How to Get the Most Out of Self-Help Books, Blogs & Other Published Works

Courtesy of Dreamstime

Courtesy of Dreamstime

I read a lot of self-help books. By reading them, I always seem to find the practical advice, insight or inspiration I need to get me through a slump. (Check out my Suggested Reading list for recommendations.)

It was my collection of self-help books that inspired me during difficult and challenging times at work, through job transitions and career changes.

The self-help genre even served as the primary inspiration for my creating The Career Pioneer blog. I had gotten to a point where I needed to stop reading so much of other people’s work and start writing my own!

Over the past week though, I’ve been reading yet another self-help book — Success Through a Positive Mental Attitude (Pocket Books), which is written by one of my favorite authors, Napoleon Hill. Hill also wrote the book Think and Grow Rich (Fawcett).

Near the end of Success Through a Positive Mental Attitude, which was co-authored by W. Clements Stone, I came across a handy set of guidelines that serve as helpful reading applications to get the most out of any self-help book or other written work, such as a blog, magazine, or website.

Hill advises that reading a self-help book is a unique process, when compared to a piece of fiction, for example. It’s an “art.” You must concentrate and read “as if the author were a close personal friend and were writing to you — and you alone,” he urges.

The great thing about most written work, and it’s certainly true of The Career Pioneer blog, is that it’s written in a conversational tone and intended to make the reader feel as if the author is speaking directly at them. So imagining you’re sitting with a good friend as you read your self-help book or other published material, shouldn’t be too difficult to conceive.

What Are You Searching For?

Equally important as to how you read, is determining what you’re trying to get out it, Hill suggests. Because if you first know what you’re looking for then you’re more likely to find it. “If you really want to recognize, relate, assimilate and apply success principles that are contained between the covers of an inspirational book, you must work at it,” according to the book.

You could be looking for:

  • inspiration;
  • practical advice;
  • quick tips;
  • encouragement; or
  • a swift kick in the behind to get you going again.

Whatever you seek, I highly suggest applying the tips below to whatever it is you read — whether it be The Career Pioneer blog, the Bible, or some other written work.

Woman reading. (Courtesy of Dreamstime)

Woman reading. (Courtesy of Dreamstime)

Time to Get the Most From What You’re Reading?

With that, I’ll paraphrase and quote directly the four steps as mentioned in Success Through a Positive Mental Attitude. The list was originally created by Mortimer J. Adler in How to Read a Book (Touchstone). According to Adler, the following pattern is a clear-cut way to learn from what you’re reading.

Step A. Read to get a general idea of the book’s content. This is the first reading and it should be quick so that you can “grasp the sweeping flow of thought that the book contains.” Underline important words and phrases. If you own the book, scribble notes to yourself in the margin and jot down ideas that come to mind as you’re reading. “The notations and markings make your book more valuable to you,” the book says.

Step B. Read with more concentrated emphasis. This is considered the second reading. Pay close attention. Do you understand and really grasp the book’s ideas and concepts?

Step C. Read, meditate on, and memorize important take-aways. This is considered the third read-through, and should serve more as a test of memory. Hill urges readers to literally memorize passages that have particular meaning to you. Think of ways in which the passages relate to what you’re currently going through. Test out new ideas and, for those that work, start integrating them into your daily habit, the book says.

Step D. Read at a later time to “refresh your memory, and to rekindle your inspiration.” This was, personally, my favorite step. Hill shares the brief story about a salesman. The salesman stands up in front of a sales manager saying: “Gimme that old sales talk again, I’m getting kinda discouraged.” 
All of us get discouraged at some point, Hill says. During those moments of despair, it’s important to re-read the books that were most beneficial to you so that you can “rekindle the fires that got us going in the first place.”

About Napoleon Hill (as described on the back book cover)
“Whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve,” said Napoleon Hill. And he proved it in his own life — he went from a log cabin to wealth and influence as the author of phenomenal best sellers and an adviser to heads of state. The all-important key to success is PMA, “positive mental attitude.” You can achieve PMA and realize your dreams if you follow the proven principles outlined simply and clearly in this wise, step-by-step guide — Success Through a Positive Mental Attitude.

Keep the Discussion Going

Which books, blogs, magazine or websites do you often read for inspiration, and to “rekindle the fires” that got you going in the direction toward achieving your dreams?

Share your best reads with us in the comments section below, and tell us why it has inspired you!



  • Elaine

    I am going to apply this post to the book I am reading now. ‘The Thinker’s Way, 8 Steps to a Richer Life.’. The book is by John Chaffe, Ph.D.

  • Max Weismann

    We are a not-for-profit educational organization, founded by Mortimer Adler and we have recently made an exciting discovery–three years after writing the wonderfully expanded third edition of How to Read a Book, Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren made a series of thirteen 14-minute videos, lively discussing the art of reading. The videos were produced by Encyclopaedia Britannica. For reasons unknown, sometime after their original publication, these videos were lost.

    Three hours with Mortimer Adler on one DVD. A must for libraries and classroom teaching the art of reading.

    I cannot over exaggerate how instructive these programs are–we are so sure that you will agree, if you are not completely satisfied, we will refund your donation.

    Please go here to see a clip and learn more:

    • Emily Brown

      Thanks Mr. Weismann for stopping by the site and sharing about your organization and the useful tools. I’d love to check out the site!