Learning to Let Go

You’ve probably been reading the same way for a long time—since you first learned how in elementary school, most likely. How can you convince your mind that it’s okay to let go of your old habits and make way for some new ones? Being able to “see” yourself reading fast in your mind’s eye is a great way to get your mind primed for learning these new habits.

I think about golf superstar Tiger Woods, who readily admits to using mental visualizations to secure his success. He says: “Visualization is a major part of my shot-making … it’s kind of a feeling thing that has been very effective for me during my recent swing change. Remember the visualization thing, it makes a huge difference in your performance.”

To help you implement a little of Tiger’s strategy, mentally create this scene:

Imagine yourself sitting upright at a clean desk or table with a book or magazine article in front of you. No distractions around. You are focused and concentrating on the material in front of you. Mentally answer the questions Why am I reading this? and What do I need it for? Then, place your finger on the page and pull your eyes down the page much faster than is comfortable and have fun doing it! You are amazed at how much you still understand. The reading piles are quickly gone or at least under control. You now find time for reading because you find reading effortless and relaxing.

Now let’s put the visualization exercise into real practice:

Set yourself up at a clean desk or table with a book or magazine article in front of you. No distractions around. You are focused and concentrating on the material in front of you. You mentally answer the questions Why am I reading this? and What do I need it for? Time yourself for 1 minute as you read, pulling your finger down each page quickly to glean a few ideas but not everything. Try to advance to a new page every 5 to 10 seconds. Mark where you started and stopped. Write down what you think you read about.

Did you have fun? Did you surprise yourself at how much you were able to write down? Whatever your experience, at least you got started on seeing yourself reading in a new way!

Taking Short, Frequent Breaks

When you first take up running as a form of exercise, you typically don’t (or can’t!) run for long stretches without a break. You may even start to run for just 100 yards, walk for 200 yards, run for 100 yards again, and so on. Every time you run, you get a little better, and go farther without taking a break.

The same is true for speed reading. When you first start, you may only be able to go a few paragraphs and then need to or naturally slow down. You resume your speed reading efforts again after a short break or after a few lines of reading in your “normal” way. The more you practice this way, the sooner you are able to go longer stretches without needing a break.

When you’re more skilled in speed reading, still take frequent 5-minute breaks every 30 to 60 minutes to give your eyes and brain a break. They need this time to assimilate all you’re reading and gather energy to continue.

There is no one best way to read, just the way or ways that works best for you!

Reading Horizontally and Vertically

The most skilled speed readers can quickly read across lines horizontally and read several lines vertically in one glance. Their peripheral vision is very wide, and they can pick up a lot of information in a glance.

Peripheral vision is what your eyes see outside their central area of focus. You can widen your central area of focus because of your peripheral vision.

speed reading photo

As you begin to break out of the word-for-word habit (if this is your issue), you’ll start seeing more words in a glance horizontally. As you continue to read wide horizontally, you can then work on stretching your vision vertically. The easiest material to play with is anything with narrow columns, or about six words per line, such as newspaper or magazine columns.

The Value of Comprehension

Speed reading without comprehension is called speed looking. To learn to speed read, you need to separate comprehension from speed development. This can be difficult, especially when you’ve been taught to read every word and if you don’t understand it, go back and reread it. I encourage you to not read every word and to learn to be comfortable without comprehension, temporarily.

Speed Tip

Vertical peripheral vision typically doesn’t take place without horizontal vision, so work on that first.

Comprehension isn’t the only thing affected by speed. The faster you read, the more you have to concentrate. Think about it. When running, you have to focus more on where you’re going than you do when you’re walking. When you’re driving really fast, you have to focus more on where you’re going than you do when you’re driving slowly. The same is true with reading. You immediately reduce daydreaming and concentrate more the faster you go.

As a result of your improved concentration, you have a stronger chance of better comprehension. And with better understanding comes a much higher chance of retention.

Speed Secret

Faster reading speed leads to more concentration, which leads to more comprehension, which leads to stronger retention.