How To Digest Books Above Your “Level” And Increase Your Intelligence

To do great things, you have to read to lead.

The best advice I’ve ever got about reading came from a secretive movie producer and talent manager who’d sold more than 100 million albums and done more than $1B in box office returns. He said to me one day, “Ryan, it’s not enough that you read a lot. To do great things, you have to read to lead.

Before the first page…

Break out of the School Mindset
The way you learn to read in the classroom is corrupted by the necessity of testing. Tests often have very little to do with proving that you know or care about the material but more about proving that you spent the time reading it. The easiest way to do this is picking obscure things from the text and quizzing you on them: “Name this passage,” or “What were the main characters in Chapter 4?” We carry these habits with us. Remember: now you’re reading for you.

  1. Do you agree with it?

The book itself…

Read the Intro/Prologue/Notes/Forward
I know, I know. It infuriates me too when what looks like a 200-page book turns out to have 80 pages of translator’s introduction, but that stuff is important.

After you finish…

Go Back Through
I have the same schedule with every book I read. After a mandatory 1–2 week waiting period after finishing, I go back through the book with a stack of 4×6 index cards. On these cards, I write out—by hand—all the passages I have noted as being important.

Conclusion: It’s on You

Of course, none of this is easy. People always ask me if the books I carry around are for school because they’re full of notes, flags, and folded pages—why would anyone work so hard on something they were doing on their own? Because I enjoy it, and because it’s the only thing that separates me from ignorance.

Read To Lead

If you’re looking to use reading to advance your life and career, check out a course I helped create called Lead To Read: A Daily Stoic Reading Challenge.

Bestselling author of ‘Conspiracy,’ ‘Ego is the Enemy’ & ‘The Obstacle Is The Way’

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