Two questions since I was asked. New Year’s Day Resolutions. Do you make any?
No, I don’t but I do believe in annual goal setting which I have been doing for years. I set 3 types of goals: habits, experiences, learning.
- Habits are goals that should be habitual but I have not been able to get them to that level or I need accountability. For example, I am pretty good at taking my vitamins and flossing my teeth every day so those don’t need to be on my habit goals. On the other hand, I am also very good at exercising but love the accountability of a 5x a week goal. I use Strides App (great for cross platform users) or I suggest Way of Life app. Both of these are low effort, efficient systems. I am pretty good at Todoist which is I believe the best and easiest task app but I want accountability and a dedicated visual habit/goal list and graphic reports like you would see on Strides. Of course, checking off the habits is also a habit so find a system that you can easily incorporate into your daily flow. One other thing to keep in mind is that checking off the list is enough of a “reward” for me but for others they might need a more tangible reward like chocolate or coffee. Don’t underestimate this step. For a great background on this checkout Charles Duhig’s Power of Habit book.
- Experiences. These are goals around some type of out of ordinary experience. Perhaps it is a vacation, bucket list event, or something “out of comfort zone” (e.g. 5-year physical or Escape Experience wth 5 college kids). These best show up as projects in a task list type of application.
- Learning. These are goals around any type of learning. For example, you might want to take a MOOC like Learning about Learning Course, read 24 non-fiction books in a year, become proficient at bridge, foreign language, or learn a software application. I recently took a Coursera course on cryptocurrency as 2017 goal. Had I not set this up as a goal, it would have never happened.
Experience and learning goals are the most likely ones that ones that enable flourishing. Habits tend to be oriented around self-improvement like health and physical well being. My recommendation is that whether it be habits, experience, or learning goals, make them specific (yes the dreaded S.M.A.R.T format but don’t be too parochial on that part) and more importantly make sure they address the four domains: Mental, Spiritual, Physical, and Emotional. Think of all these domains as muscles. This analogy works because they all can be built individually and in cooperation with one another. For example, there are many muscles of the shoulder and some of those muscles are also muscles of the elbow. Think of the shoulder as “mental or cognitive” domain and the elbow as “emotional” domain. By strengthening the shoulder, you can also build strength in the elbow. On a practical level, activities like mindfulness are high yield as they are both mental (shoulder) and emotional (elbow) building and thus efficient, effective, and most likely to become permanent. Meditation or for that matter Lumosity are substitute activities that are specific dual domain tactics.
Should I take a speed reading course?
Generally, no. The speed reading industry is like the diet industry, attractive in concept but effective for the long term and not based on evidence. I have taken three speed reading courses in my life. The first was when I was a college freshman. It was an Evelyn Wood Speed Reading course that they selected at random some unsuspecting students to take for free. As best I can recall, it might have been to test a new type of course. I remember that it doubled my reading speed but I don’t recall the number or words per minute. The only practical thing I remember was the use of a pointer (pencil or your finger). I do remember it was tedious, laborious, and the practice juice wasn’t worth squeeze. I also recalled that it wasn’t very practical for me as mostly a student of science and math. In my adult life, I have taken two courses. One was some tapes and workbooks sent to me years ago (might have been a Nightingale Conant course). I took it diligently and remember some of the key concepts-mostly chunking, gazing, and sub-vocalization (little reading voice you hear). Again, it helped get me to a point of reading pretty quickly which had mixed implications. I tend to read a lot of technical stuff and don’t want to read fast and to be decent at it, you need to continue to practice. I think by most standards I am a pretty fast reader (about 400–450 words per minute) but above that it is simply not fun and I don’t retain as much. My point is that simply because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should! As little as a year ago, I took an online speed reading course and dropped out after 4 lessons as it didn’t help for the same reasons. I have tried Spritz (works brilliantly but don’t care for it much as it robs me of some joy of reading) and I like Beeline reader which tends to chunk things in different colors. It is easier on my eyes for web reading but I don’t know that it speeds me up too much. After all of this, here are my conclusions on speed reading:
-there is some mild evidence to support speed reading but not evidence to support that speed reading enhances comprehension or that it makes reading more enjoyable
-if you are reading from 250–400 words per minute, don’t waste your time. Anything above 500 per research that I trust shows significant decline in comprehension
-the concept of eliminating subvocalization as a route to increase your speed is unfounded. In fact, eliminating this only means you aren’t comprehending anything! Fast readers still hear a voice, it just might be more faint and faster!
-if you are 250 or below, consider a basic course just to improve-there are a million of them. Here is one test.
-To enhance retention and comprehension, skim first (and 900 words per minute works!!)
-You generally read faster in material that interests you (my son tells he it takes him 10 minutes a page to get through his Art History textbook)
-Reading should never be laborious nor should you ever be overly concerned regarding your speed
-People who read a lot of books spend more of their disposable time reading more books not because they are speed readers.
- My best suggestion on reading is the use of the Pomodoro technique. Use a 25 minute timer, focus, no interruptions, and then a break/reward! If you do this technique just once per day with a book, you will have conservatively 24 books per year
- lastly, one benefit of technology-like Audible and Amazon’s whispernet is that it allows you to both read and listen at same time. This might sound like overkill but I highly recommend doing it from time to time as it will allow you to align your reading and listening to the same pace. The pace that I read it as it turns out is the same pace as listening at 1.5x which Audible and most podcasts allow. Try it and you just might enhance your reading productivity and enjoy it more than ever.
……and that is all I have to say about that…since you asked.