Speed reading is one of those things that, like sleep hacking, people with an interest in optimizing their lives tend to gravitate toward.
It’s easy to see why. People who are interested in optimizing their lives tend to be in love with self-improvement. The best path to self-improvement is learning. Learning means you need to absorb information. There are physical limits to the transmission and comprehension of sound and the comprehensible framerate of our vision has its limits as well – video and audio can only be sped up so much before we hit a wall. That leaves text as the most efficient medium for ingesting new information.
The thing is speed reading has a lot of unfounded cultural memes attached to it including being a scam, being an interesting but non-useful parlor trick like juggling or as being a magic thing existing only in the realm of the gifted or super-nerds.
It’s none of those. It’s not difficult and, though it does take practice, anyone can learn how to do it.
When you’re learning a new language immersion, exposure and practice are all extremely important. Unfortunately, when it comes to the standard system of classroom language learning or do-it-yourself book and audio programs, you don’t really get much of all three. As a result most people think the best way to learn a language quickly and effectively is to move to a country that speaks your target language.
What if you can’t reasonably do that though? While I think there are enough ways to travel cheaply that anyone who wants it bad enough can find a way, I recognize that not everyone can reasonably run off abroad to learn a language. So how do you find native speakers to practice with?
Thankfully the glory of the Internet provides plentiful opportunities to find a language partner or teacher, both locally and abroad.
Ah, the Hero Moment.
It’s so endemic to our storytelling, so ubiquitous and pervasive in everything – movies, TV shows, books, video games – that most people don’t even notice it even as it shapes their own understanding and expectations about their own lives. The Hero Moment meme seems built in to our way of thinking, whether genetic or just as a result of socio-cultural forces, and it directly interferes with our ability to do what we need to do in order to have the highest chance of success.
In other words, the Hero Moment is poisoning the way you think about life and making it harder for you to achieve your long term goals.
We want to stop that.
I’m certain my neighbors think I’m insane.
After all, on a fairly regular basis I can be seen strolling around the neighborhood talking to myself. However it’s not actually because I’m insane (though some people might contend that’s up for debate) – it’s because I’m practicing a second language using a tactic designed specifically to improve my fluency in production and speaking.
In the last Flow 101 article I explained exactly what flow is and how you can apply some of its principles to your work and life in general to make the things you do more engaging, fulfilling and enjoyable. The only catch is, what if your work is such that you genuinely can’t do anything to make it put you in a state of flow?
What if your work is so awful, or even so intentionally temporary (waiting tables for a Summer, etc.) that it’s just not ever going to provide an opportunity to be fulfilling no matter what you do? Further complicating matters what if, like most people out there including myself for the longest time,
you have no idea what it is you actually want to do?
How do you figure out what will really make you happy?
The flow test.
For a lot of people, work sucks.
It’s built right into our cultural perceptions and usage of the word. When there’s something you don’t want to do, or something that’ll be difficult and unpleasant what do we tend to say – that’ll be a lot of work. Clearly ‘work’ as a concept tends to have some pretty negative connotations.
That doesn’t have to be the case though and, personally, I think the world would be a better place if we could correct this issue. Work can be fun, enjoyable and positive. You can love your work again, or at least change your work to make it something you love by using a single principle as your guiding compass.
There’s something about sleep and sleep optimization that seems to captivate people in the productivity and lifestyle design communities. I suspect it’s mostly because people who are deep into lifestyle design also tend to be fairly ambitious and, as a result, the thought of spending less time asleep and having more time to accomplish things is tantalizing.
Our very first experiment in fact was with trying to switch to a polyphasic sleep schedule. I called it a success at the time, but I recognize now it was a failure.
I’ve not abandoned my interest in optimizing sleep though, and since then over time I accumulated a collection of methods for optimizing sleep that are backed not only by my own personal experiences, but more importantly by actual research.
Externally one of the most imposing aspects of learning a new language is the thought of tackling all that vocabulary.
If you’ve ever seen an unabridged Oxford English Dictionary, you know just how vast a lexicon can be. Grammar rules and even exceptions can be memorized easily and tend to be finite, learning a new writing system only takes 15 minutes or so, but there are hundreds of thousands of words out there. So how do you face this imposing wall of verbiage? How in the world can you possibly be expected to learn all of that in any reasonable amount of time?
That’s ok though, because you don’t have to learn everything.
There are a lot of reasons to learn a second language. These can range from the extremely practical (being relocated to a country for work that doesn’t speak your native language) to the extremely personal (you enjoy a good challenge and love to study new things) to comfortably in-between (you want to be able to make personal connections with speakers of another language or in another country).
Some people would say your reasons for learning a new language isn’t important. They’d say that every reason is perfectly valid as long as it inspires you to start learning. After all, everyone’s reasons are their own and who are we to judge and let’s all just hug and be happy.
Those people are imbeciles.
Imagine for a moment that you’re walking down a quiet street minding your own business when a car driven by a distracted teenager veers around the corner and up onto the sidewalk and clips you (don’t text and drive kids).
You tumble through the air and hit the ground in a heap a few yards away and the teen speeds off. You’re a bloody mess, and are barely hanging on to consciousness when you see a stranger running towards you. He runs up to you and kneels down.
“Wow, you’re really messed up,” he says. “Your one leg’s popped out of its socket, want me to put it back for you?”
“Are… are you a doctor?” you ask.
“No. But I’m a really nice guy.”