How I read self-improvement articles for real personal growth without wasting my time

There are three kinds of people in the world:

  1. Those who read self-help and take action to make their lives or themselves better.
  2. Those who jump from one article to another making no changes in their lives.
  3. Those who don’t give a damn about self-improvement. They have no urge to click on clickbait self-help titles. Even if they somehow stumble upon such articles, they would read as if it is written in an alien language for an alien population.

This post is for people who are either in the first or second category. I used to be in the second category until I applied methods mentioned in the post. I’ve previously written about how to do things that successful people do.

In this post, I cover how I read and retain most important information in self-help materials (audio, video, text) and then how I make a system to apply what I learn.

Step 1: Hunting the articles

I have a system for finding the best article to read. For that, I have unsubscribed and stopped reading from the places which are not making much impact in my life.

There are millions of articles published every day. The fear of missing out stays there but I have learned to let it go.

If I want to read every single post of a blog, then I subscribe to the newsletters to never miss an update. For the blogs that I like but don’t have space in my inbox, I use news feeds like RSS and feedly.

When I use websites like YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Medium, etc., I teach them my preference. These websites show me more content of what I follow, like, read, watch, share and comment on. So I make sure not to follow or engage in content that I don’t want to see often. This improves my feed and I get the most relevant content.

Lastly, I have limited my content consumption time. I avoid the trap of endlessly consuming content with no output.

Tim Ferriss talks about “Low Information Diet” and suggests that we should consume less and apply more. Another concept is called as “Just-in-time learning” which means learning what we need to learn in life at the moment.

In his TED talk, David Ryan uses the term “Mental Obesity”. The idea behind it is that because we have an unlimited supply of information, we struggle to convert it into knowledge or wisdom.

Most of us get so busy consuming the information that we rarely convert it into wisdom.

From an evolutionary point of view, we are wired to gather information because it was the difference between life and death.

Like food, information was scarce. If the food was still scarce, we would not need to jump on a treadmill to burn off extra calories. For this reason, we have portion sizes and recommendations for daily dosage.

Information has to be treated the same way if we want to utilize it for best use. We cannot endlessly consume information and hope for the best.

If there’s a piece of content that I would like to learn about in future, I organize it and store it using web bookmarks, Google docs, etc.

“If [more] information was the answer, then we’d all be billionaires with perfect abs.”
— Derek Sivers

Step 2: Reading the articles

When I was in school, I used to reread the text many times before I could comprehend and remember the details. The school conditioned me to pay careful attention to every word because I had to remember the minor details.

Unless I’m reading something that requires you to remember every detail, I don’t have to read that way.

Due to my lack of interest, I used to lose focus and reread the material several times. This led me to believe that I was a poor reader until I decided to become a good reader.

Speed reading has become popular as the supply of information has increased.

Before jumping into reading methods, keep in mind that reading comprehension is more important than reading speed. If I’m not comprehending, it is equivalent to not reading at all.

Here’s how I usually read:

Pre-reading or Scanning

Before diving in, I scroll through the article and check the length to prepare my mind. I make sure there are no distractions in that time period. Then, I look for titles, subheadings, bold text, images, or any other information that is standing out from the rest of the text.

If there are no such markers, I read the first and last sentence of each paragraph to scan the text.

Deciding reading method

Once I get an idea about the content, I decide how I will read it.
If the pre-reading does not evoke interest in me, I close the article without wasting my time.

If I think there is some information that is worth my attention then I speed read most of the text. I may stop and read at a slower pace where I find new or thought-provoking information.

If I think that the information is gold and I should invest my time into the article, then I forget about the techniques and I read at whatever pace I want. I still usually speed read but the goal is not to worry about time in such cases. The goal is to immerse myself into the text give it my full attention.

Speed reading

Speed reading is a skill. It is developed over time. I’m not an expert speed reader but here’s what has worked for me:

1) Optimize eye movement

We are conditioned to read while moving our eyes from one word to the next one. This is not the best approach for speed reading.

You can read much more efficiently by moving your eyes in saccades and skipping a few words in between. Practice this technique by using the image below. Jump from letter to letter to train your eye movement.

1

2) Improve peripheral vision

Focus on the middle letter of each line and try to read the letters beside it without moving your eyes. If you practice this often, your peripheral vision will improve and you won’t have to focus your eyes on each word.

2

If you work on improving your peripheral vision and fix your eye movement, you will broaden your fixation points and read more in less time.

3) Reset comfort zone of reading

Sometimes, read at a speed you’re not comfortable at to reset your default reading speed. Do not re-read any line to force yourself to pay attention.

You can also use your finger or pointer to keep reading at a constant pace without stopping. Alternatively, you can hide the text above with another book maintain stop the habit of re-reading.

4) Enhance reading experience

Lastly, use reading apps such as Mercury Reader or Just Read to make the text more readable. Safari has a build in reading mode which can be activated by clicking on the button at left side of the address bar.

Sometimes, when I have low mental energy and I want to read something, I use TTSReaderX In-Page Text to Speech to listen while reading. It not only makes reading fast and easy to follow, it helps improve comprehension as I engage two senses at the same time (reading and hearing).

Speed consuming also applies for audios or videos. YouTube videos and most podcasts apps let you alter the speed. I don’t speed up videos when I’m watching it for entertainment purpose but while watching TED talks or other informational videos, I usually x2 the speed.

For dense audios such as audiobooks, I listen at x1.25 or x1.5 to comprehend well. For podcasts, I listen at x1.5 or x2 because usually, it’s a flowing conversation which is still easy to comprehend at a fast rate.

Step 3: Remembering and applying the information

Memory training is an art. There are mental athletes whose job is to train to improve their memory for competition. They use techniques like mind mapping, memory palaces, mnemonics, etc.

Look into these techniques if you want to improve your memory but for reading self-improvement articles, you rarely need these techniques.

Our goal is not to remember for the sake of remembering. We want to remember the information until we learn to apply it in our lives.

Before reading anything, I make sure my mind is well rested and focused. If I read with a distracted mind, I end up wasting my time and energy.

Meditation, exercise and good nutrition have helped me improve my focus and attention span.

When I read an article for the first time, I don’t focus on remembering. I  let the text flow through my mind like a waterfall flowing through a stream.

After I finish reading, I scroll up and scan the article in reverse order. I capture the main points I want to remember.

I try using my senses to remember information.

I imagine the important details in my mind. I may use absurd pictures or analogies that surprise me or make me laugh.

I remember what I feel, not what I read.

I think about how I could have done something better in the past with the new information. Or I think how I can apply the information in the present moment or future situations.

If I can apply the information in shortly after reading, I do it as soon as possible.

If I know when to apply the information in future, I put it on my calendar or to-do list.

If I don’t know when I’ll need to apply the information in future, I either put it in “someday” section of my to-do list or I set up reminders. You may use traditional methods for reminders like using a board or sticky notes.

Spaced repetition helps the mind transfer the information to your subconscious mind. Once I’ve applied the information enough times, I replace the reminder with the next action I want to implement in my life.

Sometimes, I find articles that are jam-packed with useful information. In such cases, either I take notes or I save the article and revise it enough times. It works best when I revise the information right before applying the information.

Lastly, I boost my learning from jam-packed articles by reflecting on them. I switch between the following ways to reflect upon my learning:

1) Writing ideas

James Altucher suggests writing 10 ideas every day to exercises the “creativity muscle”. I’ve been doing it for almost a year and I’ve seen significant changes in my life as it helps me become an “idea machine”.
So, if I can use my creativity for the new information, I write 10 ideas related to the topic.

2) Journalling

I think on paper. No journalling app works as good as pen and paper for reflecting. If I read a thought-provoking material which is not necessarily action-oriented, I usually reflect on it in my journal to transfer the thoughts in my subconscious.

Journalling also acts as a personal accountability. Every day after waking up, I set my intentions for the day in which I write actions I want to implement in my life. Then before bed, I check if I did what I intended to do.

3) Writing or Teaching

Sometimes, instead of only writing my learnings in the journal, I write a post about it or teach someone what I learned so I strengthen my understanding. It also makes me research the topic in more depth.


Finding, reading and applying information is getting harder due to unlimited supply and access to information. But with little effort, you can create a system for personal growth with smart content consumption.

If you find any tips helpful, start using the tips with this article and let me know how it goes in the comments.

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Best way to kill self-doubt every day

You feel you’re not good enough.

You doubt your capabilities.

You doubt whether your goals are too big.

You’re not alone.

Before achieving success, every single one of us doubt ourselves because none of us can predict the future.

Future is scary.

You don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s unpredictable.

Will you make it? Will you succeed?

Then doubt takes birth in your mind only to make things worse.

“The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”
― Sylvia Plath

When doubt takes over your mind, it only multiplies if you nourish the thought.

When you spend your time doubting yourself, there’s no productive outcome. Here, you will only try to gather evidence of your failures. You will ignore all your progress and strengths.

Doubt is an imaginary concept. It only exists in your mind. It clouds your greatness and tries to stop you from reaching your full potential.

On the contrary, if you do the things you committed to do regardless of the doubt, the possibilities are endless. Ignore the dark voices inside your head and focus on your craft instead.

Here are few reasons you should continue even in the face of adversity or doubt:

  1. You will improve your craft by one percent.
  2. You might get lucky and your piece of craft may go viral.
  3. You may improve or bring light to ONE person’s life.

Keep working on your craft even if you’re mind is clouded with doubt or the uncertainty of future.

Don’t let failures amplify the darkness of self-doubt. They both work together and try to steal your dreams from you. Don’t let that happen.

“Doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will.”
― Suzy Kassem

Embrace failures as it will only make you better if you learn from it. Your capabilities can improve whereas failure is just an event.

It is up to you to take failure as a negative event or turn it into a positive experience.

To combat failure and doubt, choose discipline and love for your craft. Taking action is the best way to stop the negative chatter.

Trust that everything you’re doing is adding up to your greatness. No effort is ever wasted.

You know the reason why you started. Let that reason fuel you. Let your love for your craft fuel you.

Doubt is always going to be there. Take action anyways.

When in doubt, choose discipline over doubt.

Go. Take action.

“Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.” — Dale Carnegie

No obstacle can stop you from reaching your goals once you realize this

About a year ago, I could never guess that I would be learning about entrepreneurship today.

The concept of entrepreneurship was interesting to me but I never thought it would become something I love.

When I learned about location independence and lifestyle entrepreneurship, I was instantly fascinated by the idea of living a free life.

From then on, I made a decision to set up my own online brand or business so that I can live that lifestyle.

After few months of hustling and learning about the world of online business, I was overwhelmed.

My batteries were drained as I was doing all of this on the side while doing my post-graduate studies.

Since then, I have faced many obstacles and failures. I got frustrated when things didn’t go as I wanted them to go. But now, I’m okay with all that. I am not emotionally triggered by the ups and downs of the journey.

The biggest realization I had was that hard work was not enough. My dream was strong but hard work alone won’t get me there.

In order to turn my dream into reality, I had to learn to promote myself. I had to learn to express myself. I had to learn to connect with like-minded people. I had to learn to say no.

I’m still learning all of that but I never thought I will be doing that a year ago. But because I want to reach my vision so bad, I learned to love all the things that can help me reach my goals.

I never thought I would be learning about digital marketing. But today, I’m not only learning it because I have to, but I’ve started to like it because I know how it will help me live my dream.

So, no matter what your goal is, figure out the obstacles or skillsets that will help you achieve your goal. Start working on them and eventually you’ll start enjoying it if your desire to reach your goals is strong enough.

For example, if your desire to lose fat/build muscles/be fit is strong enough, you will learn to love working out. You will stop looking for excuses for not showing up for your workouts. In fact, you will start to sneak in exercise on your busy days because you know what it takes to reach your goals. You will stop craving foods that don’t support your goals.

In the same way, entrepreneurship is not easy. It requires multiple skills. You don’t have to become number one in all of them. But you have to invest your time to develop those skills just enough to reach your goals.

If you don’t commit, you’ll try to dodge those obstacles and ignore the skillsets required to reach your goals.

But once you commit, you will figure things out. You will crush all the obstacles and become a master of the required skillsets.

Have you made the commitment? Comment below what commitment you’ve made and what skillset(s) you still need to develop in order to reach your goals.

Master your time with this simple exercise

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” –  Annie Dillard

Most of us spend our day without any conscious effort to analyze how we spend our days.

A few years ago, I was living my life the same way. I had no control over time so I was either waiting for the time to pass by or I was doing urgent work in survival mode.

If we don’t take control of our time, we either get addicted to a few activities while avoiding important activities in our lives. Or we spend our time on meaningless activities which are neither productive nor enjoyable for us. For example, scrolling through social media for too long.

Every minute counts. Time does not stop for anybody. The goal of being aware of our time is not to add additional stress in our life but to consciously spend our time in a way that will make our life better.

There’s no one size fits all approach to time management. Some of us may prefer to organize our calendar while some of us may create personalized systems for managing time.

Personally, I like to give myself some freedom as I’ve tried keeping a timetable in the past and I don’t find it realistic or enjoyable few days after following it. Moreover, I feel guilty if I miss something or if unplanned events occur in life.

I have a dedicated time for creating and learning which I usually do in morning and in the night. There is no specific time block dedicated to the tasks. I can spend the 3 hours of work from 8am – 11am, 9am – 12pm or 10am – 1pm.

Similarly, many people like to follow Pomodoro technique for doing tasks. But for me, I like to spend longer time on tasks without interruption. The duration of time block depends on the tasks but I usually get up and take breaks when I feel like it.

The goal is to find the approach that works for you. You don’t have to follow all the rules. Know the rules and then tweak or even break the rules according to what you find is the best for you.

Here’s an exercise for you…

Write down all the activities you do and the time you spend on those activities in an average day. Then answer the following questions:

  1. What tasks are the most important to me?
  2. Am I only doing urgent tasks or am I making sure to dedicate some time to important tasks that matter to me?
  3. What tasks require the most amount of time? Is it worth putting so many hours on it?
  4. What can I cut down, remove or delegate from my life?
  5. What is missing from my life that I can add which will make me or my life better?
  6. What experiments can I do with my regular schedule? What if I do the opposite?
  7. What tasks do I really enjoy doing?
  8. Am I using my time to invest in future?
  9. When do I feel most energetic to work? Am I using that time to work on important things?
  10. Am I making sure to spend time on my health, relationships, and recovery?

Using the above questions, you will become more aware of the time you spend in a day and hopefully, you’ll spend your time wisely. Keep re-doing the exercise after every few months to get back on track and see the bigger picture.

The difference between high performers and average people

Our society has an obsession with being normal. Instead of doing things differently and rising above being average, we tend to settle for average.

In this average world, we want to fit in the society so that we all can rationalize being average. Then we overuse stimulants like alcohol or drugs to compensate for living an average life.

I don’t have anything against people who are living an average life. You can be happy and live an average life at the same time.

For me, average life is boring.

I don’t need the rush of emotions from alcohol, drugs or junk food because I’m already high on life.

Every day, I have a mission. I have a daily checklist. I have rituals and habits. I have systems and goals. My values and priorities are clear to me. I have a structure in life but at the same time, sometimes I’m willing to break my rules to experience novelty.

High-performance life is not easy. It requires sacrifices, courage, and discipline. Most people are too weak to take bold decisions and make commitments. They don’t have the discipline to show up every day. They are too afraid to make sacrifices because they don’t want to ‘miss out’. Then, they complain about their misery. They complain about how unfortunate they are.

I quit living an average life and I know that I can never go back to it. It sucks and I can’t resist it.

Living a high-performance life comes with its own high and low times. But I own all of it. I take full responsibility for everything that happens in my life. Yes, there are things that I can’t control in life but those things can’t stop me because I have the ability to figure things out regardless of the outside circumstances.

High performers know what they want. They get it or they die trying. They crave obstacles and challenges because they know that will force them to grow.

Average people, on the other hand, sit on their butt and hope to win a lottery so that they can get easy money which requires no obstacle.

The other side of being a high performer is to know when to switch the off button. They take intentional breaks to recover from work and enjoy the other aspects of life.

I don’t live the way I live only to receive rewards of success. I do it for the process. The process is the reward in itself.

I am free from delusion of success. I am successful today.

 

What college grades taught me about money and passion

When I was in college, I worked on a lot of projects. Some of them were exciting while others were not so interesting for me.

Whenever I got amazing grades, it was because of my interest and enthusiasm for the project. I did the extra work not because I wanted good grades, but because I was genuinely passionate about the project.

When the project was not so interesting, the only reason I would work would be to get good grades. Even if I got decent grades in those projects, I did not feel satisfied.

The same principle applies when it comes to money.

You may earn money by doing a job you don’t care about but it won’t feed your soul.

What would you do if money were no issue?

Go. Do that.

But, what about the practicality of real life, you may ask?

Forget it. Do the work that you would do even if you were not getting paid for it.

If the work that you love doing is not making you money, then find a way to make money until you can make money by doing what you love. That’s what life design is about.

There two reasons why doing things we love eventually allows us to make money:

We do things out of love (not fear)

When we chase money, our focus shifts to the outcome of earning money. But when you do the work out of pure love and passion, it reflects in your work. One day or another, people are willing to pay for your work.

When your actions are completely aligned with your values and desires, you go all in. The love that you put in your work is felt by other people.

We figure out ways to fill in the gaps

Sometimes, we realize that we are not innately so good at doing what we like doing. You find other people’s work way better than yours. But that does not stop you.

If you truly love what you do, you will figure out ways to learn the skills or knowledge to do great work effortlessly. Your work will improve without you even realizing it.

You might be thinking…

“I don’t know what my passion is.”

Here’s the truth about passion. It’s not absolute. That means it’s not necessarily something that you find once in your life and be happy ever after.

Your passion will keep on evolving or it might even change as you change.

Your current passion is right in front of you. You do it almost every day or at the weekends. You must give yourself permission to identify it.

It does not even have to be a skill. It could be something you’re curious about so you keep researching about it.

Conclusion

No matter how hard you keep working, if you don’t like what you’re doing, you’ll do injustice to your work and your soul.

So, do yourself a favor and make time for the work that you love. You will experience inner peace and everything else will fall into place.

What are your content consumption habits?

Whether we notice it or not, we are consuming content every single day.

The platforms for content consumption are increasing every year. As well as the amount of content produced is increasing. These are the most common platforms for content consumption:

  • TV
  • Newspaper
  • Books
  • Ebooks
  • Magazine
  • Blogs
  • YouTube/Vlogs
  • Email newsletters
  • Webinars
  • Seminars
  • Podcasts
  • Audiobooks
  • Facebook posts
  • Tweets
  • Instagram posts

The list will keep on expanding.

We love consumption. There is so much content out there that sometimes we get overwhelmed with what content we should consume and what we should ignore.

The problem is not the ever-expanding content. The problem is our consumption habits.

Like we consume energy through food and then we spend the energy through exercise to balance it out, we should treat content consumption the same way.

Consumption has to be balanced with creation. If we keep on consuming and not creating, we will get “mentally obese”.

Another skill we need to adapt is letting go of the fear of missing out. Life is too short to consume all the content out there. I know that you want to gather every piece of information and keep up to date with your favorite influencers or TV shows. But you have to let some content go and be okay with it.

For every piece of new content you consume, you have to say no to the other content out there. Then, you should make time for creation especially if you’re an entrepreneur.

Types of content

  1. Inspiration / Motivation
  2. Entertainment / Fun
  3. Educational / Instructional

Some content is the combination of two or three types. We need to consciously consume content which is most useful for us at the moment.

If you’ve dealt with a failure or if you’re feeling down then consume something motivational. It is also a good idea to consume such content time to time to stay motivated. The need depends on each person so only you can decide how regular you should consume such content.

If you’re feeling burnt out or if you want to celebrate after a long hustle, you can consume entertainment or funny content to rest your mind and soul. The break will expose your mind to new stimulus which will lead to creativity or recovery.

If you’re feeling lost or stuck then it’s best to consume educational content. You will find solutions to your problems and get unstuck. It’s also good to consume such content daily so that you expand your knowledge base and find new possibilities.

Conclusion

If you want to be successful, you have to value your time. Observe your content consumption habits and make changes accordingly. A lot of your consumption should be educational and then you can adjust the motivational and entertainment content according to your needs. Finally, balance content consumption with creation such as writing, recording, designing, etc.

So, what are your current consumption habits?