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Deep reading, or full engagement in a book, is an absolute joy. It is good for mind and spirit, and it is also a competitive advantage in today’s knowledge-based economy. Increasingly, people struggle to pay attention to just about anything, let alone a book. Yet deep reading confers many benefits above and beyond watching a YouTube video or skimming an article. These benefits include developing a richer understanding of a topic, increasing your ability to pay attention itself, and enhanced creative thinking.
Here are seven principles for developing a nonfiction deep reading habit. All are based on the latest research and real-world practice.
Use a hardcopy book
Research shows you comprehend and connect information best when you read physical pages. There are two predominant theories for why this is the case: First, when you read physical pages there are no distractions, which e-reading and audiobooks inherently invite (there is nothing wrong with these modalities, but they are not the same as deep reading). Second, the brain retains information better when it’s associated with tactile experience.
Have no digital devices in the room
Even if your phone is facedown on silent, or your laptop is closed and asleep, the mere sight of these devices and everything they represent — not to mention the willpower it takes not to check them — is a huge distraction. Keep them in a separate room.
Read with a pen or highlighter
The more you engage with a book, the better. There is a big difference between passive reading (being read to) and active reading (being in conversation with). The latter promotes further absorption in the material and more associative thinking and subsequent creative insight.
Keep a notebook nearby
Even if you are fully engaged in what you are reading, random thoughts will pop into your mind: emails to write, groceries to get, conversations to have, ideas for your next big project, etc. Jot these thoughts down so you do not lose them but can offload your brain from trying to hang on to them. Then, get back to the book.