The One Thing

The One Thing Approach to Reading

My sister-in-law was looking at my bookshelf one day and she asked a seemingly innocuous question:

What did you learn from this book?

Despite having recently read that particular book, I was quite shocked that there was not one thing that came to mind when I attempted to recall the content of the book.

One of the reasons I started this reading project was because of her question. I liked reading books but I didn’t like forgetting what I read. This project is an experiment in ways to better remember what I read.

Here’s what I’ve found:

When I try to remember a bunch of ideas from a book, I end up not remembering any of them.

But, if I just try to remember One Thing from a book, I can usually recall that one idea even months later. Not only that, recalling that one thing ironically helps me to remember other things from the book.

It’s a completely counter-intuitive idea, but it works. Try it.

This is the reason I end each episode of the Books of Titans podcast with The One Thing, my one key takeaway from each book. Not only does it provide you, the listener, with an idea from the book, it also helps me to recall that book later on.

Here’s a bonus trick – if instead of remembering One Thing from a book, if you can begin implementing One Thing from a book, you will be even more likely to remember the book because it’s changed a pattern in your life.

2 Comments. Leave new

  • Hi. Those sound like some really good ideas. There’s a fairly recent book by Barbara Oakley called “a mind for numbers.” It’s the adult version of her book for teens “learning how to learn” (which is very similar to a mind for numbers, just explained easier. Both books give you current research on how people learn. Even the author says a mind for numbers is not just a book about learning how to learn science and math, but how to learn in general. And there’s two other credentialed researchers who wrote it with her.
    I’ve read parts of quite a few learning books and to me this one has some legit practical ideas. One is called active recall. Which means after you read something, stop and tell yourself or someone what you just read. This is much harder than it sounded for me. I can almost recall nothing or one or two things when I read a chapter and do this exercise. So I do this exercise after each paragraph (on readings I struggle with, like nonfiction and it’s still tough, but something about that process seems very helpful. There’s some other really good ideas in the book, like set a timer for 25 minutes and read/study completely focused and when the timer goes off, take a 5 or so minute break not related to the reading. Then come back and do it again, always rewarding yourself with a break for the focus you gave. Some of these tips sound like they might not work that good, but if you give them a shot, I think you’ll find they are actually helpful. Be aware there is a lot of junk books out there on this topic, but ones based In research which cite the research may be the best bet for finding books on aspects of cognitive performance you’d like to improve. For me, memory comes to mind. Thanks.

  • And one other thing since I mentioned my bad memory, is there’s a high rated book on memory called “unlimited memory”. I haven’t read it, so I can’t recommend it necessarily, but I feel confident it’s good based on reviews and ratings.


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My 10 Rules for Reading