Many of us default to skim-reading when we’re looking for information – especially in digital format. Our eyes hungrily stalk out keywords and relevant text that will answer our questions as quickly as possible. Scanning itself is not a bad thing: it’s our brain’s way of sifting through the overwhelming amount of knowledge and data we have available to us, ie. the bottomless pit of the internet.
The problem surfaces when we skim-read too much.
Scanning text doesn’t give our minds the time to allow it to affect us – so it very literally cannot sink in. We’re not just talking comprehension, either. According to Maryanne Wolf, a famous scholar, professor and author, if we don’t read deeply and often enough, it can cause detrimental effects to our intellect, our emotions – even in how we perceive beauty in the world around us. Crazy, huh?
What is deep reading?
Deep reading or slow reading, is thoughtful, intentional reading, meant to gain deeper understanding, enlightenment, and enjoyment. Wolf believes deep reading is critical in the development of intellect, intuition, emotion, and perception.
- Internalizing knowledge and creating insights from readings
- The ability to creatively reason through analogy and inference
- Empathy and the ability to see things from another’s perspective
- Critical analysis and deciphering meaning
Why are we skim-reading all of a sudden?
But these days, who has time for deep reading?
Not only are there thousands of great books to choose from, but there are also millions of other content pieces (blogs, social media, emails, etc.) competing for our attention. Plus, squeezing deep reading between family, friends, work, and all our other responsibilities can feel nearly impossible.
So it makes sense that scanning is becoming the norm!
The problem is, reading, according to Maryanne Wolf, is not built-in by genetics, like vision or language are. Instead, our brains build connections over time to create a ‘reading circuit.’
This makes our reading circuits quite pliable.
Skim-reading changes how our brains process information
So, when we skim or speed read more than we deep read, we begin to affect those circuits, molding them to better serve our scanning preferences.
According to Patricia Greenfield, a UCLA psychologist, this means our brain will use less energy on the slower processes of deep reading, like inference, critical analysis and empathy – all vital human faculties that should be developed and continually evolved.
So that’s the tradeoff: by skimming we can certainly read more, but we’re are less affected by everything we read, and by the act of reading in general.
How to deep read
The only way to change how our brains process information, and how we are affected by it, is to practice deep reading. Much like meditation: it will take focus, discipline, and practice, but if you’re faithful and patient with the process, you will reap the results: a healthier mind.
So take a deep breath, grab a book (preferably hardcopy) and crack it open! Allow yourself to really read, and if your mind wanders, that’s okay. Just return to where you drifted away and try, try again!
To make it easier, follow these four steps:
- Pick a topic you’ll enjoy (fiction, non-fiction, romance – the etymology of bugs – whatever!
- Carve out 15 minutes during your schedule – day or night
- Read slowly and intentionally, and really allow the text to sink in
- Recount what you read out loud to exercise your memory – preferably with a friend!
Make time for deep reading for a healthier brain and a happier YOU!
If we value all the benefits that come from deep reading, we need to create a place for it in our lives, no matter how busy we are. Otherwise, our reading circuits will start to change, making deep reading more and more difficult.
So why not try deep reading today? Pick up that book you’ve been meaning to read, slip into it like a nice hot bath, and enjoy!