Some time ago (2009), Tom O’Connor (of NLP TIMES) did an NLP meta-program modelling on my speed reading strategies. You can read it here: NLP Meta-Programs and Speed Reading / Spd Rdng Part 1
Obviously, I’ve been fine-tuning my speed reading skills to a much higher level since then. Hence this blog where we’re going to crack it for you so you don’t have to. This time, Tom asked me a few, high voltage questions to get his speed reading skills to my super-duper speed reading level.
Firstly, if you’re new to speed reading, since 2009, I’ve probably speed read at least 12 000 books and texts. I’m not saying that to impress you (not at all) – but to impress upon you – that you can too with some basic speed reading skills, strategies and skills (that you can learn from our speed reading books and speed reading courses). It might seem a lot – 1000+ books/year (not for me), if you’re an average reader (who reads less than 55 books/year ie one book/week, which should be the minimum – you should aim at, at least 1 book/day in 20-minute speed reading session = 365 books/year). Actually, research suggests that in the UK, only 41% of the population reads more than 15 books/year.
Here are the general principles to Tom’s NLP modelling questions… (all his questions are at the end of the blog with my specific answers)
Top super-duper speed reading tips (mostly for factual books)
• Read more – anything
And most people do read more now, without realising it – any reading counts, even signs, cornflake packaging and restaurants’ menus. The more you read, the bigger your schema (your total knowledge, wisdom, etc) in your mind/brain. For the record, I don’t read lots of novels – probably half a dozen/year. I used to though, and I highly recommend reading novels, ‘slowly’ for pleasure and fun or to kill time, which research confirms will help you build your emotional intelligence, resilience and survival skills. Books are tools of recognition – a way of recognising where you are as a human being. The word ‘reading’ is an interesting one – you read to understand the text and you’re doing ‘reading’ on the text ie through your own interpretive modes of perception. Read more is speed reading technique #36 in our Spd Rdng System.
Also, recognise that you already have some speed reading skills such as speed-reading newspapers, using a dictionary and searching the Internet.
• Look for difference – and ‘ignore’ the sameness
Difference = new learnings. Sameness (repetition) = understandings which you will get naturally if you’re vaguely familiar with the subject of the book. For example, when I’m speed reading books on something like branding (which is my background and I’ve speed-read thousands of books on it) – I ask myself, “What’s new, that I don’t know?” My mind will naturally notice, recognise and process information that I already know or am familiar with and zoom in on new information, concepts or ideas. Read for sameness and difference is technique #12 in our Spd Rdng System.
“Read the best books first, or you may not have a chance to read them at all.”
Henry David Thoreau
Also, over time, with your expertise, you’ll be more discerning and selective to choose books that are high value and not wasting time on less valuable texts. But you already know the difference between ‘good/useful’ and ‘bad/useless’ books, without realising it. “Thin-slicing” is the technique I use to evaluate books very quickly in 10-30 seconds.
• Summarise the message of the book/text in one, two words or sentences
Firstly, for yourself and then, secondly, for others so you can test it if you can explain it to them. If you can explain the message of the book in simple terms in 2-5 minutes, you probably got it. You can also, test it with the authors by watching them talking about their books. Usually, the authors are much better at talking about their books than actually writing them. I usually watch the interviews with authors before I buy the full book. Obviously, you can download the sample of the book and see if you can get the message and key concepts. Remember, because of free sampling – the publishers put summaries at the end of the books (otherwise, nobody would buy them – so start reading from the end which is technique #37 in our Spd Rdng System and look for summaries #26).
Also, I keep in mind at least one example or metaphor that can exemplify the message of the book ie that behind any thinking there is a process of divergence (differentiating) and convergence (integrating). So, following the above example of DIVERGENCE as the key feature for A History of What We Think and How We Think It – Brexit, Covid-19 (separation/division) are examples of divergent thinking and iPhone/smartphone is an example of convergent thinking (many functions in one device).
Speed is the key value of speed reading (without compromising understanding, details and quality of information). You might have noticed the speed of change that we’re experiencing right now on this planet. And it’s definitely going to get faster with quantum computing, AI, machine learning, diverging and converging, etc. If you need to get up to speed with your reading as well as acquiring skills, knowledge and wisdom – speed reading is your toolbox.
Rd sumrys is #26 in our Spd Rdng System.
• Index depth
One of Tom’s question was about the quote from Albert Einstein: “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.” How do I speed read so I don’t miss essential difference and details that make the difference? My answer is: I speed read with depth in mind. If I don’t get the depth of the message and all the implications then I’m speed reading too ‘shallow’ or in 1D. Obviously, some books are very shallow and one can see that in the first 30 seconds of speed reading by ‘thin-slicing’ them. Over the years, I’ve developed all kinds of filters, criteria and frameworks that give me clarity and focus – that work in my mind’s background when I speed read and process large volumes of information. Non-speed-readers always worry about missing the details – with our Spd Rdng System you won’t miss any details because one of the filters is for details and there are techniques to get all the details and vital info you need.
Choose books that have depth. Use, preview technique (#2) to see if the material is worth the time and effort (and money if you’re going to buy it). Depth is found in inclusiveness and integral perspectives.
For example, I use Ken Wilber’s Four Quadrant Model which charts four basic domains of reality such as subjective, psychological, spiritual (I), objective, physiological, behavioural (IT), intersubjective, relational, cultural (WE) and interobjective, structural and social (ITS) – see below – which is a great 4D indexing system of four most important domains, perspectives or frameworks and relationships that exist in any discipline. If the message of the book has these four domains or dimensions or realities, then it has depth – if not, then it’s one or two-sided and incomplete.
In short, depth comes from increasing inclusiveness. The more the text is inclusive and has integrated different perspectives the more depth will it have.
Another example, where you can appreciate the depth of the insight, as well as the research behind it, is The Drugs Don’t Work by Professor Dame Sally Davies who was a chief medical adviser to the UK government on health issues. She very kindly summarised the message of the book with the title. Her findings are very simple: “We are losing the battle against infections diseases. Bacteria are fighting back and are becoming resistant to modern medicine. In short, the drugs don’t work.” Hence the title “The Drugs Don’t Work.” No matter how many times you’ll speed read this book, you’ll still get the same massage. She provides a lot of research to back up her claim, so it is also a reference book for medical students or anyone who needs more convincing. Her best and most important advice is to wash your hands properly. (Her second tip is to stop demanding antimicrobial medicines when we have a viral infection and to raise awareness of the threat of antimicrobial resistance). Read more about the importance of reading summaries
• Apply it (the knowledge and wisdom, etc)
The best way to remember something and get the added benefits is to apply it immediately (technique #1 in our Spd Rdng System) or as soon as possible in your personal or professional life. Reading for the sake of reading is fine but so what? In our speed reading courses, we teach/coach how to get from reader to speed reader to spd rdr.
• Traditional readers focus on books – how many books have I read?
• Speed readers read more books because they have a couple of techniques to read more books more quickly.
• Spd Rdrs focus how much good information they can get from reading – a shift from quantity to quality (it doesn’t matter how many books you’ve read if they’re low quality or just rubbish – start with preview technique (#2) and get the best books and use ‘thin-slicing’). Speed readers choose books that have more longevity (wisdom) over the books that are just about knowledge (which has an expiration date). What’s the difference between wisdom and knowledge? One is timeless, and the other is not – and you already know which one it is. For example, “Prevention is better than cure” is timeless wisdom. “The Earth is flat and at the centre of the solar system.” was once ‘knowledge’.
“If you want to become knowledgeable
– learn one new thing, every day.
(speed read one book/day = 365 books/year – more than Bill Gates)
If you want to become wise
– unlearn one thing, every day.”
(get rid of one book/day)
Lao Tzu, author of Tao Te Ching
• Spd Rdrs live by the 80/20 rule: 80% of the information is contained in 20% of key phrases in most books.
• Spd Rdrs focus on application, what they will DO with the information they get from their reading.
Spd rders have a variety of speed reading techniques (37 techniques, strategies, principles in fact) which give them flexibility, skills and choice how to approach any material and get what they want from it.
• Download books/texts into your mind
If you really don’t have the time to speed read books, just download them into your mind – and sleep on ‘them’ – not physically, of course. Downloading primes your mind with the information. Read how to do downloading/photoreading technique #28
• Relax (probably the most important tip!)
The state you’re in when speed reading will greatly affect your processing speed. When you’re relaxed and chilled, your mind will be more in the alpha brain state (7.83-14Hz) which is naturally the best state to absorb, learn and remember anything! Enjoy reading. If you love reading and are interested in things, you already know this – when you immerse yourself in the text…magic happens. If you don’t know how to get into the best state for speed reading – read technique #14 called ‘get into a good state for reading’
Overtime or in no time, with reading more, looking for difference, summarising texts, speed reading with depth in mind, downloading, relaxing and applying all the knowledge and wisdom that you get from books and texts – you’ll find that you’re speed reading at the lightening speed and getting everything that you need or want. And that’s what I’ve been doing for over 20 years but you don’t have to learn the hard way – choose the smart way. Yes, you can, anyone can (the only reason that you haven’t done it so far is that you haven’t had a go at it because you didn’t know how and that you didn’t know that you could do it).
Research suggests that speed readers are more successful in any area of life, personal and professional. Why? Because they get all top quality information, knowledge and wisdom – faster than anyone else. If you want to become more successful and get more out of life – and you’re lucky to be reading this blog – you already know what to do.
If you’re still in doubt – come to two-day speed reading course or get our Spd Rdng – The Speed Reading Bible
or Speed Reading for Study: Speed reading techniques tips and strategies for studying fast and passing exams
or the Audible audio version of Speed Reading for Study – Speed Reading Techniques Tips and Strategies for Studying Fast and Passing Exams
All Tom’s NLP (of NLP TIMES) modelling questions
“I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” pointed out Mark Twain who completely understood that writing concisely and meaningfully requires more mental effort and time.
TOM: What is the verb when you spd read? If you were to sum your own process into one to two words, what is it?
(or if constraining yourself to one to two verbs is challenging, what is the one verb for each part of your process?)
JAN: Spd rdng is generally speaking processing visual written information or extracting/getting good quality information from text. Specifically, it’s converging and diverging information – or in one word: synthesising which is also synergising because I connect the text with my own schema. For novice speed readers the acronym for Spd Rdng = State + Purpose + Downloading + pReviewing + Details + Notes + Gist but that’s seven words. We do love words.
What are the top 3 biggest changes in how you speed read today vs a decade ago?
1) Search function. I mostly speed-read ebooks and digital texts (I still buy p-book / paper books because I like to see them around in my home – research suggests that having books around makes you more intelligent and the kicker is that you don’t have to even read them to have the effect!). I use search function all the time on digital texts and that is driven by the second change ie clarity and focus. Technology has enabled me to do more with less effort and definitely use my time better while speed reading on mobile devices.
2) More clarity and focus on what I want from books and texts (in the midst of high complexity, radical uncertainty and general mess – a messy bookshelf or home library is better than an organised one). Although, the purpose in speed reading is still the most important technique and principle as it was a decade ago – I’m even more discerning and frugal about how I use my mind for processing information. A decade ago I might have spent 20 minutes to get through a regular book – now I spend less, 5-10 minutes and I get more out of it. It helps that I know more now than before.
3) Now I’m even more relaxed about how I get knowledge and wisdom from texts. And wisdom is even more important to me than knowledge and how I get it, is not so much dependent on books and texts. Speed reading has become such an integral part of my life that I don’t even think about it that much. Thanks to your questions, I had to reflect a bit on the whole process which helps me appreciate how much progress I have made over the last 10 years or so.
What’s your definition of learning? i.e. finish this sentence “Learning = …”
Learning = new. Let me unpack this a bit. By ‘new’ I also mean difference. Learning is driven by difference and new (as opposed to understanding that is driven by sameness and repetition). Dopamine is the hormone that is responsible for learning, motivation, performance, success, focusing, memory and more. Dopamine = learning. And dopamine is triggered by new, novelty, change, etc. That’s why breaks are important in learning where you do something different for a few minutes. You speed read for 15-20 minutes and then have a 2-3 minute break. On a funny side of things, I believe that if evolution hasn’t given us dopamine we would probably be still living in caves – because we wouldn’t want to change or be motivated to improve things. On a less funny side, your mobile phone is the most addictive device you have because every time and I mean every time, you look at it you get a dopamine kick which makes it so addictive. For me, learning/reading is THE best addiction to have (as well as good organic chocolate). Every time you learn something new, your brain creates thousands of new neural connections – that’s why when you’re learning a lot it can be tiring – your brain is a kind of muscle (unless you have regular breaks, and you have fun, and you are relaxed, then it’s less tiring).
What biases do you employ to speed read that are fundamental and essential to create the end result? (For example, a bias to speed is clearly one 😉)
A good or bad book is one bias. I choose good books but if the book has some depth but it’s badly written, I give it another chance by listening to the authors speaking about them. Previewing is the second technique we teach on how to choose the best books. Before speed reading, I definitely have read and speed-read more bad books than good ones (I’m not doing it any more, you’d be pleased to know). I must say that all novels I’ve read, good and bad, were worth reading.
Thin-slicing is another bias where I dip in at different places in the book (contents, index, references, bio, read a bit, look at the design, etc) to evaluate the quality of the book.
Yin and yang bias – where I do believe that even the worst books have some learnings or a message (even if it’s that they’re bad books – you can learn a lot from bad books ie how not to write them!)
There are obviously, other biases at work ie confirmation bias: preferentially noticing, seeking and recalling information the confirms your mindsets, cognitive models, preconceptions and beliefs; cognitive dissonance: new information contradicting our existing perceptions and beliefs; congruence bias: testing ideas by seeking evidence that supports rather than refutes them; disconfirmation bias: spending considerable energy in denigrating arguments that run counter to our existing beliefs; implicit bias: unconsciously holding attitudes towards others or associate stereotypes; Dunning-Kruger bias: thinking we know more than we do and underestimating what you don’t know.
What do you do (or help speed reading students do) to mitigate the risks of the Dunning-Kruger effect as a speed-reader?
Being aware of the Dunning-Kruger bias is the first step. I encourage people to print this quote by Lao Tzu from his seminal book Tao Te Ching and stick it somewhere visible, on the bathroom mirror: “If you want to become knowledgeable – learn one new thing, every day. If you want to become wise – unlearn one thing, every day.” And staying in a kind of zen, beginners mindset is helpful. Keep an open mind (belief comes easily; doubt takes effort – according to truth default theory) before jumping into conclusions. People do know more than before and at the same time, they still don’t know a lot, especially about some basic, fundamental aspects of life such as ‘time’, ‘consciousness’, ‘who were they before they were born’, etc. I coach that when starting with the book or text – spend a few minutes thinking about what you do know about it and what you don’t know about it, and perhaps jot it down on your mindmap or rhizomap.
What questions do ask of yourself or the author to quickly discern the essence of a book?
What’s it about? What’s the key message/s? Is it timeless? Is it useful? Can I apply the insights in my (or others) life now? What’s new in it for me? Is worth adding this book to my ultimate book list of books that changed and transformed my life? Is it helping me to recognise where I am as a human and being?
If you were to become twice as good as you are today at speed reading how would you go about it? What aspects of your process do you expect would change?
Firstly, I would work even more on clarity and focus. And to do that I would meditate more. Research suggests that people who meditate or do some kind of mindfulness practice are better at reading and processing information. I sometimes forget how much I already know and what resources I have. Having even more clarity and focus would allow me to access all these resources better and faster. Secondly, I would dream about how I can go beyond speed reading or reading to get knowledge and wisdom. The simple process of going beyond (transcending and including what came before) any discipline allows for greater insights. And thirdly, I would take steps to employ AI, machine learning and any technology to get the right kind of up-to-date information I need faster and with more accuracy. In the near future (read The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology) we’ll be able to download information directly into our brains – similar to the Matrix technology (and hopefully without the evil/dark side).
What constructs or tools do you use to hold information as you read?
My rhizomatic thinking makes it very easy for me to remember things – I connect the info with almost everything I’m interested in (and even sport that I am not interested in). I have also a strong need to/tiny habit of sharing the insights (almost immediately), in one form or another, verbally, digitally (blog, twitter, email, etc) with others or internally with myself (I like to talk to myself about what I speed read). Usually, I don’t make any effort to remember, unless I have to present the info formally to others – then, I make mental notes or use mind mapping or rhizomapping.
What do you do/what mental schema do you employ (if aware of one) to combine and arrange ideas so you can elaborate and capture the most salient ideas and insights from any book super fast?
Is it just knowledge that will be out of date soon, or is it timeless wisdom? Is it relevant or not? Can I ‘ignore’ it?
Is it for my spiritual development (about “who am I?”) or is it for my personal development (“who am I becoming?”)
Ken Wilber’s Four Quadrant Model I use sometimes if I have to present the information to others.
Difference and repetition (the title of Gilles Deleuze’s seminal book) is my favourite one. A life is just that (and books too): difference and repetition. When you go beyond these two you get to immanence but very few books have that quality or message.
How do you know when you have simplified a book to its essence (1-2 words) and yet not oversimplified?
(This question comes up a lot in the speed reading class – people initially think that they’ll miss things when speed reading.) I know that when I have clarity and focus, I’ve understood the message, as well as an inner conviction that I haven’t missed anything from the text (obviously, the author might have missed a lot and I do notice that too). I get the feeling and clarity that there is nothing left to be done – my questions have been answered. I know that I’m done with the text when I can explain it if needed. I index it against Ken Wilber’s Four Quadrant Model which is very holistic, comprehensive and has depth. When in doubt, I use the search function on the book – the machine never misses any keyword. I download books into my mind to prime myself with all info and to have a different connection and relationship with it. I trust my mind and the process. I speed-read other people’s summaries of the same book to check how accurate I am. People can have different readings of the same book.
Do you and if so, how do you put the ideas you learn into action to identify the gaps between what you have constructed and the actuality of the territory/world?
I do apply the insights into my life by designing tiny habits. I index the ideas into two frameworks/territories/worlds: relative and absolute. Relative is a personal and professional life (that’s where most ideas go since most factual books are about personal development). Absolute is the spiritual domain (the ideas that talk about going beyond anything go here). I meditate on the ideas to get clarity and to become those ideas if I notice any gaps or lack of relationship.
What do you do when what you normally do to spd read a book doesn’t work as well as you want?
If there is no other better book on the subject (my first move is to find a better book); I persevere, in a relaxed manner – I might leave it for a day or two and get back to it. A lot of books are badly written, so I listen to the authors to get their ideas, which usually works. Most often, it’s the book that doesn’t work, not the speed reading process. I’m very relaxed about books (and bookshops). I love reading and learning. (I’m sure I was some kind of librarian in one of my past lives – in a monastery in Italy. The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco comes to mind – I’m so tempted to reveal the spoiler which is also an important tip in reading – what not to do :)).