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Read time: 13 min

“One of my core beliefs is that human potential is one of the only infinite resources we have in this world. Most everything else is finite, but the human mind is the ultimate superpower—there is no limit to our creativity, imagination, determination, or ability to think, reason, or learn. Yet this resource is also among the least tapped.”

– Jim Kwik

Book Summary of Limitless by Jim Kwik

When Jim Kwik was nine, he was struggling to understand a simple concept and his teacher pointed at him and said, “that’s the boy with the broken brain”. Kwik believed her. Years earlier, he hit his head and suffered a brain injury, and, as a result, he found it hard to memorize basic facts, and it took him three years longer to read than his peers. But today, Kwik can recall the names of 50 or more people in an audience that he’s just met, and he can recite a string of a hundred random numbers, forward and back, while onstage. Kwik has gone from never reading a book until the age of 16, to reading a book every week for the last 30 years. At the heart of Kwik’s mental transformation is a simple truth: we all have the capacity to mold our brains and constantly improve our mental abilities. If you’re struggling to learn – it’s not due to an innate brain limitation, it’s either due to a limiting mindset, limited motivation, or a lousy learning method. 

A large proportion of the book focuses on reading, so the principles have been applied to reading. However, they apply to all forms of learning.

This book summary should hopefully show you how the right mindset, motivation, and method can improve mental abilities most people assume are limited. This quote by Jim Kwik encapsulates this point:

“If you are struggling to reach a goal in any area, you must first ask: Where is the limit? Most likely, you’re experiencing a limit in your mindset, motivation, or methods—which means that it’s not a personal shortcoming or failure pointing to any perceived lack of ability.”

– Jim Kwik

The fundamentals

Jim Kwik starts his book by providing fundamental skills that the reader can use to help them learn anything quickly. Jim also encourages readers to use these techniques while reading his book. The method is called the FASTER method. 

  • Forget – The key to focusing on a task is to remove or forget the potential distractions surrounding you.
  • Act – Traditional education has taught most people that it is okay for learning to be passive. However, your brain does not learn as much by consumption as it does by creation.
  • State – Your learning will always be dependent on the state you are in at that time. This includes both your psychological state, including your thoughts, and your physiological state, including the condition of your body.
  • Teach – Learn with the intention of teaching this information to someone else. If you act as if you will have to give a presentation on a topic, then you will do so with the intention of mastering it.
  • Enter – Lots of people enter important things in their schedule, but forget to enter opportunities for personal growth and development.
  • Review – To limit the impact of the forgetting curve seen in humans is to actively recall what you learned with spaced repetition.

Limitless Mindset

“All behavior is driven by belief, so before we address how to learn, we must first address the underlying beliefs we hold about what is possible.”

– Jim Kwik

Henry Ford once said, ‘whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right’. If you insist you can’t read fast, you’re all but guaranteed to never improve your reading speed. Jim Kwik says, ‘when you fight for your limitations, you get to keep them’. The key to improving any mental ability is to suspend any limiting beliefs and temporarily act as though your mental abilities are limitless. By merely entertaining the idea that your reading speed potential is limitless, you can noticeably increase your reading speed. To prove this, try the following ten-minute exercise called the 4 3 2 1 method. Set a timer for 4 minutes, open an easy-to-read book, and start reading at a comfortable pace while using your finger to underline the words as you read them. When the 4-minute timer expires, mark the point at which you stopped. Now, go back where you started and set a timer for three minutes, and try to get to that same point you reached after 4 minutes. Don’t worry if your comprehension isn’t perfect; just make sure you underline and see every word. When the 3-minute timer expires, do the same for 2 minutes, then one minute. After this 4 3 2 1 exercise, resume reading the rest of the book at a comfortable speed for 4 minutes. If you compare the number of lines you read now, to the number of lines you read in the first four minutes of the exercise, you will be pleasantly surprised by how much faster you can read. Merely pretending you can read faster, during the 3 2 1 portion of the exercise, you’ve upgraded your reading speed. 

Before engaging with any learning or any task, Jim Kwik encourages readers to ask themselves the following questions:

  • What do I believe I am capable of?
  • What have I accomplished in the past?
  • What is possible for me?

Jim sums up a negative mindset within the acronym LIE, or Limited Idea Entertained. In essence, the majority of people entertain ideas of themselves that are less than their true potential. Jim believes that almost always these ideas are merely BS (Belief Systems) that can be challenged.

Limitless Motivation

“Motivation is a set of emotions (painful and pleasurable) that act as the fuel for our actions.”

– Jim Kwik

What book would you get through quicker and learn more from? A book you’re forced to read in English class? Or, a book recommended by your mentor, someone you greatly admire who tells you that this book contains the secret that transformed my life? After hearing that statement it’s hard not to wonder…’what’s the secret?’ If you pick up a book in a peak state of curiosity, wonder and excitement, you are bound to learn quicker and retain more. Jim Kwik says all learning is state dependent. A good reason why you may not have learned much in school is because you found school boring. Before you start reading anything, put yourself in a peak state of curiosity by asking the following three questions: What great insight will I get from this book? How will this insight forever change my life? And, when will I get to use this insight? I like to assume that every book I read contains a profound insight, and I also like to imagine that someone else has just paid 10 million dollars for the information I’m about to read. With that mental framing, I’m extremely curious and motivated to absorb the information I’m about to read. After you’ve generated ample motivation to read a book, by putting yourself in a state of peak curiosity, wonder and excitement, it’s time to upgrade your reading methods. This application to reading can be applied to all learning. We must produce sustainable motivation, not just motivation in the moment. 

As a way of considering one’s motivation levels, Jim Kwik encourages readers to ask themselves the following questions:

  • How connected do I feel to my purpose?
  • How are my day-to-day energy levels?
  • What am I allowing to drain my energy that I no longer should?

Based on these points, Jim devised a simple equation for what motivation consists of:

Motivation = Purpose x Energy x Small Simple Steps

Limitless methods

“Give a person an idea, and you enrich their day. Teach a person how to learn, and they can enrich their entire life.”

– Jim Kwik

Focus

Jim Kwik points out that today when working we are often using technology. We can work anywhere at any time. We therefore become purely focused on our device rather than the environment around us. The issue with this is that our habitual mind is still recognising the environment around us, even if our conscious mind is not. Our mind is using these cues to influence our thoughts and work-related behaviours. Therefore, based on Julia Roy’s recommendations, there are three ways in which to improve your focus through changing your environment:

  1. Designate work-only zones
  2. Set the right soundtrack. Set the same playlist on whenever you do a specific task and choose playlists which fit the task
  3. Give your devices specific tasks. Our brain doesn’t know the difference between the real world and the digital world. So, we should use a personal phone and work phone; a personal laptop and work laptop; personal ipad and work ipad

Reading

Jim Kwik says, ‘when was the last time you took a class called reading?’ For most, it was back in the fourth or fifth grade, and if you’re like most people your reading skill is probably still the same as it was back then. If you haven’t actively changed your reading habits since elementary school there are three reading habits that are limiting your reading speed. These three habits are regression, subvocalization, and word-by-word reading. 

Memory

Jim Kwik provides 10 steps for improving your memory.

  1. Good brain food – What you eat matters…especially to your brain matter e.g. blueberries
  2. Try and avoid negative thoughts and complaining
  3. Exercise
  4. Brain nutrients – Take a blood test and see what you are deficient in, so supplement
  5. Positive peer group – Who you spend time with is who you become, based on mirror neurons
  6. Clean Environment – Clean air, water and space around you
  7. Sleep – Dreaming is important for amazing ideas, sleep is vital for protecting you against age-related brain damage, and it is important for day-to-day functioning
  8. Brain protection – Avoid putting your phone under your pillow and protect yourself from head injuries by wearing a helmet when cycling
  9. Learn new things – Neuroplasticity (connections in your brain) can be instigated through learning new things
  10. Reduce your stress through yoga, meditation or massage

You need to try and frequently challenge your methods by asking yourself the following questions:

  • Have I thought about the methods I am using?
  • Have I learned this method from someone who has been successful at what I am trying to achieve?
  • If I changed my method would my results look different?

Regression

Regression is the tendency for your eyes to go back and reread certain words in a sentence. Jim Kwik says almost everyone does it to some degree, and most of the time it’s done subconsciously. To solve the problem of regression you need to use a pacer. Attention follows movement, so if you use your finger to guide your reading by underlining the text as you read it, you prevent your attention from jumping around the text. Many people have low reading comprehension because reading is too slow and boring for them, but if you move your finger at a pace that’s just on the edge of your perceived max reading speed you will require your full attention to comprehend what you’re reading. More attention equals more retention. Use a finger as a pacer when reading a physical book. Use your finger as a pacer when reading on your phone by sliding it down the side of the phone. And use your mouse as a pacer when reading content on your computer. 

Subvocalization

Bad reading habit number two: subvocalization. Subvocalization is the habit of saying the words to yourself in your head as you read. When you feel the need to sound out every word as you read, your reading speed is limited by how fast you can talk. You can get your inner narrator to talk fast and sound out 200 to 250 words per minute, which happens to be the average reading speed, but there is no need to hear the words in your head as you read them. You’ve seen 99% of the words you’ve read before and you have mental images for most of them. If you can bring to mind the image a word represents, rather than sounding out that word, you’ll become a much more efficient reader. To break your subvocalization habit, in turn reading into a purely visual experience and thus dramatically improve your reading speed, quietly count out loud as you read. It’s hard for your mind to sound out words and speak out numbers at the same time, so when you start reading count 1 2 3 4…you’ll free your mind of the inner narrator and train your mind to see the words on the page as images and turn what you’re reading into a motion picture experience. 

Word-by-word reading

Bad reading habit number 3: word-by-word reading. When you first learn how to read you train your eyes to look at one word at a time. But now you’re familiar with most words, so there’s no reason not to look at chunks of words, like three, four or five words at a single glance. Instead of reading ‘the boy walked home’ you can see all four words at one time. This technique actually works in conjunction with the last technique, because it’s easier for your mind’s eye to generate imagery for groups of words rather than a single word. I’ve started to train my brain to use my peripheral vision and see chunks of words at one time by using a free program called spreed. It takes a body of text in my web browser and breaks it into word chunks that display one at a time. In the end, remove the perceived limitation on your reading speed by setting aside 20 minutes for the next two weeks to build your speed reading muscle. Each day, forget what you believe your limitations are and pretend for 20 minutes that your potential reading speed is limitless. Then, grab a book you’ve been wanting to read and take one minute to ask yourself questions about the book e.g. What great insight will I get from this book? How will this insight change my life? The goal is to put yourself in a peak state of curiosity, so that you’re motivated to learn what you read. Then use the next 10 minutes to warm up your speed reading muscle with the 4 3 2 1 method. Then, focus on each of the following methods for 3 minutes each.

  1. First, use a pacer to prevent regression. As you read, move the pacer at a speed that requires your full attention.
  2. Next, count out loud as you read to stop yourself from subvocalizing the text.
  3. Finally, relax your eyes and expand your peripheral vision to try and take in more than one word at a time. 

When you start using these three methods (pacing, counting and expanding) you’ll feel a little awkward, but if you continue using them you’ll start to see your speed and reading comprehension improve dramatically. 

The 3Ms

So, this book is wholly based around what Jim Kwik calls the 3Ms:

  1. Mindset
  2. Motivation
  3. Methods

These points are supported by the unlimiting process. This process is about removing the limitations you have in each of these 3 areas. Your mindset and motivation intersect to create your inspiration and your motivation and methods combine to create implementation. You will have a limitless state if your ideation, inspiration and implementation are all healthy and intersecting. 

The 4Ds

As well as optimising the 3Ms, Jim talks about the 4Ds that can make living a limitless life difficult in the modern world. These are:

  1. Digital Deluge – We consume significantly more data now in one day than a person centuries ago would have done in their entire lifetime. This can leave our brain overwhelmed
  2. Digital Distraction – Instead of relaxing into our time, we often pull our phones out. This ultimately trains our distraction muscles
  3. Digital Dementia – Overreliance on technology could lead to us no longer honing our cognitive abilities. We should be looking at our brains more like a muscle rather than a hard drive. 
  4. Digital Deduction – The automation of skills such as critical thinking and problem solving is making us much worse at these skills. We will always need these skills in life. 

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