Personal Development

How to speed read anything

Knowledge is not power, it’s only potential power. It only becomes power when you use it.

Jim Kwik

We all try to speed read. We live in an information age where we’re continuously bombarded with information from emails, phones, websites, books, newspapers, advertising, television and so much more. The amount we’re required to process on a daily basis often leaves us overwhelmed.

We spend so much time trying to absorb this information but it makes little sense if we’re later unable to remember, let alone process or apply the things we learn.

Below are the 5 common obstacles that prevent us from reading effectively and techniques to help overcome them.

The 5 common obstacles that slow your read speed

  • Lack of education. Reading is a skill we all had to learn and, like any other skill, it can be improved. Since we first learnt, the quantity and difficulty of what we read has increased significantly while our reading skill level remained the same, so this requires the right training.
  • Lack of focus. I can’t be the only one who’s had to read and re-read multiple passages because I’ve been unable to focus. Most people read one word at a time which makes the process of reading much slower than when we talk, leaving our brain distracted and looking for entertainment and stimulation elsewhere. Faster readers have better comprehension because they’re more focused on what they’re reading. Put simply, increasing reading speed boosts focus and increased focus boosts comprehension.
  • Sub-vocalisation (or using your inner voice).  Are you aware of yourself mouthing or saying each word in your head as you read it? Doing this limits your reading speed to your talking speed, not your thinking speed.
  • Regression. To be efficient at reading, we need to make the most of the time we have to read. Going back to re-read whole sections is inefficient and prevents you progressing through your book.
  • Limiting beliefs. What are your limiting beliefs around your intelligence, your memory or your ability to read quickly? If you believe you’re unable to read any faster, you’ll subconsciously hold yourself back from increasing your reading speed and probably won’t even try to change it.
    • All behaviour is belief driven. If you think you can or you think you can’t, either way you’re right.

You can’t improve what you can’t measure. Here’s a quick exercise to assess your current reading speed.

  1. Pick up a book.
  2. Make a note where you’re starting to read from and time yourself reading for 60 seconds.
  3. Once the 60 seconds are up, mark where you got to and count the number of lines that you’ve read in that time.
    • To find your current reading speed, let’s calculate the words per minute base rate. Count the average number of words per line (most books have approx. 10 words in a line) and multiply by the number of lines you’ve read.
    • The average reading speed is between 200-300 words per minute. Make a note of yours.

Techniques to overcome obstacles to speed reading

To address lack of education around how to read correctly

  • Keep reading this article, easy.

To address lack of focus and regression

  • Use a visual pacer. This can be your finger, a pencil or pen, or your computer mouse. It’s anything that can help you focus on what you want to read.
    • Our eyes are naturally attracted to motion so use the pacer to underline each word as you read and allow your attention to be pulled through the information by the pacer.
    • Peripheral vision allows us to see a few words to the left and right of where the pacer points. So, once you get the hang of the technique, you won’t necessarily need to move the pacer all the way from the left to right margins because your peripheral vision will pick the words up.
  • Adjust your book position and maintain good posture. Resting your book flat on the surface in front of you makes the text appear smaller and encourages the body to ‘collapse’ and the diaphragm to compress as you lean over your book to see the words. Doing this reduces oxygen intake making people tire more quickly and lose focus. Instead, hold your book up in front of you to see the words more easily and help maintain a more upright posture that allows you to breathe in and out at full capacity.

To address sub-vocalisation

There are some hacks we can use to reduce sub-vocalisation.

Tip 1: Don’t move your lips while reading. Breaking this pattern through distraction helps, for example, chewing gum will help keep your mouth pre-occupied.

Tip 2: Count in your mind while reading. To interrupt your inner sub-vocalisation, count the words either out loud or internally as you read. This can be confusing at first but doing this means you can’t also sub-vocalise them in your head. As with anything, this takes practice so don’t expect to be an expert right away. You just need to be consistent about practicing it.

Now that we’ve covered the techniques, let’s see how our reading speed has improved.

  1. Picking up where you left off after recording your base reading speed, continue reading for another 60 seconds using some of the techniques above.
  2. Once the time’s up, count the lines you’ve read this time and calculate your new reading speed. You’ll probably find this has already increased significantly.
    • When you start practicing this technique, don’t worry about how well you understand what you read. Any new technique can take time to embed so practice the motion of following your visual pacer across the page to begin to get used to it. The goal is progress, rather than perfection. In time, you’ll find both your reading speed and comprehension improve significantly.