- Why The Way We Read Sucks, And How To Fix It: Part 1
- Why The Way We Read Sucks and How to Fix It: Part 3 — The Unified Reading Process
- Why The Way We Read Sucks and How to Fix It: Part 4 — Why SRS Personal Development Books?
- Why The Way We Read Sucks and How To Fix It, Part 5: Examples Shown and Questions Answered
- The Wait That Kills: Before You Pwn Books, You Must First Own Books
- All Reading Is Skimming
This is the fourth article in an ongoing series. To read this series from the beginning, go here.
Now that we’ve talked about the Unified Reading Process (check out the previous article in the series) in general, let’s take a little walk down Specificity Lane. The following advice probably applies to all kinds of books, but I’ve written it from the specific perspective of personal development/business books, which account for most of my reading right now.
Funnily enough, the methods I am going to share with you in this and future articles seem to be on their way to allowing me to read less and less of this type of book: since SRSing allows me to remember so much of what I’ve already read, there’s no need to buy any old (unoriginal, low-quality, or simply well-promoted) personal development book just for “review” or a “motivitational boost”.
The personal development (PD) genre is as popular as it is despised…the reasons for that are interesting and warrant their own article. But for now, let’s keep to the topic at hand.
By way of note, for the uninitiated, an SRS is a smart electronic flashcard system.
OK, here we go!
Anyone can read a good PD book and be at least temporarily inspired to alter her behavior…but what about 7 days, 7 weeks, 7 months and 7 years later?
Perhaps you can’t always be surrounded by positive people, but you can at least have positive books. And that’s almost as good. The key is that contact with the information in these books be:
- Frequent or otherwise of a nature that will change your behavior for the better.
- But also not so frequent that you go numb to it (see: “quotes pasted on wall” for details).
- Available to you whenever pertinent situations arise — the good ideas you come across need to be immediately available to you in a form such that action is possible. Since, fundamentally, you can only act based on the information you have in your head, these ideas, this information, effectively also needs to be in your head if it’s to be of any value. When you’re dealing with a jerk, you’re unlikely to have your trusty, well-underlined copy of How To Deal With Jerks handy — but you still need to act.
Of course, there are some exceptions; we’re speaking very generally here.
One is reminded of that rather sinister-sounding quote by Lenin (?apparently?):
“A lie told often enough becomes the truth” .
Human beings’ judgment of the correctness of many ideas appears to be determined in large part by exposure count. Expose yourself to a quote, an idea, a product enough times, and it becomes part of your reality; it becomes part of your choice-set; it becomes “true”…regardless of actual veracity or quality.
It’s a lot like how advertising works — Coca-Cola doesn’t ceaselessly advertise that strange, corrosive beverage of theirs in order to tell you it exists — we all know it exists — they advertise it to you in order to alter your environment, your psychology, and therefore your choices. These frequent “nudges” seem to be what’s needed to push human beings over the edge.
I mean, you didn’t think all that money was being spent on advertising with no real idea whether it worked or not, did you?*
*I guess this did happen during the “Dot Com Boom” but…then again (at the risk of “interpreting the results to fit the theory”) while many of the Dot Coms spent a lot of $$ advertising, they didn’t continue the onslaught for years on end, plus they didn’t give their products and business models time to mature. Internet or no Internet, things like that still seem to take a few years. Not that I really know, but…
A lot of the ideas we come into contact with in our daily lives are, at the very least, half-truths; they also tend to be of a negative, destructive, or otherwise unproductive nature. Turn on the news, a movie or a pop song, and you’re likely to be assaulted with a stream of incredibly repetetive, low-quality assumptions about life and human capability, wrapped in an immensely entertaining package, sort of like junk food for the mind: tastes great, widely condoned, kills, and it’s mostly high-fructose corn syrup anyway. Personal development books, at their best, are collections of better ideas, better techniques, better alternatives for working our lives. Better food for the mind. And if some people accuse you of mental orthorexia? Well, stupidity and blindly following the crowd tend to be their own “punishment” (said in menacing tone), in the long run.
The more we can expose ourselves to these better ideas…the better. And in my brief experience on the topic, I’ve found that it’s not enough to just have vaguely remembered inklings of certain ideas — it seems like it’s important to re-view them somewhat more fully, more directly. Basically, “repetition is the mother of skill“, if you will. You can’t just have seen that Coke ad once. In fact, I read somewhere that a typical consumer needs to be exposed to an ad about 7 times before they actually make the purchase. Magic number, I know. But clearly, either way, what we’re dealing with is not an inherent property of advertising, but of the relationship between human beings, ideas and action.
So, rather than passively receiving other people’s advertising your messages, why not “advertise” to yourself the ideas that you like and find important? That’s the basic idea. If we want to change our habitual behavior, then it comes as no surprise that we may need some level of habitual expsosure to the behavior-changing ideas.
Another problem I found with not SRSing or otherwise broadly reviewing personal development books, was that my behavior and opinions would become completely biased in the direction of whichever author I was currently reading. Of course, there is some good in this. But the problem with being so totally saturated in one author’s world is that one inherits all her blindspots and biases as well. Much good can be gained, but much good also gets lost, ignored, or replaced by the bad-to-mediocre.
Intellectually, we all know that no single author is going to have the fullest, best answers on every issue. But recency can blind us to this in a practical sense. SRSing information allows your techniques and philosophy to remain a unique, well-balanced amalgam of all the good stuff you’ve been exposed to: your very own syncretic approach, taking the best from wherever you find it — like a mental file that is actually appended to, not just constantly overwritten.
But, at the end of the day, I don’t really know, it’s all really experimental . Maybe you can pick up on some of these ideas, and take them somewhere interesting.
I really hope this has helped you…it may just be me going off on a personal tangent. Anyway, let me know…gently …
In the next article in this series, we’ll cover some practical elements of this SRSing-beyond-pure-language-learning business (including demonstrating some actual SRS cards), as well as answer some pertinent questions. If you have anything you want answered, now’s the time to put it forward. It may or may not get dealt with, but, you never know until you try, right?