Speed Reading

Back in January, 2019, I came across a technique called “Speed Reading” on one of Tim Ferris’ videos. I was so intrigued by it that not only did I start “reading about speed reading” a lot, I also started practicing the same tirelessly. Since then, I have almost doubled my reading speed with increased retention and have started to summarise all the books that I read on Evernote (Will share them all and make it accessible to everyone by the end of this year). The next question that should come to your mind is what the hell is “speed reading” and how do I use it to increase my reading speed?

Let us get ourselves acquainted with a few terminologies to get started and know more:

  1. Purpose : Defining the purpose about why you are reading a book helps you to focus and keep you persistent in order to finish the book. Purpose is valuable because it helps us determine what we want to get out of reading. Once we know, we can inspect the text to see if it will meet our goal. If it does not, a great deal of time has been saved right off the bat. So, what is a good way to inspect a written piece to see if it meets a given purpose? Tell yourself this while reading a book : “I am reading this book to learn money-saving strategies that will help me grow my business.” “I am reading this novel to prepare for tomorrow’s literature discussion”. Sure, developing a purpose takes time, but very little time. It shouldn’t take longer than a few seconds to one minute to state a clear, meaningful objective. The short time that is spent will, in turn, help you get more from the reading, which will, ultimately, save considerably more time in the long run.

  2. Power of Preview : Preview is one of the most important steps you can take to improve your reading speed and the type of comprehension. That’s because previewing gives the mind a framework of what will be discussed. This helps the mind understand information that will be presented and how it will be organized. Humans are by no means perfect. Countless quotes speak of our erroneous nature, such as “To err is human”. One reason is that the mind doesn’t necessarily respond to what is happening in real time but to what it thinks is going to happen. In other words, the mind is continually making predictions about the future.To remember all this, use the acronym T.H.I.E.V.E.S: • Title • Headings • Introduction • Every word in bold, underline, quote, and italics • Visuals Aids • End of Chapter Questions • Summary/Conclusion. Therefore, spend no more than 45 seconds to 5 minutes on this step. Typically, this means 45 seconds to 1 minute for shorter items like articles and reports, and 3 to 5 minutes for lengthier ones, such as books and manuals.

  3. Change Styles : Don’t assume that all written works must be read in the same manner or at the same speed. It is okay to vary reading approach based on the material.Let’s start with technical manuals, which often present detailed instructions and procedures that must be carefully followed. This makes each line of text extremely important.The same approach applies to legal documents, annual reports, write-ups, and policies. These types of documents are better read in their entirety and given full attention and focus. Similarly, it’s sensible to slow down if you have to teach the material to someone else. Even a love letter or poem might be worth slowing down for, so you can enjoy the prose in the way the writer intended. It goes without saying that the more detailed and complete awareness you seek, the slower and more attentively you should read. If the text is challenging, read slowly. The same applies if the topic is new, unfamiliar, or if it is something you really want or need to remember. On the other hand, if the content proves boring, familiar, or easy to read, process, and digest, feel free to increase speed.

  4. Space Reading : The eye has the ability to process an image or object both as a whole and as a collection of individual parts.When looking at a friend’s face, for example, the eyes and mind process the face as a whole rather than looking at individual parts, such as eyes, mouth, nose, and all the other minute features. This allows you to recognize the friend immediately. At the same time, if you wanted to focus on the individual features, you could do that as well.Though, what would happen if you did focus on a single feature of your friend, such as an eyelash, nostril, or dimple? Narrowing vision to such a minute detail would hinder the ability to recognize the person. Such a restricted focus would require scanning other parts of the face and then putting all those parts together in order to recognize that individual. This is how most of us read; we narrow our focus to each word or letter.This is not an effective way to read since, as you now know, the eyes and mind have the ability to see and process much more in a single glance. The solution, therefore, is to not focus on single words but rather to expand visual awareness and see groups of words at one time. This is the natural way the mind absorbs information from sight.There are two ways to look at groups of words. The first method, called space reading which directs you to avoid looking at the words you are reading, but rather at the spaces in between the words. That’s right—at the spaces between words!

  5. Chunking : The second technique to look at a group of words rather than single ones is called “chunking”. Chunking opens line sight to capture more words in a single glance. The eyes are not set on a single word of a sentence, but instead, on a block, or of chunk, of words in that sentence. You look at a chunk, move to another chunk, then another, and so on. The key to this technique is not to grab words at random but to grab combinations that form a phrase.You might like both, finding that space reading works better with certain types of material, while chunking works better with others, which is perfectly acceptable. Whichever you prefer, refrain from using both techniques at the same time.

  6. Removing Subvocalization : Subvocalization is the act of pronouncing every word that is read. When subvocalizing, you either say words out loud, hear them spoken in your mind, or move your lips to their pronunciation. Any one of these acts is subvocalizing. Subvocalization greatly reduces the speed at which you read by adding an unnecessary step, or steps, to your reading. In addition to seeing the word, you are also hearing and/or speaking it. We might assume the material we were reading was causing that boredom, but in reality, the cause was simply the sound of our inner voice!Subvocalization is a behavior that starts when we first learn to read, because we are taught (blame the teachers) to read phonetically. We read out loud to connect the right sound to the right word. This is necessary for the brain to learn the words and develop associations with those words. Once we become fluent, we stop reading out loud but continue the phonetic process. We either start whispering these sounds in our mind or begin moving our lips so others can’t hear us. Most people continue reading this way for the rest of their lives, hearing the little voice in the back of their mind and moving their lips to that voice.As beneficial as it is to silence the inner narrator though, it’s not easy. As you learned, it takes time and effort to break long-lasting habits. Nonetheless, the following suggestions reduce the difficulty.

    • Close your mouth when reading : Keeping the mouth closed disengages these processes, thus preventing you from saying the words you urge to verbalize.
    • Read faster than speech : Read at a fast-enough pace where you simply cannot pronounce words or think about their sounds. Humans speak one word at a time and not three or four.
    • Hum : Another option involves humming. Hum a tune, a song, or a basic melody. Humming works because it preoccupies the vocal cords, so that you can’t speak or whisper any words. Humming also drowns out the voice in your head, along with any distracting noise in the immediate environment. If, for example, you are reading around noisy neighbors or loud machinery, humming can replace those annoying sounds with something more soothing.
    • Music : The last and most popular option to break the subvocalization habit is to listen to music. Play it loud enough so that you can’t hear yourself think, because if you can’t hear yourself think, you won’t be able to hear yourself.Research shows that music without words or lyrics, such as classical, instrumental, or electronic music, are the best options for reading. Lyrics in a song compete with words in a text for the mind’s attention. Without lyrics, extraneous words aren’t getting in the way.
  7. Fixation : Though fixation sounds like a complex psychological disorder, it is simply the length of time the eyes stop and rest on a subject. Anytime we look at something, our eyes still themselves. This pause, called fixation, is the eyes’ ability to stop moving so they can focus. If they didn’t do this, everything in life would be a blur. Fixation occurs during reading as well. When we read, our eyes stop and fix on words to see them clearly. They don’t stop for long, but they do, indeed, stop with each and every word. This quick pause gives the eyes an opportunity to pick up the text. As the eyes look at a word, they fixate. To look at the next word, they jump. Fixation also reduces reading comprehension. Meaning is easier to pull from groups of words than from individual words or even single letters. We falsely assume that slower reading means better comprehension. This may be true in some cases, but in most cases, the factors causing slower reading also cause lower comprehension. If you read slowly and still struggle with comprehension, you are likely to fixate too much.

    The question that now arises is how to reduce fixations. The answer : Space reading and chunking.

  8. Regression : Regression is the act of reading the same text multiple times. Regression reduces comprehension. Our minds take meaning from what we just read to help us understand what we are about to read. By skipping back to a previous sentence,paragraph, or section, we can’t help but lose track of the point that was being currently made. So, returning to a passage after regression, you may have forgotten what was just read, making it difficult to understand what you are about to read.Most importantly, regression breaks flow, and speed reading is all about flow. It’s about syncing the pace of the eyes to the rhythm of the mind. As the eyes see words, the mind processes them. As soon as the mind finishes processing one set of words, the eyes pick up a new set. Overall, regression doubles, or even triples, reading time and may even result in better comprehension.

  9. Visual Range : Visual range is the ability to see objects beyond your direct line of focus. When looking at something in front of you, it’s easy to see that object because the eyes are set directly on it. It’s difficult to capture details on either side of the object unless you move your eyes.We use peripherals more often than you might think. Whenever we try to look at someone without them knowing, we employ peripheral vision.If you’ve never worked on expanding peripheral range, chances are that it isn’t very wide. Therefore, the number of extra words it can capture is limited. If that’s the case, then in addition to training yourself to use the peripheral while reading, you also want to widen it. Widening the peripheral vision further increases the eyes’ capacity to capture words from both the left and right corners. Developing this is a key to developing the skill of speed reading. You can widen your peripheral vision through Schultz table. Look at the number in the middle of your screen and write all the numbers in the square down to practice widening your peripheral vision.

I’m almost on the verge of completing 21 books (will share summaries of each one of them on my blog soon) till June, 2020 using the techniques mentioned above. It’s your time to put the information and techniques to use!

Happy reading!

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