As I’ve already mentioned before I love reading and learning. During the last ten years I’ve devoured many books, specially self-growth books, trying to improve or “fix” some aspects of me.
Sometimes I forget that I’m reading those books with a purpose and I just enjoy reading as I would be reading a novel. Even though in those books there are quite a lot of concepts to think about and questions to reflect on and answer, I seem to enjoy the moment and the topic and I keep reading telling myself that I will answer those questions at the end of the chapter or at the end of the book.
Usually, when I am about to finish a book I have a mix of feelings. On the one hand I feel a bit sad that the book is getting to its end and on the other hand I am excited about the next book that is on my wishlist waiting to be read. Not good!
When I finish a book there seems to be an internal force pushing me to start the next book as soon as possible because it really touches an aspect of my life that I want to do something about. “That’s exactly what I need right now, the answer to my problems!”, I think to myself.
Can you relate?
As you can imagine, that internal force begging me to start the next book probably is the part of me scared to face those deep questions or to spend time thinking and reflecting. I’m pretty sure it’s my ego, my gremling. It tries to put all my attention to the joy I will feel reading the next book to distract me from confronting the required work from the current book.
What does this have to do with deep or careful reading? I just wanted to put you in my situation first, in case you are not like me, so that you can understand this need or pleasure to consume information from books. Because, let’s be honest, this is not learning, this is consuming information and probably forgetting most of it after one week or so.
The last couple of years several experts and authors in the self-development field seem to be pushing us to consume more content and faster. In podcasts, blog posts, videos, conferences they are advocating that we should be reading one book per week (some even go to the extreme of one book a day with the help of speed reading techniques). If you listen to audio books they recommend to listen at x1,5 or even x2 the normal speed. This way we will finish the book in half the time, right?!
There might be times when speed reading is helpful, for instance, if you have a test and need to read or learn a bunch of material in very little time. But in most cases I see no need to accelerate our lives even more than they already are.
Specially with self-development books it would be much more practical to read a book at a pace which allows us to think, reflect, take notes, conclusions or even actions after learning about a new concept that we could apply into our life. How in the world are we supposed to do all that by reading so fast or listening at double-speed?
If we put ourselves in the author’s shoes, who spent months writing a book to help us improve something, wouldn’t it be fair that we spend at least a couple of weeks reading it and applying what the author teaches us through the book? We already paid for it, so why not get the most ROI (Return On Investment) as well?
Honestly, I’ve been there and I’ve done that. I even have a book on speed reading on my laptop which I haven’t read yet, because something inside of me tells me that this isn’t right for me.
But the times when I have been listening to podcasts at x1,5 the speed I noticed that afterwards my mind was spinning and having thoughts faster than usual, with no room for silence or reflection. And those nights I had difficulties to fall sleep as well. Probably my mind was thinking “you bastard made me listen and think at twice the speed in order to save a bit of time and now you want to ‘waste’ so much time sleeping? No way! Use that saved time now and waste it thinking awake in bed!”
Maybe it’s because I’m introverted and need time to absorb new concepts and a quiet mind to reflect on them. But according to Susan Cane, author of “QUIET: The Power Of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” (derived from an acclaimed TEDTalk she gave), depending on which study you consult, one-third to one-half of Americans are introverts.
Personality traits like these ones are not that different in other countries. So we have one out of every two or three persons in the world that need quiet reflecting time. But experts seem to generalize their recommendations on what we should do and how we should learn.
So, what I’m trying to do lately is quite the opposite. I decided to read at a pace that feels right to me, reflecting on the concepts or theories suggested by the author of the book that I’m reading at any given moment, answering the questions that I feel can have an impact on my life if I put some time and thought into them, and not starting a new book until I have squeezed what I wanted to take out from that book.
That’s why I started these 30-day book challenges, where I spend one month digging deep into one whole book, into some of its chapters or concepts depending on the life-changing ideas that the book might contain and applying them into my life.
According to John Miedema, author of Slow Reading “If you want the deep experience of a book, if you want to internalise it, to mix an author’s ideas with your own and make it a more personal experience, you have to read it slowly.”
So, call it careful reading, deep reading, deep learning or slow reading (slow movement advocates might like this one), long-lasting and profound self transformation requires our full attention. But the pay off is a more immersive, fulfilling experience while reading and afterwards.
This trend to speed up everything seems to be parallel to the increased use of technology (smartphones and tablets), the Internet (gazillions of webpages linked one to the other) and social media (shorter messages and news popping up every second on our hands). I’m not against all this, actually I’ve been a hard-user of them during the last ten years. Maybe that’s why I’ve realized that it doesn’t necessarily take us very far following this trend. It’s like a rat-race where our minds are constantly bombarded with information.
There’s better way: LESS IS MORE.
Do we want to be superficially informed about lots of things or do we really want to improve our lives?
I’m a master allrounder. I know enough about many things in my field. But staying in the surface doesn’t seem to align with having mastery in the topic, achieving great results or having deep impact in ourselves or the lives of others.
We can see this concept apply in different ways: as advocated by “The One Thing” authors where focusing on one thing can be our best leverage or as discussed by Glen Allsoop in reference to niching down in order to increase sales, or as quoted by Mark Victor Hansen, co-author of the Chicken Soup for the Soul book series, “Pick a niche and grow rich.”
The same way, reading fewer books but intensely could profoundly change our lives for the better. Niche down to the core areas of your life that you want to improve and instead of speed reading a book in that topic, study it, immerse yourself in it, test it, apply it.
This minimalist approach to reading will enhance your life much further and your time and money investment will be greatly compensated.