Tricks of the Trade: Two Essential Tips for Speed Reading

Have you read my old article “Double Your Reading Speed Now?” If not, you might want to try it out for tips on faster reading techniques. The suggestions below are ways to enhance your practice of speed reading techniques you already know.

However, I want to point out that these tips will work without the use of any special speed reading techniques. In fact, the two tips below are a natural way of increasing reading speed. No expensive coursework required.

1. Practice your reading techniques on simple material and gradually increase the complexity.

It’s difficult enough to learn techniques of hand pacing and word grouping and other systems for building reading speed. If you’re going build new skills, at least do it on easy material.

And, when I say easy or simple material, I mean stuff like children’s literature. You could even start with Little Golden Books. Really. I had a friend who took a speed reading course from one of the best-known providers (many years ago), and at that time, this is exactly what they recommended. I tried it with quite a number of students when I was teaching Psychology of Learning, and it worked quite well.

Of course, you wouldn’t want to use very simple stuff for very long. You should increase the reading difficulty level at least every week or so until you find the best level for you. When your ability to use the techniques is well-established, you can start applying them to more and more complex material.

2. Read a lot. The more you read, the faster you get.

You need to actually like to read to get faster. So read fiction, especially in your favorite genre. Unlike non-fiction, most moder fictions is designed to be read quickly. Popular authors know that one of the things that makes them popular is they have a nice, easy flow.

Lots of folks get public domain downloads of books from the internet and print them to read. After all, why spend extra money on books for practice? But, many classics are harder because they were written in a time when few people could or did read. Most readers were well-educated intellectuals. So, if you’re going to use public domain classics while building your reading speed, read something like Sherlock Holmes stories. They were written to be popular.

People who read fast naturally have built their skills exactly by following the two methods I’ve suggested here. They started with a love of reading, usually at a young age. They read as much of their favorite reading matter as time would allow, gradually increasing the range and complexity of what they read. Eventually they could read anything — as long as they had the basis for understanding the material — at a speed well above average.

The good news is that you don’t have to start at an early age to become a natural speed reader. You can simply start with the same materials you would have used at an earlier age and build quickly to matter that is more appropriate to your age and education. As you may imagine, you won’t have to put in the years that people who got it “organically” did. Just a matter of weeks.

In the long run, though, you’ll still have to do a great deal of reading to keep up the speed and continue to build it. Use it or lose it.

“Good Old Books” download: “The Optimistic Life” and “Every Man a King”

The New Thought Movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries had a great impact on self-help and personal achievement writers and speakers throughout the 20th century. If you study New Age writers, you’ll find its influence there. Furthermore, if you pay attention, you’ll find plenty of early 21st century writers on success and achievement espousing New Thought ideas.

Start with nothing and pull yourself up by your bootstraps? New Thought. Positive attitude wins the day? New Thought. Change your life with affirmations? New Thought. Find your passion to find your best work? New Thought. Reiterations of “sound mind in a sound body?” New Thought. Why not? These are also much older ideas and ideals. New Thought added new spiritual twists on them. But that was the culture of the day.

So, if you read the original New Thought writers, you might think them a little preachy. You might think them a little naïve. Yet, you’ll find the roots of much of our current self-help and entrepreneurial success literature in them.

I’ve been reading some of New Thought writer Orison Swett Marden, in search of a good “old book download” for you. He was the founder of the publication “Success Magazine,” and seemed to be a logical choice.

While I find a lot of his writing too much like following the mind of someone with ADHD, I have found a couple of his books that I think most people can benefit from.

“The Optimistic Life, Or in the Cheering Up Business” is a bit on the Pollyanna-ish side, but is a good demonstration of early works in positive thinking and in the idea of “laughter as the best medicine.” Not to mention that it does have many ideas that have been validated by later science. Even if it does have comments that are a bit too “cute.” I think you’ll find it a lot more cheerful that watching the current news on TV.

“Every Man a King; or, Might in Mind-Mastery,” is one of Marden’s more straight-forward and practical behavior-oriented books. The advance of science since his time has shown that what he wrote is considerably more complicated than his simple descriptions. Nevertheless, a great deal of his thinking can still be found in current self-help, success and personal achievement literature.

As you read, remember that he was a self-made success who worked his way through Harvard(!) to earn an M.D. degree as well as a degree in law. He also studied public speaking and theology. You can see the influences of his studies in his various writings.

If you want more books by Marden, go search on

Value in old books and a new feature on this website…

When I was practicing as a clinician, I frequently recommend books to patients and clients as an adjunct to therapy. I even kept an extensive library of the books I recommended, in order to loan them out to those who couldn’t find copies of them or who couldn’t (or wouldn’t) afford them.

I still review and recommend books on this site. I think that books, audios and videos are invaluable to any self-improvement program. Just as most of your education is found in your “homework” assignment rather than in the actual classroom, most of your growth and development is in what you do outside of coaching, counseling, consulting or therapy. Reading tops the list.

I’ve been reading quite a bit lately about the value of older “classics” in self-improvement literature. Promoters of reprints of the old books like to say that many of our newer writers are merely rehashing old ideas and that we can get a lot from old writers, stuff that we don’t hear about today or that somehow has greater import by being more “original.”

But, there is very little literature of any genre that is unique. Almost every idea is built on something already known. Let’s face it: much of our philosophy in the West comes from ancient Greece and Rome. And many of our ideas for self-improvement come not only from Greco-Roman philosophy, but also from the teachings of the Buddha, from Indian mystics and from the Judeo-Christian bible.

Put them together with a knowledge of history, observation, research, experience and logic, and — voila! — other ideas emerge. Sounds just like what a writer does, eh? So, self-improvement (including business self-improvement) writers do end up saying a lot of similar things.

However, good writers come up with ways of thinking about the classic ideas that make them relevant to their own generations. They also illustrate them with stories that are contemporary for their readers. Plus, they write in styles that are popular for the readers of their own time. That’s why most of us will prefer the newer books. They are easier and more pleasant to read.

Yet, there’s a charm to the “old fashioned” styles and expressions. Many appreciation them. And the early books contain some wisdom and some ethical values that may have been, well, not lost but temporarily misplaced during the changes that naturally occur in education and culture as we develop technologically and socially.

Just as an example, Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography and his “Poor Richard’s Almanac” are considered as relevant and helpful today as in his day.

And just think of all the articles and book chapters of modern writers that begin with quotes of famous thinkers and doers of earlier ages. I often use the idea embodied in a quote to make a point relevant to psychology or business today.

This is a long way of saying that I’m beginning a new feature on my website. I’m going to be adding old books for you to download from time to time.

Today, I have two classic books that cover an inspiring historical event. One describes the event’s relevance to business and employment. The other is the personal experience of the main actor in the event.

1. A Message to Garcia
2. How I Carried a Message to Garcia

There’s no particular reason I chose these two books. I just happened to run across them when I was thinking about adding the “download old books” feature. Next time, I’ll provide some better known old classics. And I’ll take the time to give a brief overview of each.