How to read
Surgical Reading and having a Second Brain
We've all been taught how to read in the literal sense (otherwise you wouldn't be able to read this).
And even if we don't follow it, we've been collectively lectured by the internet, our teachers and our parents about the benefits of reading.
So much so that my parents factored in the proximity of a library when they were deciding to buy a bigger apartment in the 2000s.
They have made the right decision (and I'm forever grateful for that.) Reading is good for us.
In a world of instant dopamine snacks, reading is the healthier alternative. It reduces stress, sharpens our knowledge, and enhances our empathy for others.1
For myself, I see reading as a way to train my ability to single-task. It's where I practice disconnecting from all the fickle thoughts buzzing around my head and notifications pinging my phone. All so that I can devote my whole and uninterrupted attention at the task right in front of me. The piece of text.
For 2020, I managed to read eight books, one book more than the annual reading goal I set out for myself.
Although I beat my reading goal, I was left unsatisfied. Because if people ask me what I thought about this book or that book that I've read. My mind would go into panic mode and scramble to recall what I've learned. And a few seconds later, I would embarrassingly utter out "umm yeah, it was a pretty good book."
What’s the point of reading if I can't remember what I've read?
And so I did what had to be done. I read more to find out how I could remember what I read.
Reading like a surgeon
From Brandon Zhang2 and others, I picked up the term surgical reading. It's the idea where you go in, skim the table of contents, pick the most high value parts, and read those. For the rest of the book, you skim read or ignore it. (Except for fictional books.)
It reinforced the idea that reading a book from cover to cover is ridiculous. You wouldn't finish watching a TV show you no longer enjoy and you rush to skip the song you don't like. So why do we force ourselves to finish a book we don't like?
This social pressure to finish every book we pick up has robbed too many people from experiencing the true joy of reading. Don't like it? Drop it.
From Ali Abdaal3 and others, I picked up the idea of a resonance calendar. It's the belief that our brains are built to process ideas, not store them. So to preserve that precious mental real estate, we should offload the storage of ideas.
For myself, I've offloaded it into a Notion4 page titled Second Brain. There, I keep track of what I’m reading and what I’m learning from them.
I’ve designed it so that for every book and article I add into my Second Brain, I have to ask myself three key questions.
How would I teach this to someone else?
This causes me to phrase the knowledge as if I was teaching someone else. When one teaches, two learn.
How does this integrate with other knowledge?
Here, active recall comes into play and I form new links with what I've already learned. I'm looking to create new ideas worth remembering.
How can I take action on this in my life?
There is no point being a walking encyclopedia only. As cool as that is, it’s the action that counts.
Below is an actual screenshot of what my Second Brain page looks like for the book I’m still reading, Meditations by Marcus Aurelius.
This system of surgical reading and building a Second Brain isn't perfect. But this time, when I’m done reading Meditations, maybe I’ll have more to say other than just “umm yeah, it was a pretty good book.”
Over & Under
Here, I bring up things that are over or undervalued (in my opinion of course). Feel free to voice your disagreements by replying.
Overvalued - Negativity
There’s a tactic where marketers focus on the negatives of not buying, instead of the positives of buying. Why? Because they know the negatives are twice as powerful as the positives.
Undervalued - Sleep
When was the last time you saw a genius portrayed as a person who goes to bed at 11PM sharp and wakes up at 7AM every day? But it’s sleep that gives us that advantage in life.5
Jonah Lupton - He’s one of the many people peddling their stock picks online. But the key differentiator is that he publicly reveals his own portfolio and his amazing performance. Disclosure: This should not be interpreted as investment advice. Please do your own due diligence before making any investment decision.
That’s all from Incandescent. See you next week!
- Guan Jie