‘Full fathom five thy father lies, of his bones are coral made. Those are pearls that were his eyes. Nothing of him that doth fade, but doth suffer a sea-change into something rich and strange.’ Or so it goes The Tempest, Act 1, Scene 2. If you are like me I had to read it twice, not because is old English or because it’s not my native language, but also because my attention span is in survival mode.
We spend a lot of our time reading stuff. I don’t have to tell you: social media, the news, app notifications, Instagram memes, Twitter, PDFs… you get the idea. Not only we jump from one type of context to another, but we also have all types of distractions along the way.
Distractions and superficial low quality content are more the norm that the exemption in all the media we consume theses days.
I’m amazed on how much time we spend thinking about nutrition and all the content written about it: vegan, low-carb, vegetarian, you name it. It’s not that I am against that, it’s that is surprising how at the same time we think so little about the information we consume.
I would argue that what we read directly affects our thoughts, our thoughts directly affects our emotions and our emotions directly affect how we experience life.
Wouldn’t be nice to do something to think more clearly and absorb and process ideas faster? For a fundamental investor this is of paramount importance. Let’s dive into it.
A Little Experiment
To just realize the magnitude of the problem I would suggest you start paying attention to a few things:
1) Pay attention to your train of thought for the next 15 minutes after consuming an Instagram post of the next travel influencer showing his life in Bali.
2) Now pay attention to the quality and intensity of your internal dialogue after reading a really good quality text, some good writer that you like.
It’s amazing how reading affects the quality of our thinking during the few minutes after we read some piece of information.
After we read something, our mind starts digesting the information. It’s like a machine gun of ideas, opinions, judgements, comments, it cannot stop so we better point it in the right direction.
After we read there’s like a halo effect. When you are reading a book by a good author you get the scent of the way that author thinks, you start having his/her internal dialogue in your head.
So, if reading is this important in the quality and the level of our thoughts why do we pay so little attention to the media or to the content we consume?
We Are “Junk Food Dieting” Our Reading
Remember the 80s and 90s when junk food was all over the place? You saw athletes promoting Mc Donald’s on TV and eating this type of food was cool. Of course after that, the healthy living trend kicked-off and healthy dieting became mainstream.
Sometimes societies take a little while to wake up to hard truths. Just watch doctors recommending Camel cigarettes on national TV.
We are reading like we were eating junk food in the 90s. We are having a binge of bad quality reading and we are not realizing how that is affecting the thinking that we have and in turn the quality of our lives.
You think I’m exaggerating? Take a look of all the studies that show how thinking and emotions influence not only our level of happiness but also our physical well being.
How to Conscious Read
We have to be REALLY aware of the quality of the writing we read. When you read a good book you get a valuable idea after another. You can tell because you forget about time. You are in flow.
Of course, assessing the value of what you read is totally subjective. A book its like a piece of a puzzle that only you is building in your own head about some topic. So the book or the information that fits into that puzzle will be unique to you.
If selecting reading material is so important, is there a way we could asses reading materials before allocating a lot of time to it? I believe there is. What I call conscious reading is precisely that, using different filters to evaluate and select your reading materials beforehand.
Step 1: Curate your books
Carefully evaluate what your are going to read and understand why you are going to allocate time to this task. You may have several options to find the information you are looking for. Curate your sources of information. Some aspects to consider:
A- Is the book mature enough. A book that stood the test of time has more chances of being good than a book just released. If it was published 50 years ago and is still useful It may still be useful for another 50 years.
B- Will you care about the information you are going to absorb in the future? 5, 10 years from now?
Be conscious about the purpose of your reading. Have a goal.
Step 2: Have a goal
Having a goal while you read will not only help you be more conscious on the quality of the material that you read but will also help you absorb more of what you are reading. Do you want to gain more knowledge in a topic in a general way and the book has the information that you have? Do you want to solve a problem and the solution is in the book?
If you take the time to write down your goal you will:
A- Have a laser focus in order to find the information you need. You may not even have to read the book at all.
B- Not only you will be saving time but you will also tell your brain in which folder or directory to store the information, so it will help absorb the specific knowledge you want to acquire.
Step 3: Preview and analyze the book
This is the most important part of the conscious reading process, once you have curated your sources and established a goal you can start previewing the book to understand if: a- it’s worth reading at all and b- if you are going to find the information you are looking for. To preview a book follow the these steps:
A- Get a sense of the structure of the book: take a look at the meta information of the book.
- Printing company notes,
- table of contents,
- the index at the back
- and the back cover of the book.
B- Try to understand the argumentative structure of the book: does the author begin showing a problem and a solution in the end? how does he supports the point he makes?
C- Look for important words, which are the concepts that the author repeats over and over again? Write down this words and try to find where they are.
D- Once you have a clear understanding a of the sections of the book, how is argumentative structure, which are the main words & concepts then you can start asking questions. Write down questions as if you had the author in frot of you.
Towards The Ideal Reading Material: A Measurement of Idea Density
As I mentioned before, each book or reading material is different fo every person. Not everybody is in the same stage of learning, not everybody will get the same value from the ideas in a book.
So, how can we measure the utility of the reading that we are doing in a pure quantitative way? Well, you could try to quantify the novel idea density. This metric would count how many new ideas are relevant to you only and divided by the number of words, the reading time or other metric that represents the total efforts dedicated to that reading in particular.
Now, what happens when you start reading a book?
Avoid the Course of Reading Inertia
Last but no least. When you start reading: how many times do you tend to keep reading even if the book is bad or just meh. When you start reading a book you enter an inertia that makes you want to finish what you started.
Well, I’m here to tell you that you can stop doing that. You cannot possibly read all the books in the world, so read something of value.
Get rid of that OCD of trying to finish every book that you start. If you did all the curating and previewing and then you find out that the author repeats the same concept over and over again then it’s ok to put it down. Don’t waste your time. Fine some other book that is more interest or that can add more value to your actual work.
Do this and you will be not only absorbing more knowledge and being exposed to more valuable ideas but you will also be making gains in the most valuable commodity of all, you will be earning more time.