If you have a hard time learning new things, don’t give up. Learn to learn. Learn to learn better.
A small confession: I was a slow reader until I was 27. This issue was a massive issue for me in high school and just as slow in university. So what changed when I was 27? I realized that I wasn’t bad at reading. I was terrible at reading, on paper. I read an article* citing an exciting study about how people who have Dyslexia may read better while using a backlit screen.
This concept was the most obvious thing in the world once I had read it. I read it on my computer without an issue. I had been reading computer screens for quite a while, and I did not have any problems. I had been missing out on reading books because they were paper. But they have them on devices now.
A straightforward idea changed my world. What could I read that might help me to read even better? To learn better? To be better?
* I lost the article, unfortunately.
Neat link: A web page that simulates Dyslexia
📚Learn to Read Better
One day while browsing Reddit, I came across a comment about game-changing improvements. One of the references he made to was Remember Everything You Read: The Evelyn Wood 7-Day Speed Reading and Learning Program. I’ll admit that all the concepts didn’t sink in at first. How do I remember everything I have read about a program that teaches me to remember everything I read?
After reading this book, my Words Per Minute (WPM) of reading immediately climbed from around 130 WPM to 230 WPM. That’s an increase of 100 WPM, and I was still comprehending the same amount of content. Not bad.
My challenge goal for that year on Goodreads was ten books. I crushed it at 26. But is reading faster really the same as reading better? Well, technically, no.
While listening to The Tim Ferriss Show podcast, guest Kevin Systrom mentions the book How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren. Kevin Systrom mentions how reading from the first word to last is not the correct way to read a book.
I wish that book sooner. How to Read a Book breaks down the ability to read into four levels. The first, “Elementary Reading,” most people learn in school. The second, “Inspectional Reading,” what Kevin Systrom mentions on “The Tim Ferriss Show” podcast, is the level with which most university students or researchers are familiar. Steps include inspecting the table of contents and summaries.
This book was my introduction to “Analytical Reading.” The art of not only reading words but in understanding the content and even questioning and critiquing it.
The most important thing to remember about any practical book is that it can never solve the practical problems with which it is concerned. […] a practical problem can only be solved by action itself. […] Nothing short of the doing solves the problem. — Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren
One of the lines that stuck out to me is that practical problems require practical solutions. Obvious, right? Except I had spent a lot of time reading technical books and never actually doing the tasks in it. You’re not done reading a book until you’ve done the actions required to finish it.
🎓Learn to Learn Better
Okay. So you can read to read better. What else can you pick up?
For those of you who are Software Developers, you might know and appreciate The Pragmatic Programmer: From Journeyman to Master* I am a big fan of it, and its writers.
When I found out Andrew Hunt wrote an entire book on improving your ability to think and learn, I jumped at my chance to read it. Pragmatic Thinking and Learning: Refactor Your Wetware by Andy Hunt is a bit out of date. In a good way. The concepts Andy brings forth are ahead of their time.
Pragmatic Thinking and Learning was released in 2008, when iPhone was a year old. In it, Andy recommends running a Wiki on your palm pilot. He names this his “Exocortex” (Exo meaning External, and Cotext meaning Brain). Now, there are a plethora of apps to do this for free. Evernote (2008), OneNote (2010**), Bear (2016), and Notion (2017) would all eventually follow.
Andy goes into great detail, explaining not only the R- and L-Modes of the brain but also in how to use them. He introduces you to cognitive biases and helps expose “hardware bugs,” all while using very software-development oriented metaphors.
One thing that you’ll learn quickly from this is that your brain is, unfortunately, a part of your body. If you’re like me, you probably forget this often. Treating your body right is of great importance if you want to continue using what you just learned about learning. I’d recommend checking out The Healthy Programmer for more tips on that.
** Technically, OneNote was available on Windows CE devices, but who actually used those? Comment below if you remember those things.
Tool Sharpening is a common idiom. If you want to be a better developer, learn more about architecture and design patterns. If you want to be a better programmer, learn more about the programming language and your IDE. Taking a step back, what tools should you learn to learn better?
Being able to learn better is an important step that I feel a lot of people miss. Learning to read better was a game-changing step in my life that led to even more changes. Reading to learn better has allowed me to learn so much more than I would otherwise be able to.
What books have you read that changed your life, professionally or personally? What critical skills did you improve that you didn’t think could be improved? I want to hear from you.