Paths worth retracing

Do we lose out on something when we do not reread a book?

I am easily bored with repetition. I seldom read the same books again, re-watch TV series or listen to music on repeat. Life is short, and there is plenty of great stuff to explore. My default tendency is to crave for the new, the shiny and the interesting. However, I am trying to change that and be a little more discerning.

Revisiting something gives us a vantage point. When we read a book the first time, we are focused on what the author is saying. But on revisiting, we can see where she comes from. Since we already know the story, our attention is freed up to observe the defining details and detect patterns. If the story ends with two characters falling in love, on revisiting it we can see how the author sets this up through several interactions, until the inevitable embrace and kiss. Listening to a story for the first time pushes us to solve the puzzle that its creator has set, while revisiting it helps us appreciate how she laid out his pieces.

In the long run, repetition offers diminishing returns. Reading a newspaper article two times is likely to be less than twice as beneficial as reading it once. However, returns need not diminish with the first revisit in all cases. A tough calculus problem might require 5 repetitions for us to grasp it sufficiently, until which each repetition offers a higher rate of return. The same might apply for other complex and abstract topics such as cognitive biases in our thinking or stoic philosophy. The quest to always seek out something new could lead us to lose out on some these topics before they reach the point of diminishing returns. That is why it pays to revisit them and internalize their essence, even if one has to endure some boredom.

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A woodpecker can tap twenty times on a thousand trees and get nowhere, but stay busy. Or he can tap twenty-thousand times on one tree and get dinner. – Seth Godin

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