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Learn to Read Faster – Stop “Regressing”

The next reading habit I want to talk about breaking, if you’re serious about improving your reading speed, is called Regression.

Regression, re-reading, back-skipping, going back over what you’ve read – they all mean the same thing.  Rather that continuing in a forward motion, regression is the process of going backwards to reread stuff that you’ve already read.

Has this ever happened to you?  I think all of us have experienced regression at least once, but probably a lot more often than that.  Regression is common among readers and it’s a habit that’ll slow your reading speed and have you scratching your head wondering, “What did I just read?”

Next time you have a chance to observe someone reading silently, focus in on their eyes.  As you watch, don’t be surprised if you see the person’s eyes moving along forward at a good clip and then suddenly twitching backwards.  It’s pretty funny to watch, but what it does to your reading speed and comprehension is no laughing matter.

Imagine if that’s the way we walked.  You’d see people out on the sidewalk, taking one forward-moving step after another.  And then suddenly, they take a step backward, maybe even two or three, before returning to their forward motion.  They’d continue walking forward, taking maybe ten or twenty steps, then out of the blue, they’d take two or three steps backward.

If you saw people walking this way, you’d definitely think something was wrong, or that maybe they had too much to drink.  But no matter what you thought, you’d have to agree that anyone walking this way couldn’t be making much progress.

And that’s exactly the same problem that happens when people regress as they read: They don’t make much progress.

Then why do readers do it?

Well, sometimes – but not very often – regression is necessary.  It’s sometimes difficult to avoid regressing when what you’re reading is academic or technical in nature.  Sometimes the author’s way of writing is ineffective in engaging his or her audience; a problem that causes readers to have to reread what they just read in order to figure out the message the author is attempting to convey.

But more often than not, people regress when they read for the simple reason that regression is a habit.  And because it’s a habit, it usually happens without realizing that it’s even happening.  That kind of regression is called unconscious regression and it usually happens because you think your brain didn’t capture the information right the first time.  For whatever reason, you don’t trust your brain, so you go back and double-check your brain’s ability by rereading the material you just read.

Regression happens at a conscious level too.  Sometimes you just know you didn’t understand what you read, or that you missed something really important in what you just read.  This happens a lot when readers get to the bottom of the page.  That’s when they realize that although their eyes were looking at the words on the page, their mind was elsewhere and not fully engaged.

Even though they spent all that time reading, it turns out their minds didn’t understand a thing.  So back they go, in search of the material they missed the first time around.  Sometimes they’ll find it, but not always, so back they go again.

Has that ever happened to you?  What I really should be asking is, how many times has that ever happened to you?

Some estimates put the amount of time people spend re-rereading or back-skipping or whatever you want to call it at 33%.  Yes – THIRTY-THREE percent.  That means that out of every hour, the typical reader spends 20 minutes out of 60 rereading the same material, and sometimes reading it over and over again.  That’s a huge amount of time and I get tired just thinking about it!  It also means that just 40 minutes of every hour is spent going forward.

Regression also causes problems with comprehension.  When you read in a forward direction but then go backwards, you can’t help but lose track of the point the words are trying make.  When a sentence’s flow is disrupted by regressing, it’s nearly impossible to understand the meaning of the sentence.

What else causes regression?

Sometimes regression is caused by subvocalization.  When you subvocalize, your eyes and your mouth don’t always progress at the same speed.  Sometimes your eyes race ahead of your mouth.  So what you have is a situation in which your eyes read one thing while your mouth is busy reading something else.

Needless to say whenever this happens, confusion about what was just read is never far behind.  So you go back and reread, this time trying hard to get your eyes and your mouth to move in sync.

Sometimes people regress because they’re compelled to do it.  In some people the need to reread is no different than to the need to double- and triple-check that they turned off the oven.  In this situation, regression is considered a form of compulsive behavior.  Anyone who refuses to trust his or her own ability to understand what was read will always go back and reread material, sometimes over and over again.  When it’s compulsive, the regression habit is a bit harder to break.

Finally, some readers simply believe that slower reading is better reading.  They have fallen victim to the myth that good comprehension requires slow, purposeful and repetitive reading.  Because it’s what they believe, they refuse to read any differently.  If you belong to the slower is better school of reading, I hope to show you later on that there is a better way, and that better way is by reading faster.

That ends my discussion of regression for now.

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