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5 Useful Tools to Get You Speed-Reading Like a Pro

5 Useful Tools to Get You Speed-Reading Like a Pro

There are speed-reading believers and speed-reading doubters; methods from skimming, to chunking, to eliminating subvocalization; and, undoubtedly, a lot of curious readers. Whether you’re an annoyingly distractible reader or looking to push a decent reading speed into warp drive, the myriad of articles written on the subject suggest there’s plenty of interest in this technique.

Have you been interested in speed-reading and have yet to try it out? Here are five speed-reading apps and websites to get you started.

1. Squirt

Squirt is a web app for speed-reading that you install (by install, I mean drag a link) to your bookmarks bar. It’s also been recently updated to work with Gmail and HTTPS sites like Medium.com. Once you’re on the page you want to speed-read, just click the Squirt bookmarklet and it immediately launches, giving you a few second countdown before the software begins. Adjust the speed to suite your level, and voilà!

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2. Spritz

Spritz another web app that focuses your eyes on a single letter in each word as the app speeds them through the screen, keeping your eye movements to a minimum which is supposedly what allows you to read quickly as a result. Spritz’s website also states the tech can “be integrated into photos, maps, videos, and websites for more effective communication”, and speed can be adjusted to suit your level.

[Note: Squirt apparently has a bone to pick with Spritz (or maybe it’s the other way around) — check out the bottom of Squirt’s website]

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3. Spreeder

Spreeder is a free web application from eReflect, which, incidentally, sells full-fledged speed-reading education software to the tune of about $80. Skip the pricy bundle and use this tool to quickly read online content. You can copy and paste your text on the Spreeder site, or simply save the Spreeder bookmarklet and when you have something you want to speed-read, highlight the text, and click the “Spreed!” link on your browser, which opens Spreeder in a new tab/window with your text.

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4. Outread

This iOS app is a cool $2.99 (this stuff can cost up to $80 for no apparent reason) and is a great way to turn your iPhone or iPad into a speed-reading device. Speed-read not only webpages but documents, ebooks, and reading apps like Pocket or Instapaper on your Apple device. It’s highly customizable with multiple font sizes, highlighting sizes, and reading speed. Other super convenient features like offline mode, item filtering, and interface streamlining make this a whole lot of app for three bucks!

5. Eyercize

Eyercize is a free bookmark bar tool which, though realised in beta, never made it to a full paid product which was supposed to have other features in addition to the speed-reading tool. However, the speed-reading app itself still works perfectly well and is available for download.

This “reading pacer” bookmarklet works by bolding groups of three or four words at a time, which focuses your eyes so that you following the pace the software sets. A nice touch is the ability to control the speed of the pacer, and some of the other features, so you can start out slower or with fewer/more bolded words and work your way up as you get better at reading things quickly.

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Featured photo credit: Flippin’ through/Rahul Chhiber via flic.kr

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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