I was never a big reader. I have no idea how I made it through school. I would read a sentence and almost immediately forget what I had read. Multiply that by a few pages and trying to recall written information was a fairly difficult task.
Especially if it was ‘technical’ content, then I would have to go back and re-read many times over. Just so I can fully understand what I had gone through.
I was fortunate enough to study Information Technology at university where there was not much reading to be done. Otherwise, it would have been an even tougher journey for me academically.
However, in this day and age we are presented with more and more information. Anything we ever need to know and learn is only a Google search away.
The problem now is not so much the finding of knowledge, it is the impact of that knowledge. Since we can find anything we pretty much want, we need to be able to use that bit of knowledge to how we want.
Unfortunately, getting to the point of impact from the knowledge is a little more challenging as we tend to miss one important aspect of knowledge acquisition — effective reading.
We need to be able to translate this knowledge so that we actually understand it faster and better. Doing so will help us get to what we really want to do, rather than spending so much effort to understand it.
The most frequent request I receive as a coach from clients is to be able to read faster and better so they can gain knowledge in a more efficient way, and use that knowledge to boost their skills so they can have greater impact in life.
We are traditionally taught letters of the alphabet and then slowly move on to reading words. And that’s it. That’s where our reading level stops. We never progress from this part of reading. Once we can read words, we can read anything yes?
Well, of course. However, there is something far greater going on in relation to reading that not many people know about. If they did know then our education system and professionals would be teaching an entirely different way than today.
The Yellow Elephant Memory Model
In my book, The Yellow Elephant, I discuss the Yellow Elephant Memory Model. This model breaks down four components of deciphering meaningless data and how to encode that into something memorable to be stored in our brains for easy retrieval. The four components are:
Abstract in this model means that the data we are presented doesn’t make sense to us. Either for a short period of time or at all. For example, if I presented you the number 282546293, what would this mean to you?
Not much I’m guessing. If I wrote something to you in a language you didn’t know, that would also be classified as abstract, since you would not know what it meant.
Words we know can also be classified as abstract. We don’t get the full meaning or imagery of what that word represents straight away. It could be in milliseconds, or seconds, or even longer if we are dealing with ‘technical’ words.
Why is this an issue?
If we don’t form a representation of the word in an image form in our minds, then we don’t get to fully understand the word.
How many times have you read something, only to go back and re-read it again? This occurs because there was no image to represent that word and hence you had to go back, sometimes subconsciously, to create an image for it.
This is also the reason why ‘technical’ content can be difficult to understand as you may not have an image related to a word.
Let’s take watching a movie for example. Do you try and understand every single word that’s spoken? Do you memorise and focus on each word consciously?
No, because doing so would be painful and you will probably go back and rewind to hear the dialogue again because of having missed ‘important’ bits you couldn’t quite remember.
It would be a very slow and long movie. Yet, this action is quite familiar when we read. We are taught to read word by word and by the time the sentence or two finishes, we go back to re-read in order to make sense.
Encoding abstract data into meaningful information
The question now is, how do we decipher abstract data (in our case, words) to images to better understand what we read? The answer is learning the rules of speed reading. Speed reading is the art of encoding abstract data to visual information.
By being able to encode abstract data to visual, we are naturally reading much faster. Also, since we are visualising the information, we are enhancing our comprehension. So how we do we understand what’s happening in the movie? We just watch it.
We SEE the content. And because we are visualising the content, we are engaging mentally with better understanding. Why do you think it can take days and weeks to read a book, yet its equivalent movie can only take a couple of hours?
Another example is street signs. Imagine if instead of images representing a message, it was decoded as a sentence or two. What do you think would be the result out on the roads?
We would end up not finishing sentences as we are travelling a lot faster, hence not be able to read all the signs. And it’s not like you can quickly go back now is it 🙂
Here are the techniques I use to encode abstract data into meaningful visually encoded information.