Why you should read less and study more

For most of my adult life, I have read a lot of books. 
In particular, I have read a lot of non-fiction books. 

I am committed to a mindset of a lifelong learning, and so I am always seeking someway to improve my skills.

But over the past year, the way that I approach reading and learning has drastically changed. 

It all happened when I read one simple quote from the stoic writer Seneca. 

You should be extending your stay among writers whose genius is unquestionable, deriving constant nourishment from them if you wish to gain anything from your reading that will find a lasting place in your mind. To be everywhere is to be nowhere.

People who spend their whole life traveling abroad end up having plenty of places where they can find hospitality but no real friendships. The same is the case with people who never set about acquiring an intimate acquaintanceship with any one great writer, but skip from one to another.
— Seneca

I read that quote and it hit home. 

For years, I had been reading book after book. 
At any given point, I had 3-4 in my queue of books to consume. 

So I would fly through books, one after the next, after the next.

While I learned a lot from these books, I realized that this approach to reading and learning had two negative effects.

  1. By reading books only once, I captured the big ideas but failed to catch those small details that make all the difference.
  2. Switching books at such a rapid pace lead to a sort of ‘insanity’ and lack of focus in life. By consistently reading contrasting ideas, you can quickly get to a point of knowing a lot, but acting on none of it. 

Seneca said it well when he stated:

Nothing is so useful that it can be of any service in the mere passing. A multitude of books only gets in one’s way. Always read well tried authors, and if at any moment you find yourself wanting to change from a particular author, go back to the ones you have read before.

This jumping from book to book was leading me to a crazed mental state, and I had no real connection to any single author. 


How studying a few books changed everything

After reading this quote from Seneca, I stopped reading so many books and instead decided I was going to return to the great authors who had major impacts on my life and my mindset.

I sat down and wrote out a list of the top books that I had read. These are books that I felt were so impactful and influential in my life that they were worth re-reading and studying many times. 

As I thought back over the countless books I have read in my life, a few stood out and I returned to them.

I studied these books. I read them over, and then some of them I read again.
I highlighted the key points.
I took notes down on the big ideas so I had them there to reference. 
I combed through these books in fine detail, and all of the ideas crystalized in my mind.

The information from the books was amazing, and by studying them many ideas turned into actions in my daily life. 

But the big change, wasn’t from the ideas in the book.
The big change came from turning off the firehouse of knowledge that came from the many books I read before.

By focusing on ideas that I believed in and reinforcing them in my mind, everything in my life became more clear and focused.

By cutting out other books with conflicting viewpoints, my actions became straight forward and focused. 

Words can’t quite describe the change this created in me, although it has impacted so many areas of my life.

My mental and physical health improved.
My income improved.
My clarity of vision on my future improved.
My relationship with my wife improved. 
My overall happiness improved.

The goal of reading non-fiction isn’t to finish as many pages as possible. The goal of reading non-fiction is to obtain wisdom from others and then apply that wisdom to your life.

Read less. Study more. 


The books I study

The Meditations -  Marcus Aurelius

Letters from a Stoic -  Seneca

The Ultimate Sales Machine - Chet Holmes

Think and Grow Rich - Napoleon hill

Your Money or Your Life - Vicki Robin

Resonate - Nancy Duarte

How I raised myself from a failure to asuccess in sales - Frank Bettger

Essentialism - Greg McKeown