…is to stop reading.
Books are amazing; they grant us access to a life-time’s worth of knowledge and insight within a few weeks for 10–20 bucks. You’ll see articles saying that the Secret to Bill Gates’ success is reading 50+ books a year. More daringly, they imply that if only you would read 50+ books a year, you could be as successful as him. While I didn’t quite believe that (having been an avid reader all my life and not nearly been as successful, let’s be honest) I did feel like I was getting a lot from each and every book I read. So I read a lot.
One evening I was talking with a friend about the difficulty of sticking to an exercise routine. He wanted to help other people to do that. I told him a few suggestions I read from a book. Then I started telling him suggestions from another book… until I realized that even though I read a whole lot of books about how to build habits like exercising regularly, I was in fact, not exercising regularly.
Does that discrepancy sound familiar? There’s a difference between knowing about something and actually knowing it. A great speaker once said:
“If you know it, you live it. Otherwise it’s just something you heard about.”
Since then, I’ve drastically reduced the amount of books I read. I read to understand people and events better. I read to gain new ideas on how to improve myself and my life. But my speed on applying those new insights in my everyday life is much lower than my reading speed. Reading more than I can apply adds as much to my growth as typing faster than I can think adds to my writing: nothing.
If you’re like me and have the tendency to read too much rather than too little, I’d like to share this simple piece of advice with you: if you’ve just read an excellent book or article, don’t start the next one until you’ve consolidated what you learned from this one.
Consolidation means different things for different types of material. For an informational article about astrophysics, it could be telling someone else about the insights. For a self-improvement book, it could be to put all the advice you liked into practice. For a biography, it could be reflecting on how you approach life, given what you learned from this person’s experiences.
In each case, resist the urge to jump onto the next book. In the beginning this practice will feel excruciatingly slow, exactly because your reading speed is so much faster than your application speed. But over time, you will notice that rather than a person who speaks about interesting ideas, you will have become a person who speaks about interesting experiences based on those ideas.
In the startup world people say: ideas are cheap, it’s the execution that counts. Maybe there’s something new to be discovered in that phrase spoken so often it’s started to sound cliché. Yes, some grand ideas change the world, but most of the world is powered by the execution of less-than-grand ideas. Similarly, a flash of insight or new idea could change your life, but most of your life will be determined by the application of not-quite-flashy ideas. Ideas that you’ve probably heard about already. Now it’s time to get to know them.