Posts Tagged ‘Effective Thinking’

Speed Reading

February 10, 2016

This post is motivated by two articles published in “Psychological Science in the Public Interest.”  One article is titled “So Much to Read, So Little Time:  How Much Do We Read, and Can Speed Reading Help?” by Rayner, K., Schotter, E.R., Masson, M.E.J., Potter, M.C., & Treiman, R. (Vol17, 4-34, 2016).  The other article is “Speed Reading:  You Can’t Always Get What You Want, but Can You Sometimes Get What You Need?” by Balota, D.A. (Vol 17, 1-3, 2016).  In additional to speed reading courses, we now have Apps that can be used to increase reading speed.

I’m always amused by the reading speeds that are advertised for these courses and apps.  Reading speeds critically depend on the material being read, and on the objectives of the person doing the reading.  I can easily find material that I cannot understand no matter how many times I read it irrespective of my reading speed.  I always recall what a friend of mine said regarding speed reading.  He said that if the material is technical or needs to be read carefully, reading speed is irrelevant.  And if he is reading for pleasure, reading fast detracts from his enjoyment of the material being read.

I adjust my reading speed depending on both my reasons for reading and on the material being read.  If the content turns out to be of little interest or poorly written, I either terminate reading or increase my reading speed.  If the content is of interest and important, I’m likely to reread the material and perhaps even decrease my reading speed,  Metacognition is important here.  I’ll ask myself questions and if I either do not know or am not confident in my understanding, I’ll reread the content until I can satisfy myself that I have understood what I read.

It is good to consider the immediately preceding blog posts on the elements of effective thinking.  Remember the techniques:  Understanding Deeply, Asking Questions,  Seeing the Flow of Ideas.  One of the elements is to make mistakes.  This is for especially difficult material.  We need to not be embarrassed that we cannot solve, or do not understand something, but to go ahead, make mistakes, chipping away at our misunderstandings until a satisfactory understanding.

I conclude that speed reading is the antithesis of these elements.  True there are times when we need to skim read looking for information, but the goal here is to find information to which we’ll apply elements of effective thinking.

And if we are reading for pleasure, it is counterproductive to increase our reading speed if it decreases our pleasure.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Engaging Change: Transform Yourself

February 9, 2016

Element 5 of “The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking,” is what Drs. Burger and Starboard term the  Quintessential Element.  This fifth element is telling us to just do it.  Apply the first four elements.  Reading the book is not enough, we must work at changing our habits.

I would like to add some personal notes here.  As you can easily tell from the preceding posts, that I value this book highly and urge you to read it, engage change and transform yourself.

If I had one criticism of this book it would be the title.  I object to the article “The” in the title.  There are more than these five elements to effective thinking.  I would further argue that if you apply the elements in this book to thinking, you will likely find them.

I find myself engaged in several lines of inquiry at one time.  I must apply these elements to each line of inquiry as well as thinking across lines of inquiry.  We all have limited cognitive resources, so there is only so much we can do during a given time frame.  So we must all prioritize our efforts.  This is constantly a limitation, which is frustrating.  But the mental activity is enjoyable and fulfilling.  And it builds growth mindsets.

I would also remind you that much thinking takes place in your non conscious  or unconscious mind.  After you have engaged in the exercises described in the elements of effective thinking and ceased to think consciously about them, your unconscious mind will continue to work on the problemss.  You might well find solutions popping into your mind that are presumably unsummoned.  To read more about these processes enter “unconscious” in the healthy memory blog search box.

I also encourage you to read healthymrmory blog posts bearing on critical thinking (enter “critical thinking” into the healthy memory blog search block).

© Douglas Griffith and, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Ask Questions

February 5, 2016

The third element of “The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking” by Drs. Burger and Starbird is to ask questions.  The title of this chapter is “Creating Questions Out of Thin Air” with the subtitle, “Be Your Own  Socrates.”  Remember that Socrates was the Ancient Greek Philosopher who developed the Socratic Method of teaching which centered on asking questions.  Creating questions enlivens our curiosity.  It transforms us from being passive into active listeners.  Listening is not enough.  If we are constantly engaged in asking ourselves questions about what we are hearing. we will find that even boring lectures become a bit more interesting because much of the interest will come from what we are generating rather than what the  lecturer is offering.

We need to formulate questions properly and assess whether we are asking the real question.  For example, the question “How can I be successful?” is vague and unanswerable.  First we need to ask what success means to us and then ask questions that lead to action.  Effective questions will lead us to explore and develop core habits, and skills that will make a difference.  Effective questions lead to action and are not vague.  The right questions clarify our understanding and focus our attention on features that matter.

We should not overlook asking meta questions.  Asking questions about an assignment or project before beginning working earnest  should lead to a stronger final project.  These are questions such as “What’s the Goal of this task?” and “What benefits flow from this task?”  Meta questions often save time because they focus our attention on he core issues and allows the clearing up the initial confusion that usually is present at the start of any project or task.

The art of creating questions and active listening are skills that need to be fostered.
Here is the final paragraph of the chapter with some minor changes.  “Constantly thinking of questions is a mind-set with tremendous impact.  We become more alive and curious, because we  are actively engaged while we are listening and living.  We become more open to ideas, because we are constantly discovering places where are assumptions are exposed.  We take more effective action because we clarify what needed too be done.  We should be our own Socrates.

Although I have done my best, I have not done justice to the original.  So I again urge you to read the original document.

Understanding Deeply

February 1, 2016

It’s not what you don’t know that gets you into trouble.
It’s what you do know that ain’t so.
Mark Twain, Will Rogers, or Someone Else

Understanding deeply is the first of the 5 Elements of Effective Thinking written by Drs Burger and Starbird..  Here is a tip offered  to provoke effective thinking.  Ask what do you know and test yourself by opening a blank document on a computer.  Then without referring to any sources, write a detailed understanding of the fundamentals of the subject.  Does your knowledge have gaps?  Do you struggle to think of core examples?  Do you fail to see the overall picture that puts the pieces together?  Then compare your effort to external sources.  When you discover weakness of your own understanding of the basics, take action.  Methodically understand the fundamentals.  Make these new insights part of your knowledge and connect them to parts already understood.  Revise and rewrite your first draft.   Periodically repeat this exercise and see how this document grows.  Keep a record of your previous documents.

If the challenge is too great, then don’t do it.  George Polya wrote, “If you can’t solve a problem, then there is an easier problem you can solve:  find it.  When faced with a difficult problem, do something else.  Focus entirely on a subproblem you know you can successfully resolve.  Be confident that the work you invest on the subproblem will later be the guide that allows you to navigate through the complexities  of the larger issue.  Just shoot for the moon, don’t yet try to walk on it.

Here are two steps to uncovering the essence:
Step One:  Identify and ignore all distracting features to isolate the essential core.
Step Two:  Analyze the central issue and apply those insights to the larger whole.

Review your writing , try to read what you have literally written—not what you intended to communicate.  Read your actual words and pretend you don’t know the argument you are making.  Try to identify what’s confusing and what’s missing.  If you think you know the idea but haven’t expressed it clearly, then this process has identified a gap or vagueness in your understanding.  After we admit and address these weaknesses, our exposition will be clearer and more directed to the actual audience.  When delivering an address or making a presentation, apply the same process of deliberately listening to the actual words we are speaking rather than what we are imagining we are saying.  This can be extremely difficult to do, so a review by external parties, particularly reviews by representative of the target audience can be especially valuable.

Becoming aware of the basis of our opinions and beliefs is an important step toward a better understanding of ourselves and our world.   It is a good idea to try out alternative ideas hypothetically and temporarily.  We can pretend our opinions are the opposite of what we actually believe, and then see where these opinions take us.

Niels Bohr used this technique while trying to lead a group of scientists to understand quantum mechanics.

What is reviewed here is just a sample.  Reading the original work is strongly recommended.