Here’s the truth: you likely aren’t reading enough.
Although the global literacy rate has increased exponentially over the last two centuries, in 2018 in the U.S., leisure reading was at an all-time low. In 2016, one in four Americans didn’t read a single book all year. According to the National Endowment for the Arts, time spent reading has declined on average among every major U.S. demographic.
As it happens, that includes most founders, entrepreneurs, and boardroom executives.
Increasingly within my peer group, I’m finding that people seem to be reading less — particularly material that requires deep thought or imagination and is unrelated to their work.
Many read The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times, but they’re not really immersing themselves in the text, allowing it to impact them.
It’s understandable why this is so. Reading has been on the decline ever since the advent of the T.V., and it’s easier to find great things to watch on T.V. now than ever — but, of course, that doesn’t make it excusable. It’s widely known: reading regularly and seriously is paramount to developing self-awareness, educating yourself, and just staying sharp.
Consider the reading habits of some of our greatest leaders and minds:
- Microsoft founder Bill Gates reads at least 50 books every year.
- Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban reads at least three hours a day.
- Billionaire investor and philanthropist Warren Buffett famously allocates 80% of his time to reading — and not just business publications. He loves fiction of all kinds.
- Former NBA coach Phil Jackson, who won multiple NBA championships, would handpick books and give them to players whom he felt would identify and find inspiration in its content.
- Barack Obama was a voracious reader. Despite the near-constant demand of the office of the President, he always found time to read — and famously began sharing his favorites come the end of the year.
So, we know it’s important. Now, the question becomes: how do I build reading into my routine so it becomes a bigger part of my life?
Set a reading goal — then redesign your life around meeting it.
Of course, designing your life to meet the goal is a bit more challenging than simply setting the goal itself. Here are a few tips to get started:
- Join a reading group. One of my industry friends meets bi-monthly with a group to read classics in philosophy, fiction, history, and other areas. They specifically avoid books related to their industry. Don’t have many friends in your area? Don’t worry. These groups can be found on social platforms like MeetUp or Facebook.
- Use outside reading to supplement your work. Are you struggling with a vexing work problem? Crack open a psychology book and see if there are ways in which you can apply the lessons from those fields to your profession. Generally, looking to outside fields of inquiry and study for inspiration in your personal or professional life is a great habit to build so far as reading regularly and widely.
- Encourage others on your team to read with you. This, I suppose, is something like a book club, but it boils down to you and your colleagues holding each other accountable. If you talk more often about what you’re reading, you’ll get more enjoyment out of the experience — and you’ll want to do it more.
Finally, rather than set purely numerical goals — like Bill Gates’ 50 books per year, for instance — you very well might be better off drafting goals which are shaped by a more meaningful purpose, or that draw from a more genuine inspiration. See, when you only aspire to reach goals such as “X hours a week” or “Y books a year,” you yourself only define the “what” and the “how” of your reading life.
The most important question you should seek to answer when aspiring to read more is: why?
Why are you as a newly rejuvenated reader investing so much time in reading?
Your reading goal should, in some way, answer that question. In fact, that’s one of the chief benefits of setting a reading goal: it serves to answer that important “why.”
In turn, nothing will inspire you more to stick with your new habit than identifying one reason or a set of reasons that truly resonate with you — which, when you remind yourself of them, genuinely compel you to continue carving out the time to hit your new reading goal.
In case your brain is stuck, here are a few reasons I’ve built deep, serious reading into my everyday routine:
- Reading opens new horizons. Maybe you’re stuck in a reading rut. I know I am — too many spy thrillers and murder mysteries! It is perfectly fine to start reading topics you are already familiar with. However, once in a while, pick out a genre that is completely new to you. This will require greater focus and dedication as you explore uncharted literary territory.
- Reading equips. For instance: I’m going to two countries in Europe with my kids in a few months — places I’ve never experienced. So I’ve been looking for books on Greece and Italy to work into my schedule. Not just guidebooks, but stories that are set in the country so I can pick up on the mood and culture.
- Reading improves your health. An active literary life can make you more personally effective by keeping you relaxed and improving your health. This is pretty high up on my own “reasons for reading.” For high-strung executives, reading is the best way to relax, with studies that show reading for as little as six minutes a day can reduce stress by 68%. Other studies suggest reading may even fend off Alzheimer’s, extending the longevity of the mind.
- Reading hones your decision-making skills. A recent study by Anne Cunningham of UC Berkeley showed that folks who read often and seriously were better at analyzing information than non-readers. That, of course, helps you in decision-making, as you can identify the most logical or advantageous option more quickly, or see opportunity where others see a veneer of failure.
- Reading makes you a better innovator and leader. For similar reasons, reading regularly simply makes you a sharper, more powerful, more curious, and more empathetic version of yourself — skills that translate directly to innovation and readership. Ultimately, reading truly is like going to the gym for your brain, so it only makes sense that those who do it often will be in better mental shape than those who don’t.
The best reason to read, though? For fun.
Let’s not forget this. Whether you’re the CEO of a growing startup or a grad student living off of ramen noodles, the best reason to read is that it’s a uniquely rewarding way to spend time. Yes, it bears a variety of health, mental, and emotional benefits. Yes, it makes you more effective and more intelligent.
But if you need inspiration to make a habit of picking up a book each day — if you need inspiration to set and hit a reading goal in 2019 — no reason proves more influential. It’s just plain fun.
At the end of the day, this is why you need to set a reading goal: it will encourage you to more purposefully engage with it, which not only betters you as a person but also provides you with a uniquely gratifying kind of mental nourishment.
Now, don’t wait. Get to reading!
Originally published on Quora.
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