Reading your way to success

Books Stack Book Store  - EliFrancis / Pixabay

It is one of the most important habits you should gain. The majority of successful people are reading every day. Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet – just to name a few of the most prominent ones.

Start reading regularly now!

This message should reach as many people as possible. That’s why I put it there first. With reading, you are able to upload information to your brain within hours, information which could have taken the author of the book years to gain. If you think about it – this is so awesome. Reading enables you to take shortcuts in life. You can read about the mistakes and failures of others and don’t need to do them yourself. You are able to build upon the knowledge of others, combine it with your own ideas and come up with something completely new. 

Taking existing knowledge from others instead of reinventing everything from scratch is one of the fundamental principles why our society is advancing at such a high speed. If we had to reinvent the wheel over and over again, a lifetime would have never been long enough to accomplish things like flying to the moon or Mars.

If you want to change something in your life and enrich or improve it, you have first to acknowledge that all the things you know and the resulting actions have led you to the situation you are in right now. You have to bring in new knowledge to get a broader perspective. So don’t just read the news, often it is just a waste of time. Spend your reading time on topics that really help you to achieve your goals.

I want to give you an example from my life, which took me several years to realize. You see, also in this short article, there are already shortcuts for your life included. In my mid-twenties, I was heavily programming. I loved it and still love it. Programmatic thinking can enrich your life in so many ways. I’ll dedicate a separate article to this topic at a later point in time. At this phase in my life, I was also reading like in the previous years at school, but my reading was all about programming books. There was no room for anything else. On the one hand, this was a good thing because it made me a better software developer, but on the other hand, like anything in life, this came with a price: very narrow knowledge. I optimized my brain for programming tasks, and that’s it. Some years later, I started to read other literature as well again. Some people-management, self-improvement, and finance books were able to get me interested in reading books about other topics. Shortly after that, I made some more significant steps in my corporate career and launched a startup with a friend. I still believe that reading those books earlier could have sped up my career progress significantly.

If you got interested, here are some of the books I read at this time. If you have good knowledge in some of those areas already, then I would recommend different books, but for initiating a mind-shift, these books worked perfectly for me:

Don’t get me wrong, I think it is just beneficial to become an expert in one area, but mixing in knowledge from other domains will give you a huge advantage. E.g. combine programming with finance (-> fintech) or marketing (-> marketing automation).
But not just your career can improve from reading, also you as a human can, and be more fulfilled and live a happy life. I can just encourage you to read biographies of wealthy people, for example. You’ll see that money is not everything to become happy.

“The things you own end up owning you.”

Chuck Palahniuk

Find your purpose through reading:

“The two most important days of your life are the day you are born and the day you figure out why.”

Mark Twain

To get the most out of books, don’t just read them – use them.

Read the book’s summary, read the index, read and learn about the author to relate and combine information better. Read the last chapter first to see if the conclusions of the author make sense to you. Consider ditching bad books, don’t waste your time. Only read the chapters you are interested in and give you value. Write important facts and information into your journal (more on journaling and its importance in a later blog post). Reread books to get new insights. Make the read information stick in your brain, relate it to already existing information. Build a semantic tree of information (more on that later when I write about learning techniques). Ensure that you are awake and in a good mood for reading. Don’t just read something in bed to fall asleep more easily. For me this is quite an effective way to fall asleep quickly but it does not help you to remember the read information. Therefore I would recommend to avoid this routine and don’t train your brain to fall asleep when you start reading.

During reading ask yourself questions about the text to ensure you are not in zombie mode and can’t recall the last page you read.
Marking information in books can be helpful, but only if you do something with the marked sections, as I wrote above. The marking exercise itself doesn’t help you to remember that information better.
Physical books can help you retain information better than digital ones, simply because they are providing additional stimuli to your senses (the feeling in your hands, the structure of the used paper, it’s haptic, a special smell, the book’s weight, stains on pages, etc.). This is a huge benefit of traditional books but if you are traveling like me for example then e-books, of course, have some other great advantages.

Book Read Old Literature Books  - blende12 / Pixabay

At this point, I hope you understood how important reading is and also how to get the most out of it. But wouldn’t it be nice to read double the amount of books at the same time?
If you are like me and always look for ways to improve things and processes, then, of course, you’ll get to the speed reading topic at some point.
I can recommend the following book: The Speed Reading Book: Read More, Learn More, Achieve More by Tony Buzan

I’ve read several books and articles about speed reading, and I don’t want to hinder you from doing so, but essentially it boils down to the following things that help you to read faster:

  • Use a pacer.
    Remember when you learned reading and you used your finger to keep track of the read characters, words, and the actual line? At some point, teachers or parents stopped you from doing that. If you want to learn speed reading, you have to learn this again. Use a pacer like your finger. I use a pen for it because I can use it more accurately. The trick is to move the pacer with constant speed over the text. Your eye is trained to follow movements. The pacer ensures that your eye is following the tip of the pacer. Measure your reading speed without a pacer first and then repeat with a similar text length and a pacer – you’ll be surprised how much faster you are.
    An additional benefit, if you use a pacer speed that suits you, is that you will be less distracted while reading. Your brain can be more easily distracted if the cognitive load is not high enough. By increasing the reading speed with a pacer you ensure that your focus is not drifting away so easily.
    Remembering more by reading faster – isn’t that great?
  • Read words, not characters.
    Trust your brain. It has seen most of the read words already hundreds or thousands of times. You can go over the words quicker than you think. If you train this you can also read multiple words at once. At some point, you can use more of your peripheral vision also for reading.
    But don’t fool yourself with skipping words. Your reading comprehension will suffer in most cases by doing so.
  • Reduce eye movement.
    While reading your eyes perform a zigzag pattern from the beginning of each line to its end and then jump to the beginning of the next line. You can move the start and endpoints of each line a bit towards the line’s center. Start with a centimeter from the left and a centimeter from the right and increase over time. This goes hand-in-hand with the previous point. The more you improve your peripheral reading vision, the less eye movement for each line is required. This will give you additional reading speed.

There are some other more controversial aspects when it comes to speed reading. Some say that you have to avoid speaking quietly for yourself. Many people make tongue movements even when they are reading silently. I think you don’t have to give this topic much focus. Using a pacer and high enough speed will stop that quiet speaking habit at some point. You can’t talk as fast as your mind can read. The decoupling will happen at some point by itself.
Or for example, there are other suggestions to reduce the eye movement by not making a zigzag pattern and just read one line regularly and the following backward. By alternating the reading direction of each line, you avoid always jumping to the beginning of the line. Another method is reading two lines simultaneously with your peripheral vision. Or you can combine the methods also and read two lines regularly and the next two in the opposite direction. Those methods sound good, and I managed to apply them for simple texts, but the techniques have their limits, at least for me, with more complex topics and sophisticated literature. There, reading comprehension is suffering too much in my opinion. The first three methods always worked for me and are the most powerful ones. If you master them, you will definitely be able to read more in less time.

And last but not least, maintain a reading list. There are so many great books. Often you stumble over them also while reading other books. Just take a note and come back to that book at a later point in time.
This list also helps you to keep track of what you read and your progress.

Thanks for reading this article – I hope you enjoyed it and that it will help you in your future reading journey.

Leave a Comment