The Dark Side of Reading No One Tells You And A System To Combat It
Everyone talks about the importance of reading.
You’ve probably read articles mentioning that CEOs read an average of 60 books per year.
You’ve seen blog posts saying that to increase what you know, you’ve got to make reading a daily habit.
You’ve been convinced that your life is mediocre because you’re not reading enough. That you’ll remain stagnant if you don’t pick up a book or two.
Well, I don’t know if you’ve really experienced those.
But I absolutely did.
A few months ago, I desired to improve my life.
The frequent topic that authors regurgitate is to read a book. Make it a part of your schedule or you’ll be doomed forever.
It’s not that I never read a book.
I am a heavy bookworm since I was young — those books that allow you to skip the reality. Those which convince you that you have no other obligations but to finish the pages. Those books where happily ever after always exist.
But then, a lot of self-help authors convinced me I have to read beyond that. I need to expose myself to other genres that will allow me to grow.
In a span of one month, I was able to finish eight non-fiction books. To top it all, I enrolled in courses that required me to read more.
For several months, I stuck with that habit.
But an ironic thing happened.
I noticed something strange in the way I process things.
I became forgetful. I became slow in comprehending information.
I couldn’t connect important concepts properly. I experienced headaches.
I easily get overwhelmed.
Overwhelmed in a sense like stuffing yourself with more food when your stomach is about to explode.
It’s not that reading is a dangerous habit. It truly is a must for someone who aspires growth and learning.
But something must be wrong here.
I went ahead with the same habits even when my brain feels like exploding. I’ve read more books and stuff it with additional articles online.
Then, I reached my tipping point.
When I was about to start a new book, I felt a feeling of fullness.
My eyes can see the letters but my brain rejects the information. I keep reading the same line over and over without properly comprehending it.
I found it ironic that my comprehension became slower when I read tons of books lately.
That’s when I took a step back and gave myself the rest it needs.
But the itch to read is still there.
I need to hold a book. Like right now. At this moment!
I picked a book that I really like. I devoured every single moment presented there.
And for few hours, I felt lost in a wilderness enjoying every adventure. I savored each line feeling like I’m the character in the story.
For an entire week, I took a break from reading heavy materials that require deep analysis.
That break gave me the refreshment I need.
In the process, I found out the dark side of reading that nobody told me before.
Your Intentions Matter A Lot
“I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.” — Groucho Marx
I classify reading into two: recreational reading and intentional reading.
Recreational reading happens when you pick any material that you want. No one pressures you to read it.
Your heart convinces you to grab and enjoy it.
Your brain is still working, but who gets pressured reading Sweet Valley High collection? I sure don’t.
Or who gets brain drain by reading Mitch Albom books? I still don’t consider it a pressure, rather, a pleasure.
I enjoy it. And I wish I can always choose them.
But the reality is:
If you want to add more in your stock of wisdom, you have to expose yourself to different materials.
This is where intentional reading comes in.
You have a purpose for choosing that book. You have a hidden agenda for reading. You seek meaning out of it.
Because you have a greater objective, you tend to focus more and analyze the material carefully.
The subjects of your intentional reading vary.
Before you pick any book, that intention must be very clear to you.
I devoted several months doing an intentional reading. And this is where the problem penetrated.
The Dark Side of Reading No One Wants To Talk About
Your smartphone has a certain capacity no matter how expensive it is. Once you reached the limit, you won’t be able to download any app or take a new selfie.
The brain is likewise the same.
It is a flexible organ that can rewire neurons. But it cannot store a massive amount of information all at once.
When it constantly drinks from a hose of information, it will reach its capacity.
Information Overload makes learning and decision-making more challenging. The brain gets confused with so much information not knowing which one to prioritize.
Neurons are living cells that need oxygen and glucose to survive. When the brain works hard because of the constant stream of information, you’ll experience fatigue.
Bertram Gross, a professor, has said:
“Information overload occurs when the amount of input to a system exceeds its processing capacity. Decision makers have fairly limited cognitive processing capacity. Consequently, when information overload occurs, it is likely that a reduction in decision quality will occur.”
Reading is a beneficial activity.
But reading too much can also kill your brain’s productivity especially when no new meanings are created.
If you are simply reading without deeper processing, you don’t benefit much from it.
Since the brain likes meaning, the information that you are able to connect with your experiences will stay more than those you didn’t understand.
How Information Overload Kills Your Productivity
We are bombarded with a massive amount of information.
From emails, messages, updates on our social media feed to educational materials — it truly is overwhelming.
The crazy thing is:
Most of us consume a lot of information thinking we’re being productive. We think we’re learning since we’re reading a great material.
The dark side of information overload slowly leads us to a state of inaction. We get paralyzed on applying what we’ve learned thinking we need more material to supplement it.
Instead of producing outputs, your brain gets bogged down on what information to follow.
The more inputs you get, the more difficult it is to connect them.
Are you stunted to make decisions because of too many options?
Do you produce something from what you take in?
Do you have a clear line between too much and enough information?
Daniel Levitin, a neuroscientist, shared in his book The Organized Mind:
“The Roman philosopher Seneca the Younger (tutor to Nero) complained that his peers were wasting time and money accumulating too many books, admonishing that “the abundance of books is a distraction.” Instead, Seneca recommended focusing on a limited number of good books, to be read thoroughly and repeatedly.”
The flood of information that comes to you daily confuses you to take action on what you just learned.
Tim Ferriss shared his low-information diet in his book Four-Hour Work Week. His reading strategy differs based on his objectives.
If he is going for speed, he uses his scientific-reading technique without sacrificing comprehension.
For books he likes to savor, he reads small chunks at a time to allow for a deeper processing.
Kyle Eschenroeder from StartUp Bros talks about information cleanse on the Unsettle podcast. Take a break from consuming information.
Instead, create new meanings and output from what you gained from reading.
Joseph Ruff shared in his article on the Harvard Graduate School that information overload interferes with creative problem-solving. He said:
“Once capacity is surpassed, additional information becomes noise and results in a decrease in information processing and decision quality. Having too much information is the same as not having enough.”
In order to manage this Information Fatigue Syndrome, he encourages the creation of a personal system for storing and retrieving information. He also shared other tips to combat information overload on the same article mentioned.
The brain can only focus on one thing at a time. Exposing it to different materials will lead to its confusion.
Albert Einstein has said:
“Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking.”
What happens after you read a book?
Do you reflect on what you’ve learned?
Do you connect it with other concepts? Or do you simply move on?
Reading requires time.
If you don’t choose your material wisely, you are losing the quality time you need.
When you have a good comprehension of the material, some portion stick in your brain.
If you keep consuming information, you’ll end up reducing the time to produce outputs. There has to be a certain limit on the inputs you take in.
Zat Rana has said:
“Input doesn’t necessarily mean quantity. The correlation between how much you read or consume and what you can do or who you become begins to even off after a certain point, and more isn’t always better.”
Does this mean you are doomed?
Does it mean you have to stop reading?
Not at all.
All you need is to filter out information. You’re able to connect those information when your mind is relaxed.
When you’re reading, your brain is overwhelmed that processing becomes extra challenging.
You’ll only get to connect the concepts when the brain is in a calm state.
Have you encountered taking a shower or washing plates then a great idea comes to your mind?
You know you can relate it to a previous material but you can’t remember the exact concept.
It is extremely frustrating.
Then, you searched it on Google hoping to find that exact idea. Once you hit search, you’re presented with so much information that confuse your neurons.
Thus, blurring that creative idea you have in mind.
If only you have that same system that works like Google. Besides, you’ve encountered the concept. You just can’t remember it entirely.
The System That Can Help You Organize Your Reading Inputs
“Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested: that is, some books are to be read only in parts, others to be read, but not curiously, and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.” — Francis Bacon
Creating a system that works for you is one of the things you can do to support your brain and performance.
Set up a system that would make the information readily available when you need them. Ryan Holiday talks about his own system as well and how it helped him to write his best-selling books.
I have my own system that keep track of the important thoughts that speak to me.
Having your own system will help minimize the pressure your brain gets.
It’s like giving it a pat on the back reassuring that you can go back to the concept when your brain is more relaxed.
It makes thinking and production a little more efficient since you can connect different materials you’ve read.
It can also give you a boost of inspiration and ideas when needed. For instance, when you feel worse, you can look back on the learnings from your favorite author/s.
In my post, How Having Zero Friends Surprisingly Made Me A Better Person, I mentioned that I gained friends through books. This system allowed me to reach out to them and get the perfect message I need.
I was also able to connect ideas from different authors weeks after reading their books in my post, 3 Key Principles That Will Make You Stand Out From Any Crowd.
My most favorite part is: I can bring them anywhere I go.
Here’s a simple system to help you organize the things you’ve read:
1. Time To Decide
When I migrated to a new country, I had to make a very difficult decision.
I was confronted with a challenge to leave everything — my family, friends, career and of course, my book collection.
I had to decide which book I should bring.
These books are part of me that I reread every time I get the chance. Leaving them, including the notes I scribbled on the pages is such a heartbreaking decision.
Trust me. I’m not exaggerating it (though I sound like).
In the end, I brought nothing.
That experience gave me the first factor to consider when creating my own system. Since I don’t want to undergo the same struggle, I chose folders to file information.
These folders have packets inside them that can hold papers. You can also choose different colors based on how you like it.
Whatever floats your boat, it’s your choice.
2. Time To Categorize
Label the folders based on different categories. I suggest one category each folder to avoid bulkiness.
Afterwards, arrange them alphabetically so it’s easier to look for what you want.
I only use white folders because I want everything to look the same. You can also put tags if you want.
3. Time To File
The interesting part is here.
While reading, write down the important information you encounter. I paraphrase them based on how I understand them.
For powerful quotes and points, I copy the exact statement of the author, so I can give proper citation later on.
I also get the stories, research, and experiments mentioned. A lot of books mentioned works of others that can be extremely beneficial to you in the future.
I also have a different folder for online reading like Medium, blogs, talks, seminars and preachings.
Many writers synthesize what they’ve learned from others and taking note of what you’ve read online even during a past time can be helpful eventually.
For every page, write down the title and page number. If ever it gets mixed with other materials, you’ll know where it belongs.
I like to copy the front book details and place it on top of the file. This will give me chance to give the proper citation to the author. If ever I want to read it again, I know the exact book to get.
4. Time To Store
Place your file somewhere within reach.
I have a small shelf close to my desk. It’s still a growing collection as I manage new information I get.
I place them close to the new books I want to read.
Now, isn’t it genius to have bedroom, office, storage room and library cram into one?
That’s why this system not only keeps me sane but my husband as well. No book flying around or no pile up to trip anyone. Win-win situation.
5. Time To Catalog
What? Catalog? Like a library?
In an excel spreadsheet, I keep a record of what’s in my file. I like Excel because you can easily add details and rearrange them.
Some books overlap.
For instance, the book of Steven Harvey Act Like A Success, Think Like A Success. From the outside, you would think it only talks about how to succeed. But after reading it, I felt like it circulated more on how to use gifts or talents.
By having a list of books in your file, you will not waste time looking on other folders sorting through other papers.You can pull the necessary folder and start working right away.
Create A Sytem That You Will Be Thankful You Did
In the future, a great idea might hit you at the most unexpected time.
If you don’t know how to connect and synthesize information, you’ll lose the chance to expand it. Whereas, if you have a file of information related to your previous knowledge, you can always revisit them.
Whatever works for you, do it.
It may require a little experiment but it’s worth trying.
Read books and support your brain by filing important and valuable information you receive.
You don’t need to chew them all at the same time. You can set aside some portion for later processing. You can revisit books that really spoke to you.
When you have a system, you’ll work faster and connect other ideas together. You don’t just grasp in the dark looking for what you need.
Since you experienced the material, you’ll find it easier to reconnect with it. You’ll have a sense of familiarity.
Your brain circuits will not explode because of information overload. Your reading becomes more systematic and organized.
You’ll start producing more quality outputs that benefit you and others around you. You’ll spread more inspiration and quality information.
Eventually, you’ll reach that inner fulfillment you desire.