Why Memorizing Matters More Than You Think

And What You Miss When You Don't

Nearly all those who’ve gone through our education system have heard the same message in one form or another: memorizing isn’t important, learning how to think is what really matters. At best the role of memorization has been relegated to the non-important and at worst, denigrated.

One of my goals this year is to memorize the book of Hebrews in the bible. It was overwhelming when I first considered doing it and frankly, I still find it daunting.  I think one of the main reasons I finally made the commitment is because a good friend of mine joined me.  And what I’ve experienced over the last couple of weeks while working on this goal has been surprising: it’s how much my neglect of memory discipline has impacted my thinking ability.

Critical Thinking Skills

Now I totally agree that the ability to think critically is….well…..critical, and that critical thinking skills are to be emphasized.  Couple that with the mind-bending technology we have at our fingertips that gives us access to just about anything you can type into Google, it would indeed seem that memorization of rote facts and content is now passée. Or is it?

Since our modern methods of data capture allow us to archive just about every sound, image or thought we care to record, we have it covered when it comes to archiving information.  That gives us comfort knowing that future generations will have what they need to keep moving forward. After all, civilization is nothing more than the externalization of our thoughts and memories.  Our technology also empowers us with the ability to retrieve just about any information we need in a split second and at the touch of a keystroke. So what could be missing and what else could we want? As it turns out, plenty.

Why Memorization Matters

Any benefit or gain usually involves a trade-off of some sort and it’s no different when it comes to modern methods of recording and storing information. So much so that many of us rely solely on our notebooks or devices to be our brain.  Here are some the “greater” benefits you lose when you let memory discipline go out the window:

  • Greater creativity.
  • Greater mental agility, stamina and overall “mental fitness”.
  • Greater neural synapse growth, number, and strength.
  • Greater ability to integrate information into new concepts and ideas.
  • Greater recall and integration of  important ideas, facts and details during discussion.
  • Greater ability to build longer-lasting memories faster and less painfully.
  • Great brain health and less age related decline.

While this is simply a a short-list and by no means exhaustive, it’s certainly attractive in a day and age marked by the early mental decline of so many.

What The Ancients Achieved

Prior to the printing press, most people had to rely almost exclusively on memory to communicate what was important to each other. And while writing seems to have been around as long as man has,  the tools needed to do it weren’t convenient(think chisel, stone, papyrus, quill,  etc.) and belong only to the learned and wealthy.  Writing back then was primarily used to record and transmit all that was important from generation to generation, not to serve as an external brain like it usually is today. But that’s not all.

Memory way-back-when was considered to be ars memorativa, or the “art of memory”. It was also considered to be the foundation of character, virtue and learning.  It was how:

  • Roman Senators delivered long speeches.
  • Limited copies of books were disseminated and shared via recitation with those who would never see a copy or couldn’t read.
  • Laws were understood by an uneducated populace.
  • Technical skills that often required lengthly processes were mastered and applied.

To deny the remarkable achievements of the ancients is simply chronological snobbery.

Lessons For Today

I agree with David Allen of GTD fame that our brains are made for thinking and not placeholders of information. That’s only if the term “placeholders” means transitory to-do lists, trivia and other stress-producing factoids that can be classified as minutia.  On the other hand, if it’s rich information, content and thoughts that have been refined by the minds of many over the millennia then I passionately disagree; let’s not confuse the two. In fact, its the latter that gives us the foundation and fodder we need to think critically and creatively in the first place.

Current brain science and the achievements of the ancients send us a strong message that the process, discipline and content of memorization are important.  Are we listening?

The real issue is how people of yester-year developed their mental fitness, memory capacity and integrated it into their critical and creative thinking. What was their secret?  As it turns out, there is one so stay tuned!

How much meaningful memorization have you done lately? It matters more than you think.

Please leave a comment, I’d love to hear your thoughts.



4 Keys To Crushing Your Really Long Reading List

And Which Is Most Important

Reading can be like exercise and eating right. We know if we were better with both those we would be a better person. In fact, if we were really good at them we could likely be transformed.

Like the two disciplines above that have been the resolutions of millions, most people aren’t where they want to be with their reading. For many (like me), an expanding book list can be just as troublesome as an expanding waist-line.

There are a lot of things that keep us from what we want and know are in our best interest. It’s no different with reading. The other reality is that despite the endless variety of “stuff” that keeps us from making progress with the reading we want, only about a 1/2 dozen reasons make the biggest difference.

If you’re serious about wanting to make progress with your reading, you need a reading system that works.  And what I’ve found over the last two years is that by getting conscious about and implementing the following four things, you can make amazing progress:

4 Keys To Crush It

  1. Know your “Why”. What is the overarching purpose you have for reading in the first place? Some read for information, others amusement or escape and most read for combination of reasons. There are a lot of reasons to read and it’s up to you to figure out yours…and then keep it front and center.
  2. Know your “What”. This deals directly with the books you you choose to read.  It may be what’s on your really long book list right now, at least before you cull it after figuring out your “Why”. Use the pyramid concept to help you decide: Is it for amusement or information, gaining practical skills, to get better in work and life or become more enlightened?
  3. Know your “How”. The how will be determined by both your “Why” and your “What”.  There are essentially 4 types of reading you can use to get the job done; make sure to select the right one. Having a 1-size fits-all approach is the second biggest mistake when it comes to reading.
  4. This is the most important Key. Block time in your schedule to read consistently and then engrain it as a habit. Failing to do this is by far the biggest mistake you can make when it comes to reading.

Simple…..And Easy Not To Do

Seems too simple, right? If it’s so simple then why don’t more people do it? I’m not sure. Perhaps the best overall answer that what’s easy to do is also easy not to do. What I do know is that after I put that fourth and most important key in place, I read 50 books that year. What did it look like? Simply reading 30 minutes 6-days a week as the last part of my morning ritual. And that was before I was even conscious and intentional with the first 3 keys. By incorporating the other three keys I was able to double my reading this year (no joke).

What would your reading list look like in 30 days if you simply read for 30minutes a day?  Think big and imagine what your reading list would like if you put all 4 keys in place and “baked-in” a reading habit over the next 12 months. What would it look like then?

If this topic resonates with you then go ahead and make a risk-free experiment: put at least one of the keys in place and see what happens.

Once you do, please leave a comment, I’d love to hear about it.

How A Book “Pyramid” Can Help You Read For Transformation

Are You Reading What Matters Most?

Reading a book really is a miracle of sorts. Think about it. A book can allow you to spend time selectively with some of the greatest people who have ever lived. Those people may still be alive or figures from the distant past (as in thousands of years ago).  Books also allow you to travel to periods past, the imagined future as well as experience different cultures. All of this any time you want and for as much time as you like.

You can also waste a lot of time with books.

Solomon said it well in Ecclesiastes 12:12: . “…..of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.”  No kidding! And those words were penned several thousand years ago and long before the printing press!! Given that knowledge now doubles every 13 months and with more people than ever self-publishing, the number of books available is simply mind-boggling.

Although I’ve grown a lot this year with regard to How I read, I now want to focus more on the Why of my reading.  I want more of my reading to be transformative and not simply for information acquisition. While both are important, only one is lasting.

The Book Pyramid

If you’re looking to read for transformation, then I think you’ll find Van Doren and Adler’s Pyramid of Books helpful as well as challenging. I know I did. The good news here is that although there are a seeming endless number of books available, there are only 3 levels to the pyramid.

  • Level 1- These books are read only for amusement or information.  Adler states that the great majority of the several million books that have been written in the Western tradition alone— more than 99 per cent of them— will not make sufficient demands on you for you to improve your reading skill. Those would be in this category, which can triage your book selection  down significantly. When you do read a book in this level, don’t waste you’re time reading it analytically; skimming will be sufficient most of the time.
  • Level 2- These books are read so you can learn more about how to read and how to live. Books in this level are carefully and thoughtfully written and convey great insights about topics of enduring interest to humankind.  As Adler says of books in this category, “they make severe demands on the reader” and must be read analytically. When you read this kind of book it can stretch you, it can grow you, and you can get all you need from it with a single good reading. While you may refer back to your underlining or notes, you won’t need to re-read the book because it doesn’t have the power to change you further.
  • Level 3- In addition to the advantages of level 2 books, these books also have the ability to transform you. They contain inexhaustible value because each time you read it you get new insights, see new things and gain more understanding while your previous understanding is expanded. This kind of book also differs from a level 2 book in that it has the the mysterious quality of being able to grow with you. Although the book doesn’t change, your capacity for understanding and grasping what it can offer does change. When you read a book in this level it can lift you up over and over again and only does so when you’ve expanded your capacity to be lifted.

Transformational Books

If you want to read more for transformation (and I know I do), Van Doren and Adler have made it easy: Simply review the list of Level 3 books they’ve compiled in Appendix A of How To Read A Book and make your selection. While some of these books may seem daunting, I can only imagine the treasure they contain.

We know that nothing worthwhile is easy, so why would we expect it to be any different when it comes to books?  If you limit your reading to only the most popular current titles you no doubt gain information, but probably little else. Going a step lower, you may also be able to find something of value in a trashy novel or tabloid but is the juice really worth the squeeze? I mean, you can find a scrap of bread digging in a garbage can too, but there’s a better way and much more to be had for your efforts. It’s no different when it comes to reading.

How much of what you currently read is capable of transforming you? If you want your answer to be different going forward, the book pyramid is one tool that can help you get started.

What is your reading goal for this next year? If you don’t have one, what would it be if you did?

Please leave a comment, I’d love to read it!


How To Read To Succeed!

Why The Way You Read Matters

It’s easy to take for granted what you have or how you go about doing something.  So it is with books and reading. To compound matters, even when we do have good intentions for reading the reality is that our actions don’t match them.  Is it our lack of motivation that limits our progress? Or, could it have to do with how we are going about the task?

I’ve always been a “good” reader by most standards. However, I realized that if something didn’t change in my reading approach, my kids were going to find a long list and stack of unread books when I died.  More importantly, I also realized these were books that could help me grow in a transformational way, allow me to get to know the some of the most interesting people who ever walked the planet, and get a taste of the wisdom of the ages.

That’s when I decided to get serious and read Mortimer Adler’s classic book “How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading”.  For me, I came to the conclusion that how I was reading had a lot more to do with my progress (or lack thereof) in this area than did motivation. What follows are my main take aways from the book.

Know Why  you want to read059 AwakeMotivate II

Of course there is the overall “Big A” why for your reading…and that’s to grow and become more. How you want to grow and in what areas will be different for each person so it’s up to you to figure that out

The other “Little a” agenda relates to each book you read and your purpose for doing so. There are three primary ones: for information, understanding or transformation.  Do you need to know more, understand better, or become more as a person? Determine which it is before you start.

Know What you want to read

The primary distinction is between works of fiction and works conveying knowledge, or expository works. Both have their place and purpose, depending on your “Why” for reading.  Among expository works,  know whether your interest is theoretical or practical. Sometimes all you’re interested in is the former, sometimes all you need is the latter and sometimes you need both in order to get what you want.

My guess is that readers of this blog are primarily interested in expository works. Because of that, I’ll include a reminder here to not forget the works of  fiction as they have their own way of informing and enriching. And because I’ll be a hypocrite if I say anything further about reading fiction, I’ll stop :).

Know How to read it

An overarching principle is to read actively. Too often we approach our reading passively, as if we are looking for the bottom-line to drop to us much like a package from UPS would. Active reading, on the other hand, is more like trying to catch a ball; you have to keep your eye on it the entire time and adjust until you have it firmly in hand.

The other important principal is knowing how you’re going to go about reading the book. Adler describes the following four general types of reading:

  1. Elementary- This is simply being able to consume printed content in an effective an efficient way. This level is most often addressed by speed reading courses that help you overcome poor habits of sub-vocalization, regression and other bad habits that can hamper your reading.
  2. Inspectional- The emphasis here is time. The goal is to get the most you possibly can out of the book in a limited  amount of time with a superficial level of reading, which can be quite a bit. That’s right, you can learn a LOT from a book simply by skimming or even superficially reading a book. The key is to look for themes, key content and become familiar with the structure. You want to avoid getting derailed by trying to understand the finer detail…which can cause you to lose the bigger picture. There are no “book police” that will harass you for not reading a book in detail. You have permission to skim (and skimp); enjoy it!
  3. Analytical- The goal of analytical reading is thorough understanding. While inspectional reading seeks to maximize limited time, analytical reading will ignore time in order to maximize your understanding. Unfortunately, most people think they have to read everything in an analytical way and that is not the case.
  4. Synoptical or Comparative- This is the most complex and systematic type of reading of all. It’s also the most rewarding because it allows you to come up with insights and concepts from many books that aren’t contained in any single book. Because this type of reading makes heavy demands on the reader even with simple books, it’s also the kind of reading some won’t want or even need to do.

Francis Bacon once remarked that “some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.” The bottom line: know what you want and then partake accordingly.

We have so much information at our fingertips today it’s easy to get faked-out.  Just because you expend energy reading letters on a page doesn’t mean you’ve accomplished your purpose for reading.

And while knowing the Why, What and How of reading can move your toward your real purpose for reading a particular book, you still have to actually do it. In other words, you have to “eat the broccoli”. And to really grow, a haphazard or random approach to reading  just won’t do. There just aren’t enough rainy-book-reading-days or enough spare time to get it done. That’s why it’s important to have a reading system…..which is another topic for another time.

For now, the question is “How does the way you currently read need to change so you can get the maximum out of your reading?”

Please leave a comment, I’d love to know.

How To Recognize What’s Driving You

So You Can Make Sure You're Driving It

What drives people to do what they do? There are lot’s of reasons, too many and too complex to mention here. Even if we knew about all of them it still probably wouldn’t do us much good.  Instead, we would be overwhelmed.

That’s why a heuristic can be helpful for dealing with complex matters. A heuristic is a model or  “rule of thumb” for to help explain things. Though not perfect, a heuristic can be “good enough” to allow you take effective action, which is why I love them.

Needless to say then, when I first heard of Tony Robbins’ “6 Basic Human Needs” it caught my attention. So did his story of how he put this “rule of thumb” together. And like many good ideas, it came to him while he was thinking in the shower.

6 Basic Human Needs

The premise is that we all have the following 6 basic human needs:

  • Certainty and Variety
  • Significance and Love/Connection
  • Growth and Contribution

I listed these in pairs because there is tension between them; they are opposites to a certain extent.

The 6 Needs In Tension

With regard to tension, take the first pair for example. We need feel certain and secure about some things in our lives and at the same time, we have a need to mix things up a bit (Variety).  Which fuels you the most? At the extremes would be the person who won’t venture out of the house for fear of bodily harm and the person who has to jump of a building in a flying suit in order to get an adrenaline rush that satisfies.

With regard to the second pair, we all feel a need to “be somebody”(Significance) as well as experience caring and loving relationships.  The extremes here would be the person who at all costs makes themselves the center of attention or a cause at all times, while the other bends anyway they have to in order to be accepted.

While the first two pairs are said to be personality needs, the final contrast is said be spiritual in nature and essential for flourishing. At the extreme of Growth would be someone who is always taking in information and content and never sharing or doing anything with it to contribute to the common good.  Contribution is the opposite. At the extreme would be someone who is giving, giving, giving, unable to accept the fact that they might need so much as an oxygen mask on occasion.

Although a select few folks may get close to the examples I described (know any in your life?), for most they occur along a continuum. While we need all six, one or two usually fuels us the most and we prioritize our energy and activity toward getting more of it.….and that’s where contradictions of behavior can arise.

Needs Don’t Dictate Behaviors

Regardless of your dominant need, it doesn’t dictate the behaviors or vehicles you’ll use in order to fulfill it. In fact, the variety of behaviors or vehicles that can satisfy a need are almost infinite and seemingly contradictory at times.  Continuing with the use of extreme examples to make a point, take someone with a dominate need for Significance. Osama Bin Laden used the vehicle of terror to meet that need while Steve Jobs chose to give us the iPhone; same common need for both and contradictory ways of fulfilling it.

Einstein once said that “everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” I think the fact that this heuristic incorporates both tension and contradiction helps it meets that criteria and gives me something I can use.

Be Aware Of Your Own Needs To Get You Where You Want To Go

Using the heuristic with others to know what’s driving them 29575504 - luxury service with chauffeur opening the doorcan be a challenge because you often don’t know their context and their motives. However, using it with yourself can be more straightforward because its easier to take those two elements into consideration.  And  once you’re aware of what’s driving you, you can do something about it.  You can either cultivate a different need by shifting toward the other end of the spectrum, focus on another pair altogether, or choose a better behavior or vehicle to meet a given need.

It’s a great time of year to start thinking about what you want to get, what you want to hold on to, what you need to let go of and who you want to become more of in 2017. And reflecting on which of the 6 basic needs is driving you is a great place to start.

So, which basic need or two is driving you?

Please leave comment, I’d love to hear your perspective on this.