A Better Reading Experience

I’ve read over 60 books in 2018.

Here are a few thoughts on how to make your reading more efficient and enjoyable at the same time.

Read What Makes You Better

Simply reading more won’t make you better. Prefer quality to quantity, because your time is limited and there are more books published every year than you can read in your life. Read books that interest you to stay motivated and help you solve a problem so you don’t have to go through trial and error yourself. Read books that make you better, smarter and healthier so you can live a better life.

Read the right books.

Skim Before Buying

Now, here’s a question: “How do you find the right book?” A good place to start are your idols, influencers and curators you trust. What do they read? What do they recommend? Who reads similar books and what do they recommend? Make a list (I highly recommend goodreads.com for that) with books you want to read. Make a selection.

Once you’ve selected books, skim them. Test them. Read the index and understand it. Do the same with the introduction and conclusion, read a sample. If you still want to read the book: buy it. That way you’ll avoid many poor purchases, save time and thus have more time and money to buy books that matter to you.

Try before you buy.

Immerse Yourself in a Book

Reading while you are distracted will reduce your understanding and engagement while reading. In contrast, reading attentively is powerful; it allows you to make new connections and remember more of what you’ve read. That’s why you should avoid distractions and interruptions; mute your phone, make sure no one will interrupt you, grab your favorite drink and sit down to read. Then, immerse yourself in a book and focus on what you read. This way, you’ll make reading more worthwhile.

Set the mood.

Establish A Reading Routine

After you picked the right book and set the mood, it’s time to make reading a habit. It’s the easiest way to read more. Reading is part of my morning and evening routines, and I recommend making it part of yours as well. If you don’t have a routine, I recommend establishing one. It will make you look forward to reading and makes sure you’ll read consistently. It also acts as a natural boundary for other people to not disrupt your reading time.

Make reading part of your life.

Learn From It

Some books take weeks or months to read. How can you still remember what you’ve read? First, highlight while reading and keep it short and rough: if it’s interesting or you’ve gained some insight from it, highlight it. Stop and think when you encounter important information that enlightens you. Reflect after each long chapter. Engage in dialogue with the author, think about what you read, ask questions and see if they’re answered. Do that while reading the book, and – with small exceptions – keep your reading flow smooth.

After you’re done reading, compile your notes and highlights in a document, that’s your foundation so you don’t have to read this book again (unless it’s so good that you want to). Now it’s time to learn more from it: summarize in your own words what you find most important. Select again and again until you feel like you have extracted the most important ideas for your life. Now, rank those ideas in order of importance.  Finally, practice those ideas and insights in your day-to-day life. Pick one and remind yourself to practice it on a daily basis.

Become what you’ve read.

Quit, Reread, Tackle Difficulties

Here are a few additional tips:

If a book seems to be a waste of time: Stop reading it. If a book intensely resonated with you: mark it for rereading. If you feel intimidated by books about complex problems or difficult language: Use them as a challenge to grow.

Aaand that’s it. I’ll cover some of these topics in detail in future blog posts but wanted to get this information out there, so you start to improve your reading today.

Now, I have one last question: What advice did you find useful? I am happy to read your answer on social media!

My Journey I – Discipline

Introduction

Whenever you visit a blog like this, it’s easy to think that it has been a straightforward journey for me, to get to where I am now. The truth is, it wasn’t. What follows is a look at my discovery of personal development and what you can learn from it.

The Old Me

If you would have known me before I took this path, my passion for video games was the closest I got to the idea of personal development: I was drawn to the precision and reflexes of shooters, the complexity and speed of strategy games and the social aspects and coordination of games like World of Warcraft. As a result I spent a lot of time playing and streaming games to become a better gamer.

While this earned me some achievements in the virtual world, those didn’t transfer to the real world. I met my girlfriend at the time in 2014 and moved in with her in march 2017. She cheated on me one month later and unbeknownst to me, our breakup marked the beginning of my personal development journey.

How It All Began

On the day of the breakup I talked to a new friend of mine on Skype, and by pure chance, he mentioned a podcast by Jocko Willink. Having had nothing else to do that evening, I decided to check out his YouTube channel and after liking the first video and watching many more, something in my mind clicked. Previously I often wanted to change aspects of my life, but every time something prevented me from turning these wishes into actions. Through Jockos podcast I finally understood what held me back: Excuses!

I discovered that I was making excuses for many things I wanted to do, like exercising, eating healthy, losing weight and studying more. When I wanted to buy new running shoes, I found excuses about why I didn’t need to: I told myself that I was fit enough, that I didn’t need more endurance, that the shoes would cost too much money … the list was never ending. While I had bought into those excuses for years, I started to change. Buried under those excuses was the truth: I actually wanted to start running, exercising, eating healthy and more. I realized that even though I’ve told myself many times, that the way I had lived my life up until that moment was congruent with what I wanted – it wasn’t. I wanted more out of life, I expected more of myself, but was unable to live up to my own expectations.

The cause for this was simple: I believed most of my own excuses. Luckily shortly thereafter I watched another video from Jocko, carrying a message that connected with me: Whatever you want to do, there is one smallest step that you can take. So, take that step… and then… take another step… and another.. and another.

The Day I Took Action

A few days later, a thought crossed my mind: “Actually… what would be the first step to buy new running shoes?” Even though I recognized my old excuses to not even consider that thought, I had a simple answer: “To look up which shop sells running shoes.” After procrastinating for a bit I decided to look that up. This was the first step. One additional step led to another and through many more, each accompanied by several excuses, I bought running shoes and went running the very same day. I had stopped to believe my excuses.

Afterwards I thought to myself: “Damn! That was easier than I thought!” It was in that moment that I realized something important: “So, what held me back all this time? I bought all those excuses that I have told myself…” It made me curious about: “How many more excuses do I tell myself every day?” I thought about that and decided to challenge myself: I wanted to do a workout every single morning, go running every second day and pay close attention to my excuses. So, I downloaded a workout app and went to bed.

Waking up the next morning I recognized “them”. They tried to keep me in bed and tried to hold me back from doing what I wanted to do: Excuses trying to prevent me from working out. Even though it was a struggle, I didn’t let them. I got out of bed, opened the app and half asleep, not having exercised in over ten years, completed my first workout.

A New Realization

I had beaten my excuses and felt exhilarated. I had caught a glimpse of my potential and it began to reveal to me that maybe, just maybe, I could be able to do all the things I wanted to – One of which was to work out regularly. Behind all the excuses trying to prevent that like that I looked good enough, that I didn’t have the time and that I could injure myself, was a desire to actually work out. So I challenged myself to repeat working out the next morning.

100 days later I had never skipped a workout for a single day. Additionally, I had been running every second day for the same duration. No matter the time, the weather, the excuses or circumstances – sometimes working out as early as 4:30 AM and sometimes going for a run as late as 11:45 PM in the pouring rain. I had done what I considered myself incapable of doing. What had been a long time coming happened shortly thereafter: I got injured and was forced to take a break. But I had learned one important lesson: I had proof that I was able to push through my excuses, rationalizations and reasons for why I didn’t want to, couldn’t or didn’t need to pursue what I really wanted. This realization changed how I responded to challenges and slowly opened another door…

Read on and discover, how a book changed my life and helped me find purpose.

My Journey II – Tools of Titans

The Book That Changed My Life

“You know, there’s a good book I’ve read recently; it’s called Tools of Titans.”, my friend told me in the summer of 2017. Having experienced the profound effects of Jocko Willink’s podcasts and becoming disciplined, checking out this book was a no-brainer. Author Tim Ferriss compiled insightful answers to the fascinating question of how people became successful. Through reading it I learned many lessons, two of which had profound impact on my life:

First, I developed an understanding for how many people become successful without going down the traditional path of high school into college into 9-to-5 into retirement. A concept that I hadn’t questioned before. Second, I’ve learned a lot about new strategies and tools to live the life I wanted. I didn’t need to go down the traditional path that I followed unwittingly for the past 26 years. Tools of Titans opened the door to previously unknown possibilities – for the first time in my life, I realized that the choice of what I wanted to do with my life was truly mine.

Life-Changing Insight

For the first time I asked myself open-mindedly where my life was going: Was it in tune with my goals and desires? Surprisingly, I didn’t have an answer. Upon further thinking I realized: I had no clear vision for my future at all. Instead I had simply been going along with what seemed safe and reasonable, without ever asking myself if that was what I really wanted.

Feeling lost, I decided to pursue the one thing that I had developed a passion for after reading Tools of Titans: To work on myself, to grow, and learn. Without being aware of it myself, this passion was something I always had in me: I played competitive video games with the goal to improve. I strove for excellent grades when I didn’t have to, and when 90% of students didn’t even read assigned texts, I not only read, summarized and highlighted them but also took pages of notes. The missing link: I never applied this mindset to the way I lived my life as a whole. That changed.

As I started to apply this mindset to my life, I began meditating, read daily, signed up for a gym, ran regularly, ate healthy and doubled down on my efforts for university. My goal was to improve – and that, I did. Slowly but surely, I began to tread on the path of improvement.

Signs of Doubt

As I learned, read and tried myself out, I felt like my life had suddenly become great: In reality this feeling came from doing all the things I always wanted to do: I ate healthy, exercised, trippled down on studying and read a ton of books. I didn’t do all these things before because I had convinced myself to be a person that didn’t need to eat healthy, wasn’t in need of exercise and content with my sleep schedule (getting up as late as 12 AM sometimes). Any time I felt that this was not true with my what I really felt, I quickly buried these true feelings under a vast amount of excuses and rationalizations which kept me in my status quo. After I started doing them, progress quickly became visible and the amount of discipline needed to maintain this process steadily decreased. I was becoming more and more productive by the day and felt a lot better about my direction in life.

After some time I realized that my deep passion for self-development started to outshine my passion for my studies. I became deeply conflicted. “Should I quit university after all those years to follow my newly found passion?” Of course, that was a stupid idea … right?! Without a clear answer, my motivation for studying took a nosedive. For two months I wrestled with the question of where I wanted to take my life. As I thought and wrote about this, I concluded that self-development was my real passion and that I wanted to share it with others. University didn’t fit that plan.

Finding Purpose

So, around new years eve 2017 I sat down with my friend for a beer, pondering the question of where to go and what to do with my life. During our conversation he asked me a simple question: “What do you want to do in life?” Without hesitation I replied: “Help others!” He smiled. “You know you can do that without quitting uni, right?”

I went silent for a moment, dumbstruck by this simple observation. I realized that I had needlessly backed myself into a corner: I had thought about this problem as an either-or decision. I completely disregarded that I could go down both paths simultaneously. My plan was to put in the work for uni, while continuously working on myself. I also started to think about how could I share what I had learned with others.

In January of 2018 I put my thoughts on paper and outlined how I wanted to achieve my goals, and more importantly, why I wanted to achieve those goals. Armed with a purpose, a plan, discipline and knowledge from countless self-development resources, I started to set up a blog to share what I’ve learned with the world. From January until the end of April this vision became more defined with the help of Jordan Peterson’s Self-Authoring Suite.

As a result, those months turned into some of the most productive months ever: I woke up early, worked hard for university and my blog, read more, learned more, exercised regularly and tried new things. The days flew by. The amount of knowledge I had gathered that I wanted to share with the world increased every day. It seemed like everything was coming together, when I had a really stupid idea.

PART III: How a stupid idea almost prevented this blog from happening…

My Journey III – Mistakes

A Stupid Idea

I had a long time problem: I felt uncomfortable in clubs. For years I haven’t been an outgoing person at all, often felt awkwardly out of place and didn’t enjoy my time at parties. I always wanted to change this and as all other parts of my life where progressing nicely, I decided it was finally time to become more social – becoming more comfortable in clubs seemed like a good first step.

So, over the course of some weeks I went out at least three nights a week, woke up late and tired and did it all over again. After a couple of months I even felt at home in clubs… so, success! Right?

Another Stupid Idea…

Nope! One morning I woke up and thought: “FUCK! I have uni deadlines!” Indeed, I had to turn in some paperwork and partying certainly hadn’t helped that. I canceled all events and sat down for 12-hour days for two weeks. After turning in those papers I felt exhausted and came up with another great idea: “Let’s take a break from uni for a week! What’s the worst that can happen?” Who would have guessed? One week turned into 4 weeks and soon I was far behind.

Not only that – partying often and staying up late messed up my sleep schedule and derailed my routines and habits. Suddenly I gave in to excuses to skip going to the gym “today” (or tomorrow… ah, who am I kidding: the whole week!) and fell off my path completely. Additionally, my father being brought into a hospital, an hour before my heart had been broken by a girl I loved left me in a really bad spot.

At this point, I didn’t care about sharing what I had learned anymore. I stopped working out, stopped my meditation, cold showers, and journaling routines and found no motivation to work on my blog or anything else for that matter. I lost my purpose.

The Feeling of Purpose

To top it all off, I had to work on the weekend, which, instead of making the situation worse, turned out to be the best thing that could have happened – I made myself a promise. No matter how heartbroken I was or how miserable my situation seemed: I would make everyone’s day. So I did. Even though I felt sad and exhausted, I made everyone enjoy their time at work. People came to me with an expression that left one wondering why they hadn’t written “FUCK MY LIFE – I HAVE TO WORK ON WEEKENDS” on their forehead – they left with a high five and a big smile. Through those interaction I reignited my purpose, I felt the impact that simple day to day actions had on others and why I had decided to go down this path in the first place.

Over the weekend I wrote down what was going wrong, why it was going wrong and what I needed to do to fix it. It was a long list, but I felt confident to tackle it one by one, one day at a time. So that’s what I did: I started incredibly small and worked myself up from there. My time studying increased from five minutes each day, to four hours a day one month later. I reintroduced my morning and evening routines, set up a regular workout schedule and fought my way back on my path. In the span of a few weeks I was back at it. My routines were going strong, I made great progress in all important areas of my life. I even wrote 1/3 of my 9 month master thesis in one month!

Back on the Path

That was when I decided to take up blogging again to further my mission of helping others to reach their potential, but when I read the articles I had written in January, I realized they lacked structure and direction, so I scraped what I had and started over. I read books about how to write (who would have guessed I had to learn that, after writing uni papers for my whole adult life) and devised a plan to get my blog online. Countless failed drafts, hours upon hours of reading and research, writing and rewriting, planning and communicating lead to what you are reading now.

Of course these blogs posts are only a small glimpse at my journey and what I’ve learned along the way. I didn’t get to where I am alone. I had great mentors like Tim Ferriss, Jocko Willink, Jordan Peterson, Joe Rogan, Gary Vaynerchuck and others, who taught me most of what I know.

On my journey I’ve learned a lot, and while I am still learning, I want to share which tools, mindsets, ideas and strategies helped me so far, so they can help you, too. Whether you read an article about how to become disciplined which helps you go to the gym regularly, or how gratitude helps you appreciate more of life, or why a purpose helps you prioritize and many more: My mission is that you’ll eventually be able to visit this blog whenever you feel stuck,  have a problem or want to improve and find something of value.

Feel free to check out my Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and sign up for my Newsletter below. I’d love to hear from you!

The Self-Help Trap

If you read this blog you are most likely looking for ways to improve. Maybe you want to exercise regularly or eat healthy. Maybe you want to start a new business or improve your social skills. Whatever it is you want, it all starts with action.

If you look at comments under motivational pictures, inspiring videos or blog posts like this, you’ll read one specific kind of comment all the time: “Nice content. But no one does this anyway.”

And you know what? It’s true.

Only a minority of people reading a post like this execute on the advice given. As a writer this is what I fear the most: That you will read this post and not take action. You may think that’s already not true, because by reading this article you have already taken action, right? Yeah, kind of. For better understanding let’s clarify what I mean by action.

“Are you a born writer? Were you put on earth to be a painter, a scientist, an apostle of peace? In the end the question can only be answered by action.”

Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

Execution and Theory

For me, action is divided into “theory” and “execution”.

Theory is preparation.

It’s reading, researching, watching, listening, thinking and waiting. Of course theory is not bad – quite the contrary: theory is useful to reach good decisions, to become more efficient and to get new ideas. It’s a good starting point for something new and a guidance for topics to improve in. Theory is also easier than execution. Especially in this age, you often don’t even have to take any real risks.

What happens most of the time though is that you stay in the realm of theory so long, it becomes a burden. At that point theory turns into procrastination. You are avoiding to execute on your idea by reading posts like this one, researching and planning. That’s why I view theory as action only as long as it is needed to start executing, but when is more theory too much?

This is where execution is important – purposeful execution.

“Purposeful” means, that your action is necessary for the advancement of your goals. At a certain point more theory is not necessary; that’s when it turns into inaction and execution should take its place. Another way of looking at it is doing what feels right. It’s listening to the voice that says “you know, we do not need to read another book about exercise to go to the gym, right?” and then – go to the gym instead of doing more research.

Stuck in Theory

I was stuck in the realm of theory very recently, when I wanted to start this blog.

I had many excuses for not starting: “Who am I to write about self-improvement?” or “I need more time!”. When I decided I was going to start anyways I had hundreds of excuses to not go through with it: “I need to do more research!” or “I need more information!” and “I need to improve my writing!”. Then my friends’ advice was added on top of it all.

If I took everything to heart and only started when I was absolutely ready, I would have been stuck in the realm of theory forever. I’m not even ready now! Still, I know I need to start executing, so that’s what I do.

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

Derek Sivers, “Tools of Titans”

Regrets

Now that this blog is public, one might think I would regret not having done more research, improved my writing or incorporated more feedback. Instead I have only one thought:

I regret not starting earlier.

This is also true for many new things I’ve picked up in my life, after procrastinating or just preparing to execute for weeks and months. Among them, cornerstones of my routines like meditation and exercise, but also new interests like martial arts and dancing.

For many people not having executed on an idea earlier, or, worse, not at all, will be a great source of regret – and regret is terrifying. Thoughts like “I wonder what if…” or “I wish I had done …” are tragic and more often than not originate from not taking action or not executing.

Conclusion

So, after reading this article you can read more articles on this blog, or go to YouTube to watch a motivational video, or read another self-help book. But at the end of the day, this will only get you so far. To take your life to the next level you have to move away from theory and into action.

You have to execute!