4 Keys To Crushing Your Really Long Reading List

And Which Is Most Important

Reading can be like exercise and eating right. We know if we were better with both those we would be a better person. In fact, if we were really good at them we could likely be transformed.

Like the two disciplines above that have been the resolutions of millions, most people aren’t where they want to be with their reading. For many (like me), an expanding book list can be just as troublesome as an expanding waist-line.

There are a lot of things that keep us from what we want and know are in our best interest. It’s no different with reading. The other reality is that despite the endless variety of “stuff” that keeps us from making progress with the reading we want, only about a 1/2 dozen reasons make the biggest difference.

If you’re serious about wanting to make progress with your reading, you need a reading system that works.  And what I’ve found over the last two years is that by getting conscious about and implementing the following four things, you can make amazing progress:

4 Keys To Crush It

  1. Know your “Why”. What is the overarching purpose you have for reading in the first place? Some read for information, others amusement or escape and most read for combination of reasons. There are a lot of reasons to read and it’s up to you to figure out yours…and then keep it front and center.
  2. Know your “What”. This deals directly with the books you you choose to read.  It may be what’s on your really long book list right now, at least before you cull it after figuring out your “Why”. Use the pyramid concept to help you decide: Is it for amusement or information, gaining practical skills, to get better in work and life or become more enlightened?
  3. Know your “How”. The how will be determined by both your “Why” and your “What”.  There are essentially 4 types of reading you can use to get the job done; make sure to select the right one. Having a 1-size fits-all approach is the second biggest mistake when it comes to reading.
  4. This is the most important Key. Block time in your schedule to read consistently and then engrain it as a habit. Failing to do this is by far the biggest mistake you can make when it comes to reading.

Simple…..And Easy Not To Do

Seems too simple, right? If it’s so simple then why don’t more people do it? I’m not sure. Perhaps the best overall answer that what’s easy to do is also easy not to do. What I do know is that after I put that fourth and most important key in place, I read 50 books that year. What did it look like? Simply reading 30 minutes 6-days a week as the last part of my morning ritual. And that was before I was even conscious and intentional with the first 3 keys. By incorporating the other three keys I was able to double my reading this year (no joke).

What would your reading list look like in 30 days if you simply read for 30minutes a day?  Think big and imagine what your reading list would like if you put all 4 keys in place and “baked-in” a reading habit over the next 12 months. What would it look like then?

If this topic resonates with you then go ahead and make a risk-free experiment: put at least one of the keys in place and see what happens.

Once you do, please leave a comment, I’d love to hear about it.

6 Ways You Don’t Listen And What To Do Instead

How To Have Effective Holiday Conversations!

Have you thought about how many conversations you’ll be engaged in between now and the New Year? A lot!  While the people and conversations will vary, one thing they all share in common is that they will have some level of impact on you, the other person and often a wider circle of people you aren’t even aware of.   How you show-up for these and listen matters more than you think.

I was reminded recently of my own faux pas in this area when someone one asked my opinion about something they had just shared with me in long-winded fashioned.  The truth was that I had started daydreaming at some point and couldn’t. Instead, I apologized and we had to start over. Awkward.

While I bet you can recall a conversation faux pas of your own, I also bet none of us can fully realize what these kind of moments cost us in both relationship and opportunity.

An effective conversation starts with how you listen…..really listen.

6 Ways You Don’t Listen and How To Recognize them

Here are six ways we fool ourselves when it comes to listening:

  1. Judgmental listening- You come to conclusions before you’ve heard 5% of what the other person has to say OR you find yourself passing sentence on someone in order to self-justify and self-elevate.
  2. Selective listening- You tune in to only what you want to hear (“channel surfing”), which includes tuning out all together.
  3. Impatient listening-  You finish someone’s word or sentence before they do.
  4. Egocentric listening- You think about what you’re going to say while they talking.
  5. Patronizing listening- You think about something else when the other person talking.
  6. Stubborn listening- Your listening but not openly; your mind is made up.

The trouble for us is that we don’t fool anyone else.

How should you listen instead?

Listen actively and with focus.  Unlike the ways of listening listed above, the key element in active or reflective listening is what you say in response to what the speaker offers. That’s why Thomas Gordon labeled it active listening back in 1970.

When I do talk, what should I do and say?

Use the five key communication skills below, which are the expressive part of the invisible activity calle active listening:

  • Ask open ended questions. Start your questions with with What and How. This is the easiest and most effective way from the closed question habit. When and Where are also good. Use “Why” limitedly and with the right tone, otherwise you may come off to as aggressive, demanding or explanation, which will make the other person defensive. Michael Hyatt has some specific questions and guidance in the context of the holidays and the dinner table that are excellent.
  • Affirm- cultivate a mindset that consciously looks for the other person’s strengths, positive actions and unique value and perspectives. Accentuate these.
  • Reflect- Repeat back key parts of what the other person has said for better understanding and clarification.  Making a guess about what they mean and asking if you’re on target is also important. It lets you know if you’re following them accurately, shows them you’re actively listening and it may just jolt them in a way that allows them to gain clarity and better awareness about what they are really trying to say.
  • Summarize- Essentially a summary of earlier reflections offered back to the person in a basket.  It demonstrates that you’ve been listening carefully, remembering and valuing what they say. It also can help paint a picture of what they really mean in way that allows them to look at it from a new perspective.
  • Permission- Ask first before providing information and advice.

Knowing how you don’t listen, how to catch yourself when you’re doing it and what communication skills to use instead is a good start. If you want to be effective though, you have to practice. The holiday season will give you plenty of opportunity.

What’s got you most excited about your upcoming practice opportunities?

Please leave a comment, I’d love to know and am ready to listen (actively).

How A Book “Pyramid” Can Help You Read For Transformation

Are You Reading What Matters Most?

Reading a book really is a miracle of sorts. Think about it. A book can allow you to spend time selectively with some of the greatest people who have ever lived. Those people may still be alive or figures from the distant past (as in thousands of years ago).  Books also allow you to travel to periods past, the imagined future as well as experience different cultures. All of this any time you want and for as much time as you like.

You can also waste a lot of time with books.

Solomon said it well in Ecclesiastes 12:12: . “…..of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.”  No kidding! And those words were penned several thousand years ago and long before the printing press!! Given that knowledge now doubles every 13 months and with more people than ever self-publishing, the number of books available is simply mind-boggling.

Although I’ve grown a lot this year with regard to How I read, I now want to focus more on the Why of my reading.  I want more of my reading to be transformative and not simply for information acquisition. While both are important, only one is lasting.

The Book Pyramid

If you’re looking to read for transformation, then I think you’ll find Van Doren and Adler’s Pyramid of Books helpful as well as challenging. I know I did. The good news here is that although there are a seeming endless number of books available, there are only 3 levels to the pyramid.

  • Level 1- These books are read only for amusement or information.  Adler states that the great majority of the several million books that have been written in the Western tradition alone— more than 99 per cent of them— will not make sufficient demands on you for you to improve your reading skill. Those would be in this category, which can triage your book selection  down significantly. When you do read a book in this level, don’t waste you’re time reading it analytically; skimming will be sufficient most of the time.
  • Level 2- These books are read so you can learn more about how to read and how to live. Books in this level are carefully and thoughtfully written and convey great insights about topics of enduring interest to humankind.  As Adler says of books in this category, “they make severe demands on the reader” and must be read analytically. When you read this kind of book it can stretch you, it can grow you, and you can get all you need from it with a single good reading. While you may refer back to your underlining or notes, you won’t need to re-read the book because it doesn’t have the power to change you further.
  • Level 3- In addition to the advantages of level 2 books, these books also have the ability to transform you. They contain inexhaustible value because each time you read it you get new insights, see new things and gain more understanding while your previous understanding is expanded. This kind of book also differs from a level 2 book in that it has the the mysterious quality of being able to grow with you. Although the book doesn’t change, your capacity for understanding and grasping what it can offer does change. When you read a book in this level it can lift you up over and over again and only does so when you’ve expanded your capacity to be lifted.

Transformational Books

If you want to read more for transformation (and I know I do), Van Doren and Adler have made it easy: Simply review the list of Level 3 books they’ve compiled in Appendix A of How To Read A Book and make your selection. While some of these books may seem daunting, I can only imagine the treasure they contain.

We know that nothing worthwhile is easy, so why would we expect it to be any different when it comes to books?  If you limit your reading to only the most popular current titles you no doubt gain information, but probably little else. Going a step lower, you may also be able to find something of value in a trashy novel or tabloid but is the juice really worth the squeeze? I mean, you can find a scrap of bread digging in a garbage can too, but there’s a better way and much more to be had for your efforts. It’s no different when it comes to reading.

How much of what you currently read is capable of transforming you? If you want your answer to be different going forward, the book pyramid is one tool that can help you get started.

What is your reading goal for this next year? If you don’t have one, what would it be if you did?

Please leave a comment, I’d love to read it!


How To Make Decisions That Leave No Regrets

I think subconsciously we hope we don’t have to make our next big decision for quite a while.  The reality? You and I will make a lot more of them a lot sooner than we like, and often when we least expect it. We all want to make the best decision, but how?

I had to make four major decisions this year, two on the personal side and two professionally related.  In retrospect, I also made a lot of small decisions along the way that affected what happened with the big decisions.  A couple worked out the way I wanted, one turned out unexpectedly and another was a disappointment.  The one thing in common with all of them is that I have no regrets about any of them.

Making Decisions

You and I make a lot of decisions each day.  Most of those are small and occasionally some are big. While the results of our “small” decisions accumulate over time, the results of our “big” decisions  have a more immediate and larger impact.  Having a decision making framework won’t always lead you to the right decisions, but it will leave you with fewer regrets.

I like the following two-fold decision making framework because it takes the realities about ourselves and others into account:

Managing Yourself

  • In light of my past, what is the wise thing to do? What might not be an issue for another person could be a stumbling block for you.
  • In light of my current situation, what is the wise thing to do? What will be the impact of what your currently doing on your decision and visa-versa?
  • In light of my future hopes and dreams, what is the wise thing to do? Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should; what long-term effects will your decision have?

Managing Others

  • What is the real sum total impact of my options? Often you can’t answer this alone, so get insight and input from your inner circle.
  • What are my core obligations? How does your decision line up with your responsibilities; who else and what else will be affected by your decision?
  • What will work in world as it is? As my great-grandmother used to say, “don’t deal with life the way you want it to be, deal with it the way it comes.” Don’t be pollyanna and do stay positive while handling the negative.
  • Who are we? How does your decision line up with your core values, your team, your culture, home and community? There is often tension between these and knowing the answer to the first three questions can help you get clear when it comes to this one.
  • What can I live with? If you’ve given your decision the reflection time it deserves, processed it with  both your head and your heart, then commit….even though you may not have 100% certainty.46833006 - old wooden veranda and the cornerstone of natural stone

The first part of the framework comes from Andy Stanley (The Best Question Ever) and the other from an article by Joseph Badaracco (HBR, Sept 2016). The additional commentary is mine.  If you use all or part of this framework  or another, you’ll develop your own commentary to consider and share.

The truth is you already have a decision making framework, even if it’s one more akin to a “punt” or coin-toss. The difference is whether or not you’ve chosen your framework intentionally.

Your Decision Making Framework

Is your current decision making framework by design or by default? If you can articulate it, then your on your way to design; if you can write it out you know you are there.   The next step is to use it consistently.  Simple in concept and difficult to do, not just because we naturally bend toward default but because life is messy, hard and big decisions usually aren’t easy.

The good news is that when you practice filtering your decisions through an intentional framework, you get better at it and so does your framework; both you and it adapt toward a “best fit”.  And while you won’t always make the right decision or even the best decision, it’s a lot more likely you will.  And the best news of all is that  you’ll have few if any regrets.

Here is a challenge: write down your current decision making framework (literally). What’s serving you well and needs to remain? What’s not and needs to change?

Please leave a comment and let me know what’s working well for you.

How To Read To Succeed!

Why The Way You Read Matters

It’s easy to take for granted what you have or how you go about doing something.  So it is with books and reading. To compound matters, even when we do have good intentions for reading the reality is that our actions don’t match them.  Is it our lack of motivation that limits our progress? Or, could it have to do with how we are going about the task?

I’ve always been a “good” reader by most standards. However, I realized that if something didn’t change in my reading approach, my kids were going to find a long list and stack of unread books when I died.  More importantly, I also realized these were books that could help me grow in a transformational way, allow me to get to know the some of the most interesting people who ever walked the planet, and get a taste of the wisdom of the ages.

That’s when I decided to get serious and read Mortimer Adler’s classic book “How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading”.  For me, I came to the conclusion that how I was reading had a lot more to do with my progress (or lack thereof) in this area than did motivation. What follows are my main take aways from the book.

Know Why  you want to read059 AwakeMotivate II

Of course there is the overall “Big A” why for your reading…and that’s to grow and become more. How you want to grow and in what areas will be different for each person so it’s up to you to figure that out

The other “Little a” agenda relates to each book you read and your purpose for doing so. There are three primary ones: for information, understanding or transformation.  Do you need to know more, understand better, or become more as a person? Determine which it is before you start.

Know What you want to read

The primary distinction is between works of fiction and works conveying knowledge, or expository works. Both have their place and purpose, depending on your “Why” for reading.  Among expository works,  know whether your interest is theoretical or practical. Sometimes all you’re interested in is the former, sometimes all you need is the latter and sometimes you need both in order to get what you want.

My guess is that readers of this blog are primarily interested in expository works. Because of that, I’ll include a reminder here to not forget the works of  fiction as they have their own way of informing and enriching. And because I’ll be a hypocrite if I say anything further about reading fiction, I’ll stop :).

Know How to read it

An overarching principle is to read actively. Too often we approach our reading passively, as if we are looking for the bottom-line to drop to us much like a package from UPS would. Active reading, on the other hand, is more like trying to catch a ball; you have to keep your eye on it the entire time and adjust until you have it firmly in hand.

The other important principal is knowing how you’re going to go about reading the book. Adler describes the following four general types of reading:

  1. Elementary- This is simply being able to consume printed content in an effective an efficient way. This level is most often addressed by speed reading courses that help you overcome poor habits of sub-vocalization, regression and other bad habits that can hamper your reading.
  2. Inspectional- The emphasis here is time. The goal is to get the most you possibly can out of the book in a limited  amount of time with a superficial level of reading, which can be quite a bit. That’s right, you can learn a LOT from a book simply by skimming or even superficially reading a book. The key is to look for themes, key content and become familiar with the structure. You want to avoid getting derailed by trying to understand the finer detail…which can cause you to lose the bigger picture. There are no “book police” that will harass you for not reading a book in detail. You have permission to skim (and skimp); enjoy it!
  3. Analytical- The goal of analytical reading is thorough understanding. While inspectional reading seeks to maximize limited time, analytical reading will ignore time in order to maximize your understanding. Unfortunately, most people think they have to read everything in an analytical way and that is not the case.
  4. Synoptical or Comparative- This is the most complex and systematic type of reading of all. It’s also the most rewarding because it allows you to come up with insights and concepts from many books that aren’t contained in any single book. Because this type of reading makes heavy demands on the reader even with simple books, it’s also the kind of reading some won’t want or even need to do.

Francis Bacon once remarked that “some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.” The bottom line: know what you want and then partake accordingly.

We have so much information at our fingertips today it’s easy to get faked-out.  Just because you expend energy reading letters on a page doesn’t mean you’ve accomplished your purpose for reading.

And while knowing the Why, What and How of reading can move your toward your real purpose for reading a particular book, you still have to actually do it. In other words, you have to “eat the broccoli”. And to really grow, a haphazard or random approach to reading  just won’t do. There just aren’t enough rainy-book-reading-days or enough spare time to get it done. That’s why it’s important to have a reading system…..which is another topic for another time.

For now, the question is “How does the way you currently read need to change so you can get the maximum out of your reading?”

Please leave a comment, I’d love to know.