zen habits : breathe

Overclock Your Reading Speed

This is a guest post from Kim Roach of The Optimized Life.

In today’s Information Age, reading is now a prerequisite for success in life. In fact, many presidents, including Kennedy, have required their staff to take speed reading lessons.

Brian Tracy, a best-selling author, points out that just 1 hour per day of reading will make you an international expert in your chosen field within 7 years.

If you’re looking to increase your learning rate while decreasing your effort, speed reading is a method you should consider studying. By simply learning how to process information at a more rapid rate, you’re not only going to be able to move through books more quickly, but you will also be able to comprehend and process more of what you have read. Speed reading is an excellent skill that can be used in your workplace, your home life, as well as your personal hobbies.

The Brain’s Power
Speed reading actually began as part of military training to identify enemy war planes. Pilots used a pacing tool called a tachistoscope that flashed images before their eyes at increasing speeds. This allowed the pilots to quickly identify the enemy planes in order to attack as needed. With the hundreds of possible planes that could be used in the military setting, this rapid identification was literally the tool that made a life and death difference.

But what was interesting about this method of military training is that it began to unveil the idea that the brain could process more things visually than was previously thought. Even with hundreds of images, the brain was able to identify them and then make decisions based on messages in the right side of the brain.

What many people don’t realize is that the mind becomes bored when it’s not constantly stimulated. When you are reading at your normal rates, the mind will become bored and begin to lose interest in what you are trying to learn. It’s not that you aren’t a good student or a proficient reader, it’s just that your mind is made to do more than you are asking of it.

Hearing the words in your head
At this average speed, most of us are actually reading the words to ourselves in our head, which is known as subvocalizing. This is where you are ‘hearing’ the words in your head, or even saying them to yourself as you read. A behavior like this slows down your reading significantly, so it’s the first thing to go when you’re learning to speed read.

To eliminate subvocalizing, you must practice reading faster than you can actually read. You can practice this skill with an online tool known as Spreeder.

Of course, there are times when subvocalization is a good idea — as in the case of dense texts or subjects with which you’re not familiar. Science and math are such subjects. In these cases, you might need to slow down your reading style to make sure you comprehend what is being taught. Others choose to read more slowly when they want to savor what they are reading, like fiction or poetry.

However, when you are reading subjects that you need to learn quickly, speed reading can come in handy.

A How-to Guide
Here are some techniques that will help you to increase your reading rate:

1. Realize that reading is not from beginning to end, but rather point to point. When you are reading, you need to pick up the important points of the book, but that doesn’t mean that you need to read them in a particular order.

In fact, I would suggest skipping parts of a book that you don’t need. Almost every book has a good point or two, but it is highly unlikely that you need to read every page of the entire book.

2. Try using a pacing tool. Whether it’s your finger or a pencil, try moving this tool along the lines of the book you are reading to keep you moving forward as quickly as possible.

Reading is a series of jumping snapshots called saccades. Using a visual guide prevents regression.

By moving your pacing tool faster than your normal reading rate, your eyes get used to viewing text faster than your brain can process the actual words on the page. This will enable you to break the habit of subvocalization.

3. Get rid of all distractions and possible interruptions. When you are trying to focus on what you are reading, you need to be in a comfortable seat in a quiet room. Distractions can severely interrupt your reading patters and decrease your comprehension of the text.

4. Try to read more than one word at a time. This is a speed reading technique known as chunking. By looking at ‘blocks’ of words as you read, you will allow your mind to process ideas and visual images instead of individual words.

5. Never move backwards. When you are speed reading, the main point is to keep moving forward and not stop to reread something. This is the most inefficient use of your reading time. Keep yourself moving forward at all times.

6. Think visually. One of the most effective speed reading techniques is to visualize the ideas on the page as pictures in your head. Huge portions of the human brain are dedicated to processing information visually, making them the fastest circuits in the brain for processing information.

Mind maps are one of the best ways to process information visually. Begin using the same visual process in your head while reading.

As you practice and become more proficient at speed reading, you will be amazed at what you can do.

Kim Roach is a productivity junkie who blogs regularly at The Optimized Life. Read her articles on 50 Essential GTD Resources, How to Have a 46 Hour Day, What They Don’t Teach You in School, and Free Yourself From the Inbox.



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