On How I Read, Part 1

One question I get quite frequently in classes I teach is about how I read “so much”.

The sad truth of the matter is that I read nowhere near enough, by an order of magnitude. But if you’re looking for tips on how to go about reading as efficiently as possible, this series may help you out.

The idea behind this series is to tell you three things about my reading: the tools I use to read, the content that I choose to read (which is two separate blog posts) and finally, how my reading choices evolve over time. Use this series to change or adapt your own reading style, if you wish, and best of all, let me know how mine could be improved based on your experiences.

But before I get to any of these, a couple of points about reading in general. In today’s day and age, you might think that reading comes at a high opportunity cost. Would reading not eat into an extra session of Candy Crush Saga? Would reading not eat into an hour of Netflix? Would reading not eat into watching cooking videos on YouTube? And that is before the opportunity cost of stuff that can be done offline.

This, I would argue, is where a topic called hyperbolic discounting becomes useful. Without jargon, this essentially means that we tend to think more about short term rewards rather than long term payoffs. For example, eating an extra gulab jamun will give me more happiness this minutecompared to the long term, probabilistic scenario of complications to my health. Candy Crush Saga is the gulab jamun, and potentially lower income/knowledge/wisdom is the long term probabilistic scenario. Most of us would choose to play Candy Crush Saga, understandably.

To be clear, “most of us” includes me too. Who can resist a video of a baby playing with a puppy on YouTube? In other words, reading more is a function of steeling yourself against temptation – but that is easier said than done, and I struggle with it every day.

The second thing I struggle with is the fact that I can’t, anymore, read the same thing for hours at a stretch. The internet is a truly wonderful thing, but it has killed my attention span. I try and get around this problem by reading a book along with playing games on the phone/reading blogs/watching videos on YouTube, without feeling apologetic about doing so. The length of time that you are able to read without a break doesn’t matter, neither does taking a break very often. Call it High Intensity Interval Reading, if you like.

Rereading a book is something I do very rarely these days, and if I do re-read something, it is the highest compliment I can pay the book. Even so, I will come back to the book after a minimum of a week. That time gives the book some time to settle in my head.

Finally, taking long walks without listening to any music/podcast immediately after I have finished reading something important is a great way to allow the book to settle in my head. I don’t even force myself to think about the book – I just walk and let my mind wander.

In the next post in this series, I’ll talk about the tools I use to read.

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