Someone once flippantly said to me…
“We all know ADDers don’t read…”
Not only is this a gross generalization, but it’s also incorrect. I know many ADDers who read all the time, often 3 or 4 books at a time.
But many people with ADHD do struggle with reading. It’s hard to concentrate when your mind is constantly wooed by distractions, and the itching restlessness of an unsettled internal engine urges you to go do something else.
It makes reading complicated, fatiguing, and boring for us wistful souls.
On the other hand, reading can be interesting and exciting. It takes you away from the present. It helps you learn things to move forward and get ahead in life. It may even help you get a date or make a lot of money. (Disclaimer: Results may vary from reader to reader)
Most importantly, though, reading empowers you. There’s a reason the oppressors of yesteryear didn’t teach their indentured servants to read:
Reading frees you.
I don’t have to point out the obvious. Of course reading is good for you, they wouldn’t teach it on Sesame Street if it wasn’t. It’s like vegetables for the mind. But if, like artichokes, you hate reading, even though it’s good for you, it could be because you are doing it wrong.
I’m going to show you some better ways to read – ways that will make it easier for you. It’s more likely to be something you enjoy if it’s not such a struggle.
1. Read like a Triage Nurse
When you show up to an Emergency Department with a sucking chest wound, the nurse doesn’t ask when your last bowel movement was. Why? Because constipation is unlikely to have caused the hole in your sternum, unless you were straining particularly hard.
Likewise, all the words in a paragraph are not relevant. Most words in a book are fluff. They give the publishers a product bigger than a pamphlet to sell. Most of what you read is filled with a lot of … fillers, this post included. Most books can be condensed to beef jerky-sized renditions simply by cutting out a lot of the fillers.
The point of reading is not to imbibe words with your eyes – it’s to gain an understanding of a concept. Try scanning and reading only the most important words and phrases and skip over the rest. I promise you’ll still gain the concept – no ifs, ands or buts.
2. Read like a Race Car Driver
Reading can feel like a slow, laborious process, especially when you have to repeatedly go over the same material to remember what was written.
Simply speeding up can engage your mind in the same way that whipping around corners Mach one makes falling asleep at the wheel difficult.
ADHD brains are built for speed. They tire out when they’re forced to go too slow. Try speeding up and see if that helps you concentrate better. Skipping over the filler words, as mentioned, helps you gain momentum.
3. Read like a Crime Scene Investigator
Admittedly, I don’t know any crime scene investigators. But I imagine they don’t scrutinize one piece of evidence in totality before collecting the rest.
Most likely, they gather all the evidence, examine each closely and then, perhaps, go back and look for more clues (CSI aficionados – feel free to correct me if I’m wrong).
They look at the “leads” and make conjectures about how they fit together.
Before you dive into a chapter, flip through it and read all the headlines first. Get a sense of what you are about to read. This alone will help you concentrate better when you are reading. Because you have been given a snippet of what’s ahead already, your brain will be looking to fill in the gaps and get the whole picture. A brain that is looking for something is more likely to pay attention.
Skimming the material first helps you connect the dots quicker, especially if you are reading faster and skipping the fluff.
4. Read like a Fighter Pilot
Aviators don’t navigate the airspace lying back with a bag of chips. Relaxation doesn’t lend itself to alertness and focus.
Reading should be done in a similar fashion, especially if you want to get through material quickly and remember it. Sit up in a chair, make sure you have good lighting and clear the area of other distractions. When you’re done, you can kick back with a bag of chips (or artichokes if you’re feeling virtuous now).
Of course, some reading is done for relaxation, especially fiction. By all means, go ahead and relax while you’re reading, if relaxation is your aim. But if you are reading to gain knowledge, then take it seriously.
5. Read like a Movie Producer
Does Spielberg read every script that lands on his desk? I doubt it.
Does he frequently give up partway through a script, once he realizes it’s not going to be his next big Block Buster? I imagine so.
It may sound obvious to give up on a book if it doesn’t interest you. But I know many people who persevere through books they hate, simply because they feel like they must finish what they start. Or worse – they give up on the book partway through, deducing they aren’t good readers because they abandoned an unengaging tome.
It’s the author’s job to engage you. What resonates with some people won’t engross others. Possibly I’ve lost a few readers already, but I’m not going to assume they weren’t good readers. This post just wasn’t their bag.
If a book hasn’t captured you’re attention in the first 30 or so pages, be parsimonious with your attention span and drop it. There are millions of books in publication, surely there is a better one out there for you.
Of course, this advice doesn’t help if what you are reading is mandatory – say, for a college course or to prepare yourself for a meeting. But in these cases, rules one to four will cover your back and help you cope with unstimulating material.
6. Read like an Artist
An artist practices his or her craft daily, trying out different mediums and subjects. Reading in short doses every day can help you get more proficient at it. If sitting still is not your thing, try an audio book. They say multitasking is generally not very effective, but in this case, I beg to differ. Many of the books I have “read and re-read”, I have done so whilst washing the dishes, exercising the dogs, or driving long-haul to the prairies (you’ll understand this well if you’ve ever driven across the prairies.)
I have given six suggestions to make reading easier for you and, in turn, more enjoyable as well. If you are serious about reading like a pro, or just want to get better at it, here are two books I recommend:
Remember Everything You Read: The Evelyn Wood 7-Day Speed Reading & Learning Program by Stanley Frank and 10 Days to Faster Reading by The Princeton Language (Abby Marks-Beale).
Though I have no inclination to read books with freakish velocity, both of these books have helped me improve my reading tenfold. They helped me reader much faster (though not technically at a “speed-reading” rate, I admit), focus better, retain more, and be more discerning with the information that I take in.
This has profoundly improved my research practice, especially when time is short. Try them for yourself, and see if they can improve your reading experience.
What are your reading conundrums? Do you like to read or avoid it whenever possible? What are you reading right now, or what would you recommend other ADDers read? Tell us in the comments below.