PhotoReading Walkthrough

The PhotoReading process has several different steps — if you do it correctly — so I thought I’d share how I applied some of those steps to a book I recently PhotoRead.

I PhotoRead the book Life on Purpose before posting a review of it here a few weeks ago.  I think it took me longer to write the review than it did to read the 230-page book.

Trigger words

One of the first steps of the PhotoReading process is to identify a book’s trigger words.  This takes only a few minutes and helps to give you a sense of the book’s overall context.  The trigger words I identified were:  purpose, relationship, encouragement, passion, service, leaders, journey, path, spiritual, prepare, mastery, gracious, wheel of life, focus, fulfillment, values, inherited, lifeline, fear, obstacles, sharing, paradox, love, law of attraction, pivot, play, persistence, selfish, pods, action, tools, visionary, uncover, clarify, polish.  Just by reading my list of trigger words, you can probably get a general idea of the book’s themes.

One-sentence summary

The next step is to write a one-sentence summary of the book.  Here’s what I came up with:

Life on Purpose is about how to cultivate an inspired and fulfilled life of joyful service, including getting started, uncovering and overcoming blocks, gaining clarity, learning the tools of service, and achieving ultimate self-mastery.

Note that I wrote that summary after spending only about 5 minutes with the book.  The point is to give your mind a general idea of what it’s about to learn.


Then you create a list of questions about the book.  It’s been my experience that this is a really important step and should not be skipped.  It helps focus your mind with a clear purpose.  I notice that when I write good questions, I find the answers.  Here are the initial questions I came up with for Life on Purpose:

  • How can I refine my own life purpose?
  • What blocks, if any, do I have, and how can I overcome them, especially with respect to allowing my life’s tempo to continue increasing?
  • What specific tools may help me on my path?
  • How can I attract more supportive and encouraging relationships that challenge me to do my very best?
  • What does ultimate mastery look like?
  • Does this book satisfy my criteria for recommending it to others?  Would I like to review it on my site?
  • How can I refine and improve my own teachings about life purpose?

After another pass through the book, I got those answers and came up with more questions:

  • What does it mean to have a purpose-based relationship?
  • What is the paradox the author writes of?
  • How can I surround myself with other purpose-driven people?
  • How can I delegate more?
  • How can I refine my values to be a better reflection of who I am now (doing my best, commitment, synergy, teamwork, etc)?
  • How can I enjoy my purpose even more?

Notice that these include a lot of personal questions.  A big part of PhotoReading involves looking for the personally relevant material in a book, so you’ll remember it and apply it better.  If a book isn’t personally relevant to you, you won’t retain much of it.  It’s only after identifying the trigger words and relevant questions that you do the actual rapid-page-turning PhotoReading step.  Now your mind knows what it’s supposed to look for.  Sometimes while I’m doing the PhotoReading step, my fingers will get snagged on a page that has the answer to one of my questions, and it will just pop out at me.

Life on Purpose includes a 20-question self-assessment quiz (page 39 in the version I read), so I took the quiz.  My score was 167.  Erin also took it and scored nearly the same.  This put us in the flourishing category (2nd highest), borderline mastery.  Our lives are extremely purpose-centered, but our current weakness is that we both need to delegate more.


After the PhotoReading step, I created a mindmap of the book.  The basic structure of my mindmap reflected the structure of the book itself, including preparing, starting, uncovering blocks, clarifying and polishing, tools, and ultimate mastery.  Just by looking at my mindmap, I can quickly recall the major themes in the book that are relevant to me.  The mindmap is personal too, so if there’s something in the book that isn’t relevant to me, it doesn’t need to go into my mindmap.


Finally after I was done PhotoReading the book, I wrote a journal entry exploring how I could apply the ideas to my life.  This helped me internalize the ideas I learned from the book to create a personal shift.  Journaling isn’t specifically part of the PhotoReading system per se, but I like doing it as a final step because it helps me move from ideas to application.

Reading for knowledge vs. reading for growth

Learning PhotoReading completely changed my approach to reading books.  Before PhotoReading I thought the point of reading a book was to extract its information, so I would know what the book was about.  Maybe I could score high on a comprehension test about the book too.  Now I understand that the point of reading a book is to experience a personal shift.  If a book doesn’t create a shift of some sort, I’ve wasted my time with it.  If it doesn’t change me, it’s useless.  Consequently, reading a book word by word is incredibly inefficient, since less than 10% of the words on a page carry the author’s real meaning, and even fewer words will be personally relevant to me.  The entire growth experience I gain from a book may be found on only one or two pages — or even just a single quote.

Have you ever read a book and had a single sentence hit you like a ton of bricks?  Maybe you forgot everything else about the book, and you may not even remember that key sentence, but you still retain the shift it created in you.  That shift represents the book’s true value to you, not the tens of thousands of words it contains.  So how can you get that value out of each book faster than you do now?

PhotoReading redefined my purpose of reading.  Instead of reading to gain knowledge, I now read to create a growth experience.  I don’t read for speed or even for comprehension.  I could care less whether I’ll pass a comprehension test.  Most of the raw information content of any book is irrelevant to me anyway, and it’s a waste of mental RAM for my mind to bother retaining it.  I read for insights and ideas that will change me.  I know that the knowledge gained from reading will eventually be forgotten, but the internalized shifts may be permanent.

After posting my review of Life on Purpose, I also had a delightful phone chat about the book with the author, Dr. Brad Swift.  I won’t share details of a private conversation, but I’ll just say in general that I think most authors find it rewarding to see people internalize, appreciate, apply, and share their ideas regardless of how much time was actually spent reading their books.  Of course posting a review that creates a noticeable sales spike is usually welcome too.  :)

Last call for PhotoReading discount

If you like the idea of reading for growth, consider taking advantage of the PhotoReading discount for readers.  You still have a couple of days left, but Learning Strategies informed me that after Oct 5th, the 59% PhotoReading discount goes bye-bye.

There’s a lot more to PhotoReading than some of the steps I shared above, but even if you want to stick with linear reading, think about applying some of the ideas like identifying trigger words and questions, writing a one-sentence summary, and mindmapping.  You should find these techniques improve your comprehension and ability to apply a book’s ideas regardless of your reading speed.

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