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The power of community

A month ago, I signed up for a speed reading course.

Reading faster has been a goal of mine for a long time now. But nothing I had tried before worked for me. I just couldn’t stick through any of the training programs I’d signed up for.

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One day, an Indian speaking broken English popped up in a YouTube ad.

10 seconds later, the “Skip Ad” button showed up. But I kept listening to him.

A minute passed. And I was still glued to the ad.

15 minutes later, I found myself purchasing this person’s speed reading program.

His promise? For just Rs.455, I would double my reading speed.

If there was a catch, it was just that I would need to show up for his live classes at 5:30 AM for 6 days.

If there was one thing I’d already mastered, it was being up early. This would be a piece of cake.

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Did the magic happen in 6 days? No.

Why? Because other than showing up for his classes, I didn’t work through the “homework” exercises.

And then on day 5, he announced a 21-day upgrade for those of us who were keen on continuing the journey.

His promise this time? That we would hit 1000 words per minute (wpm) in 21 days.

I shelled out another Rs.12k and lapped up the upgrade like an ever-eager puppy.

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Did the upgrade work? Yep.

Fast forward another 21 days, I’m still going strong.

While I don’t have a blazing reading speed yet, I can say that 3 things have happened:

1. I’m now more optimistic that when I pick up a book, I will complete it.
2. I know that if I stick with this practice, I can crack the 1000 wpm goal.
3. I’m now getting into the habit of exercising my brain every day.

How did that happen?

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As soon as I’d paid for the 21-day program, the following things happened:

1. I was given access to an online course with a bunch of recorded videos and other learning material. This is standard stuff.
2. I was inducted into a small team of 7 people. Over the course of the next 21 days, I would work through all of the exercises along with these 6 strangers. This is where it went from being just another course to being potentially life-changing.

Our small team of 5:30AM speed reading warriors!

There’s something remarkable about 7 strangers getting together at 5:30 AM for 21 days, when it’s for the sole purpose of growing themselves.

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To accelerate personal growth, here are some things that can act as catalysts:

1. Each of us is a product of the 5 people whom we most interact with. If we want to live a life filled with growth and positivity, we need to pick who those 5 people are, carefully.

2. Start your day on a positive note to set the tone for the rest of the day. Meditating, writing, reading, learning or exercising first thing in the morning are great ways to kickstart your day.

3. Set BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) for yourself

4. Deliberately practice the skill that you want to keep getting better at. Keep measuring your progress. Get feedback. Confirm that you’re moving forward toward your goal regularly.

5. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Stand on the shoulders of giants who have already done the hard work and shared their work with the world. Learn from their contributions.

What this program did for me was to check off all 5 of the above accelerators in one fell swoop.

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Let’s go through each of those 5 …

1. Surround yourself with positive people: For 21 days, you push yourself to get out of bed by 5 AM. And then when you log in to the meeting at 5:30 AM, you find 5-7 other cheerful people waiting to kickstart their day along with you. And each of them is as hungry to grow as you are.

2. Start the day on a positive note: Not by checking your phone for “breaking news” – but by exercising your brain to read faster. And remember better. All while also consuming the best books out there. And if you can do this everyday with your favourite gang of positive people, that’s even more awesome. The group energy just peps everyone up much more.

3. Set a BHAG: The program sets a goal of 1000 words per minute for each of us. Nothing less. This is about 4 times the average for an adult.. BHAG’s can be scary. And that’s why you need your favorite gang to keep egging you on, when you feel like giving up.

4. Deliberate practice: Every session has drills that we practice together. We measure and share our drill scores at the end of each session. The group coordinator ensures that none of us slack in sharing our scores. Left to ourselves, we may tend to slack on sticking to the process. But when you’re working with a motivated team, they won’t let you compromise.

5. Best practices: Like most other well-researched courses, this one is no exception. There are concepts and exercises laid out for each day. All we need to do is to watch the videos and show up for the morning sessions to do the exercises. And when we did this together as a team, it was so much more fun – because we exchange ideas with each other. And that helps to make these ideas stick in our minds so much more.

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So…what are the results? Have I hit the magic number of 1000 wpm?

No. I started at 250 wpm. And I’m now at about 500 wpm. So, I’ve doubled my speed.

Which is still not shabby at all, in my opinion.

I found “Think and Grow Rich” really powerful. “One small step” is amazing too. And “The children of tomorrow”, well, its a good reminder for the things that we already know.

And in the last 4 weeks, I’ve also completed 4 books! Books that have been sitting on my shelf for the last 5 years!

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Here are some more interesting questions:

  • Does the goal of 1000 wpm seem reachable now? Yes!
  • Am I now starting to “feel” like a fast reader, rather than a slow one? Yes, somewhat
  • Am I continuing to work with my community beyond the 21 days to achieve my goal of 1000 wpm? Yes!
  • Have I made some new long-lasting friendships in this community? Seems like it, yes!

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“The idea that “change is hard” is one of the biggest myths about human behavior.

The truth is, you change effortlessly and all the time. The primary job of the brain is to adjust your behavior based on the environment.

Design a better environment. Change will happen naturally.” – James Clear

Further to the above quote from James Clear, a great way to change your environment is to join a community of driven, positive people.

And before you know it, you’ve started to accelerate change in your life.

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