💭Stop Reading Without Thinking!

💭Stop Reading Without Thinking!
Photo by Juan Rumimpunu / Unsplash

Reading without thinking is like exercising without sleeping.

Weightlifting and endurance training cause little micro-tears in your muscle fibers. With sleep and adequate nutrition, these muscle fibers are repaired and either increase strength, muscle mass, or both.

But without sleep, the whole process falls apart.

Similarly, without thinking, a quality reading habit can't form. Reading is like exercise for the brain. As you read, you are exposed to new ideas, terms, and facts. You come to grips with the author or authors' mental models which form from childhoods and experiences unique to your own.

But the author does a lot of the work packaging these novel concepts for you in a book. Hopefully, they organize them in a way that makes sense.

To get the most out of your reading habit, you need to instill a thinking habit outside of your reading sessions. Notice how I used the word habit. Thinking doesn't come naturally. In the age of the internet, most people have completely lost the skill of controlling their thoughts.

You don’t gain wisdom just by living. You have to gain it through thinking on experience.

Thinking during your reading doesn't count. In fact, reading and thinking are in many ways opposites.

In On Thinking For Oneself Arthur Schopenhauer believed reading was the antithesis to thinking. Schopenhauer once said, "The safest way of having no thoughts of one’s own is to take up a book every moment one has nothing else to do."

While reading, most of your working memory (your memory for incredibly short-term thoughts and concepts) is filled with words from the text. The only way to think freely is to set the book down and let yourself ponder the book.

Friedrich Nietzsche, once an avid student of Schopenhauer, came to similar conclusions. Like his fellow German philosopher, he was ambivalent about the written word.

Nietzsche believed reading was like any craft; it requires discipline through regular reading habits. Nietzsche maintained long walks and mountain air were more inspiring than hours poring over syllogisms.

So when should you think? And what should you think about?

I love thinking because it is one of the only habits you can do with literally nothing. Waiting in a coffee line? Think. Waiting for your bus? Think. Walking outside? Perhaps listen to the birds or look at nature but if not, think.

When I'm thinking, I like to run through some of the most recent things I have been reading in my head. I pour over chapters and ideas which particularly interested me.

Sometimes I will try and recall the major points and at others, I will try and connect ideas to things I have learned in the past.

Thinking has no rules.

I don't stick to one train of thought. I jump back and forth looking for the most interesting idea I can find. Once I find it, I latch on and ponder it for minutes on end.

During this process, I almost always come up with a ton of cool ideas for future blog posts, YouTube videos, or newsletters. This is why I always bring a little notebook which fits in my pocket and a pen. No not a phone. It will distract you too much from thinking.

Later at night, I will add these ideas to my Content Creation planner for future reference.

Thinking is a habit, a skill, but necessary for a quality reading habit. Try it out for yourself next time you go on a walk or wait in line. You will be surprised by the results.