How to retain most from reading a book ? Practical Tips?


I have been a silent member of the forum for some years but I am starting a conversation under less than ideal circumstances in these extraordinary times. I am a researcher by living an have to read a lot of content and information for professional reasons but right now after living almost three months under a very stringent lockdown I don’t seem to have the motivation to read and retain from non-fiction books which is critical for my professional duties. Also, this inability is exacerbating a depression which I have been battling since the past year.

Any practical suggestions on how I can find the motivation to read and retain significant amount of information and concepts from reasonably complex material, will be greatly helpful.


One thing that helps me deal with technical information when I’m having trouble focusing is to explain it to an imaginary person.

I pretend that my goal is to help someone else (me from a 3rd person perspective) understand it, so I’ll explain the code or concept step by step. If that doesn’t work, I’ll write things down as I explain them. It often helps get my brain back on track.


Probably not something you want to read, because I am sure you know, but I’m not sure there’s much you can do to motivate yourself to read, other than knowing that the information you gather from whatever you’re reading will ultimately benefit you in the long run. I’ve experienced extended bouts of depression, and find that what got me out of it the most was a disciplined routine. I find that the general idea that you should perform a task for atleast fifteen minutes before stopping to be a pretty good one.

In regard to information retention:
Firstly, there’s nothing wrong with reading a book multiple times, as each time will likely yield new insights. Secondly, there are plenty of resources already existing on this forum that help in the practice of organizing concepts and ideas from books into memories. I’ll link a few posts that I’ve read below.

And I do agree with Josh; explaining an idea or concept to yourself as though you were teaching it to a different person helps a lot :). Hope this helps.


I have found out you can put your body and mind through a lot by giving them no other option but to do what you want. You need to find a purpose for reading any of the books you do. Like you will be better at your job, you can know do something you couldn’t do before, or something along those lines. At the end of the day, motivation is crap because once it is gone, you are back to were you started. You have to be driven in what you are doing because that will last forever and always keep you going when you feel like giving up. I hate reading textbooks because how they are laid out. Right now I am reading textbook about Pathopysiology and I continue to read it because I need to know how the body works so I can try to live healthy. This pushes me even when I don’t want to read it because of how heavy and technical it is


I think I understand. Discipline is key to success.

Thank you, I will try that. :pray:

Thank you for your response and my congratulations for the fact that you have managed your depression well.

I have depressive personality and being afflicted with an autoimmune disease last five years havent helped. I was on the fast track to academic success at a tire 1 university in the US, in 2016. In 2020 I am stuck at an unstable job in a tire 2 city in India.

This litany of misfortunes have robbed me of my motivation to read books and retain crucial information. As a consultant my access to hard facts and data is crucial to my processional success. So thank you for the links, I will go through them.


No guarantee that it helps, but there is a simple trick that is said to be able to ease or even cure depressions.

  • Look into a mirror
  • Smile at yourself
  • Try to be amused by the smiling face that you see in the mirror. For instance say to yourself: ‘Now look at that. So much misfortune, yet he is smiling. What a childlike mind. Actually that’s kind of cool.’
  • Repeat several times a day

If there are more things to talk about, feel free to post them. I think everyone here is ready to listen and try to help :slight_smile:


I think breaking everything down into very small, discrete, manageable tasks is important. Rather than thinking “I have to read a lot of information from difficult texts or else there will be bad consequences” consider focusing on one portion of one text and make a moderate goal. Create a fictional audience for yourself and teach that audience. Do this by making an outline covering one area of one chapter of one book for one day of the week. Try to habituate thinking in these very micro terms so things don’t seem overwhelming. In scuba diving, when panic occurs due to excess nitrogen, the idea is to get your visual field managed by moving up very close to something and study tiny details. Even holding your dive watch in front of your eyes and looking closely at details can help calm the mind, focus it, and eliminate excess.

The idea is similar when feeling overwhelmed and depressed with too many things to do. Peel away distractions and overwhelming thoughts and focus on tiny details. Start making short YouTube videos for yourself, for instance five minutes in length, each of which covers a different part of the textbooks you need to study. YouTube is great for this because you have the option to keep them private, or partially publish them only for those you give the link to, or make them entirely public.
Some accountability helps. If you become brave enough to start publishing your videos, and people start watching, it starts creating momentum and expectation from others that there will be future videos.
It will help you organize your mind. Make outlines and small, reasonable plans. Be realistic. Review often!

Build in many planned break times, too. I find that something completely alternate, such as some sort of fantasy video game on an Xbox or PlayStation (because it’s far away from a computer screen), helps to move completely out of the cerebral, intellectual space. Or watching mystery series, for instance.

Get lots and lots of exercise. Lots of walks. A good diet. Lots of vitamin B. Gardening is a really terrific pastime if you have access to the earth. Growing things is such a fundamental part of our nature. Growing plants which the bees are thankful for, and which please people who see them, is incredibly gratifying, and reminds us how deeply connected we are with one another and all of creation.

Try to remain as social as possible. Living inside of books and computers isolates us. We still need to see human faces in front of us. Depression makes relationships very challenging. It can lead to very negative thinking; we start believing our negative thoughts: “Things will never change. People seem to be withdrawing from me” and so on. Use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy techniques to challenge your thoughts. “Wait a minute…and I truly catching every red light on the highway like my mind says? In fact, look at that, there’s another green light that I went through. And another, and another.” “Wow, that person has reached out to me again, they must really care about me.”
“Wow, look at that - a perfect stranger on the internet took all that time to respond to me with his personal thoughts and experiences - it’s remarkable how a complete stranger must care about me so much to write all that and give it careful thought!”

Once we begin to turn our thinking inside out, miracles can really happen inside the brain.

For myself, I reached a point where I needed professional therapy, however. Sometimes no matter how much work and effort we put into getting our ship righted, we still need another human being to take our hand and lead us to a different place. I hope that if you reach that point you will have the courage and resources to take any necessary step.

You are incredibly important in the universe, no matter how you see yourself, no matter if you “succeed or fail” according to how the world judges us. You will always be incredibly important, and valued. And loved.



Yeah books can be distilled down to a few points pretty easily

I want to thank you first for taking the time and effort. I am going through two books currently, and I plan your advice to share 15 mnt videos as distillations of them.


Don’t know if this is too late or not, but as far as depression goes, I might be able to help.

I’ve never been the depressive type, but this last year from like September '19 to May '20 I was mad down on some relationship BS that happened to me. Really had me in an unhealthy mindframe, with unhealthy thoughts.

I got over it recently and the key to it was to forgive all the people involved (including myself), let them do them, and focus on doing me, knowing that this was one of those things that was out of my control.

Once I let go of the thought of having full control, I kind of stopped thinking about it as often and moved onto thinking about my work and my activities outside of my work hours; kind of dived deep into the assignments to the point I couldn’t think bad thoughts, and seeing actual progress in something I put time into was just the remedy I needed.

I’m a big music guy too, and listening to my favorites artists going through the things I went through helped by making me not feel alone in my suffering. If you’re a rap fan, Lil Wayne’s latest album Funeral just dropped a Deluxe version, and his new song Happen to You became my go-to remedy whenever I started feeling low.

I don’t know what having an autoimmune disease or a depressive personality is like, but, of course, these things don’t detract from your worth as a human being and your rights to happiness. Let this be your turning point. At the end of the day, decisions like these come down to two choices: choosing to live or choosing death.

Community helps too, so if you’re ever feeling down, let us know; we’re here for you bro.

1 Like

Thank you my friend. Your words do help. I would say, most I feel is isolation. Inability to communicate. When you are in your middle 30s living at home with low or negligible income, even in a traditional society where staying with parents is considered a duty, it hurts.

It is not that I was not smart. But once I had to leave ivy League academia and return to almost subsaharan Africa like conditions of my home town. It seems I have lost the urge strive. Earlier I could feel this engine revvong in my heart… I hear nothing these days.

1 Like

Momentum and drive are self-made, you just need to find the right motivation. Helps me a lot when I think I’m working to support other people like my friends and family.

As for your age, don’t even consider it; Dominic O’Brien got into the memory game late and became an 8 time world champion. Nothing’s ever a limit unless you make it one.

I believe in you, now you just need to as well.