Ex-lawyer turned relationship coach

Books Don’t Make You Smart

Everyone wants to read faster to grow more smarts. But reading is not learning.

Think back to the last time someone asked you about a book of nonfiction you finished.

How well could you repeat the content?

Probably the basics that make out the surface. But I doubt you could repeat any important details.

And unless you’re reading non fiction for fun, reproducing the content is the point.

So why do we absorb so little from books?

Because of the way our minds work.

We don’t digest knowledge one line at a time. That would mean ideas could jump off the page and dig their way into our brain.

Instead, we assimilate ideas by playing and engaging with them.

So reading isn’t enough. We must summarize, synthesize and analyze.

But most of us don’t do that. And so we forget.

To really understand new ideas, we must come at a piece of non fiction as if it’s a textbook:

Read a chapter, do some exercises and discuss key questions.

But that brings up a new set of problems.

What exercises do you do and what questions do you ask?

And how can you know if you nailed the insights the chapter tried to hand out?

It’s no wonder so many of us struggle to learn from books.

This active way of reading is too new for many and too taxing for others.

So if reading page after page doesn’t lead to understanding, and grappling with novel ideas is too complex and straining, what do you do?

Let’s first shed some light on jargon.

Many works of nonfiction are laced with academic slang.

Read a sentence stuffed with new terms and you probably won’t understand what it says.

If that’s your experience when reading, it’s unlikely that you will sponge up the information. Even if you do understand it at the time.

So at the start, forget learning and focus on vocabulary.

Once you’re fluent, you can move onto understanding.

To understand and carve ideas into your memory, befriend repetition. 

Read for a couple minutes and replay the key info in your mind, while ignoring trivial details. Reread as necessary.

Once you get the jist, read on and retest, beginning with where you started.

Reviewing everything you read may feel annoying, but it’s key to locking down new ideas.

As you work to make the information part of your memory, write out questions that test your mastery of the material.

These questions will form your daily quiz. And it’s going to grow longer the further you read.

Which sucks if you’re a bookworm. Because quizzing yourself means reading less.

So find comfort in the following.

Reading doesn’t help you learn, only grappling with ideas does.

By Jeroen Elsing
Ex-lawyer turned relationship coach