This Scientific Ratio Can Dramatically Boost Your Self-Improvement Quest

It’s easy to spend too much time reading and not enough time acting on what you read. This formula can help.

Image by Honey Kochphon Onshawee from Pixabay

I binged on self-improvement books during the quarantine, and I’m sure many of you did too. It was the perfect time to do so. Non-essential offices were shut down, restaurants were closed, supermarkets were to be avoided when possible.

Precisely because everything was shut down, however, there was plenty of time to absorb new ideas but little time to focus on their implementation.

It’s very easy, as you finish one self-improvement book, to start anticipating the next… not putting into action the ideas you read from the current one.

Science is here to help as things start to open back up, and we have more opportunities to get out into the world and experiment.

The golden ratio

In mathematics, the golden ratio exists between two numbers when the ratio of

the larger to the smaller

is the same as the ratio of

the larger + the smaller to the larger

In numerical terms, this is a ratio of 1.61803399 to 1.

Eisnel / Public domain

The golden ratio applied to self-improvement

In order to ensure you internalize the concepts you read in self-help and self-improvement books, you want to spend more time putting the ideas into action than you do reading about them.

That is to say, while the ideas are the basis of change, implementation is where the change is made within you. So you want to spend the lion’s share of your time on implementation.

That’s where the golden ratio comes in. For time measurement purposes, there is no need to think of the ratio down to so many decimal places. Let’s round it off to 1.6 to 1.

So, if you spend 1 hour reading how to become a better public speaker, make the skill your own by spending 1.6 hours practicing the techniques before returning to the next section of your book.

If you spend a day reading a book on how to win friends and influence people, spend 1.6 days out in the field applying those principles before you do any more reading.

Applications of the golden rule to classic self-improvement titles

Speaking of how to win friends and influence people, let’s look at some classic titles in the field of self-improvement and see how the golden ratio might apply.

Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill

Chapter: Power of the Master Mind

Idea: You spend 30 minutes reading this chapter, learning about the power of a peer-to-peer mentoring group that meets regularly to solve problems.

Implementation: You spend 45–50 minutes (approximately the time you spent reading times 1.6) figuring out who you want in your Master Mind group, as well as the best way to approach each desired member about participating.

Then, you could spend some time thinking about how your Master Mind group will meet. In person? Email list? Videoconference?

Don’t you KNOW Napoleon Hill would have loved videoconferencing?

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini

Chapter: Reciprocation

Idea: You spend 1 hour reading how humans hate to feel indebted to one another. Therefore, Cialdini writes, if you willingly give someone something of value, they are going be more willing to give you something of value in return.

Implementation: You spend 1 hour, 30 minutes to 1 hour, 40 minutes (time spent reading times 1.6) brainstorming what you want from others, and what you’re willing to give away as an incentive for them to reciprocate.

For example, let’s say sales meetings are a regular part of your job. You spend your implementation time going out and purchasing bottles of travel hand sanitizer. You offer these as a free gift at the beginning of half your meetings, maintaining a spreadsheet to track whether you close more sales when the free gift is offered.

Application of the golden ratio to learn a new skill

Let’s investigate how we might use the golden ratio to fully absorb the contents of a book that teaches us a new skill, perhaps something on the computer.

Adobe Photoshop Classroom in a Book by Chavez Conrad

Chapter: Basic Photo Corrections

Ideas: You spend 40 minutes reading this chapter covering retouching, straightening, cropping, adjusting the color and tone, tools, patches, and sharpening.

Implementation: It’s play time! Spent the next 60 to 70 minutes experimenting with what you learned, touching up your own photos, making them sharper, bolder, more vibrant. This is the way to truly master a skill on the computer — take book examples and apply them to the real world — your real world.


Keeping the golden ratio in mind will help make certain that you derive maximum value from the books you read. By spending more time acting on what you read rather than reading, the skills will become concepts that are less abstract and more your own.

YMMV— Your Mileage May Vary — you may find that a ratio of 2-to-1 or 2–5-to-1 works better than the golden 1.6-to-1 ratio. You are the ultimate judge on what works for you, so don’t be afraid to tinker with the numbers.

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Written by

Beliefs | Intuition | Dreams | Journaling | Connector | Inspirer | Former College Teacher | Twitter: @paulryburn

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