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#13: Knowing when you should quit

#13: Knowing when you should quit

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Hello and welcome to another edition of Mindf*ck Monday, the only weekly newsletter that lies on its online dating profile and claims to be two inches taller than it actually is. Every week, I break down three interesting topics that can make your life slightly less sucky. This week, we’re talking about: 1) reading faster and retaining more information, 2) how intelligence can sometimes be a handicap, and 3) the liberation of human suckiness.

Let’s get into it.

1. How to Read Faster and Retain More – Last week, I talked about how reading is one of the “keystone skills” of life — a skill that makes adopting and learning all other skills easier. A lot of people emailed me asking if I had any tips on becoming a better reader.

I have a lot of tips, but let me give you the most counterintuitive one: quit more books.

Imagine this: you start watching a new TV show. It has four seasons and nearly 50 episodes of content. You get four episodes into the show and are not enjoying it. Would you force yourself to plow through the show, finishing all four seasons? Or would you just quit?

Most of us quit. Yet, when faced with the same situation with a book, most of us feel as though we should power through and finish 400 pages. This makes no sense. With one exception, we should all quit more books.

Our ability to read quickly mostly depends on focus. Our ability to retain information mostly depends on memory. Humans focus on things they enjoy. They also remember things they enjoy. Therefore, the first and most obvious rule of reading and retaining more information is to be ruthless and only reading books you truly enjoy reading.

My general guidelines in my own reading is that I give a book 10% of its length to win me over (400 page book means I read the first 40 pages, 250 pages means I read the first 25, etc.) If I’m not won over by 10%, I check the table of contents to see if I want to skip to a later chapter that looks interesting. If that chapter doesn’t grab me, then I put the book away.

Quitting books also goes for chapters or even sections. Non-fiction books repeat themselves a lot. If I’m reading a book, and a chapter is about research that I’m already familiar with… I skip that chapter! No regrets. Books are meant to serve you, not the other way around.

For more tips and thoughts on how to be a better reader, a few years ago I wrote an article for site members that gets into more:

Read: How to Read Faster and Retain More (site members only)

Oh, and maybe you’re wondering what the exception to quitting more books is. That’s easy: my books. Don’t you ever quit my books, motherfucker. I will find you.

2. Smarter People Have Smarter (and More) Excuses – I have a strange aversion to being photographed. Like most people, I almost never like how I look in photos. And for whatever reason, the idea of taking pictures makes me anxious and insecure. I have been to probably a dozen countries for which I don’t have a single photograph to show for it.

My wife, on the other hand, loves pictures. She’s always trying to take pictures. And, as it happens, we travel quite a bit. Therefore, photos have become a steady source of tension in our relationship — with me being predictably weird about cameras and her telling me that I’m being weird.

In eight years, there’s basically been no progress on the photo front. I’m still just as annoyed and petulant when it comes time to take photos, and nothing anyone says seems to have any effect on that. Part of the problem is that I come up with maddeningly philosophical excuses to not do it.

Wife: Oh, this place is beautiful, let’s take a photo.

Me: No.

Wife: Why not?

Me: The distraction of a picture reduces my focus on the experience and, therefore, causes it to lose its beauty.

Wife: You’re being dramatic. It will just take a few seconds.

Me: Time perception is relative. A few seconds of pain can feel more significant in one’s life than minutes of pleasure.

Wife: Oh, Jesus. Relax! We’re on vacation.

Me: …which is even more reason to not compromise on doing something I don’t want to.

Basically, I’m unbearable.

But my strange resistance to photography illustrates an important point: the smarter you are, the easier it is to come up with bullshit to avoid what makes you uncomfortable. Over the years, I’ve noticed the smartest people often struggle the most to resolve their emotional issues. And I think some of that is due to their ability to do mental gymnastics and get themselves out of any uncomfortable argument.

So, remember, if you think you’re outsmarting others, be careful that you’re not just outsmarting yourself.

(Also, if you want to see me try to be less awkward in photos this year, you can follow me on Instagram.)

3. Human Suckiness Can Be Liberating – One of my favorite quotes ever comes from David Foster Wallace. He wrote:

“You’ll stop caring what people think about you when you realize how seldom they do.”

On the surface, many people find this statement depressing. But it’s actually quite liberating. When we’re insecure about something, we have a tendency to assume that everybody is watching us and laughing. When the truth is, everyone else is too busy assuming that they’re being watched and laughed at to care what you’re doing.

Remember that you’re always biased towards your own perceptions. And that most people simply don’t give a shit. And that is often a good thing.

See you next week.

Mark