For many the term speed reading conjures up images of sleazy self-help gurus with the scientific acumen of the average marmoset. Yet the misconceptions surrounding speed reading, and general incredulity regarding its effectiveness, revolve around the erroneous assumption that there is a tradeoff between rapidity and comprehension, between the rate at which one turns pages and retains their contents. Like many myths there are believers who will cling to it no matter how many studies, examples, or cogent arguments are shoved into their faces. Or, if they are persuaded of its usefulness for some or most, may claim to be exceptions to the rule. If they are exceptionally dull, this may be true. Speed reading is the single most valuable skill I have learned in my life. I would like to share it with as many people as possible.
If you attempted to read a book one word at a time your understanding of it would be dismal. If you attempted to do the same with a single lengthy sentence you would find your comprehension to be similarly deplorable. Does this make sense? If so, let’s us move forward. Think about a book you read a month ago, two months ago, or a week ago. How well do you remember the fine details?
Texts can be as bland or as captivating as one wants them to be. In spite of all the possibilities a simple sentence offers, the majority of readers, including many proud bibliophiles, find themselves perpetually staring at an Necker Cube without realizing a simple tilt of the head is all that is required to change the image. It is quite abnormal for anyone to bother dissecting the underpinnings of their own consciousness and even more unusual for their efforts to bear fruit. We give as little thought to the way we read as the way we walk or the way we chew our food. Our perceptions are taken for granted; the categories of our perceptions, to borrow Kant’s term, are almost never questioned outside of hazy bull sessions fueled by cheap beer or overpriced coffee. The epiphanies in these meetings are as painful as they are contrived and predictable. Needless to say, once again, they rarely result in any sort of measurable change to a person’s inclinations or abilities. There is no need for alteration because typically no glaring or life-threatening problems present themselves. Our reading pace seems to be set in stone because we take no pains to move faster.
- Use your finger. Use your finger to guide your eyes. Reading can be done in a purely visual manner. Tricky as it may be at first, it is a much more efficient way to get through a text once, twice, or three times if necessary. Most people subvocalize when they are reading; they hear their own voice, the voice of the character, or the voice of the author. This common approach to processing text, I would contend, is far more exhausting than the alternatives. The first step is to hear the words as if they have been speed up significantly, to glide over them as if you hit fast-forward on a tape recorder, then, with time, you will find yourself scanning them without hearing a sound. Is your unconscious still making noises in the background? Probably.
- Sensory integration is done constantly and learning anything can be approached in a dozen different ways, even if the presentations of the material are identical. Make these things work for you. Your brain, hopefully, still forms new connections every night. Plato, Tesla, Jung, Einstein, and a slue of others have waxed poetically about a universal “source.” Sometimes after studying a subject or playing a game we wake up measurably better at it. Occasionally this improvement has a clear and definite cause. Perhaps we learned a combination of buttons causes our video game character to double jump, thus evading the attacks of fire-spraying nematodes. Maybe our reflexes have sharpened. Other times it is not as easy to pinpoint what has happened. Chess master Bobby Fischer said at age of 11 he “just got good.” There is no royal road to geometry, but if one chooses interesting content or subject matter one must learn for profit or survival, there is a golden highway to a faster reading speed.
- Do not underestimate yourself. With difficult texts you may find yourself wasting more time for the same return. The snail’s crawl may serve you no better than the rabbit’s dash. Is this not the pinnacle of irrationality? The intricacies of what Huxley called the “antipodes of the mind”, which is swarming with strange thoughts and esoteric methods of manipulating thoughts, can be trusted to deliver consistent improvements. I think it is safe to say all thoughts can serve as verbs, as modifiers in the combinatorial dance called creativity – cognition itself, really. What our mnemonic machinery does to consolidate what we have learned is normally beyond our control. Affirmations can help, but they often feel silly at first to many hard-minded people. In a number of essays I have emphasized the amorphousness of being. Books are an old and effective way of inducing trance and retraining the mind. Exposure to certain words, patterns, and structures, even if they are not consciously comprehensible immediately, pays off in the long run. Knowledge sometimes needs time to incubate. Have the boldness to seize knowledge, to grapple with it, and to persist in the battle until it has become an ally to asssist in your next skirmish.