Reading to learn

I’ve read a lot of different books and articles that highlight the importance of reading all the time to increase your knowledge and the most successful people are the ones that are constantly learning.

I’m going to agree that learning is important. But I think I have a slightly different take on what learning really is and how to do it. Actually, it’s not really novel, just something that I feel like a lot of these articles forget to emphasize.

The key concept that I believe is that we need to learn by doing. Just reading something and not putting it into use does not give you actual learning and I don’t think it is really that useful. Or else, considering the hours that the world spends reading Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, etc. we would be a very enlightened society. I don’t think we are quite there.

One consequence of doing it is that we can’t learn by just discussing the quantity of books that you read a day/week/month. More books can actually be the opposite as I’m going to claim (and I’ll weaken this claim a little below) that you are probably wasting a good amount of your time skimming through important information that you will just end up forgetting and never taking advantage of.

There are a couple of exceptions to this statement that come to mind:

  1. Reading for empathy sake: there is a good amount of research that supports the reading fiction is good for improving your empathy, your ability to put yourself in she shoes of somebody else (because that’s what you are doing reading those books). For that use, actually reading is all you need to do.
  2. Reading for building connections: there are some cases where you don’t really have a way to put something to practice directly, but you may do it by using that reading to then nudge your brain to connect concepts that you didn’t connect before. So you may be able to work on the concepts of book A and by reading book B and continuing to work through book A’s ideas, you will find yourself actually being able to connect A to ideas in yet another book C, because B provided you that mental bridge.

I think the most important thing to think about is really to spend time doing things.

Even if what you read is fiction only, spend time with it. Think about how the author develops the story or the relationships, and consider how that could help you develop relationships around you. Maybe take some time and rewrite a chapter of the book in a way that you think it could have gone. I’ve also seen people spending time actually trying to draw or build things that happen on the book, or cook the food on the book, taking you even deeper into the empathy that you get from it.

Yes, that will most certainly take time out of the time you’d be reading. My thesis here is that this is a good thing. Quality beats quantity.

Another side from it is that it will keep making the world better in aggregate. If most of us are just sinks for knowledge, or just filters of knowledge, then knowledge is not being built as quickly as it could be if we were all producing our own dimension to it, adding a little bit of insight and connection to the world.

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