A story not exactly about speed reading

It has only been over the past couple years that I’ve realized that I’ve probably been battling depression my entire life. The wider my eyes are to this fact is giving me some new and interesting perspective on situations that come up. Depression, as you may know, likes to ebb and flow. I have gone months at a time without feeling the slightest pang of depression. And other times, I have felt it hang on me like a heavy blanket that I can’t shake. Right now, I’m feeling great and have been for a few months. Which is why I was able to find the humor quickly in this event I’m going to tell you about.

Speed Reading

I’m currently reading a book called 10 Days to Faster Reading. In each chapter of the book, it teaches you a technique to help you increase your reading speed. Then, it give you a passage to read and you’re supposed to time yourself as you read it. Each of the passages is about the same size and there’s a chart at the back of the book that lets you calculate your Words Per Minute speed based on the time it took you to read it. It also ask a series of questions about the passage so you can calculate your compression level. OK, great, I’m in. Let’s do this.

Before the book teaches you any techniques, it gives you a passage to read how you normally read so you can set a baseline to compare how the different techniques are helping. When I read the first passage, my scores were as I expected. Pretty bad. But hey, that just means the only way to go is up, right?

Over the next few days, I read the next couple chapters and took the ensuing tests. My scores improved each time. They looked like this:

  • Test 1: 2:20, 70% comprehension, 170 WPM
  • Test 2: 2:04, 80% comprehension, 200 WPM
  • Test 3: 1:36, 80% comprehension, 240 WPM

I’m not gonna lie, when I finished test number 3 and saw my score, I felt pretty darn good… for about 10 seconds. Then, my asshole brain kicked in.

Who doesn’t know about Michael Jordan?

If you were to ask me what the passage in test 1 or test 2 was about, I would have to open the book and go look because I have no idea. But, if you ask me about test 3, I can tell you it was all about the greatest basketball player of all time, Michael Jordan. Oh, I’m not a big basketball fan or anything, but I think it’s safe to say that nearly everybody knows who is and knows at least a couple of facts about the guy. (played on the Bulls, won a bunch of championships, etc). You know who else realizes that everybody knows who Michael Jordan is? My asshole brain, that’s who.

From now on, let’s just call my asshole brain “Steve”.

As soon as I saw my scores, “Steve” started chirping in my ear. “Sure you read this one quickly because you were familiar with the content.” and, “Of course you had a high comprehension level, you already knew half the facts they were talking about. You could have just guessed at the rest and done this well.” That good feeling I had after seeing my score was gone.

Later that day I was telling this story to a coworker and his response perfect;

Interestingly, I think what you’re mentioning is part of the skill set of being a speed(ier) reader. Your mind is better able to “chunk” info that it already has familiarity with.

He was spot on. It was exactly what I needed to hear and it did wonders at getting “Steve” to STFU.

Different mental state, different reaction

One thing I find interesting is how my current level of depression can dictate how I react to “Steve.” For instance, right now I’m in a really good spot. So, “Steve” chiming in and trying to ruin that good vibe was easily pushed aside simply by having a light-hearted chat about what my brain was trying to tell me and being able to quickly see that it was just “Steve” being an asshole. Whereas if I were in a lower mental state, no amount of convincing to the contrary would let me believe that I had actually made improvements.

I’m super thankful that on this occasion, I was able to see quickly that I was being tricked into negative thinking by “Steve.” It was almost like a light switch clicking on in my brain and “Steve’s” voice was replaced with a better one that said, “Hey, you did do something positive today. There is no reason for you to think otherwise. You should be proud of your improvement.”

I’m making an effort to document these events. The little wins. The times I beat “Steve.” Because I know there is going to be a time when his voice will be the loudest in my head. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll be able to re-read this post and remember that “Steve” is a fucking liar.

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