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How do you internalize what you read?


vinod1
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I read quite a few books and sometimes I come across a book that I really want to internalize. It could be learning a new skill, incorporating something into a habit, etc.

 

I found that after reading a book, I would remember or practice what it says for maybe a week or two and then it is out of my mind. Even re-reading a few times, does not really seem to make it stick in my mind.

 

The only effective way for me seems to be to prepare a high level summary and just review it daily for a week, then weekly for a little while and after that a couple of times a year. 

 

This is quite an intensive process that takes up a bit of time. So I was able to do this only for a few topics (1) Ben Graham Security Analysis - a six month effort (2) Buffett's annual letters and interviews - another 6 month effort (3) Influence and about another 10 books.

 

Some of the books, like "How to read a book" are quite simple to retain since it is just knowing a method and being aware of it. Some like "How to win friends and influence people" are much harder since it involves changing deep rooted habits.

 

I am constantly battling the urge to read a new book versus just re-reading books that I already have or notes that I prepared.

 

How do you internalize books that you find helpful? What did you find most helpful?

 

Vinod

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So I was able to do this only for a few topics (1) Ben Graham Security Analysis - a six month effort (2) Buffett's annual letters and interviews - another 6 month effort (3) Influence and about another 10 books.

 

Vinod

 

Vinod, I am curious to know the names of the 10 other books.

 

For me, nothing has worked better than interspersed repetition and recall.

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Maybe this will sound unhelpful and I'm not an authority or anything, but learning is a lot more easy if it is fun and interesting. So I go where my interests take me. My take is that if you approach it as a job it will become a chore. And chores that you don't actually have to do will seldom be done.

 

Munger was asked about how he absorbed his reading recently. His answer was that he just read. No underlining. No note taking. Nothing of that kind.

 

Incidentally, that's how I have always done it too. I didn't take notes back in school either and was always chided for it by teachers. Admittedly, this was not part of some master plan, I was just too lazy. But recent stuff I've read about it actually seems to bear out my strategy; it's harder to focus on listening to the content if you are preoccupied with writing it down. I'm not saying this translates to note taking when reading in the least, but maybe rigor is not always the correct solution. 

 

Now, Munger is a genius and I am mostly just sloppy, so I grant the possibility that I could be wrong and a more pedantic approach is best for most people.

 

However, I would also add that things you have read can still be benificial even if you can't recall all that much about them some time later. They still build your mental framework . Thinking about some behavioral econ factoid, I'm not so sure I could say if it was from Kahneman, Ariely, Thaler or Cialdini, but what does it actually matter? I am pretty sure I have learned more by reading all of them instead of studying Influence for a year.

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The only effective way for me seems to be to prepare a high level summary and just review it daily for a week, then weekly for a little while and after that a couple of times a year.

 

The literature on learning how to learn is fairly explicit on this point.  Spaced repetition really helps learning, but once you have a strong scaffold in your mind it gets quicker and easier. 

 

There are a few more things to aid retention:

 

  • Relate the new to something old that you already know well. 
  • In your summary, act as if you are explaining it to a 5 year old. 
  • Draw pictures. 
  • Study/review summaries in a different location, say outside walking, etc.
  • Review right before bed.   
  • And test yourself--really, I'm not kidding.   

 

For more info, see these books, (but reading more kind of defeats your purpose ;):

How we Learn

A Mind for Numbers

Make it stick

 

and this article:

http://bigthink.com/neurobonkers/assessing-the-evidence-for-the-one-thing-you-never-get-taught-in-school-how-to-learn

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Eat the book...that way you'll really internalize it

 

+1 Grok it.  8)

 

 

I think others covered the methods, I don't have much to add. I'd really love to have insta photographic memory, recall both in access and in synthesis. It really sucks to forget things, to remember only parts, to have to reread things again and again. I'd love to be able to remember the growth curve of Starbucks twenty years ago, the margins, the issues encountered; or the cost of the barrel of oil in Bakken vs GOM and exactly what goes into the cost, what companies are involve and so on. But you pretty much have to do what vinod1 is doing to achieve that: write, write, write. And for me this is often too much like work to write tiny details and revisit them and so on.

 

It's nice if Munger internalizes things by reading once (?maybe?) and Buffett can recite See's sales for last 20 years, it's competitors and their sales and their margins and so on. I can't.

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Maybe this will sound unhelpful and I'm not an authority or anything, but learning is a lot more easy if it is fun and interesting. So I go where my interests take me. My take is that if you approach it as a job it will become a chore. And chores that you don't actually have to do will seldom be done.

 

Munger was asked about how he absorbed his reading recently. His answer was that he just read. No underlining. No note taking. Nothing of that kind.

 

Incidentally, that's how I have always done it too. I didn't take notes back in school either and was always chided for it by teachers. Admittedly, this was not part of some master plan, I was just too lazy. But recent stuff I've read about it actually seems to bear out my strategy; it's harder to focus on listening to the content if you are preoccupied with writing it down. I'm not saying this translates to note taking when reading in the least, but maybe rigor is not always the correct solution. 

 

Now, Munger is a genius and I am mostly just sloppy, so I grant the possibility that I could be wrong and a more pedantic approach is best for most people.

 

However, I would also add that things you have read can still be benificial even if you can't recall all that much about them some time later. They still build your mental framework . Thinking about some behavioral econ factoid, I'm not so sure I could say if it was from Kahneman, Ariely, Thaler or Cialdini, but what does it actually matter? I am pretty sure I have learned more by reading all of them instead of studying Influence for a year.

 

I used to read that way when I was in college and in graduate school. But I wasn't a very good student, and I think my lack of engagement due to this laziness hurt me. Obviously smarter people can do it.

 

That's why I don't like to think about literally copying Buffett or Munger, although I love to learn from them. They're a lot smarter than me. They might say to avoid spreadsheets, but I might need a spreadsheet just to calculate what they can figure out in 15 seconds in their head.

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Maybe this will sound unhelpful and I'm not an authority or anything, but learning is a lot more easy if it is fun and interesting. So I go where my interests take me. My take is that if you approach it as a job it will become a chore. And chores that you don't actually have to do will seldom be done.

 

Munger was asked about how he absorbed his reading recently. His answer was that he just read. No underlining. No note taking. Nothing of that kind.

 

Incidentally, that's how I have always done it too. I didn't take notes back in school either and was always chided for it by teachers. Admittedly, this was not part of some master plan, I was just too lazy. But recent stuff I've read about it actually seems to bear out my strategy; it's harder to focus on listening to the content if you are preoccupied with writing it down. I'm not saying this translates to note taking when reading in the least, but maybe rigor is not always the correct solution. 

 

Now, Munger is a genius and I am mostly just sloppy, so I grant the possibility that I could be wrong and a more pedantic approach is best for most people.

 

However, I would also add that things you have read can still be benificial even if you can't recall all that much about them some time later. They still build your mental framework . Thinking about some behavioral econ factoid, I'm not so sure I could say if it was from Kahneman, Ariely, Thaler or Cialdini, but what does it actually matter? I am pretty sure I have learned more by reading all of them instead of studying Influence for a year.

 

I used to read that way when I was in college and in graduate school. But I wasn't a very good student, and I think my lack of engagement due to this laziness hurt me. Obviously smarter people can do it.

 

That's why I don't like to think about literally copying Buffett or Munger, although I love to learn from them. They're a lot smarter than me. They might say to avoid spreadsheets, but I might need a spreadsheet just to calculate what they can figure out in 15 seconds in their head.

 

Maybe I didn't convey my main point well enough. I wasn't advocating copying Munger and mentioning him may have been detrimental to my message

 

What I was trying to say is that it is way, way more important to search out stuff that interests you and expose yourself to it than the details of how you do it. I personally would hate my life if I spent six months taking notes on Security Analysis and probably quit this line of work altogether and become a garbage man instead. But other people may have a higher threshold for boredom than me. Or an entirely different idea of fun.

 

I'd also like to add the issue of marginal utility. I think reading Security Analysis once at normal pace, moving on to other stuff and then coming back and rereading the whole thing or some sections is actually a better use of time than picking the same thing apart for half a year.

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Alwaysinvert, I actually agree with you, in that my actual methodology is a lot closer to what you describe than what vinod1 does. I only read when I'm having fun. I certainly don't spend months making sure I understand texts as if I were doing academic work! (That's probably one of the reasons I was so bad at graduate school....) I just wanted to say that having some more elevated level of engagement can be beneficial too, as I've noticed in my own experience.

 

And you're definitely right that advocating that people do what vinod1 does would likely make them go insane! Really admire that level of discipline and focus - something I don't have, for sure.

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It depends for me. A lot of things, I won't bother with.

 

But if I'm learning a new skill, I'll test myself at it. When I was learning copywriting, I wrote a few messages using the techniques I understood to be the industry standard. One generated my company a decent amount of cash.

 

As with all things, the more you practice, the more likely you are to get better at whatever you're trying to achieve. With business models and concepts, think about them and try to apply them to the broader world than the one you're used to. It works pretty well for me.

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"How do you internalize what you read?"

 

I mostly don't, probably, and that's sad to think about...

 

Same here.

I found recently while going through Security Analysis that I must need to read a page or two (or enough to get the writers thought on something or at least a grasp of what's being explained), put the book down and think about what I read.

 

The chapter was the Income Statement and his initial thought was the analysis has transitioned from the BS focused to a combination of the IS and BS and newer analysts were more about the trend in earnings rather than "net worth" of book value to value the company.

Then he goes on to explain the dangers in one time charges etc.

See, I do remember this time. The last time through SA I could maybe tell you how the book is divided into sections but no specifics.

 

I read a while ago on a blog (I can't remember which one), written by someone (I can't remember who), that recent studies (by which group, I don't remember either  ;D ) show it's better to read about 10 pages and put the book down, then write a summary in your own words. The comparison was reading an entire chapter and writing a summary.

They feel you retain more by reading in smaller chunks and stopping to think about what you read and write in your own words to solidify it.

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There are two ways of learning (probably more though :P ), just putting information in your head in case it might be useful someday, or gettting solutions for either real or perceived obstacles (so learning it when you need to).

 

Usually I dont just start reading, I always have an idea what I want to get out of it before reading it. You basically learn with your emotions (psychopaths usually have bad memory). So if you encounter an obstacle, you then want to find a solution for it. And that is an emotional thing. But just reading without really have any obstacles is not emotional, just a lot of loose pieces of information that don't seem relevant to your animal brain at the time.

 

So let's say you start to worry about detecting frauds. Then you start to think about how to detect them first, and then I start looking on amazon for books on how to detect frauds. So now it is a whole thing in my head already. I might have some idea's of my own, and it is an emotion, that I then connect with the information in the book.

 

And then before I read the book I look through the contents and start reading the chapters that look interesting first. And honestly a lot of books have a lot of filler (that fooled on randomness book especially). Sometimes you can just read extensive amazon reviews and get like 80% of what you would have gotten reading the book.

 

That whole antifragility idea by nassim taleb is really interesting. But you could summarize that in two pages (and you can find those summaries), and that would be more then enough. Generally the idea's of a book are important, not the 20 examples they give. Actually thinking about this idea and trying to apply it is time better spent then reading the book.

 

And then summarizing it back to myself in my head. And thinking of situations where it would apply. Also important not to read boring books. Often there are several books written on one subject. Always read the reviews.

 

Also people like Munger are pretty emotional about the whole model learning thing. He collects them like post stamps. So he gets excited when he finds a new one, which is an emotion! It can then get sort of anchored in your head. So y eah, the right dose of emotion is important with learning.

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So I was able to do this only for a few topics (1) Ben Graham Security Analysis - a six month effort (2) Buffett's annual letters and interviews - another 6 month effort (3) Influence and about another 10 books.

 

Vinod

 

Vinod, I am curious to know the names of the 10 other books.

 

For me, nothing has worked better than interspersed repetition and recall.

 

smd123,

 

My mention of 10 books is not really a fixed set of books. I usually write a short summary, it might even be as little as a one sentence for books that I find there is something that I should incorporate into my thinking or habits.

 

It is on a continuum, "Security Analysis" being at one end where I spent 6 months to drill down the lessons of that book deeply into my day to day practice to "Black Swan" being at sort of the other end where I think the lesson is quite simple and direct ("random, unknownable, and unpredictable shit happens more often than we realize") so not much re-reading required. I would put "The Most Important Thing" by Howard Marks as somewhere in between.

 

With that caveat, here are some books on which I spent quite some time trying to practice what they say

 

1. Seven habits of highly effective people - lot of it is fluff but it has a few things that have a big impact on me. For example, "begin with the end in mind" is something that I found very useful in making big impact decisions.

 

2. How to win friends and influence people.

 

3. Dont sweat the small stuff.

 

4. Investment Valuation by Damodharan. I think this is absolutely the wrong way to approach investing, but I think knowing the theory really cold and then rejecting it based on specific reasons that you believe in, goes a long way in being a better investor.

 

5. Understanding Michael Porter. Perhaps the best approach to understanding moats and a companies strategy that I came across.

 

6. A bunch of books and literature on children's eduction, emotional well being, etc.

 

7. Value Investing from Graham to Buffett and beyond

 

I think these are the main ones that I spent the most time on.

 

Vinod

 

 

 

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Maybe this will sound unhelpful and I'm not an authority or anything, but learning is a lot more easy if it is fun and interesting. So I go where my interests take me. My take is that if you approach it as a job it will become a chore. And chores that you don't actually have to do will seldom be done.

 

Munger was asked about how he absorbed his reading recently. His answer was that he just read. No underlining. No note taking. Nothing of that kind.

 

Incidentally, that's how I have always done it too. I didn't take notes back in school either and was always chided for it by teachers. Admittedly, this was not part of some master plan, I was just too lazy. But recent stuff I've read about it actually seems to bear out my strategy; it's harder to focus on listening to the content if you are preoccupied with writing it down. I'm not saying this translates to note taking when reading in the least, but maybe rigor is not always the correct solution. 

 

Now, Munger is a genius and I am mostly just sloppy, so I grant the possibility that I could be wrong and a more pedantic approach is best for most people.

 

However, I would also add that things you have read can still be benificial even if you can't recall all that much about them some time later. They still build your mental framework . Thinking about some behavioral econ factoid, I'm not so sure I could say if it was from Kahneman, Ariely, Thaler or Cialdini, but what does it actually matter? I am pretty sure I have learned more by reading all of them instead of studying Influence for a year.

 

It is not a chore at all. I absolutely love reading these books. Just that my interest in them does not seem to correlate very well with how much I retain and how much I actually put into practice.

 

I think we probably differ in how we learn. For me, when I try so summarize when putting it down on paper, it forces me think through more deeply and that is how I learn most effectively. The very act of writing seems to focus my mind much more. Even if I do not read what I have written, I pretty much retain the gist of it when I write.

 

I too assume that even if I do not remember all the details, it is somewhere in the back of my mind and that somehow my thinking improved as a result of reading those books somehow.

 

Vinod

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For more info, see these books, (but reading more kind of defeats your purpose ;) :

How we Learn

A Mind for Numbers

Make it stick

 

 

I've had How we Learn and Make it Stick on my Amazon/Kindle shopping list for a while. Which one of these would you recommend the most?

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This video helped me remember and think more about the books I read.  Basically, writing it down really helps.

 

 

This guy also says to highlight and summarize. The literature on learning is quite explicit and strong on this highlighting and summarization are not very effective.  see for example: The one thing they never taught you in school, How to learn http://bigthink.com/neurobonkers/assessing-the-evidence-for-the-one-thing-you-never-get-taught-in-school-how-to-learn

 

It's a painful truth, having spent most of my high school, college and graduate years summarizing and highlighting.

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Guest Schwab711

Maybe this will sound unhelpful and I'm not an authority or anything, but learning is a lot more easy if it is fun and interesting. So I go where my interests take me. My take is that if you approach it as a job it will become a chore. And chores that you don't actually have to do will seldom be done.

 

Munger was asked about how he absorbed his reading recently. His answer was that he just read. No underlining. No note taking. Nothing of that kind.

 

Incidentally, that's how I have always done it too. I didn't take notes back in school either and was always chided for it by teachers. Admittedly, this was not part of some master plan, I was just too lazy. But recent stuff I've read about it actually seems to bear out my strategy; it's harder to focus on listening to the content if you are preoccupied with writing it down. I'm not saying this translates to note taking when reading in the least, but maybe rigor is not always the correct solution. 

 

Now, Munger is a genius and I am mostly just sloppy, so I grant the possibility that I could be wrong and a more pedantic approach is best for most people.

 

However, I would also add that things you have read can still be benificial even if you can't recall all that much about them some time later. They still build your mental framework . Thinking about some behavioral econ factoid, I'm not so sure I could say if it was from Kahneman, Ariely, Thaler or Cialdini, but what does it actually matter? I am pretty sure I have learned more by reading all of them instead of studying Influence for a year.

 

It is not a chore at all. I absolutely love reading these books. Just that my interest in them does not seem to correlate very well with how much I retain and how much I actually put into practice.

 

I think we probably differ in how we learn. For me, when I try so summarize when putting it down on paper, it forces me think through more deeply and that is how I learn most effectively. The very act of writing seems to focus my mind much more. Even if I do not read what I have written, I pretty much retain the gist of it when I write.

 

I too assume that even if I do not remember all the details, it is somewhere in the back of my mind and that somehow my thinking improved as a result of reading those books somehow.

 

Vinod

 

Vinod:

I have read your notes on SA before and I am [and was] extremely impressed by how diligently you take notes while reading. This thread is inspiring me to try your methods for the next few weeks to see if it is more effective for myself. My best friend in college seemed to learn in a similar manner to you and I was always impressed by the effort/effectiveness.

 

Sadly, I don't have much to offer on the topic but I can share my personal experience. It seems like I am similar to alwaysinvert in that I just read. However, not only do I not like to underline or write summaries, I am often unable to read if there are any foreign distractions written within the book. Not sure why it bothers me so much... I've repurchased used textbooks because my first copy had too many hand-written notes haha.

 

I think simple reading works for me because I have fairly strong memory/recall (whatever that means). I find that I can often recall large sections of [paraphrased] information in addition to specific landmarks such as page #, paragraph/line #, ect. This is generally stronger if idiosyncrasies exist within the page or in my immediate vicinity at the time of reading. Some examples that drastically improve my recall of a book/paper include the printing being slightly off-centered, darker/lighter ink, a crease/fold of a certain pattern, the pattern the text makes, ect. I'm nothing like the Overstock CEO but I do have a good memory for pattern recall and seem to have an intuitive ability to associate information I read/hear with patterns around me at the time of learning. The last detail about how I read is that I can be an excruciatingly slow reader when it comes to certain textbook material. Similar to how someone suggested reading 10 pages and thinking it over, I actively attempt to comprehend everything as I read it and will continue to re-read a paragraph/page/chapter numerous times consecutively if I have any uncertainty with the message. This is my standard approach and can cause me to spend hours reading a dozen pages or so. I am capable of reading/recalling info or concepts that I don't presently understand and continuing forward until new info allows me to realize the purpose/concept, but assuming time is not a factor, it's much more common for me to do the former.

 

I'd be really interested to hear if others learn/recall with a similar pattern-recognition scheme. I know very little about the theories of how folks learn or remember things so it would also be interesting to hear about any theories that cover my experience.

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