“The Order of Things” Book Review: By Mitch Nickerson

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Here I’m going to give a brief overview of a rather puzzling book, The Order of Things, or as titled in French “Les Mots et Les Choses”. Michel Foucault left us this work in 1966 which established himself as one of the great French thinkers of the twentieth century and added to the many structuralist works of the era.

However, in order to dive in, it is necessary that we have an understanding of the term “episteme”. Foucault uses the term “episteme” as a way to describe the very structure of human thought which is present at any given time. He writes that “in any given culture and at any given moment, there is always only one episteme that defines the conditions of possibility of all knowledge, whether expressed in a theory or silently invested in a practice.”

One example I came across to give you an idea of this would be to imagine that you are getting ready to go to work, class, or to run some errands and without even really thinking you put on your pants, shirt whatever else and head out on your way.

See that is the example right there, without even thinking about doing otherwise (at least in these normal everyday examples) you put on these articles of clothing, then you go out and to do these things.

For the majority of us, we would never think of foregoing clothes before heading out for the day and that there is the power of structures of human which are prevalent in our lives at any given time. This is a surface level example to put in light the idea he’s talking about. It goes much, much deeper than that though, as these distinct “epistemes” have always had a profound impact on human thought down to the very way our sciences have been structured to dictate what is acceptable and true.

Three Clear Epistemes

Foucault uses the studies of linguistics, biology, and economics and traces the progression of each from a few hundred years ago up to the present day in an attempt to argue that there have been three clear epistemes since the Renaissance.

Three clear epistemes, three clear eras of human thought.

He makes these arguments to build up to the idea that our concept of “man”, as we understand this conscious observer in the present day, is really a modern invention made possible by the progression of the way we interpret the world around us.

This book, for me at least, was extremely challenging and took awhile to finish because of how deep and dense every page is. This certainly is not a read for the faint-hearted but I will do my best to explain some of the concepts as I have understood them in the hopes that these words give you the inspiration to be curious with Foucault’s own.

Let’s see where it goes.

Resemblance As a Constructive Role

He starts off by talking about how “resemblance played a constructive role in the knowledge of Western culture” up to the sixteenth century. This resemblance is built upon four ideas: convenientia, aemulatio, analogy, and sympathies. It is too much to go too in depth into these terms but note that convenientia “denotes the adjacency of places more strongly than it does similitude. Those things are ‘convenient’ which come sufficiently close to one another to be in juxtaposition; their edges touch, their fringes intermingle, the extremity of the one also denotes the beginning of the other.” Think of it as the “resemblance connected with space in the form of a graduated scale of proximity.”

Which brings us to aemulatio and that concept can be described as “a sort of ‘convenience’ that has been freed from the law of place and is able to function, without motion, from a distance…for emulation is a sort of twinship existing in things; it arises from a fold in being, the two sides of which stand immediately opposite to one another.” Analogy, Foucault writes, is “convenientia and aumulatio superimposed… its power is immense, for the similitudes of which it treats are not the visible, substantial ones between things themselves; they need only be the more subtle resemblances of relations”.

The final piece of his resemblance pie is sympathies which are a bit different as “here, no path has been determined in advance, no distance laid down, no links prescribed. Sympathy plays through the depths of the universe in a free state… sympathy is an instance of the Same so strong and so insistent that it will not rest content to be merely one of the forms of likeness; it has the dangerous power of assimilating, of rendering things identical to one another, of mingling them, of causing their individuality to disappear—and thus of rendering them foreign to what they were before.” Sympathy also has its alter ego here, antipathy, so if “sympathy” is the resemblance force bringing things together, “antipathy” is the opposite “…maintaining the isolation of things and preventing their assimilation; it encloses every species within its impenetrable difference and its propensity to continue being what it is.”

Okay, whew, these concepts are a lot but I’d recommend you to dwell on each of them and how they might act in different situations of resemblance. These four similitudes “tell us what the paths of similitude are and the directions they take”. And see, this is only a few pages in to Foucault’s argument after an extensive analysis of Las Meninas, so, dense may even be an understatement as this man’s mind goes H.A.M.

However, after a lengthy analysis on signs and the way they work with things we had identified through resemblances (i.e. through the similitudes), he makes the point that “the world is covered with signs that must be deciphered, and those signs which reveal resemblances and affinities, are themselves no more than forms of similitude. To know must, therefore, be to interpret: to find a way from the visible mark to that which is being said by it and which, without that mark, would lie like unspoken speech, dormant within things.”

Without much more elaboration, this is a significant point he is making in his work that up to the sixteenth century (arguably from The Renaissance) that interpretation is a key component of this first episteme which Foucault makes his case for.

Comparison of Measurement and of Order

Moving into the seventeenth century, Foucault draws conclusions that this resemblance themed moved into comparison which he says only two forms exist, namely “the comparison of measurement and that of order.” We’re very familiar with that comparison of measurement because we utilize these forms of thought all the time and it has led to the mathematization of many domains of our curiosity.

Order isn’t as familiar, though we’re certainly aware of its presence but Foucault writes “one cannot know the order of things ‘in their isolated nature’, but by discovering that which is the simplest, then that which is next simplest, one can progress inevitably to the most complex things of all.” And so, we begin to see this next era of the ways humans structured knowledge, especially as scientific order and the scientific method really begin to develop.

See these structures are rather built-up upon another so as in this shift, mere ‘resemblance’ is not enough and now must be subjected to these new ‘comparisons’ which help to close the vastness of possibilities when considering, well anything. Foucault writes “this relation to Order is as essential to the Classical age as the relation to Interpretation was to the Renaissance.” The book continues on to follow the progression of linguistics, biology, and economics over time to articulate the way in which the various epistemes impacted their development.

Unfortunately, as these get tricky and this is just a general overview, I must keep brevity in mind and save those explorations for part two which I hope to have the opportunity to bring to you in the near future. For now, however, let’s wrap up this lengthy exploration with some of Foucault’s final ideas which I hope will paint a reasonable picture of the point he’s attempting to make.

Final Thoughts: Excerpts From the Book

After some time trying to find a way to summarize two excerpts, it appears the best way for me to present the final bit of this overview will be two (long-winded) quotes directly from the book so here we go:

“the functions of ‘nature’ and ‘human nature’ are in opposition to one another, term by term, in the Classical episteme: nature, through the action of real and disordered juxtaposition, causes difference to appear in the ordered continuity of beings; human nature causes the identical to appear in the disordered chain of representations, and does so by the action of a display of images. The one implies the fragmentation of a history in order to constitute actual landscapes; the other implies the comparison of non-actual elements which destroy the fabric of a chronological sequence…they act, in fact upon identical elements;  both reveal against the background of an uninterrupted fabric the possibility of a general analysis which makes possible the distribution of isolable identities and visible differences over a tabulated space and in an ordered sequence. But they cannot succeed in doing this without each other, and it is there that the communication between them occurs.”

Ahah, this leads to, in my opinion, a significant declaration for the argument Foucault wishes to make where he writes:

“this establishing of communication between nature and human nature on the basis of two opposite but complementary functions – since neither can take place without the other – carries with it broad theoretical consequences. For Classical thought, man does not occupy a place in nature through the intermediary of the regional, limited, specific ‘nature’ that is granted to him, as to all other beings, as a birthright. If human nature is interwoven with nature, it is by the mechanisms of knowledge and by their functioning; or rather, in the general arrangement of the Classical episteme, nature, human nature, and their relations, are definite and predictable functional moments. And man, as a primary reality with his own density, as the difficult object and sovereign subject of all possible knowledge, has no place in it. The modern themes of an individual who lives, speaks, and works in accordance with the laws of an economics, a philology, and a biology, but who also, by a sort of internal torsion and overlapping, has acquired the right, through the interplay of those very laws, to know them and to subject them to total clarification – all these themes so familiar to us today and linked to the existence of the ‘human sciences’ are excluded by Classical though: it was not possible at that time that there should arise, on the boundary of the world, the strange stature of a being whose nature (that which determines it, contains it, and has traversed it from the beginning of time) is to know nature, and itself, in consequence, as a natural being.”

This is a rather complex work and much of it is difficult to summarize concisely as you are now well aware, so it is my hope that I have at least sparked some interest in Foucault’s work The Order of Things or at the very least some other works on structuralism which are very interesting as well. As I mentioned, it is my intention to go more in-depth with these specific ideas and examples to paint a more detailed picture of this work but until that time, I thank you for your attention. If you have any questions, please feel free to email me at and I will do my best to answer any inquiries with book in hand. Live long and Prosper.


Speed Read: Improving Your Reading Comprehension | Forces of Habit

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Speed Read: Reading for Comprehension

He can speed read a page a single second, a page with each eye, or perhaps he even just slams the book against his head and comprehends every notch in the message. Speed reading is classically depicted as a reader vigorously turning pages faster than his hands keep up. But if his hands are having a hard time, what makes people think his brain is reading for comprehension?

forces of habit speed read

With anatomical and neurological limits in mind, the question isn’t how to read faster, it’s how to read better. What it takes to become a better reader is vague, but what’s clear is that speed reading—as stereotypically depicted—misses the mark on what we desire most from reading; we aim to understand, to learn something.

Yet all is not lost, while we cannot read 1000 words per minute, we can certainly optimize our reading to maximize speed without loss of any comprehension.

So let’s go over some misconceptions about increasing your reading speed, and I’ll share the real way to read better.

How Reading Works

Before we can debunk the common speed reading techniques, let’s talk about how reading works.

Anatomically, the visual process is the bases for our reading prowess.

When you read your eyes do not smoothly run across the words. Instead, like a bouncing ball from left to right, the eye’s hop across the line until they reach an endpoint; zipping back to the next line to start the route again—this zip back in know as the return sweep. The process can more descriptively be broken down into three steps: fixation, saccade, and cognitive processing.

The fixation is the initial point of focus. The eye locks on to a word or phrase which we use as stopping points.

Next comes the Saccade. It is a length of movement from one fixation point to another. Varying in length, the saccade is the bumpy movement of focus across the text. Words that make up the saccade tend to be those that are already subjectively understood—words we are so comfortable with we do not need to fixate on them.

Last but not least, Cognitive processing takes the data gathered from the saccades and fixations to package the ideas into something comprehensible. The brain constructs a conscious representation of what you just saw based on what you know. Using the space in our working memory, we unconsciously predict how many fixations will be needed, as well as adjust the length of the saccade to accurately understand what is being read.

For example, if you are reading a book that you have read before, the fixation points per line may become sparse, and the saccades longer. Because we have prior knowledge about what is being said, the brain can process the information without having to stop as frequently.

One more thing.

In order for the brain to compensate for misunderstanding of what is being read, we habitually regress to words already read. This is a method for crystallizing the mental representation we then use in comprehending the textlet’s call it intermittent regression. And herein lies our downfall for most quick-fix reading tactics as well as the key to reading better.

The Cognitively Unnatural

You may remember as a kid that learning to speak was easy, but reading and writing were quite the challenges. This is due to how our brains process language and speech relative to reading and writing. Evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker studies the origin of language within the brain and has found reading and writing to be “cognitively unnatural” relative to our instinctual abilities to speak.

Using verbal language come naturally to us. Yet learning how to read dedicates a substantial period of our development to make any progress. Neurologically it seems that our brains use the information it gathers from verbal speech patterns to assess what is being visually represented in the text. The predictive power of the brain is instrumental to quickly categorizing language into comprehensible bits we use to read.

That power of association combined with our visual acuities makes grasping spoken word the foundation for how quickly we read. But the eyes are the spotters, and the brain is doing most of the heavy lifting. So why do common speed reading techniques attempt to hijack the eyes movements (its fixation and saccades) but leave out our cognitive capabilities?

Speed Reading Misconceptions

“I took a speed-reading course and read War and Peace in twenty minutes. It involves Russia.”

-Woody Allen

Woody Allen’s reading of War and Peace encapsulates the issue with the modern quick fix speed reading classes. They teach speed, but not comprehension.

Programs that use RSVP (rapid serial visual presentation) like Spritz reason that:

  • Removing the inner voice heard when reading (our subvocalization) will increase our speed
  • You can remove moving fixation points and limit saccades by not moving the words
  • You can stop intermittent regression

All of which are seemingly legitimate methods for kicking our word per minute reading speed up towards 900-1000. But flashing the words in a steam does not help us read better. RSVP significantly reduces our ability to recognize what we read because the means for reaching its main selling point—reading faster—strip the brain of the tools used for reading in the first place.

In a study published by SAGE in 2016 titled “So Much to Read, So Little Time How Do We Read, and Can Speed Reading Help?” researchers found that after reviewing the latest speed reading technology large gains in speed where consistently gained only by sacrificing comprehension. One explanation for this phenomena is how speed reading attempts to turn off subvocalization. Counter to popular belief, our vocalizations are not hindering the reading process—they make it possible. Because of how interconnected language and verbal speech are to reading, the voice you hear in your head acts a tool for comprehension.

Having reviewed several experiments whose aim were to limit subvocalization researcher’s state. “These findings support the idea that, when it comes to understanding complex materials, inner speech is not a nuisance activity that must be eliminated, as many speed-reading proponents suggest. Rather, translating visual information into phonological form, a basic form of language, helps readers to understand it.”

Another paper titled “Don’t Believe What You Read (Only Once) Comprehension Is Supported by Regressions During Reading” conducted at the University of California, San Diego found that how our eyes move—fixation, saccades, regression—are imperative to how much we understand about what we just read.

By rapidly showing word after word, we lose our pacing ability. But that pace is how cognitive processing compensates for missing information in a mental model it creates to understand. Researchers found “Our ability to control the timing and sequence of how we intake information about the text is important for comprehension. Our brains control how our eyes move through the text—ensuring that we get the right information at the right time”.

Timing matters. The verdict given the current research is that we cannot rush the speed unless we sacrifice our understanding. So how do we read faster?

How to Read ‘Faster’

I am not a speed reader. I am a speed understander.

-Isaac Asimov

Speed reading is only glorified skimming. What now? How do we become faster readers if speed reading doesn’t make the cut?

Well, that same analysis published by SAGE in 2016 had an answer;

“The way to maintain high comprehension and get through text faster is to practice reading and to become a more skilled language user (e.g., through increased vocabulary). This is because language skill is at the heart of reading speed.-skimming and outlines”

Read more, practice language.

I am sorry to say that there is no special secret sauce to reading faster. Have patience. Read books that stretch your inner voices capacities, and read material more deeply in the fields you are interested in. This will ensure that over time you are challenging yourself with concepts that build upon one another, while also diversifying your linguistic capabilities.

If you’re looking for more tips on how to read more, check out my pieces on increasing how much you read.

Read More: How I Read 50+ Books Per Year

Read for Growth

Now I think of reading faster as comprehension, not WPM. Because if I can understand what I author is saying by reading around, then I do not have to even read the book in the classic ‘cover to cover’.

“Read to understand.” You do not need to read every word, just the important ones. Learning to read faster is only learning to discern which words are most important for you to understand the message of the text.

As you read more in a given field you will notice the similarities in anecdotes and terms used; skip over these explanations, or skim them. Those are for the reader who may not be familiar with the topics, not you. Yet there may still be some value in those things so perhaps you can skim around for anything new before moving forward.

Ultimately speed reading is a skimming tool; it will get you through the text fast and sometimes we need that. But don’t forget nothing makes up for sitting down and slowly reading that book. Now that you know what it takes to read faster, what are you waiting for? Get Reading.

Why do you read? And are you reading enough?

If you’re looking for some great books to start reading more, go check out the titles I have reviewed in my 2017 journal. There are tons of books about psychology, philosophy, meditation, and so much more. Go check out the special page I created to share what I’ve learned about living intentionally with you.

Find the Book Summaries page here.


Close that Book: Knowing When to Stop Reading a Book

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Close that Book: Knowing When to Stop Reading a Book

Almost 1/4 of the participants in a Goodreads poll believe that it is our duty to read bad books.

“You don’t stop. You never stop. Once you start you must finish.”

We need to stop reading bad books. When it comes to reading mindsets, ‘finish what you started’ is a common one. Every book we start seems to earn a 200+ page contract no questions asked. And I admit, I was the guy who would sluggishly cringe my way through a book I agreed to read, never considering that I could stop.

We all would like to believe we can coldly calculate the expected value from each book and then methodically assess how many pages per book will yield the greatest amount of utility. But in reality, putting a book to bed is a viscerally gut clenching experience.

You and I are not rational decision-making machines, we are human. And as humans, irrationality is inevitable. While I am not sure we can completely escape our predispositions, learning about them offer us a plan of attack for at least addressing specific issues—like reading bad books.

So let’s discuss the science behind our commitments to reading and some advice for how you can stop reading a book.

Commitments to Loss

Much of our intuition about finishing every book we agree to read stems from mental heuristics—rules of thumb for the brain.

Speaking from the perspective of the brain, metal heuristics are shortcuts the brain uses to quickly make decisions. Rather than deliberate and collude what is the best course of action for every decision, the brain strengthens synaptic connections that represent mental rules that tend to work out most of the time. But such rules aren’t effective in every domain of life—yet the brain won’t go out of its way to fix what doesn’t seem broken.

Behavioral science research has concluded that losses loom larger than gains—this effect is known as loss aversion. When we are making decisions that consist of risky or uncertain options, the difference between losses and gains is swayed towards a seemingly larger cost.

Which makes sense. I can’t tell you how many times I have found myself ruffled in thought because of some tiny negative, yet seemingly unphased from a big win.

The bearing mental heuristics have on our abilities to make decisions couldn’t be greater. In our case, the tendency to heavily overestimate the marginal cost of past decisions—otherwise known as loss aversion—impacts our dedication to finishing those awful books.

Knowing When to Stop

The loss aversion can cripple our abilities to get the most bang for our buck when making decisions—improving our reading habits is no exceptions.

When we spend our resources—time, attention, money—on reading a book, we feel obligated to continue reading because of the loss we feel from weighing those prior resource investments as relevant to our current options. Yet classic economic theory tells us that an investment should only consider the incremental costs and benefits of the current options and not the past— the phenomenon is better known as the sunk cost fallacy.

We don‘t realize our past expenses cannot be changed by our future decisions, and as a result, we should not consider the resources spent as though we can somehow make up for lost value—the resources are already gone.

This aversion to loss combined with our assumptions about making up for wasted resources creates this web of regret that some interpret as the rationale for sticking with a book. So instead of letting our metal quirks get the best of us, here are three tips to prepare you for when reading that book isn’t the most valuable investment you can make in yourself.

1. Knowing What You Like

Reading books we aren’t interested in is an easy way to get trapped in sunk cost reading. Developing an understanding of the type of books you find the most value from can prevent picking up a relatively bad book in the first place.  This isn’t to say you should not read broadly. Yet by finding a niche of interests, you can more quickly discern the quality of a book through prior knowledge on the subject as well as incentivize yourself to read because the book is of interest.

But not all books are written equally, and a book may be in your niche and be utterly dreadful. So try to do as much prep work as possible. Read reviews, summaries, podcasts, or anything you can get your hands on to better your understanding of the book you are about to commit to.

If you’re finding a sparse amount of resources online, go head and intentionally commit to only reading a specific amount of pages before starting. That way you can never trap ‘yourself in a finished’ what you started mindset—it’s as though you have negotiated with yourself the contract for your resources

2. It’s Not You, It’s Me.

You pick up a book that matches your interests and cannot be any more excited to get started.

But after 10 hours you find you do not understand a word of what the author is saying and you’re still on page 14 of 500–put down that book.

A book can sometimes just be too complex for our current understanding of the subject matter. And that’s okay. What is important is that we do not trudge through the remaining 486 pages because we ‘finish what you started’—sunk cost once again at work.

If you are excited about the book now, imagine how you will fell once you develop a basic understanding of the domain of study. I recommend you find a book that covers similar concepts in a more parsimonious way. That way when you tackle the book again you have a reference point to think about some of the tougher concepts discussed.

For example, I wanted to read the greats. Plato, Aristotle, Seneca, but I did not have the vocabulary nor background understanding to do so. So rather than read books by the authors directly, I read books that covered all major points—summaries. Now when I pick up a more challenging title I have a tool to guide my reading.

Another way is to use audiobooks. We can prime ourselves for the vocab, general points, and flow of writing by listening to a book in a supplement to our reading. So maybe it’s not the time to quite the book, but it time to change the format.

For more information on how to take advantage of audiobooks, check out my post on audiobooks here.

3. Leveraging Your Library

A common reason people feel obligated to read a book is that $20 per book isn’t cheap. They feel the purchase is a waste if they don’t make it through the entire book—sunk cost is tricky like that. Thus it’s in our best interest to try to minimize the cost of reading by reducing resources spent. But we cannot simply pay less attention or dedicate less time to reading, without sacrificing our abilities to understand what we read. But we can leverage the price.

Instead of purchasing books, I recommend you rent them at the library. This is the easiest way to commit less to a book. By renting you are have not monetarily invested anything. So when you reach a point where you feel the books just not for you, there is less cognitive weight against considering stopping.

Stop Reading Today

Use the three recommendations to stop reading junk, and start living intentionally.

Intentionally living starts with the type of work you choose to engage with and extends to what you avoid. To get the most out of reading you need to treat every book like a sweet pleasure avoiding those that cause you to ache at the idea of reading another page. By doing so reading never becomes a chore and is always the best investment you make for yourself.

If you are looking for ways to start reading more often check out my post on the various ways I use to read more.

Read More: How I Read 50+ Books Per Year

Why do you read? And are you reading enough?

If you’re looking for some great books to start reading more, go check out the titles I have reviewed in my 2017 journal. There are tons of books about psychology, philosophy, meditation, and so much more. Go check out the special page I created to share what I’ve learned about living intentionally with you.

Find the Book Summaries page here.


The Advantages and Disadvantages of Audiobooks

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The Advantages and Disadvantages of Audiobooks

Listen here folks—off to a great start with the audio puns—we need to talk about audiobooks; my concerns can be summed up in one sentence.

Audiobooks are supplementary, not substitutional to reading   

Like any other medium we use to acquire information, audiobooks have some caveats that you best consider before pressing play.

But I don’t mean to sound like a book purist, there are numerous benefits to come from audiobooks when done right.

Here are the advantages and disadvantages of audiobooks that I have found to be most the valuable. After reading this you’ll sure to be an expert on when to listen and when to read.

Advantage: Audiobooks reinforce or prepare you for reading

Every now and then a man’s mind is stretched by a new idea or sensation, and never shrinks back to its former dimensions.

The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table (1858) by Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.

Audiobooks are great for strengthening your base knowledge on a given topic.  As Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr pronounced, ideas are never the same when we encounter them again. So when you work with material multiple times over, you increase the chance of gaining value from the work just by having more exposure to the concepts.

For example, let’s say you listen to the audiobook before reading. This can prime you to better understand the text down the road. Personal I have used audiobooks as book prep work for reading books with more complex topics or vocabulary—especially the vocab.

When you are introduced to a book that seems ‘out of your league’, listen to a few chapters, write down words you don’t know, and the general ideas. Your hard work becomes clear when you finally pick up the book. Now you have a list of the words you struggled with ready, and some general themes prepared for if you get lost.

But perhaps you read the book before listening—there’s still huge value here.

Listening to a book can reinforce what you already read. This can be a very useful tool when you are seeking out more ways to engage with an author’s writing.

Before you start listening I recommend you grab a blank piece of paper and write down everything you remember about the book. Then as you listen frequently stop and check your knowledge. You can do this by using a tactic I call Projection Reading.

How Projection reading works is when you think the author is about to explain a concept or anecdote that you are familiar with, immediately stop the audio recording, and explain it to yourself. Resume playing to check how you did. Projection reading works by taking advantage of immediate feedback audiobooks provide—a type of trial and error. It is a simple way to give yourself a gauge on your understanding of a piece of information.

Advantage: Audiobooks tell a good story

You sit in a dark room, eyes closed, listening to the Lord of the Rings spoken by J. R. R. Tolkien himself. Your imagination paints the epic tale vividly, placing you in a state so scenery you begin to question why you aren’t an elf.

Audiobooks are an excellent storytelling device.

You can easily immerse yourself in the land of fiction by using them to paint the setting. By intentionally listening to the story, you can create the mental images to creatively explore your imaginary depiction of the scene.

The fictional simulations you construct are valuable tools for fostering creativity and empathy. Both of which can be used to address real-life circumstances.

I do not take advantage of this enough. 

Advantage: Audiobooks are a tool for skill acquisition

Audiobooks are excellent tools for cultivating mental capacities. Just like with projection reading, we can use audiobooks as an instrument for strengthening a specific desired skill set. Let’s take a look at a two.

Reading Speed

To explain the relationship between audiobooks and reading speed let’s think about rubber bands.

Like a rubber band, the pace that we read can be stretched. And depending on how you listen to audiobooks, you may be able to change the speed; this is where we start stretching.

By finding a pace that feels slightly uncomfortable, we can start to stretch our capacities to follow along with the reader. Doing so can move us more quickly through a text without sacrificing clarity—clarity is safeguarded because anytime we are unclear, we slow it down.

We can stretch our reading comprehension by reading as we listen— we will discuss this in depth later this month when we talk about speed reading tactics.


A new language is best supported through continual practice in every way you can. So when you are learning a new language it can be very helpful to listen to the pronunciations from a native speaker.

Becoming accustomed to the subtle ways an accent sounds can train the ear to notice the difference in tonality, allowing you to then surrogate what the native speaker does into your own linguistic pallet—in other words, you copy them.

A Study tiled Imitation Improves Language Comprehension published by Sage had this to say:

“Imitative behavior streamlines social interaction and aids in learning to replicate actions… Post-training measures showed that accent comprehension was most improved for participants who imitated the speaker’s accent.”

Improving your own language capabilities can become a little less stressful with the accessibility of audiobooks. At any free moment, you can immerse yourself in the language you’re studying, while accruing the benefits of potentially imitating the native speaker’s accent.

Disadvantages: (Most) nonfiction audiobooks are not efficient for growth

Not all books are read equally. So when you download Plato’s Republic, don’t expect to casually listen to it while you do the dishes—and if you do, don’t expect to become a professional philosopher from a few dishwashing session on 2x speed.

Certain books are just not transferable to the audio platform.  Some concepts need visuals, must be reviewed several times, and aren’t written for spoken words—even if they ought to be. This is why listening to complex titles is almost impossible through audiobooks.

Nonfiction tends to lack the immersive storytelling methods that make for a great fiction audiobook. That does not mean that Malcolm Gladwell or Michael Lewis could not take us on a journey for intellectual pursuits. It’s simply in most cases, nonfiction is best read especially if you’re seeking to develop a deep understanding of the material.

Disadvantages: Audiobooks are less engaging

If reading is a long-term relationship, then audiobooks are speed dating.

One of the reasons people tend to listen to audiobooks over reading is due to convenience. But don’t forget: Audiobooks are supplementary but not substitutional to reading.

But why does a more engaging experience matter anyways?

Being more engaged means we are more likely to reach a state of disfluency. Disfluency occurs when we’re working hard. You put more effort into organizing all the questions, concepts, and examples that are flowing through your head to make sense of what you’re engaging with. And through that, the brain creates stronger connections to make sense of all the information. What was once an unorganized garble of information about the book now becomes a functional model for understanding the text.

When we read our eyes are committed to a cause. With Audiobooks you cannot highlight, take notes in the margins, and conveniently reread a page over and over. So when you plan to listen to a book keep in mind that you are shallowly engaging with the text.

Disadvantages: Audiobooks cognitively reduce reading competence

As the last point foreshadowed, since you engage shallowly with auditory content, you do not gain the same benefit you would if you read the book.

This may seem contrary to popular beliefs, but listening and reading do not provide the same experience to your brain cognitively and therefore, are not synonymous enough to be used interchangeably for intellectual pursuits. 

Research conducted by the University of Waterloo titled The way we encounter reading material influences how frequently we mind wander had this to say about the effects of listening to a passage v. reading it in silence.

“Listening to the passage was also associated with the poorest memory performance and the least interest in the material. Finally, within the silent reading and listening encounters we observed negative relations between mind wandering and both memory performance and interest in the material,”

If our minds are constantly wandering from audiobooks, it will be extremely challenging to reach states of disfluency while engaging with the material. As readers for self-improvement, we must be wary of tactics that aren’t as effective at consolidating information that we invest our free time in consuming.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with preferring audiobooks to reading—perhaps it is simply more convenient and that is what matters to you.

But when you choose audiobooks, you must understand that you’re sacrificing your engagement with the material for convenience. Reading’s dominance over audiobooks is not any less significant because of your life situation.

We all have a choice when it comes to how deeply we would like to engage with information, it’s up to you to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of both listening and reading given your circumstances.

If you are looking for ways to start reading more often check out my post on the various ways I use to read more.

Read More: How I Read 50+ Books Per Year

Why do you read? And are you reading enough?

If you’re looking for some great books to start reading more, go check out the titles I have reviewed in my 2017 journal. There are tons of books about psychology, philosophy, meditation, and so much more. Go check out the special page I created to share what I’ve learned about living intentionally with you.

Find the Book Summaries page here.


Read More: How I Read 50+ Books Per Year

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forces of habit kiante fernandez

Read More: How I Read 50+ Books Per Year

Warren Buffet was once asked by a student how to get to his level of expertise in investing.

Buffet paused, and reached into his bag for a pile of reports, trade publications, and selected works stating he should “read 500 pages like this every day”

He continued, “That's how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will do it.”

Read more because it is the best investment in yourself.

As Warren Buffet said, it compounds, so as we read more, the patterns of thought commonly used to think about a subject become clear.

With a firm relationship with the conventional, new mental schema are born—this is how we can constantly grow. By using what we learn in one domain and combining with another, personal transformation is inevitable.

But you all know reading is important, the question is how we make reading urgent enough to read more.

Over the years I have collected tons of useful ways you can start to read more—check them out below. To live intentionally you must put effort toward yourself, and there’s no better investment than to read more.

Here’s how I read more, maybe they’ll work for you too.


Reading Mindset: It’s Not a Chore

Reading with the end in mind—finishing the book—is not the best place to start. When we are constantly thinking about the end, it is an easy route to making reading a nightmare.  

If you look at reading as a chore you can never get excited about it.

Reading is not a punishment or something you endure to ‘check the boxes’. We read for self-growth. And if you are daunting the idea of reading, it may be time to change how or what you are reading.

Try focusing more on what you’re reading and less on the how much. When we focus on the process—reading for 15 minutes—rather than the product—finishing the book—we become stronger readers.


Only Read What You Want

Reading is a lot easier when you stop reading reactively and start reading proactively.

You probably have had a time in your life where you were told to read something, and that was the extent of when you read. But to read more we have to start reading less for others, and more for yourself.

People will tell you that you MUST read this classic or that classic, but unless a book speaks to you, don’t bother.

I don’t mean close yourself off to new things—please explore—just explore your interests and not what others want you to be interested in.

When you find books that you really are excited to know more about, you set yourself up for success.


Set Intentional Reading Times

If you want to read more, reading needs to become a priority.

We only get 24 hours, and it is up to us to choose how we spend it. To read more you need to give reading a spot in your schedule. Choose a time, and declare that nothing but reading is done during that time. Start as small as 15 minutes—remember, small actions matter.

If you find yourself wanting more, gradually increase how long you spend reading by minute intervals. It sounds tedious, but from my experience, it decreases the likelihood you will become too intimidated to read, while also motivating you to grow another minute each time you do read. 

When you are intentional with the time you will read more.


Make Reading Part Of You

Social proof will always a strong motivator towards behavior change.

The Self does not stop at the skin. Part of who you perceive yourself to be is based on the relationships you form, and that means if you want to read more, you need to form relationships with readers.

Find people online or a person who loves to read and stick to them. If those whom you spend the most of your time with read, you will have no trouble reading more because it becomes part of your identity—a reader becomes who you are.

But say you can’t find a book club or a community of readers online. Influence isn’t limited to who you know, so why not just surround yourself with readers anyway.

I used this tactic when I first starting developing my reading habit. I created what Daniel Pink calls in his book To Sell Is Human, agitation. Agitation is challenging someone to do something they already want to do. I realized I could challenge myself to read as long as I had a constant reminder agitating me to do so.

So I would only read in the bookstore.

All around me people would silently browse titles or sip coffee as they sat around and, you guessed it, read.

I was agitated.

The bookstore was full of people reading, making it an optimal environment for convincing me to read. I knew what I wanted to be—a reader—and the bookstore help push me to become that.

For a community of online readers, check out the subreddit /r/books.


Give Up Reading Boring Books or Bad Books

If a book is not up to standards, stop reading.

We do not read to check the boxes, we read for genuine interest. So if you find yourself only reading on because ‘you have to finish’, recognize that why you started to read the book is not solely why you should finish.

It costs your time and attention to read. And the cost you pay for reading may be a poor investment if you are not fully engaged. I'm sure you'd rather read 2 pages of literary gold over 200 pages of a grudging experience.

You will read more books when you learn how to stop reading when a book is not up to code.

Stop causing the cost of reading to overrun its value because you narrow-mindedly want to ‘read a book’ for the purpose of finishing.


Read Only the Best Stuff

Go online and seek out the best books on the topic and read those.

A trick I like to use is reading the 3-star reviews on Amazon. Why? Because anyone who felt that ambivalent about a book has some insight on who said it better. By reading those reviews I guided myself to what another person found to be a better use of their time learning the subject.

You can also head over to the bookstores and ask the staff. Someone who spends most of their time around books is bound to have a title in mind for your interests, and if not, why not take the opportunity to find out what books they consider to be amazing.


Do Not Compare

Some read fast, some read slow. But you read to understand.

The number of books and the speed in which you read them matter little in the larger scheme of things. Reading is not a competition. How you read will not be the same as how I read. What matters is the value you accumulate from reading over time.

I would have never started if each time I read the advice of an avid reader I compared my reading discipline to theirs. Yes, take the avid reader's advice to see what works, but do not assess what is working by using another person’s reading stats as the sole metric.

 A lot goes into becoming a better reader, so do not get caught up in speed—we will talk about speed in due time—or quantity first; just read.  ‘Stop reading into it, and start reading some pages.’


Why do you read? And are you reading enough?

If you’re looking for some great books to start reading more, go check out the titles I have reviewed in my 2017 journal. There are tons of books about psychology, philosophy, meditation, and so much more. Go check out the special page I created to share what I’ve learned about living intentionally with you.

Find the Book Summaries page here.