Thursday, June 3, 2021

Review: Limitless, by Jim Kwik

In the Netflix documentary Inside Bill's Brain: Decoding Bill Gates, the narrator says Gates reads 150 pages per hour.

I'm totally jealous of that. Other people may be jealous of his wealth, but I'm jealous of his ability to absorb and digest information that fast. That's a superpower. With it, anyone can be successful.

I'm now developing that superpower, thanks to Jim Kwik's 2020 book Limitless: Upgrade Your Brain, Learn Anything Faster, and Unlock Your Exceptional Life. What's amazing is how trivially simple and effective the method is. The book is fantastic, a very easy read.

I found the book this weekend at my parents' house while visiting them in West Virginia. They were reading it as part of maintaining mental fintess in their 80's, which is what makes it relevant here.

Looking over the table of contents, I saw that chapter 14 was "Speed Reading". I thought, yes, I can use that! I read somewhere between 30-40 pages per hour.

So I read chapter 14, then used the method to read the rest of the book cover to cover. It worked amazingly well.

One of Kwik's premises is that many of our basic learning skills are things we learned at a young age, and never learned to advance them.

My interpretation of that is it's like we learned to read early in elementary school using training wheels to help, but then no one ever removed the training wheels. As we grew older and matured, we naturally improved, got better and faster, but were eventually limited by those training wheels.

Kwik removes the training wheels.

The book follows the typical self-help formula, with the author's story (the hero's journey), anecdotes about the people he's helped, explanation of why you should pay attention to what he has to say, and the actual methods and advice.

His methods are full of practical, actionable techniques. They cover memory, studying, note taking, focus, and of course speed reading (which should have been chapter 1 or 2, not 14, since you need it for the rest of the book!).

He covers the Pomodoro method for time management and to allow your brain to rest and consolidate information.

Another of his premises is that the brain is like a muscle, and skills like these are things that can be developed with practice, exercise, and proper rest, just as muscles can be developed with practice, exercise, and proper rest.

It's not that someone is inherently a fast or slow learner or reader and can never improve. It's that they simply need to be shown the methods and put them into practice, and they will improve.

I won't steal his thunder or his income by telling you the methods. The book does an excellent job of motivating and describing them, in an easy-to-follow form. I already use a few of them, so that was enough to convince me the others are worth trying.

The book is a worthwhile investment of your time and money. For the price of a lunch or two, you can use this information to truly advance your capabilities.

You might even change your life.

My return trip home consisted of two flights, an hour and twenty minutes for the first, an hour and fifteen for the second. I had brought two books by Dr. Herbert Benson to read over the trip, The Breakout Principle: How to Activate the Natural Trigger That Maximizes Creativity, Athletic Performance, Productivity and Personal Well-Being, 2003, and Relaxation Revolution: The Science and Genetics of Mind Body Healing, 2010.

I had read his 1975 book The Relaxation Response a couple weeks before (how to call up on command a calming response to counteract our reflexive fight-or-flight response when you experience immediate or long-term stress).

At the start of the trip, I was up to page 182 of the first book. On the first flight, I read the remaining 106 pages. Given that flight time includes ground time and air time, with announcements and settling in, I spent roughly an hour of actual reading time. So I read roughly at the rate of 100 pages per hour.

That's somewhere between two and three times my prior reading rate. I felt my comprehension and retention were a bit compromised, but largely just as good.

Why was my previous rate so poor? I was a victim of two common habits that Kwik describes, subvocalization and regression (i.e. backtracking). Subvocalization means "reading out loud" in your mind, effectively limited to your speaking rate.

The problem with this is that because your brain is capable of so much more, it gets bored and distracted. Reading as fast as you can while subvocalizing just isn't enough to fully engage your brain.

Then you find you can't remember the last sentence or paragraph you just read. So you backtrack, go over it again. That means your effective reading rate is even less than your speaking rate in order to get good comprehension and retention.

These are side effects of using elementary school reading techniques, the training wheel methods, with a fully-developed and much-more-capable adult brain.

For the second flight, I started the second book in the gate area. But first I downloaded the Brain Focus Pomodoro timer app to my Android phone. Why this one? It looked reasonable, so I gave it a try. I was very happy with it. I'm sure many of the others available are just as good, so you have lots to choose from.

I spent about 10 minutes reading while waiting for the flight, then during the flight, spent two and a half 25-minute Pomodoro work periods reading, with 5-minute break periods.

During the breaks, I used my slight variation of Benson's deep-breathing meditation for relaxation:

  • Sit comfortably.
  • Close your eyes.
  • Relax your body head to toe: relaxing face, forehead, and temple; unclenching jaw; releasing neck and shoulders; opening hands; easing your back, legs, and feet.
  • Breathe deeply and regularly.
  • Silently repeat the word "one" on each inhalation and exhalation.
This is basically counting to one over and over, so you can't lose count, you always know where to return if your thoughts drift, and the oxygenation and brainless repetition trigger the Relaxation Response.

I'm sure I must have looked pretty crazy to my seat-mates.

In that roughly 75 minutes of reading (85 if you add the breaks), I read 151 pages of the second book. So roughly 110-120 pages per hour, again with comparable comprehension and retention.

That's huge. That's enormous. This was a technique I'd learned 3 days before and had only practiced using for a few hours.

Imagine what it'll be like after I've practiced it and built up the brain muscle over weeks and months, a year from now. I expect to improve all three metrics, speed, comprehension, and retention. So not only will I be able to get through material faster, I'll know it better.

Think what it would mean for you to have that ability. Think what it would mean to give your kids that ability.

I can't wait to apply his other methods and advice.

Read the book, chapter 14 "Speed Reading" first, and then practice that method on the rest.

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