The secret to devouring books in 4 simple steps.

Updated: 3 days ago

Devour a book a week with this strategy (no speed-reading involved)

So many books, but so little time!

The truth is, its not just time that prevents us from reading, we are easily distracted, we lose motivation, and boredom taints us too. It’s likely you have several books taking up space on the shelf that, at some point, you had every intention to read.

At the end of this article, you'll find 4 steps you can take to devour any book at a rate of one book a week with full comprehension, easy! But first, lets clear up some myths about speed reading...

Type the term “speed reading” into YouTube and you get overwhelmed with speed reading technique videos from unqualified You-tuber's claiming they can read extremely fast, without loss of comprehension. Not only are these techniques false, but most of them also are not even physiologically or biologically possible. The eye’s mechanics and our cognition simply do not work in this manner.

Psychology and neuroscience have helped us to understand how we read. Reading is "the process by which an individual extracts visual information from text and makes sense of it". Researchers consistently debunk these speed reading claims, for instance;

Myth 1: Use your peripherals to simultaneously read large segments of the text, perhaps even the whole page.

This is not possible because the visual acuity is highest in the fovea (our fixation point), and weakens in the parafovea and the periphery. In other words, you can clearly view text in the center of vision, but the further away the text is from your fixation point (foveal viewing area) the less legible it becomes.

Our periphery can pick up text, but that is limited to the few words either side of the central word. Check out the figure below for better understanding:

Myth 2 – Re-reading slows you down (regression)

Again, simply not helpful. Re-reading text is the best way to ensure comprehension. Also, we can easily misread grammar or words causing us to miss the appropriate meaning.

By regressing back to the misinterpreted text, we gain are better understanding of the author's intended argument.

Myth 3 – Kill the voice in your head

Wrong again! That voice in your head is called subvocalization (inner speech), and speed readers advise you to suppress or train away your inner speech.

Not only is this extremely difficult to do, but research suggests it may adversely affect your reading comprehension. When it comes to understanding complex text, inner speech (a natural part of language) can help the reader to understand it more efficiently.

The Power of Books

Often, authors put decades of life research and experience into books, and the more you read, the greater vocabulary, better problem-solving abilities, and a higher degree of emotional intelligence you will develop. Knowledge is power... and it's yours to take.

Is skimming the same as speed-reading?

No, skimming can be contrasted with silent reading. Consider it as a reading-skimming spectrum; at one end, silent reading will attain the highest level of comprehension, and at the other, skimming, in which the goal is to move one’s eye quickly through the text picking up specific words or phrases to build a general idea of the text content.

Research shows skimming rates are reported as much as 2 to 4 times faster than silent reading, but comprehension accuracy is significantly lower when skimming.

I have always admired those super successful individuals who say the secret to success is reading, such as Bill Gates, who reads roughly 50 books a year. What's his secret? Time, context, and motivation.

Many people like the idea of reading faster, but in truth, there is no such magic bullet. There is always a trade-off between speed and accuracy. Instead of using techniques that go against your biology, these 4 actions will guarantee you the capacity to devour books:

Quick aside… these steps are designed to digest non-fiction. I’m not sure why you would want to speed your way through a novel anyway, you wouldn’t fast-forward your way through a movie.

The Actions

Step 1: Prioritize time

There is no magic spell to quickly digesting books with full comprehension. The secret is time, if you don't put dedicated time aside for reading then you may as well give up before you start.

Prioritize time and find a quiet, comfortable spot that allows you to shut the world out. Regardless of what the "speed readers" claim, the best way to improve at reading is by reading. The more time spent with your head in a book, the more language you will learn, the quicker your eyes will move across the text, and crucially, the better the comprehension.

Time is the big secret, everything that follows are just techniques to improve reading. Some of the most successful readers have been associated with the 5-hour rule, which essentially means they take at least 5 hours per week to practice deliberate learning. Here are some examples:

Tip: Wake up 1 hour before everyone else to read in peace. Reading in the morning will reduce daily stress, prepare your communication skills for the day, and enhance focus and memory.

Step 2: Maintain Motivation

First, choose a book or subject that you truly find interesting. Never settle for a book that you assume is good because someone tells you its a "must-read". Instead, choose something that will keep you motivated to finish and try not to quit reading in the middle. Always finish a book even when you disagree with it.

Tip: Try carrying a book everywhere you go. You will be surprised how quickly you finish it.

Or, purchase a Kindle. The Kindle paperwhite is probably the best purchase I've made of recent.

Step 3: Create Context

Create context of the subject you are reading. For instance; let’s say you like the sound of Carlo Rovelli's - The Order Of Time, yet your knowledge of Physics is limited, then why not start with the history of physics and time to build context.

By doing this, you will significantly boost comprehension levels when you move onto the original book.

Tip: I seriously recommend The Order of Time, It's magnificent.

Step 4: Manageable chunks

Break the book into manageable chunks. This is a step-wise process to finish a book quickly with excellent comprehension.

  • Chunk 1: Get familiar with the front and back covers, the inside flaps, the blurb, and the contents page. This will give you an idea of the book's big picture and how the argument is laid out.

  • Chunk 2: Carefully read the introduction, conclusion, and epilogue. The introduction prepares you for the book's arguments, and the conclusion informs you what you will get out of the book. The epilogue provides closure and resolution.

  • Chunk 3: Finally, starting with the first chapter, read every title and subtitle followed by the conclusion of each chapter.

By this point, you will have gained a deep understanding of the author's key arguments, and a conversational level of knowledge from the book. This process can be done remarkably fast, and you will be amazed at how much you learn. In fact, some report greater levels of comprehension with this method, than silent, focused reading.

At this point, you can confidently stop there... after all, the author's main goal is to get their key arguments across to the reader. Check!

Or, for extra comprehension: Read the first sentence of each paragraph and investigate every graph and plot. If any sections are unclear, then take the time to read the paragraph in full. Then consider skimming the book from start to finish.

Tip: Take notes... a pencil can act as a pointer to guide your eye along the text, and when a point stands out, scribble a note in the margin. Or use sticky notes.

By breaking the book down in this manner, it becomes considerably more manageable. Try it for yourself, you will be astonished at the level of comprehension you reach, and how quickly you finish the book.

Happy reading!

Last word from Upmanship

Reading is like dreaming with your eyes open, but in today's internet-crazed world, the habit of reading is slowly dying. Learn to create new habits and break old, unhelpful ones with this evidence-based strategy.

For those of you that are well-established readers, but struggle with memory, check out the secret to superior memory.

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