Marginalia is really a simple concept that I am boldly calling an “Art.”
Why? Because simple things are often the hardest to do and when it is done consistently, with a natural ease, it often starts to resemble something very like art.
The process of taking notes, recording information, and taking action on that knowledge requires consistency. The upward ascension to mastery is in of itself, an art.
It is a unique ability; taking knowledge and turning it into action. Action that will enable success. Action that will enable profit. Action that will enable achievement.
It eventually becomes a very artful process. It is not an exact process and it is difficult to test and measure.
Lots of people read. Reading is not lost. It is in fact still a very common practice, it just looks different than it used to. Kindles, eBooks, online journals, online everything is how most people read nowadays.
The problem with reading on devices as opposed to a good old fashioned book is that it is difficult to take notes on a device. You cannot write and scribble on a device. It becomes harder to interact with the book, to thumb back and forth across concepts and ideas. I find it difficult to really lean into a book when I am staring at a screen.
Bottom line is that a digital book makes it harder to take action on the knowledge that you are acquiring.
It is mostly a pointless exercise to read a book and to not become affected by what it was meant to convey. Novels and fictional books subtly convey messages to its reader as well.
The information is there. Many of the most successful people in history have recorded their thoughts; they spent the time to pass on their knowledge, their successes and failures, in hopes that many others will follow their lead. Books can be instructional, philosophical, motivational, and inspirational.
Reading can be a catalyst for greatness. If you let it.
The Art of Marginalia
Enter Marginalia. The act of writing up the margins of a book. A method of capturing the messages and thoughts that resonated with you as a reader. It is the process of interacting with a book and its author.
You can return to these markups any time to review what you have recorded. The best practice would be to transfer the markups to a commonplace book, which serves as an information hub from all of your readings.
Ryan Holiday talks fondly of his commonplace book and how it enables him to capture overarching ideas. Many of these became the foundation for his books, including top sellers like The Obstacle is the Way and Ego is the Enemy.
I use a slightly different method.
When reading, I circle major ideas and underline all of the supporting thoughts and ideas. I write other major ideas for a certain page on the top or bottom of the margins and use arrows to connect thoughts.
Once I am done with a book, I then transfer all of my notes onto a word document and print it out. I also capture major ideas and concepts that I find interesting on 4 x 6 note cards, just like Greene and Holiday. I put the printed word document and the index cards into a binder that forms my commonplace book. It is different from Holiday’s and Greene’s shoe box full of note cards, but it is the method that resonates most with me.
It is the process that allows me to transfer what I read into action, which is of course the only thing that really matters.
Read More: The Outwork Book Club
Before I started doing this, I used to completely forget everything that I would read just weeks after finishing a book. When I used to instantly forget what I would read, I made the practice of reading a pointless and moot exercise. I was a pretender. I was knowledge seeking pretender that read books but didn’t change.
Be Consistent. Be Ruthless.
Reading must become an active exercise. When I’m reading a good book I often have to stop and think about how much of what I’m reading can alter my future actions and behaviors. I then start jotting down ideas on how I can make immediate changes.
It all starts with a ruthless commitment to marginalia.
It doesn’t have to be a big, life altering change all at once. It can be something like The Slight Edge, where you make small changes everyday that eventually lead to massive, noticeable gains. Start with a single book that completely captivates you and mark it up like a ruthless, notetaking bastard would.
As you read the book, constantly look back and review the notes of the previous chapter and start to mentally connect main ideas; work to mold those ideas into actionable outcomes.
When I read The Talent Code, I kept seeing the reoccurring theme of how a person could build their skills up to the highest level of their field. I used to think of talent as a genetic trait; a predisposed ability that we either have or don’t have. But I was wrong. Talent, like greatness, can be built with consistent effort and deep practice. Just like a commitment to marginalia and taking action on what you read.
Reading: The Foundation of Greatness
A quick look into history will reveal the reading habits of some of the most successful people. And most importantly, how their reading habits translated into enormous success.
Warren Buffet’s most important investment was a book called The Intelligent Investor.
George Washington didn’t receive any formal education in leading an Army or starting up a government for a budding new nation, but he was a voracious reader.
Teddy Roosevelt was known for his habit of always having book in hand and reading whenever he had a chance.
Napoleon’s meteoric rise to emperor is one of the most noteworthy in all of history. His secret was to outread all of his competitors.
Harry Truman once said that, “Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.”
But I think my point has been made.
Read a lot. Use marginalia to take notes. Do it so often that it becomes an art. Capture those ideas for future use in a commonplace book. Win at everything.
In Pursuit of Greatness
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