As per usual, January came along this year. I didn't know what to add to my New Year's goal list, so I decided to come up with a few things I thought I could accomplish without too much difficulty ... and one that I thought was impossible.
The "impossible" goal: to read 100 nonfiction books this year — all in either personal development, business, neuroscience, or finance.
Reading this much would be difficult. If I read at the average speed of 300 words per minute, with each book averaging 90,000 words, I would have to read for 500 hours this year. That totals to one hour and 22 minutes per day.
If you're like me, you don't have an extra hour and 22 minutes to spend reading every single day. I had to either adjust my goal or learn to read faster. I chose the latter.
Here are seven practices I adopted that took me from reading a 90,000-word book in five hours to less than two hours.
(Keep in mind, studies have shown that people who speed up their reading too fast can decrease their overall comprehension. These tips are meant to speed up your reading and increase your comprehension. Test yourself as you go to make sure your comprehension keeps up with the speed at which you read.)
1. Don’t subvocalize every word.
Brain coach Jim Kwik teaches that we are first taught to read out loud, then to read quietly to ourselves. The problem is that we are never taught to stop subvocalizing, or silently speaking, every word. When you pull up to a stop sign in your car, do you subvocalize the word “stop?” No. You know to stop without inwardly saying "stop." Much of reading is the same; there are many words your brain can comprehend without the need for subvocalization.
When we subvocalize each word, we limit our reading speed to how fast we can speak. This is why most people read between 200 and 300 words per minute — the speed at which most people talk.
Here are some words you don’t need to subvocalize: a, the, but, or, and, then. The list goes on. Words that don’t significantly add to the content do not need to be subvocalized.
However, there are some words you should subvocalize. Words that are difficult to pronounce, or complex words you don't see often, will be comprehended faster by your brain with subvocalization. As your vocabulary improves, you can subvocalize less, and your reading speed can continue to improve.
2. Cut down on rereading.
There are a couple of things you can do to cut down on rereading.
First, as you read, you can cover the line you just read with a piece of paper. Doing this allows you to focus on the line you’re currently reading, rather than allowing your eyes to get lost in the words and reread. People often waste up to 30 percent of their reading time by reading lines more than once.
Second, you can use your finger to point to the words, and follow your finger as you read. This visual cue gives your eyes a focus spot as you read, and you’ll find you can read faster.
That being said, not all rereading is bad, as it can help your brain comprehend deeper topics. However, these two tactics can minimize that time, and help you process deeper concepts at a faster pace.
I am a rereader myself. I must continually try not to read the same line repeatedly, which often happens when I am not fully focused during my reading.
3. Read one- to two-inch chunks at a time.
This process is called word chunking. Try a small test with me. Close one eye and keep the other eye open, holding one finger on your closed eyelid. Now, scan the room with your open eye. Your vision may feel smooth, but you should feel your eye twitch as it moves. Use the feeling of eye movement to your advantage. Read one- to two-inch chunks, following the pattern of your eye movement.
For example, when you read a sentence, direct your eyes toward two to three words at a time, then move to the next set of two to three words, then the next set, and so on. By doing this, you can minimize your eye movement and maximize the reading word count.
Now, don't get fancy and try four- to five-inch chunks. Science has proven that once you get past the area of your focus (your peripheral vision), your ability to comprehend drops drastically.
I tried to increase the size of my reading chunks, and had no success. Increasing the chunks past a couple of inches caused me to miss words or reread. This experiment turned out to be unproductive for me. Make sure you find what works best for you.
4. Pre-read each chapter.
This may sound weird, but follow with me. Before you dive into each chapter, spend a minute scanning each section and quote, and look for key words. Doing this trains your eyes on where to look as you word chunk.
By first looking through the material for a minute, your brain will familiarize itself with the material. When you go back to read from the beginning, that second read will help cement what you've read.
This is the second most-important hack I learned. Doing this has helped me retain more of what I read and increase my reading speed. This practice was invaluable in helping me achieve my goal.
5. Take notes.
As you read, take notes. When you read something that hits you, write down what you think about it. Writing things down as you read cements your newfound knowledge.
I understand that this slows down your reading speed, but it's important to slow down sometimes to take notes as a way to better retain the information you read.
For my notes, I like to use a separate piece of paper. If I don't have anything nearby, I will write in the margins of the book, but I prefer my books to be clean. Highlighting, writing in the margins, or using a separate piece of paper will help you to better retain the information.
6. Visualize putting into practice what you learn from your reading.
Visualizing will slow down how fast you can read as well, but it helps to answer key questions. How will I use what I just read? When can I use this? Why do I need to learn this? Is this going to be useful for me? Answering such questions will help you to retain the information you have read even more.
I visualize when, where, how, and why I will use what I am reading. Sometimes, when I am reading about, say, neuroscience or gut health, it can be difficult to visualize. However, it's important for me to try, and to understand how the things I am reading about can be useful.
7. Practice the techniques.
Practice these skills as you read, and try timing these runs. The rate at which you read is a skill, and you'll get faster as you practice.
Don't forget, as you read faster, practice retaining the information. Remembering what you learned is more important than your reading speed. I can't stress this enough. If you don't retain the information, your reading speed doesn't matter.
Finally, practice does not make perfect, but permanent. It's harder to break a bad habit than to start a good one, so practice one skill at a time. As that skill improves, move on to the next one. Try practicing one skill on one day, then rotate to another one the next day.
It took a few months for my reading speed to improve, but these are all tips I used to cut that time down. As of August 25, I am at 54 books for the year. I still have a long way to go (and only three months to finish), but my reading time per book has decreased to about one hour and 45 minutes. I am confident that I will finish.
As I read each book, I'm taking notes on what I learn. I plan to write a blog at the end of the year on my key takeaways from each book I've read.
If you have any book suggestions, please let me know! My book list is long, but I am always looking for more. Happy reading!