The Pursuit of Excellence Practical steps toward happiness


Speed Reading 101

A girl opens a book, glances at each page for about 0.8 seconds, then flips to the next.  Repeat.  For much of my life TV had me believing this was speed reading.

TV also taught me that one man with a machine gun can take on an entire army, and that supermodels regularly approach nerdy guys for sex.

Speed reading girl

Coffee helps too

Hollywood’s ideas about speed reading haven’t evolved much.  Screen writers know more about how computers work (Let’s enhance that image!) than our topic of conversation.

I knew that the picture of a person madly flipping pages was probably exaggerated, but guessed that there must be some value in speed reading.

By the middle of my second year at university, I was buried under a mountain of books, so I went to my local library and picked up a dusty copy of a speed reading manual.  The results were amazing.

In only a month I tripled my reading speed.

How does speed reading actually work?  I won’t be able to train you in 600 words or less, but I’ll give you the Coles Notes in hopes that you’ll be curious enough to investigate further.

Speed reading is:

  1. Creating good habits to focus on the information
  2. Taking in information quicker
  3. Retaining more of that information

1. Good Habits:

Quick reading requires your full attention and active participation.  This is half the battle.

  • Sit up straight with your feet on the floor, book on a desk centred in front of you; turn pages with your left hand, underline what you’re reading with the right index finger.
  • Centre yourself.  Take a few deep breaths.  Tighten your muscles then relax.  Focus.
  • “Key in” to your material: “Handle” the book.  Flip through it’s pages, read the table of contents, back and front flaps.  Ask yourself, “What am I going to do with this information?”

2. Absorb information faster:

Reading faster is primarily about training your eyes and brain to process information differently.

Re-read the last sentence.  Did you hear your own voice in your mind reciting the words?

Flipping pages

Thanks a lot, Hollywood

  • Stop doing this.  That voice is the middle-man between your eyes and brain.  It just slows you down.
  • Use your finger to underline everything.  It will keep your eyes from wandering.
  • Harness your peripheral vision.  Take the blinders off your eyes.  This is tough, but try to pull the words off the page in chunks, rather than one or two at a time.  With only a little practice, your brain will get better and faster at doing this.

3. Retain more of what you read:

  • Trust your perfect memory. Have confidence in your ability to remember.
  • Aim to grasp the subject or theme and decide how you want to use the information
  • Do something active with the material: talking to someone about it is the best way to memorize; writing is second best.  Thinking about it after is better than nothing.

I don’t always apply these principles when I read. It’s nice to take your time with a good book.  But speed reading is a valuable skill that could save you hours for more worthy pursuits…

Like supermodels.

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