How to Live Your Books and Not Just Read Them

Reading books is one thing, but actually living them is another thing. Many people just read a book without ever living it. But as you know, you can never get full benefit from a book if you just read it without putting it into practice.

Of course, it is easier said than done. Most of us just read a book once to get some ideas, and that’s it. But do you believe that we can completely grasp and apply the principles in a book by reading it just once? I don’t think so. Of course we can get some ideas from the book, but to effectively grasp and especially to apply them, reading it just once is definitely not enough. We need to read and reread it until the principles are internalized and applied in our daily life.

Having “Most Important Books”

While not all books deserve such rereading, there are some very good books that deserve it. These are the kind of books that will make significant difference in your life if you apply the principles in them.

Do you know of such books? I do, and I call them “most important books” (MIBs). These are the books that can greatly improve the way I think, work, or live. So I give my MIBs special attention. I believe the habit of having MIBs can significantly help us in our personal growth. There are two reasons for this:

  1. It helps us internalize important principles for our life, and
  2. It helps us apply those principles

As you may know, application is what makes the difference between 1% people who experience what a book say and the other 99% who just read it without experiencing it. If you want to be in this top 1%, having MIBs – I believe – is a good way to help you.

Applying the MIBs Concept

So how do you put this MIBs concept into practice? Here are some tips:

  1. Make a list of all the books which application you think can significantly improve your life. Do not limit yourself in this step. Just list whatever books that come into your mind.
  2. From the list that you have made, choose at most three books which can make the most significant difference to your current needs.
  3. Have these books handy. Put them in a place where you can easily reach and read them.
  4. Every now and then, when you have spare time, grab one book and read the important parts in it. It will help you a lot if you have highlighted the book before. That way you can just read your highlights, and only read the details if you think they are necessary.
  5. Whenever you read a part of the book, think about how to apply it to your life. Think of some concrete actions you can take. If you want to, you can put them into your to-do list.
  6. Do the same thing with the other (at most) two books which are also your MIBs.
  7. Keep a book as MIB until:
    • You are satisfied with your progress in applying the principles in the book, or
    • The book is no longer relevant to your current need.
  8. When you remove a book from your MIBs, you can choose another book by going back to step 1.

Why do I believe that this MIBs concept works? Because, for really important ideas, the key to successful application is repetition. Without repetition, it’s far too easy for those ideas to be lost in our mental attic. Having MIBs is an effective way to make sure that the important ideas will always have the place they deserve in our mind.


  1. If the book teaches a particular skill—for example, Getting to Yes (negotiating), Winning Decisions (decision-making), 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (planning and executing)—it works extremely well to teach the book. That is, develop a little training program based on the book and offer it to colleagues and others: give them the highlights of the book and perhaps interest them in reading the book as well.

    The great benefit, of course, is that in preparing the training, you will read the book intensively to get the main ideas, and in teaching those you will learn them all the better so that they become a regular part of your thinking patterns.

  2. Leisureguy,
    I completely agree. Having been a lecturer, I can attest that it is true. I got much deeper understanding on the subjects I taught than the one I didn’t (even if I read them). Great idea!

  3. Hi Donald,

    Interesting take on the value of reading and importance of application. I agree with you that reading alone is not enough. Actions are important.

    A point I like to add is that real-life applications reinforces the principles/theories we read about. In personal development, applications can take place everyday, in many situations. So make use of these opportunities.

    If you read about 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, how are you being proactive at work? You can readily take personal responsibility in your job and also seek to understand, before being understood in meetings and discussions. All these are chances to apply the theories read.

    Then like you advice, revisit these books after some time, and you will realize there are new insights that you didn’t see there before.

    Such read-do-read-do cycles really then helps us to improve.

    My two cents worth…

  4. Lawrence,
    I agree, the read-do-read-do cycle is a good way to effectively put a book into practice. And you are right about the new insights we get while rereading a book.

    I think in some way book is like onion; it has several layers. In the first reading we can only get through the first layer, and the read-do cycles will help us dig deeper to subsequent layers.

  5. I never throw or give any of my books away. For some reason, I keep them stacked on my shelf. Some of the books– I read over and over again. This article actually reminds me of this particular fiction book I loved reading as a child. I never got tired of reading the stories over and over again. It’s no surprise, I suppose, that the concepts mentioned in that book remains with me to this day.

  6. Jen,
    Your story is a good example for this post. Rereading the book since you were child is particularly amazing. I haven’t read my childhood books for years 🙂

  7. Great post – we now need to get individuals to use the concepts!

    I have come across so many people who just buy self-development books thinking it will magically (overnight) make them better, improve, more successful without applying any of the ideas (because it’s too much hard work). Some people buy the next book, because this ‘next one’ will be ‘the one’. The one, which changes my life, they find out it isn’t, with some application so they buy another one, and another one. They are book junkies.

    Very similar to those individuals who are seminar junkies – just attend seminar after seminar and don’t apply anything they’ve learnt.


  8. Andrew,
    The situation you described is a sad fact experienced by many people. Since I love books, I’m in danger of becoming a book junkie myself. That’s why I now pay more attention on applying the concepts I’ve read. Rather than just reading, I’m now eager to experience them.

  9. […] over at LifeOptimizer talks about How to Live your Books and Not Just Read Them. This is something I need to work […]

  10. I find that taking notes on the important books helps me to “live” them, as it were. I have a binder of notes on Mr. Carnegie’s classic, for instance.

  11. Prolific Programmer,
    I agree with you. Being an active reader by taking notes will help us a lot in living a book. Over time we may forget some important points though, which is why I recommend rereading the book.

  12. […] Some books give you much more value than the others, so they deserve more time and attention. These are the few books which could significantly improve your life. While for most books it is enough to read them just once, for these important books you should reread them until you can effectively apply their lessons. I call such books most important books. […]

  13. […] month I wrote the post How to Live Your Books and Not Just Read Them. There I introduced the idea of “most important books” (MIBs) which says that you […]

  14. This is the smartest advice I have heard in a long time.

    I’m 15, and have been moving more towards self-help junkie by reading book after book, listening to audiotape after audiotape, as if it was a race to get through them all. I’m now starting to understand.

    My first MIB is Getting Things done. I think I’ll also throw in Unlimited Power within the next couple weeks. Thanks for the solid tips!

  15. Welcome, Geoff! I hope we can both learn to apply the principles in the books we read. By the way, Getting Things Done is a great book to start with.

  16. I have recently been reflecting on the same idea.
    Instead of getting more new books, I have begun to re-read the books that have had the greatest impact on me.

    Another powerful way to live a book is to find a friend that wants to live the same book and coach each other to follow the system. When have someone else keeping you accountable, it is far likelier for you to succeed.

  17. Good idea, Rob. I haven’t done it, but I agree that having a partner will greatly increase our chance to succeed.

  18. I liked the statement “to live the books you read”.

    I have one better than that. I have been writing for thirty plus years and I live the books I am writing. I don’t plan my stories, they have been in residence for many years, I just didn’t know it. As soon as I sit down to my keyboard, the story begin and I have to wait for each chapter to know what is coming next. I love writing and in doing so, I live a new adventure with each book. The end is always a surprise to me.

    I think the best writings come from the subconscious, or the heart if you will and these are the words you lay down for many future generations.

    Author: The Paradise Series
    Dr Robert E McGinnis

  19. Living the book you read is not difficult, provided it is a book that motivates you and is in your interest area. This is why it is so important to let early readers pick and choose. Granted, the pictures will be the first attraction, but allowing a beginning reader to choose what is read will make all the difference in the world. Yes, supervision is required, but not too much. I like to call it guidance rather than supervision. If I talk about early readers too much, it is only because that is were it all starts and is the most important time in a reader’s life. Living what you read will help in remembering what is read and how better to understand what is read. This important feature is a must for students of any age. I like this site.

  20. […] over at LifeOptimizer talks about How to Live your Books and Not Just Read Them. This is something I need to work […]

  21. I agree with everyone, some books have so much good information and it is better to apply things learned from
    reading than to just collect dust on the bookshelf.

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