“Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.”
- Harry S. Truman
You have probably heard this quote, or were told something similar growing up. The idea that, in order to obtain any level of intelligence or success above the average, was engrained into my continuously developing and malleable brain at an early age. Albeit, taking that information and looking back after all this time, I wouldn’t consider any of my previous versions of myself a “reader”.
Reading was boring. Not only because the required readings for class didn’t peak my interest, but also because it took too long. I’d find myself day-dreaming halfway through each page, not able to retain anything I just read and forced to read back through the same page with a concentrated focus to try to remember what was being read.
So, what could be done? How could I transform myself into a reader, which, based on the aforementioned adage of all leaders and successful people being readers, I needed to do. “Oh! The new year is only several weeks away. I know what to do! I’ll set a goal for the new year to read one book each month. Yes, that’s totally doable!”
Well, one month into the new year and 35% into the first book of the year, it was sufficient to say that that goal was short-lived. What then? I stuffed the idea of turning myself into an avid reader behind self doubt and brushed off the failure of that goal by telling myself things, such as “I was incredibly busier than expected this month between work and other hobbies that I just didn’t have the time to read as often as I’d hoped.”
Now that’s a word that will surely get me nowhere. Action and accountability are what I needed, not “hope”.
Fast-forward to 2021. I’m 26 years old and doing my best to experience the world, listening to varying points of view outside of the scope of my own biases and opinions, and trying to figure out the next steps on my journey throughout this life. I stumbled upon [Tim Ferriss’s blog post] on speed reading and figured, “let’s give this another shot; Maybe if I could read faster, I would read more.”
Six weeks and 6 books later, I realized I am now a reader. AND, I not only am a fast reader, but I actually enjoy reading.
Chris, get to the point and teach me how to increase my reading speed…
Let’s get to that. But, I have to preface the following by saying that this is in no way new material that I am providing to you. This material is from a study called The PX Project and I learned about it from a Tim Ferriss
Ask yourself – How much more could you get done if you completed all of your reading in 1/3 or 1/5 of the time?
According to Tim and the PX Project, increasing reading speed is a process of controlling fine motor movement – period.
This 3-hour cognitive experiment produced an average increase in reading speed of 386%.
The experiment put speakers of five different languages to the test and even showed shocking results for dyslexics, who were trained to read technical material at a rate of more than 3,000 words-per-minute (wpm), or 10 pages per minute. One page every six seconds. By comparison, the average reading speed in the United States is 200-300 wpm, or ½ to 1 page per minute, with the highest 1% of the population’s readers averaging over 400 wpm.
Understanding several basic principles of the human visual system and eliminating inefficiencies is the key to increasing reading speed while simultaneously improving retention.
Before starting this exercise, you will need:
- A book with a fairly consistent amount of words per page
- A pen or other utencil to trace your reading
- A timer or stopwatch
- 20 minutes for one session
Let’s talk about the fine motor movements behind reading. To do this, close one eye and place a finger over that same eyelid. Now, slowly scan the wall or space in front of you horizontally from left to right. You will notice your eyes don’t move linearly, but instead in distinct and separate ‘jumping’ movements. These movements are called saccadic movements and are essentially snapshots of the area of focus as you scan the wall.
Each of these movements lasts approximately ¼ to ½ seconds, or roughly the size of a quarter at 8-inches from the reading surface.
The solution then, is to increase reading speed by eliminating unnecessary saccadic movements for regression and back-skipping.
According to The PX Project, an untrained individual engages in regression (conscious rereading) and back-skipping (subconscious rereading via misplacement of fixation) for up to 30% of total reading time.
Through conditioning drills, subjects increased horizontal peripheral vision span and the number of words registered per fixation (saccadic movement). This is because untrained subjects use “central focus” but not their horizontal peripheral vison while reading, foregoing up to 50% of their words per fixation (the number of words that can be perceived and “read” in each fixation).
The PX Project protocol teaches you 1) Technique, 2) Application of techniques through speed conditioning, and 3) testing yourself for reading comprehension at increased speeds.
Your focus throughout technique conditioning should not be for comprehension and instead should be focused on training your horizontal peripheral vision span to register more words per movement. Do your best to separate reading comprehension and conditioning exercises.
The general rule of thumb is to practice technique at 3 time the speed of your target reading speed. Therefore, if your current reading speed is 300 wpm and your target speed is 900 wpm, you will practice technique and 2,700 wpm.
The goal of this is to determine your baseline reading speed. Determining the baseline is critical for setting an obtainable target reading speed.
Mark your starting point in the book and read for 1 minute. You will be reading for comprehension, so try not to inflate your actual baseline by reading faster than you are able to comprehend. At the end of the minute, mark your end point in the book.
To calculate your current reading speed, count the number of words per line, for 5 lines. Divide that number of words by 5 to reach the average number of words per line. Round the number to the nearest integer.
Example: 64 words / 5 lines = 12.8 words per line. (rounded to 13 wpl)
Now, count the number of lines you read and multiply by the average number of words per line to get your baseline words-per-minute.
Example: 24 lines x 13 words per line = 312 wpm
Use pen as a tracker. Comprehension should not be the focus. Speed should be 1 line per second. Yes, read, but focus on maintain the speed of 1 line per second over comprehension.
Repeat the last technique, but now increase the speed to 2 lines per second. The focus here is to train your perceptual reflexes. It is expected for little to no comprehension to occur. That’s okay, because the focus should be on maintaining speed and conditioning your perceptual reflexes. Do your best to maintain focus on the exercise and quickly correct if you find your mind wandering.
Untrained readers spend 25-50% of their time “reading” contentless margins while reading from the first word of a line to the last. The idea with perceptual expansion is to increase the amount registered content outside of your primary focal area at any given moment.
Think of it this way:
Focus on the bold word in this sentence. Notice how you can perceive and register 1-2 words on either side of the emboldened word. The idea of this exercise is to facilitate adaptations in your visual system to increase the amount of registered content in your peripheries.
Use the pen to track your pace while reading for 1 minute. Although this time, start 1 word in from the left and end 1 word from the right. Do not be concerned with comprehension during this exercise. Maintain a speed of 1 line per “one-one-thousand” and stop once your timer reaches a minute.
Complete the same exercise, but this time you will start 2 words from the left and end 2 words from the last word on the right. Again, do not focus on comprehension and maintain a speed of 1 line per second.
This is similar to the previous technique, although your timer will be set for 3 minutes and you will begin tracking with your pen from the 3rd word of each line and end at the 3rd to last word of each line. Maintain a speed of 2 lines per second.
It is expected that some will comprehend nothing at all. Remember, the purpose of this exercise is to facilitate adaptations in your visual system to increase the amount of registered content in your peripheries. Focus on maintaining a speed of 2 lines per “one-one-thousand” and use the tip of your pen as a cursor for your eyes to follow.
Set the timer for 1 minute and mark your starting point with a pen. Begin reading at your fastest speed for comprehension and stop once the timer stops. Use the same calculations that were used to determine your baseline reading speed and multiple the number of lines read by the previously calculated words-per-line to get your new words-per-minute.
That’s it! You have completed a cursory overview of the techniques used to improve human cognition, per the PX Project. Assuming you followed the given techniques and exercises, you should notice a sizable improvement in reading speed for comprehension.