Absorbing Information The Efficient Way: Reading Guide

Effective reading begins with mental preparation.

The mental preparation makes sure you are ready to welcome and retain the new information.

1. Crave New Wisdom

The End Wisdom Justify the Means

Craving new wisdom is easy.

Accepting that new wisdom no matter what can be more difficult than it can seem at first.
It’s not even just a question of habit. It’s about fully internalizing the “learner mindset” and refraining from our most natural animal spirits.

When we read something we don’t like, we experience cognitive dissonance (Festinger, 1957) and our natural reaction is to discard or attack the new source.

When we don’t like someone, we experience a natural pushback to whatever he says.

Here are some examples:

Don’t Let Bad Apple Spoil The Bunch

  • Tony Robbins’ nonsense

Tony Robbins in his Personal Power II talks about some law of attraction nonsense and he has some silly things to say about financial investment.

If I had let that one take away from the overall message, I would have lost on an otherwise breathtakingly beautiful program.

Don’t Let The Bunch Spoil Good Apple

  • 12 Rules For Life religious zealot

Sometimes it’s the opposite.

Sometimes the gold nuggets are to be picked among tons of stones. The book 12 Rules For Life is too convoluted and packed with Bible references that go nowhere.

It’s also quite right-wing. I read the Financial Times’ review and The Guardian’s summary before reading the book: both highly scathingly negative and derisive.

When I read 12 Rules For Life I realized the reviewers… Were kinda right? But they also completely missed the genius in the book. And there’s quite a bit of it!
They allowed the bunch to spoil the few amazing apples.

Don’t Let Bad Trees Spoil The Apple

  • Robert Kiyosaki snake oil

Sometimes you don’t really like the producer of the apples.

My instinctive reaction to Robert Kiyosaki after I uncovered a few murky moral spots was to immediately reject him and shut him down.

But his book Rich Dad Poor Dad has some simple yet groundbreaking content.
By dividing the message from the messenger I was able to fully internalize some powerful mindsets.

Attention, this doesn’t mean you lower your standards for the people around you or lower your BS scan.
It only means that you filter in the great insights no matter where it comes from and no matter what else it comes from.

2. Open Yourself To Be Changed

There’s No Growth Without Change

When we encounter content that goes against our worldview, values, or current knowledge we experience cognitive dissonance and the immediate reaction is to push back and hold to our current state.

That’s particularly important for those who, like me, are mismatchers (looking for opposing information) and highly critical thinkers (looking for holes and counterarguments).

One of the reasons I’m good at doing social dynamics breakdowns is exactly because of that: my natural tendency is to look for holes and inconsistencies, which helps me see when someone is full of “it”.

Approaching a book with that mindset, though led me to look for ways to tear a message apart instead of learning from it.
I didn’t eradicate my BS detector: it’s what makes me a great book reviewer.

But I also force myself to be open to being changed while looking for new wisdom.
I’m not saying that I am always successful, but it helped me hugely.

Be Open to Disturbing Content

A special mention goes to “disturbing content”.

This is content that hurts us because it reminds us of how we’re not doing what we’re supposed to be doing, how we’re missing out in life, or how we’ve wasted so much time in the past with wrong decisions.

It’s imperative you move past the first natural pushback here.

3. Prepare Your Mind To Absorb Information

Before starting a book I browse the synopsis, read the whole table of contents and even quickly scan a summary of that book.

Sometimes I might even read a few reviews.

It doesn’t take long, but why doing it all?

Because when you don’t prepare yourself, your brain is taxed with the complex task of making sense of things as you go.
Your brain needs to understand what’s the topic, what’s the overarching message each section builds to and what’s the point with all the seemingly unconnected stories.
That’s why sometimes people really get little from a wisdom-packed book: because they didn’t prepare in advance and it was simply too much for them.

When you already have a general idea instead the brain is better prepared to absorb, make sense and retain that knowledge.
It knows which area of previous knowledge or experience it can activate, it understands where each individual part is moving towards.
And it can guess in advance what’s the point of that long a*s story the author wants to surprise you with.

Reading Quickly

Here are a few tips to churn through a high number of books quickly:

1. Read Everywhere

Some people suggest finding a time and place where you read as that will solidify your habit. I say that’s BS.

Your time and place to read are everywhere and at any time.

I read before going to bed. I often read while I eat as well (not I’m not that crazy, sometimes I just listen to music and dance between morsels).

And I take it with me whenever I travel. Too early at the airport or was the flight delayed? Great, I love it, best time to read!
Some asshole is pulling a power move on you and making you wait..? No problem, not gonna waste my time fiddling my thumbs.

I always have an audiobook on my mobile and always take earphones with me.
They are noise-canceling earphones, which means I can listen to books while I walk around traffic or as I’m on a bus -and without the need to pump that volume to ear-damaging levels-.

At home, I have two portable speakers that I connect with Bluetooth to my phone.
So when I’m in the bathroom flossing, I’m listening to audiobooks.
When I’m eating -if it’s not something too crunchy and noisy-, I either call home or, you guessed it, listen to a book.
When I’m going through my stretching and exercising routine at home… I listen to audiobooks.

Some time ago I had started to switch the speaker from remote when I’d wake up so that I’d use those 10 minutes where you just lie in bed doing nothing (but I stopped it: that’s my time to think and be grateful now).

Of course, don’t go thinking I’m this monster of efficiency: plenty of times I slack off. Too many times. But I often remind myself I need to demand better of myself and the less I use those downtimes, the dumber I’ll be. And then I force myself to tune in.

2. Leverage Audiobooks

I listen to audiobooks at faster the normal speed so I can read more in less time.

I try to go as fast as I can manage while still understanding the message.

I also earmark important parts so that when I summarize them, I can re-listen to those key parts without listening to the whole thing again. This is the equivalent of highlighting on an audiobook basically.

Unluckily I haven’t yet found a highly efficient equivalent for the audiobook version of a note.
A nice feature would be an app allowing you to record your voice and insert it in the audio file, but I haven’t found any for that (if you did, shoot me a message :).
Therefore, as of today, I jot down a few lines on an Evernote file on my phone for anything I absolutely want to keep top of my mind.

To play the audiobooks I use an app called Audipo. I chose it because it was the only one that allowed me to go faster than 2x.

Speed Training

At times I’m reading a book that is very easy, or I’m listening to a book a second time for a recap.

Or I might have forgotten to load a new one so I have no other options. I use these instances as “speed listening training”.
Since full understanding is not a top priority anymore, I go slightly faster than I could otherwise so that I can train my ear to discern words faster.

Technical Tips

And here are more of the actual mediums I use:

Leveraging E-Readers

I highlight and take notes as I read.

Something that clicks and makes huge sense, I write “booom” in the notes.
Some amazing insight, I write “genius”.
Something good, I write “that’s true”.
Something personally, I write “this is something you do / this is you”.
If there’s something I want to double-check, I write “check it”, and that means I’ll google that information later.

Then I copy-paste the highlighted parts on a Word file and that’ll form the basis of my summary.

I also learned and applied some speed reading techniques (I was particularly slow before).

About the reader as a device, I used to have a Sony and now got a Kindle. My next one will be a Sony again because Epub are easier to find compared to Mobi and I save time in converting formats.

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