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Oliver Burkeman on reading, forgetting, and shaping your sensibility

Burkeman, insightful as ever (his third reason is the important one):

These days, in the world of productivity and personal development, you can’t throw a Moleskine notebook without hitting someone offering advice on “how to retain everything you read”…. I’m increasingly convinced that a much more relaxed approach to knowledge consumption – one that involves putting way less pressure on yourself to retain what you read, listen to, or watch – isn’t only more enjoyable, but better for your creative output, too.

The first reason for this is that forgetting is a filter. When something you read resonates with you sufficiently for you to recall it without effort, that means something; it means it connects with your ideas and experiences in some relevant way.

The second reason – a universal law of personal productivity – is that the more effort a technique requires, the more likely you’ll be to engage in self-defeating avoidance instead. If your system requires you to take detailed notes on everything you read… then you won’t.

The final reason is that the point of reading, much of the time, isn’t to vacuum up data, but to shape your sensibility. As Katarina Janoskova notes here, each work you encounter changes you, at least a little, and thus the way you see the world; and that change occurs regardless of how much of a given book’s contents you happen to consciously retain. And in the final analysis, it’s the way you see the world – your unique angle, applied to the people and things around you – that results in good ideas and original work.

Oliver Burkeman – How to Forget What You Read

Burkeman’s fortnightly newsletter, The Imperfectionist, remains recommended.

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