The last few months had been a whirlwind. The day job has ramped up to a new high both in terms of number of simultaneous big projects, hours worked per week and travel, much of it international. At the same time we’ve doubled down on the time we’ve spend working with Mason on homeschool. It’s also Kendall’s senior year with all of the typical pomp, circumstance and drama that comes with the end of something and the start of something new. Oh, and I also was elected to a position at my church. There’s probably a few things I’m forgetting.
I can’t say that it was a slow ramp. I wasn’t the proverbial frog in the hot pot. But still I was taken by surprise.and for the last few weeks I’ve been struggling to keep ahead of it all, living in a relatively constant state of thinking I’m forgetting something despite my ninja monk GTD practice.
I think I heard it first on Tim Ferris that busyness is laziness. When I first heard it I thought it was for other people. That I could be the special one to figure out a way to fit it all in. The blessing of this sustained period of failure has taught me a lot about my own limitations. Everything is a teacher. This extended period of busyness has taught me to not be lazy when considering what to say yes to.
This article from the Federalist has been bouncing around the interwebs for nearly a month now, but I just had a chance to read it. I think it makes a pretty compelling narrative argument for the central claim that Trump has an innate sense of how to rev up outrage against his opponents using their own post-modernist tricks against them, although it does cherry pick a few rather extreme examples of PC turned SJW to supportquestion question it leaves unanswered however is: to what end? I’m always curious as to why would want to be anyone president, but in this case the answer seems to me to be critical as it will determine whether our anti-hero president is from the mold of Batman or Scarface.
I had a rather unique day yesterday. I spent the morning until early afternoon running and competing in a local IDPA pistol shooting match. Lot’s of SJW jokes and general cheeriness about the results of the recent election. I spent the evening participating in a live podcast from a community contemplative center that among other things teaches people how to protest for social just causes. Lots of libertation theology and dreariness for the results from the recent elections.
So my days go. I seem to bounce back and forth between these two groups, generally enjoying the company of both while at the same time cringing (inside at least) when some things are said out loud by either. Being accepted by both but not completely self-identifying with either. Life just seems much more complicated, or perhaps taking a positive spin, more nuanced than those labels to me.
One thing I have observed is that while each of those groups are quick to label the other, they are subconsciously just as quick to label themselves. They see all the bad in the other label and all of the good in their own. The probelm with these labels is that they are a shortcut and one I think we would do well to dispose of, but it will come at a cost.
We would be better without the left / right labels (and their near synonyms) because it would force us to ask questions of each other and of ourselves. Questions about what we really believe and more importantly why. Questions about issues instead of identity. Questions of values and principles instead of who did what to whom.
The cost we have to pay if we are going to drop these labels seems high. We have to be willing to spend a lot of our only true commodity: time. Time with ourselves to figure out what we really think (and again, why we think that). It’s far easier to select the number 5 combo meal on the left and the number 4 combo meal of the right than come up with something on our own for our own reasons. We have to be willing to spend time with others to listen without judgement about what they think and why. It’s far easier to not engage and stick with our own tribe in the eternal echo chamber. We have to be accepting of the small death that comes with accepting the fact that we might have been wrong about something and the rebirth of establishing a better model of the world in our minds through dialog.
Us and them is easy. “What do you think about…?” followed by authentic listening is hard.
I live between what you both perceive as different worlds and I can tell you that they aren’t nearly as different as you think. Reach out to them and find out for yourself. The clock is ticking.
Long time no see. Not sure what happened there. Guess it was a combination of loosing steam post election and new year’s resolutions, specifically spending more time on meditation / journaling and giving up a hang up I had on reviewing every book I read.
My Facebook fast is well into its second month. When I did it last January I got the joneses almost immediately. This time was way different. Not only did I not miss it, I actually felt better – more in control, more focused / less distracted. I realized that I was “just clicking over for a few scrolls” everytime I felt just the slightest bit of “resistance” in whatever I was doing. It was worse on my phone. Removing the option has helped me stay more on task and while it may be more uncomfortable in the moment, it leads to much better days. All fears of being disconnected are gone. If anything I am more connected to those I am closest to and less reactionary to the daily churn.
I finally took a few of the maker courses I’d been wanting to for a while at a local hacker space. I am now certified on the metal shop tools and the mill. I’m going to try to get back to welding class in the next few months. It feels good to know how to make things.
Although I’ve not been reviewing them here, I have been reading quite a bit and from.a wide variety. I read a book on pilgrimage that you can hear me yap about on a new podcast project I started with my friend Jason. I also finished a book that was supposed to be about cultural Marxism, but ended up being more about opera and Faust. Caveat emptor I suppose. I also finished a book on the philosophy espoused by a prolific French writer. This was a great read and got me motivated again to try to finish at least one volume of In Search of Lost Time. It’s already in my Tsondoku pile, so maybe soon.
A few things are falling in place for experiences this year. I’m suffering a bit from last year being a blow out – Bunbury, Russia, New Hampshire, Ireland. Going to be hard to top that so I don’t think I’ll try. New Hampshire / Porcfest is already set (kudos to the FSP team for taking bitcoin from the get go this year). Also planning a week or so on the Appalachian Trail through the Shenandoah Valley with the elder daughter after she graduates from HS in May. Still thinking on the whole family trip, but hhe pressure is on since life has a way of filling in all the open spots on your calendar without active intervention.
That’s it for now. Gotta fly home from my favorite Parus airport and get home.
One of the advanatges of having friends that shoot is getting to borrow their toys, which is exactly what I’ve been able to do for the last few days, specifically a Labradar doppler based chronograph. I’ve had a 8″ 300 BLK SBR (Noveske Barrel) for a while now and have slowly assembled the components to load subsonic ammo: H110 powder and 208 grain HPBT Match King bullets specifically. The chrono was the last missing piece I needed to make sure I was loading right up to but just enough under supersonic.
I grabbed some load data from the Hornady website which suggested 9.6 grains for s subsonic load. With that as a base, I rainbowed up .3 grains to 9.9 and down .5 grains to 9.1, loading 5 rounds of each with a crimp.
This was my first time using the Labradar and I have to say I am impressed. Maybe not ~$600 impressed, but again, it’s good to have friends ;-). Overall it worked well, although I could not get it to trigger acoustically when my SBR was suppressed, but the doppler based triggering seemed to work fine.
- I think I will load out the rest of the 208 grain bullets I have with 9.8 grains. I had one 9.9 that went supersonic. It was around 43 degrees today so I am thinking 9.8 should keep me right under sub sonic even when it gets warmer. Although the 9.9 was my best group by far…maybe I need some more experimentation with a better powder measure (see next point).
- I need a more accurate powder measure. I was really suprised with the velocity spread on some of the rounds. I suppose it could be that the Labradar wasn’t triggering or tracking well, but I don’t think so.
- I found it interesting that all loads cycled the gun with no issues and even locked it back when done. I will have to try the final load unsupressed to see that is a factor.
Details for each load below:
9.1 grains H110
|Stats – Average||926.32||fps|
|Stats – Highest||936.87||fps|
|Stats – Lowest||910.69||fps|
|Stats – Ext. Spread||26.19||fps|
|Stats – Std. Dev||9.81||fps|
9.2 grains H110
|Stats – Average||942.55||fps|
|Stats – Highest||964.82||fps|
|Stats – Lowest||902.65||fps|
|Stats – Ext. Spread||62.17||fps|
|Stats – Std. Dev||34.63||fps|
9.3 grains H110
(NO data …I forgot to arm the Labradar… 🙁 )
9.4 grains H110
|Stats – Average||939.41||fps|
|Stats – Highest||1033.25||fps|
|Stats – Lowest||663.13||fps|
|Stats – Ext. Spread||370.12||fps|
|Stats – Std. Dev||136.89||fps|
9.5 grains H110
|Stats – Average||956.69||fps|
|Stats – Highest||1038.89||fps|
|Stats – Lowest||815.3||fps|
|Stats – Ext. Spread||223.59||fps|
|Stats – Std. Dev||97.55||fps|
9.6 grains H110
(This was my first set of shots and there were only 4 captured since it took me the first shot to figure out that the acoustic triggering wouldn’t work…and even of the 4 I think there were some triggering or tracking issues so this data is probably bogus)
|Stats – Average||863.54||fps|
|Stats – Highest||1058.76||fps|
|Stats – Lowest||679.97||fps|
|Stats – Ext. Spread||378.79||fps|
|Stats – Std. Dev||173.61||fps|
9.7 grains H110
|Stats – Average||1025.33||fps|
|Stats – Highest||1083.55||fps|
|Stats – Lowest||1005.14||fps|
|Stats – Ext. Spread||78.4||fps|
|Stats – Std. Dev||38.81||fps|
9.8 grains H110
|Stats – Average||1060.98||fps|
|Stats – Highest||1082.36||fps|
|Stats – Lowest||1043.84||fps|
|Stats – Ext. Spread||38.51||fps|
|Stats – Std. Dev||14.01||fps|
9.9 grains H110
|Stats – Average||1044.19||fps|
|Stats – Highest||1119.09||fps|
|Stats – Lowest||882.99||fps|
|Stats – Ext. Spread||236.09||fps|
|Stats – Std. Dev||82.18||fps|
I kept coming up with things to do with the Labradar. I ended up measuring 10 shots of 55 grain 5.56 over 23.6 grains of varget from a 11.5 in SBR supressed, the same SBR unsupressed and then a 16″ standard rifle just to see the differences in velocity:
|SBR – Suppressed||SBR||Standard Rifle|
|Stats – Average||2172.45||2158.08||2439.6||fps|
|Stats – Highest||2250.56||2221.8||2463.82||fps|
|Stats – Lowest||2122.62||2099.7||2410.31||fps|
|Stats – Ext. Spread||127.95||122.1||53.51||fps|
|Stats – Std. Dev||45.59||38.86||19.53||fps|
The velocity spread on these shots was much smaller, so maybe H110 just doesn’t meter as well as Varget? Lots more to do before I have to give back the toys 😉
It may be a little early for new year’s resolutions, but it occurs to me that its rather arbitrary to decide on the first of the year to change a bunch of things. Arbitrary and often ineffective. So maybe its better to just start when you have the idea and let it run its course.
On my quest to become a better thinker, I am starting to be more intentional about my use of technology, specifically anything with a screen. I’m not going Amish (yet) and I also don’t think I am a ‘tech addict’, but I have noticed a few things that trouble me a bit, so best to nip them in the bud.
Specifically, I have noticed myself slipping into the pattern (again) where the first thing I do in the morning is “check my feeds”. I’m looking for news, entertainment and conversation. There is nothing bad about any of those per se, but I think I am going to impose a personal ban on screens for an hour after I wake up. That should give me time to properly wake up and set some intentions for the day before getting sucked into a rabbit hole.
I’ve also noticed getting ‘lost in the scroll’, spending far more time on social and video sites than I sometimes intend. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have all gotten very good at “and now this” – giving you something else that you are likely to want to see. I don’t blame them. Getting me to scroll improves what they know about me, and the more they know about me the more they can sell to me. It’s just business. But in the same way I am trying to be a smarter consumer of what I put in my body at the grocery store, I am trying to become a better, or at least a more concious, consumer of what I put in my mind. Some of that has to do with what I follow and some of it has to do how much time I spend scrolling vs. deep reading and writing.
I have a two pronged approach to getting lost. First, I am trying to be mindful of setting an intention before I open a laptop or pickup a screen. What is it specifically I am trying to accomplish? Check the weather? Post a podcast? Write a blog? Sometimes I even write a few things down on a scratchpad before I start just in case I forget along the way. On addition, I’m also starting to use tech to fight tech in this area, specifically the StayFocused plugin for chrome that lets me set daily limits on specific sites and the Moment app for my iPhone that lets me track how much I use my phone each day and on what apps.
Anyone that knows me knows I am no luddite. I would not have nearly as rich a life as I do without tech. I wouldn’t have rediscovered a love of reading, I wouldn’t have discovered a love of philsophy, and I wouldn’t have found my ‘tribe’. Tech is just a tool and like any other tool, you have to learn to master it if you want to get the most out of it without hurting yourself. These are the steps I am taking. What do you do to make sure you don’t become a screen zombie?
Here is a place of disaffection
Time before and time after
In a dim light: neither daylight
Investing form with lucid stillness
Turning shadow into transient beauty
With slow rotation suggesting permanence
Nor darkness to purify the soul
Emptying the sensual with deprivation
Cleansing affection from the temporal.
Neither plentitude nor vacancy. Only a flicker
Over the strained time-ridden faces
Distracted from distraction by distraction
Filled with fancies and empty of meaning
Tumid apathy with no concentration
Men and bits of paper, whirled by the cold wind
That blows before and after time,
Wind in and out of unwholesome lungs
Time before and time after.
Eructation of unhealthy souls
Into the faded air, the torpid
Driven on the wind that sweeps the gloomy hills of London,
Hampstead and Clerkenwell, Campden and Putney,
Highgate, Primrose and Ludgate. Not here
Not here the darkness, in this twittering world.
– TS Elliot, Four Quartets
I’m not sure how to start this one, so I think I’ll take some advice from the “wise” king in Alice’s adventures in Wonderland:
“Begin at the beginning,” the King said, very gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”
The subject of today’s post is the truth. First, to define terms, the OED reads:
Truth (N): The quality or state of being true. That which is true or in accordance with fact or reality.
I don’t see the first definition as particularly useful, but the second gets us somewhere. In order to have truth, you have to assume or believe that there is a reality. That may seem odd to say, but from what I’ve read there seems to be some debate about that point. Debate that I find fascinating, but not very useful. So for the purposes of this post let’s assume that reality exists. In addition let’s assume that we are able to take in some of tha reality through our senses which we use to perceive reality and form true ideas or concepts. Let’s also assume we are able to construct models that we can use to predict other truths. That is, there are truths that we may not directly observe but rather predict based on our mental models of how the world works (this is one cornerstone of the scientific method – model and hypothesis formation). Lastly, let’s assume that no one can know the whole truth of the entire universe (much less multiverse). We are all blind men grasping at different parts of the elephant. I know that’s a lot of assumptions, but I was hoping to make this a practical post about how to discover the truth rather than a philosophical one about the existence of reality, objective truth or our ability to correctly perceive even a part of either.
This post is motivated by a few stories that piqued my interest this past week. The first came out on Wednesday, naming the “word of the year” selected by Oxford Dictionaries: Post-Truth (evidently adulting nor coulrophobia received enough votes):
An adjective defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’.
The article linked to above goes into the first use, history and usage trends of the term. While not mentioned in the article, the selection of the prefix seems to be an attempt to relate the idea expressed by the entire word to post-modernism, which rejects the idea of objective reality and absolute truth and is the foundation for slippery slopes like moral relativism. The selection of this terms seems to confirm some of what Cassier predicted in The Myth of the State, specifically about the purpose of language shifting from meaning to emotion.
The second story came out yesterday via Twitter moments, bemoaning the challenge that the traditional media will face reporting on Trump based on his active use of Twitter to distribute “fake news”. The “tweet storm” collected in the moment provides a narrative about how the stories about Ford deciding to keep a plant in Kentucky came to be. I encourage you to read through the moment, but the short version is this: Trump sent out a tweet and a few seemingly respectable news outlets picked it up without checking any other sources, no doubt driven by the need for speed to get the clicks.
The final story that prompted this post comes from the New York Times, but there were similar articles from a variety of source this past week. The article is focused on how internet titans (in this case Google and Facebook) are trying to cut down on “fake news”. It seems that fake news has been named as one of the scapegoats of the left for the election results a few weeks ago and theses companies are under pressure to do something. In related news, Twitter suspended accounts of various alt-right members and personalities this past week.
What’s interesting to me about all of these stories is how they frame the debate. The first one sets the stage by normalizing the idea of being persuaded by appeals to emotion; the idea that truth is of little value. With the truth conveniently disposed of, the second two article setup the battle between the President Elect and the traditional news media as the ultimate arbiters of post-truth. Trump’s tweets are certainly post-truth, intended to bypass rationality and make you feel something.
The stories about clamping down on “fake news” mean that the traditional and emerging media don’t like the competition for access to your limbic system. They have been in the feelings game for year. There are countless examples of them creating fake news as recently as just this past week. In some odd way, you have to give Trump some credit for at least not claiming that what he tweets is true. By labeling what Trump and others do as “fake news”, the traditional and emerging media are ignoring that the purpose of “news” has shifted. The news is no longer about reporting the truth, but rather about manipulating emotions and reinforcing existing beliefs. This is not a debate about who is telling the truth, it’s a debate about who’s post-truth you should trust. It’s about who you should tune in for your daily dose of emotional manipulation.
As part of becoming a better thinker, I choose to avoid the manipulation and seek the truth. And there are a few tools I am trying to develop to strengthen my truth discerning muscles.
First, I am taking a look at where I collect my news. One part of this endeavor is actively trying to break down the filter bubbles that have seeped into my life through the use of Google, Facebook and Twitter. In the quest to deliver more relevant content and thus capture more attention, they have created algorithms that filter what I see to give me more of what I like. It’s these filtering algorithms that build up the bubble and create the conditions for post-truth.
I still use all of these as well as other services, but I use them conscious of the fact that I am not getting the whole story. To break down the filter bubble, I try to follow or click on as many links that I disagree with as I agree with. Anytime I find an article I agree with, I search for the counter point. I also am one of the few people I still know that use a RSS feed reader (I use feedly since Google Reader closed down a few years ago). RSS readers allow you to control what you see. There is no algorithm filtering the content or the order in which you see things. It’s still up to you to populate your reader with a diversity of sources and to constantly refine your sources if the post-truth to truth ratio gets too high, but at least you are in control instead of an algorithm that has as its only goal getting you to scroll and click more.
Next, I am trying to become more mindful of my biases. I accept the fact that I can never remove them completely, but that doesn’t mean I can’t eliminate them. Bias is like a smudge (or in some cases a scratch) on the lens through which we perceive reality. By first becoming aware of all of the different sorts of bias and then trying to notice when they become active, I can polish that lens and perceive reality more clearly. Meditation and journaling have certainly helped with the noticing of bias, and this catalog (and cool poster) of cognitive bias have given me a vocabulary to label bias as I notice it.
With better sources more clearly perceived, the last part of my effort to become a better thinker is to get better at the actual thinking part. I first heard of the Trivium method a few years ago and it immediately captured my attention. I am by no means an expert practitioner, but the I do use the basic framework of grammar, logic and rhetoric for most serious discussions and it is becoming more of an always-on in the background process. I recently picked up a copy of this book on critical thinking (which has to have one the best titles I’ve picked up in a while) and hope that it will further my critical thinking tool set.
Regardless of your faith (or lack thereof), most people can admit that the bible has some eternal truths in it. One of those is John 8:32:
Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.
If truth sets you free, what does post-truth do? I doubt it makes you “free-er”.
Sometimes I feel a bit like a man with no country. I refuse to pick a “side” for a variety of reasons, from the view that life is way more complex than can possibly be represented by two choices to the conviction that both “sides” are trapped in the same authoritarian box. For a time I saw this as a deficit since it meant that I had no standing with either side. I can’t claim to be “one of them” and then try to change them from the inside.
That seemed a rather hopeless position, so I’ve been pondering how being a non-voter / non-party member could be an asset to help those that do vote and are in parties make better decisions so at a minimum you all don’t make things worse for me and the people I care about. It seems to me what I can do is notice and point out patterns I see in common between both sides; behaviors that both sides exhibit, strategies that one side is pursuing that other should or goals that both sides share in common but because they see themselves as opposed can’t see on their own.
For this to be effective, I’m going to need some help though. I’m going to need to find some people that identify as right or left and are accepted as such by those groups to help me refine the identification of these patterns and then share the ideas within their groups. While it may be true that “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home,” it seems to me that the in-group vs. out-group feelings are so strong right now that anyone who’s not clearly in will be rejected out of hand. It’s going to take people already in the group to start to change hearts and minds.
Here’s an example of a strategy that I see the left pursuing that I think those on the right need to mirror: calling out and excising the more extreme, less logical elements. I know most on the right feel like they “won” (although with a strange undercurrent of shame, perhaps driven by fear of the PC elements that the some on the left are calling out) so it’s hard to focus on improving, but I see this as critical to return to some more normal and productive form of discourse.
The first example I saw of this was from Sam Harris on his post election reaction podcast. Dr. Harris has been an outspoken critic of Trump leading up to the election, so this talk is full of shock and emotion, but he also points out some of the specific failings on the left that allowed Trump to win. He points to safe spaces and trigger warning as examples of an over reaching political correctness that pushed tolerance to the point of intolerance.
Nicholas Kristof provides another example in his NYT Op-Ed, published all the way back in May. Clearly not a reaction to the election results, but still on point. He starts the article with the story of George Yancy a sociologist who is also an evangelical christian. Yancy says he feels “problems” being black outside of academia, but “problems” being Christian inside of it. Kristof cites other examples of intolerance of the right in academia:
One peer-reviewed study found that one-third of social psychologists admitted that if choosing between two equally qualified job candidates, they would be inclined to discriminate against the more conservative candidate.
In these two example I see the left starting to identify elements that have gone too far and are incompatible with its core ideology. I think the right needs to do the same. Thought leaders on the right need to call out the racists, misogynists, xenophobes and others who also go too far in their intolerance. The should have an easier time of it than those on the left, since the ideas they are calling out are so clearly intolerant, not draped in the facade of tolerance like the ideas on the left. If there are some leaders on the right that are taking this on, I applaud them, but in my searching I couldn’t find them.
One commonality I see on the left and the right is a yearning for freedom. Freedom to marry who they want. Freedom to do what they want with their property. Freedom to be the authors of their own lives. Freedom requires tolerance since the goals and strategies you have may be different than your neighbor. If you are both going to be free you need to tolerate your neighbor up and to the point that they are limiting the pursuit of your freedom. The point that both sides are missing in all this is that a spirit of tolerance is nearly impossible within a regime of force. Tolerance dies when subjected to force as demonstrated with the mutation of the left’s tolerance into intolerance and in the right’s intolerant reaction. If we can figure out a way to replace force with free association (which includes the ability to freely disassociate) then the marketplace of ideas will ensure that we can experience the freedom that we all are seeking.
If I am going to be a better thinker, I need to get better at reading. This is not a literacy issue. I can read and I do actually read quite a bit, but I know there is room for improvement. Specifically, I need to be more selective in what I read (without creating a bubble), I need to figure out a way to make it more of a daily habit and I need to figure out a way to actually read some of the better long form online content.
My selection process today looks something like this: I add items to my wish list based on specific mentions or recommendations in podcasts or on blogs / social media, make a purchase every so often from that list from Amazon or see what the magical portal has for decided I should read, either from that list or completely out of the blue. I add the new books to my tsundoku pile until I am done with at least one of the books I am currently reading (still on the fence whether reading more than one book at a time is a good thing or a bad thing) at which point I scan the pile and see what I am in the mood for; whatever I think I can really dig into or whatever I think I “need” to read at the time. I’m not sure exactly what I need to do to make this better, but it just feels a little too random to me. I know I won’t be able to read everything I have on my wishlist, so I need to come up with a more deliberate way to decide what to move from there to the pile and what to read from the pile.
I read when I have time. I was in a habit for a while of reading in the morning. I think I need to get back to that. It was a pretty solid, if boring, morning routine: get up, meditate, journal, read (and have coffee) then get on to whatever the day had in store for me. For some reason, I feel out of that routine in the last few months, with only journaling persisting. In this case I think I know what to do to make it better, so I just need to do it. The holidays coming up seem to be a good window to re-establish that routine (not only reading but daily meditation, which has advantages I will surely explore in future posts in this series).
While there is a lot of crap online that isn’t worth the bits that transmit it to your screen, there is some amazing stuff as well. Most of the amazing stuff is long form and I do struggle with reading long form stuff in my browser. Its a combination of not engaging with a screen in the same way I do with a book or magazine and the easy distraction of another tab. I started putting long form pieces I ran across into a “To Read” folder in Evernote, but that continues to grow and I’ve spent almost no time going back and reading it. I need to start making time to go there and read what I’ve put in, or I need to find a different system.
You could read for hours (days) on the benefits of reading, but there are a few things I have noticed since I made a choice a few years ago to be more deliberate about reading which are directly related to this idea of being a better thinker. The biggest benefit of reading to becoming a better thinker is that it gives me access to a whole lifetime’s worth of experience in a few days or weeks. I won’t become the best thinker I can be by reinventing the wheel. Reading lets me stand on the shoulders of giants. Reading expands the inventory of patterns I can access when trying to understand the world. Reading lengthens my attention span. It’s the antidote to mindset you develop from endless social media scrolling and clicking. Reading, specifically reading something I disagree with which I do deliberately from time to time, tests my critical thinking skills. Reading makes me a better writer, which lets share my views so they can influence others and so they can get better by exposure to other ideas and feedback.
It seems to me that the biggest obstacle most people face in reading anything more than random blog articles like this or “news” from Facebook is not a struggle against why its important, but rather a system on how to get it done. Since I’ve been at this for a little bit, I can share my experiences on what has worked for me.
Two things I’ve already mentioned as things I want to improve can help you become a better reader: have books around and make time to read. The second point is rather obvious, but the first one may not be, or at least wasn’t for me. The key is the ‘s’ – books, as in more than one. Before I got serious about reading, I would buy a book and it would sit around as I read it. If I got bored with it or got stuck, it sat. When I got done with it, there was a gap of weeks or months before I would get around to ordering something else. When I started having a pile around, I found myself going to the pile when I got stuck or bored (that’s how I started reading more than one book at a time) and when I was done there was something I could grab immediately so I didn’t loose any time or momentum. Books are cheap – have a few (dozens…hundreds) of them around.
Another suggestion is to read a book that gave me a much more structured reading process: How to Read a Book (which is certainly an example of strange loop theory in action). If I ever put together a top 10 list of books that every high school senior should read this will no doubt be on it. I learned how to categorize a book so I could get the most out of it and not expect something it can’t deliver. It also taught me to scan a book before I read it – look through it to get a sense of the structure before diving in. I learned to “argue” with a book while I was reading it. I learned about syntopical reading – an approach I am still perfecting. If there is one thing you want to do today to be a better reader, pick up a copy of this and set a goal to finish it before Christmas.
One thing that has not worked for me is digital readers. I bought a Kindle a few years ago and have used it to complete a few books, but in general I find it very hard to make it through lengthy or deep content on a screen. It has worked for me for light works of fiction or shorter (200 pages or so seems to be the sweet spot) more serious works, but outside of that everything I’ve failed to complete everything else I’ve tried on Kindle. I’ve had a little more success with audio books, although I don’t think I get all of the benefits of actually reading the same material. I get the ideas, but I don’t find myself arguing with them as much, and since there is no place to take notes or highlight, I find I retain less of the information. But audio books do have their place for me – there is no better (safer!) way to “read” on long road trips. YMMV.
I’ll end with what will likely be common advice in this series. If anything in this post has struck a cord, then decide now to get more serious about reading. Whatever works for you to commit yourself to try for some time. Put it on a sticky note you’ll see every day. Buy a few books and leave them on your breakfast table so you see them first thing in the morning. Add a “reading time” block on your calendar. I can’t guarantee that you will start reading more if you do any of those things, but I can guarantee that if you can break pattern and start to read more, you will start to think better.