I was never very ‘good’ at reading. I’ve always claimed I had (self-diagnosed) dyslexia and still really struggle with spelling words out. My sister and I have gamified this by sending each other the words that are spelt so poorly that spellcheck doesn’t have a ‘suggested spelling’ (my latest entry was ‘exselarator’ instead of ‘accelerator’). Spelling has always been a nightmare for me. I don't think I passed one spelling test at school and it slowly started to erode my confidence.
There was this one incident when I was in early highschool. My English teacher, a rather scary woman with a short black bob and a big pointed nose (she reminded me of one of the witches from Roald Dahl's book) asked me to read out loud in front of the class. By this stage in my schooling, my objective in English was to be invisible so this exact thing wouldn’t happen. I can’t remember the finer details but I basically refused to read out loud (or couldn’t physically do it) and was reprimanded for doing so.
Moments like that slowly built up over the years to the point where I really didn’t consider myself very ‘smart’ at all. I found some relief at university because design school classes were mainly ‘practical’ and not ‘academic’. To this very day I still avoid doing the newspaper quiz with friends because it brings up feelings of inadequacy.
It’s taken me a long time to start thinking differently about myself. I was well into my 30’s when I finally started to see that my lack of confidence was something that I had control over. My whole life up until this point felt like I was being ‘marked’ right or wrong. All through school, University and then joining the workforce felt like a series of ticks or crosses. I never appreciated or understood that the journey of learning something new is where the value lies, not in the outcome.
I feel lucky that I had this insight sooner rather than later. I often ponder the thought of what my life may have looked like if I embraced my strengths instead of letting my weaknesses guide my decision making throughout school and uni. On reflection I existed in survival mode. I did enough to get through. The idea of learning for the sake of learning and that being an enjoyable pursuit seemed so foreign. Now I simply can’t get enough!
There is this point in learning now that I keep finding myself on the precipice of and I fricken love it! It's when you have read enough or listened enough or watched enough about a topic to learn the basics. So naturally you start to dig a little deeper. What you discover next is that you are only on the tip of an iceberg. There is so much more to learn that an entire lifetime dedicated to it wouldn't be enough to master it.
The more you learn the more you realise how little you know. That is such a humbling experience that you can then embrace the joy of learning rather than trying to achieve that illusive tick or cross.
Learning to play guitar has followed this path to the letter. I’ve finished my ‘guitar basics’ online course and it has just made me realise how many other chords, keys, strumming and fingerpicking styles there are. I haven't even played with a pick yet! While I feel like more of a beginner than ever before I can also see the progress I’ve made. The joy is in the journey.
This idea brings me full circle back to reading. Reading makes us smarter, more empathic, and more curious about the world. In BB#88 I had How to Be a Better Reader by Mark Manson as the ‘video of the week’ and I’ve found myself referring back to it several times so I thought I’d share his 5 tips that have given me so much more confidence in regards to reading, especially non-fiction which I love.
Cut out the inner monologue.
When we learn to read we sound out each and every syllable in a word. For example, you know what the word ‘incredible’ means just by glancing at it - you don’t need to sound it out ‘in-cred-i-ble’. This takes practice but it dramatically increases your reading speed.
Read with your finger.
This one sounds strange but it is surprisingly helpful. Our eyes jump all over the place when we are reading; how often do you reread the same line! If you use your finger to follow along under the line of text you are reading then it gives your eyes something to focus on. I tried this while reading a chapter book to Frank the other night and it really does help. However it's strange and I keep forgetting to do it!
Stop reading shit you don’t like.
For some strange reason (probably stems back to school days again!) we feel obligated to read each and every page of a book. We don’t watch a whole movie if it's crap, we stop watching a youtube video if it's boring, so why do we feel bad about stopping a book that we aren’t into it. If you read lots of the same type of non-fiction for example you’ll find that lots of the chapters are similar or repeat similar ideas. Skip these chapters. Mark suggests that most non-fiction books are glorified blogs and only 2-3 chapters are worth reading. If you read 10% of a book and you still aren’t feeling it then skip back to the table of content, find the chapters you are interested in and read those. The book should be serving you, not the other way around.
Schedule your reading
Reading is the easiest, most transportable hobby ever! All you need is consistency. An hour a day, every day will have you reading 10’s of books a year. Everyone wishes they read more, even people who read lots of books, wish they could read more! Removing the TV from our house has given me the evenings to read and I can’t get enough!
Read more than one book at a time
This one I’ve embraced wholeheartedly. I always felt I had to finish one book before I could start another. Now I have 3 books on the go at any one time. I have a design book (like a reference book), a nonfiction book and a fiction book (sometimes two) on the go at once. The beauty of this is you can read what you're in the mood for. I can read all three if I'm feeling indecisive or go deep into my fiction book if it's awesome. That happened this weekend with Honeybee by Craig Silvey. I read the whole book in two days. It’s such a good book!
When it comes to remembering what we’ve read, apparently highlighting and note taking are worthless - again this could be another hangover from school. If you want to remember something then you have to use it, it has to be useful to us. When you read a non-fiction book and learn something that changes your perspective it will change your behaviour.
Sharing what you have learnt is another way to help retain new information. This very blog you're reading right now was born from that notion. Understanding through articulation. If I digest the information then regurgitate it for another person (you) it is more likely that I will keep that knowledge in the bank rather than it fading as soon as I learn something else new.
I’ve never considered myself a smart person and now I don’t think it matters. I have super smart friends, intelligent friends and friends who are amazing at creating things. I have friends that are so generous with their time and selves that it blows my mind. Book smarts isn’t exclusive, it's for anyone who wants to talk about something they just found interesting or intriguing or upsetting even. Share it, no matter how much of a dummy you think you sound!