able to draw in everything you’re reading, go to a place where you know that you can focus well. For some, this might be a perfectly quiet room where they can sit in solitude and read for hours. Other people might do best when sitting at the back of a cafe, as the white noise helps them focus and the human company keeps them from going mad. Trust in what’s best for you, but ensure that your surroundings enhance the experience, instead of detracting from it.

3. Take Notes

If this isn’t too much of a distraction for you, keep a notebook handy and jot down key points as you come across them. Was there a particularly poignant expression that you want to remember? Write it down, along with the chapter and page number. If you’re studying history, jot down key names, dates, and events related to whatever you’re focused on. Is this a novel you’re reading for a book club? Write down your reactions to certain scenes or phrases so you can discuss them with your group later. If, when revisiting this material in future, you find that your recollection of detail is a bit foggy, looking over your notes can be of great help for jogging your memory.

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Be sure to dedicate one notebook entirely to notes about your books, so you don’t have to flip through a 5-subject behemoth to find a few lines you’ve scrawled about something or other.

4. Only Read Books You’re Truly Interested In, If You Can

This may not be possible if you have a very strict curriculum to adhere to, or if you absolutely have to read some work-related materials that are vital for your continued employment, but if you’re given a few different options to choose from, read the first chapter of each and see which one you’re most drawn to. You’ll be able to retain a lot more information if the subject matter has captured your attention, and if you actually care enough to find out how it all ends.

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Don’t read novels merely for the sake of impressing others. If you don’t truly love Dostoyevsky’s work, you will undoubtedly slip into a coma halfway through Crime and Punishment, and you won’t be able to discuss the book with any clarity should anyone question you about it later. There are many books on those “omg you totally have to read this before you die” lists that are only there because somebody wanted to be a pretentious jackass and no-one called them on it. If you never manage to get through James Joyce’s Ulysses, there’s certainly no need to be ashamed: I don’t think anyone ever has.

Life is too short to waste time reading books that don’t fuel your soul and make you happy, so if you’re reading for pleasure, make it a sincerely pleasurable pastime. On that note, we come to the final tip:

5. Re-Read Books Every So Often

This may sound strange, considering that after you’ve read a book you’re already familiar with the subject and/or know how it ends, but consider this: you’re not the same person you were yesterday, nor the same one you were last week, a year ago, or a decade ago. Every experience we have changes us—our perspective on the world, our understanding of different situations—and in turn, we will process information differently depending on where we are in our lives. When you’re in your 20s, you might re-read a book you loved when you were 16 and discover a wealth of insight that you had totally glossed over at that age. You may read a design book today and come away with a strong understanding of the subject, but if you revisit that book after a couple of years in a graphic design program, you might understand subtle references in the text that you didn’t catch on to before, or have a sudden epiphany after reading about a particular technique.

Books can be dear friends if you cherish them as such, so be sure to give them the attention they deserve, secure in the knowledge that in turn, they’ll give you a wealth of inspiration, knowledge, and growth.

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Catherine Winter

Catherine is a wordsmith covering lifestyle tips on Lifehack.

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Last Updated on December 2, 2019

10 Powerful Ways to Stop Worrying and Start Living Today

10 Powerful Ways to Stop Worrying and Start Living Today

Plato knew that the body and mind are intimately linked. And in the late 1800s, the Mayo brothers, famous physicians, estimated that over half of all hospital beds are filled with people suffering from frustration, anxiety, worry and despair. Causes of worry are everywhere, in our relationships and our jobs, so it’s key we find ways to take charge of the stress.

In his classic book How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, Dale Carnegie offers tools to ditch excessive worrying that help you make a worry-free environment for your private and professional life.

These are the top 10 tips to grab worry by the horns and wrestle it to the ground:

1. Make Your Decision and Never Look Back

Have you ever made a decision in life only to second-guess it afterwards? Of course you have! It’s hard not to wonder whether you’ve done the right thing and whether there might still be time to take another path.

But keep this in mind: you’ve already made your decision, so act decisively on it and dismiss all your anxiety about it.

Don’t stop to hesitate, to reconsider, or to retrace your steps. Once you’ve chosen a course of action, stick to it and never waver.

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2. Live for Today, Package Things up in “Day-Tight Compartments”

You know that feeling: tossing, turning and worrying over something that happened or something that might, well into the wee hours. To avoid this pointless worrying, you need “day-tight compartments”. Much as a ship has different watertight compartments, your own “day-tight” ones are a way to limit your attention to the present day.

The rule is simple: whatever happened in the past or might happen in the future must not intrude upon today. Everything else has to wait its turn for tomorrow’s box or stay stuck in the past.

3. Embrace the Worst-Case Scenario and Strategize to Offset It

If you’re worried about something, ask yourself: “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” Could you lose your job? Be jailed? Get killed?

Whatever the “worst” might be, it’s probably not so world-ending. You could probably even bounce back from it!

If, for example, you lose your job, you could always find another. Once you accept the worst-case scenario and get thinking about contingency plans, you’ll feel calmer.

4. Put a Lid on Your Worrying

Sometimes we stress endlessly about negative experiences when just walking away from them would serve us far better.

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To make squashing that worry easier, try this strategy, straight from stock traders: it’s called the “stop-loss” order, where shares are bought at a certain price, and then their price development is observed. If things go badly and the share price hits a certain point, they are sold off immediately. This stops the loss from increasing further.

In the same manner, you can put a stop-loss order on things that cause you stress and grief.

5. Fake It ‘Til You Make It – Happiness, That Is

We can’t directly influence how we feel, but we can nudge ourselves to change through how we think and act.

If you’re feeling sad or low, slap a big grin on your face and whistle a chipper tune. You’ll find it impossible to be blue when acting cheerful. But you don’t necessarily need to act outwardly happy; you can simply think happier thoughts instead.

Marcus Aurelius summed it up aptly:

“Our life is what our thoughts make it.”

6. Give for the Joy of Giving

When we perform acts of kindness, we often do so with the expectation of gratitude. But harboring such expectations will probably leave you disappointed.

One person well aware of this fact was the lawyer Samuel Leibowitz. Over the course of his career, Leibowitz saved 78 people from going to the electric chair. Guess how many thanked him? None.

So stop expecting gratitude when you’re kind to someone. Instead, take joy from the act yourself.

7. Dump Envy – Enjoy Being Uniquely You

Your genes are completely unique. Even if someone had the same parents as you, the likelihood of someone identical to you being born is just one in 300,000 billion.

Despite this amazing fact, many of us long to be someone else, thinking the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. But living your life this way is pointless. Embrace your uniqueness and get comfortable with who you really are: How to Be True to Yourself and Live the Life You Want

8. Haters Will Hate — It Just Means You’re Doing It Right

When you’re criticized, it often means you’re accomplishing something noteworthy. In fact, let’s take it a step further and consider this: the more you’re criticized, the more influential and important a person you likely are.

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So the next time somebody talks you down, don’t let it get to you. Take it as a compliment!

9. Chill Out! Learn to Rest Before You Get Tired

Scientists agree that emotions are the most common cause of fatigue. And it works the other way around, too: fatigue produces more worries and negative emotions.

It should be clear, therefore, that you’ve got to relax regularly before you feel tired. Otherwise, worries and fatigue will accumulate on top of each other.

It’s impossible to worry when you are relaxed, and regular rest helps you maintain your ability to work effectively.

10. Get Organized and Enjoy Your Work

There are few greater sources of misery in life than having to work, day in, day out, in a job you despise. It would make sense then that you shouldn’t pick a job you hate, or even just dislike doing.

But say you already have a job. How can you make it more enjoyable and worry-free? One way is to stay organized: a desk full of unanswered mails and memos is sure to breed worries.

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Better yet, rethink about the job you’re doing: What to Do When You Hate Your Job but Want a Successful Career

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Featured photo credit: Tyler Nix via unsplash.com

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