Reading is to the mind,
what exercise is to the body.
Lately, my brother and I have been giving each other 30-day challenges to help break habits we’ve (often unknowingly) developed. So when admiring an impressive book collection at the hostel in Phuket I’m staying at, “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg naturally caught my eye.
Four days later
I’m 50 pages into the 300-page book. Which is a problem because I have 3 days left before my Thai Visa expires and I’d prefer not to “borrow” the book. It’s jam packed with juicy info which easily allows me to passively flip through pages drifting in and out of consciousness. Normally a book is never something I’m eager to hurry through but at this rate, I was considering “forgetting” to return it.
WWTFD – What Would Tim Ferris Do?
Committed to finishing the book before I left, I remembered hearing Tim Ferris mention he eats through 3 meaty books a week, so I decided to look into his methods.
Turns out, he created a 20-minute condensed exercise that he taught at Princeton University that explains his principles of speed reading, he calls it the “PX Project”.
I’m Under Average
Using the methods in PX Project to calculate my reading speed by words-per-minute (WPM), I found my average before the exercise was 180 WPM. That meant it would take 8 hours to complete the remaining 250 pages.
PX Project Results
As I laser focused through the 20-minute exercise, I tested my speed again: 320 WPM! Nearly doubled in half and hour, this stuff works! Of course, my comprehension suffered when first applying the techniques, but I can see how once they become ingrained into my natural reading process, comprehension could actually improve from my standard reading because it requires more direct focus.
With the new reading skills under the belt, I was committed to tearing through the remaining 250 pages – child’s play for some, but for me this would take some extra motivation. Fortunately, I was taking on this challenge with a book titled “The Power of Habit” so I simply applied the principles from the first 50 pages I had already read in building the habit of speed reading.
My Habit Loop for Speed Reading
In short, every habit works in a loop. There is a there is a cue, that trigger an action (the habit) then is reinforced with a reward. For me, choosing the reward wouldn’t be hard. I could see my latest divulgence within peripheral sight from my book, dark chocolate. The cue, to trigger my focus on the speed reading, would be the sight of chocolate behind every 10 pages. So seeing chocolate, triggered focus on speed reading, which was rewarded by eating that piece of chocolate. Not exactly a long term solution for developing this habit loop, but it would work for my short term experiment of testing new speed reading techniques.
Trigger/Cue: see a piece of chocolate 10 pages deep.
Routine/Action: the faster I read, the faster I get the chocolate.
Reward: eating the chocolate :)
3 Days Later
I finished the book. With the combination of Tim Ferriss’ techniques and Charles Duhigg’s understanding of how habits work, here are the results of my speed reading challenge:
23,400 words @ 334 WPM
774 words written
6 Squares of Chocolate – 100 calories
25,500 words @ 340 WPM
451 words written
1 Chicken Quesadilla and Cup of Coffee – 600 calories
24,900 words @ 332 WPM
30 minutes of writing = 1021 words written
5 minutes of rewarding = Banana Smoothie – 150 calories
1 hour 45 minutes
Divided fairly equal in 3 days, it took me 3 hours and 40 minutes to finished the book with an average of 335 WPM.
73,700 words read in 3 hours and 40 minutes
2246 words written in 55 minutes
~850 reward calories eaten
With the extra 4 hours I saved in finishing the book, I wrote this article in hopes to encourage others to do the same.
2 Weeks Later…
After eating up a few other books with these speed reading techniques, I noticed other areas in my life where the same principles made some significant improvements.