Learning Without Limits: Gary Keller's Reading Model


As Gary Keller writes in , when he was a young, spunky college student, a professor said to him: “You know, Gary, people have lived before you, and you might be wise to go study their lives as you're building your own.”

While it took a few years for the advice to fully sink in, the exchange set the foundation for Gary to start thinking about what made people successful. Later when he read Tony Robbins’ book Unlimited Power, he began to consider success in terms of models. He said, “The movers and shakers of the world are often professional modelers.”

“People who have attained excellence follow a consistent path to success” — Tony Robbins, Unlimited Power

Gary says, “This book was the first time that I ever actually saw the word model used in that way. And I'd never thought about it this way either. That's what my professor was saying in essence… I finished that book, and I looked at the world completely differently. And I began to understand that I needed to accumulate great models in the areas of my life that mattered.”

For Gary, and for anyone who hopes to break through their achievement ceilings, reading is a way to find the models that propel you. Books can be tools that help you get into the right mindset, discover new methods, and ultimately build models for life, business, and everything in between.

But, for books to become rocket fuel, you’ve got to be intentional about what you read and how you read it.

For your reading to make an impact on your life and business, try applying this model.

1. Identify what you want to learn and who you want to learn from.

Both of these questions will lead you to titles that can serve as roadmaps.

Is there someone who has achieved something similar to what you wish to achieve? Identifying these people will lead you to books. Who are the best-informed experts on the topics that matter to you? Once you determine who the experts are, learn from what they have to say. Some of these books will be biographies (like Sam Walton by Vance H. Trimble) and some will be memoirs (like Pizza Tiger by Tom Monaghan). Study the people who have come before you and the actions they’ve taken. You don’t need to recreate the wheel. Use what has been written about their activities to influence your own behaviors.

What do you need to learn more about to level up your business? Perhaps you want to learn about the different ways to think so that you can make better decisions (read The Six Thinking Hats by Edward D. Bono) or how a CEO needs to pivot during times of crisis (Ben Horowitz’s The Hard Thing About Hard Things might help).

2. Underline and take notes as you read.

Your book will actually become a more valuable resource to you if you keep track of the thoughts and impressions you had while reading. Don’t be afraid to mark it up!

Jay Papasan, co-author of The Millionaire Real Estate Agent and several other books with Gary Keller, recommends reading physical copies of books, so that you can easily reference your markings later. If you’re reading a digital book, some e-readers will allow you to underline text and export the notes later—but the writing won’t be as easily visible as when you do it in a hard copy.

We also suggest writing up your key takeaways in the front pages of the book. Several years down the road it may be hard to remember what you loved about the book. Re-reading your concise learnings can help jog your memory.

3. Ask yourself, “What action should I take with this information?”

Reading without application is just learning for learnings’ sake, and it leads “know-where.”

As you’re reading, think critically about the information you’re learning and whether or not you need to take action based on what you know.

Sometimes this may look like changing a core value or letting go of a limiting belief. Other times, you may find a new model that could replace one that you’re using. Most often, you’ll find tips and tweaks to models that will allow you to upgrade what you’re already using.

Oh, and don’t be afraid to make the call that the book you’re reading doesn’t actually help you. Gary reads just enough of a book to determine if he’s going to learn something from it—and if he doesn’t think there’s anything to find, he stops reading. Your time is precious; don’t waste it on finishing a book just to finish it. Sometimes the action you need to take when reading a book is to close it.

How have you been purposeful about the books you read? Let us know on our KellerINK page. And don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter for more exciting articles.

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