It’s nearly February, which means there are a lot of people who set reading goals for themselves at the beginning of the year who are already falling short. They’re encountering obstacles — or one obstacle, really, the obstacle with a thousand different faces: lack of motivation.
Building a reading habit can be difficult, so I wanted to share with you my motivation. I’m motivated to build and maintain my reading habit because reading has transformed my life in a number of ways. Here are ten of them.
1. Revealed the secrets of the world to me
If I ever want to know the truth or reality behind how something works, all I need to do is find a reputable book on the topic and read it — which isn’t hard, considering there are hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of authors dying for me to read their book.
In the past few years, I’ve learned about historical figures like the Buddha and Cyrus the Great, the psychology of happiness, effective models for modern dating, the science of rest and relaxation, and about the incredible life of the Obama family, all because I picked up and read some books.
2. Made me intelligent
If you listen to high schoolers gossiping in the hallways about who the “smart kids” are, you may mistakenly come to believe that intelligence is something you’re born with. The much better reality, though, is that intelligence is something you cultivate.
Nearly every self-improvement book features a story that goes like this: “In high school, everyone thought my friend Jerry was stupid and not going anywhere. All his teachers gave him C’s and he had to repeat 11th grade. But to everyone’s surprise, Jerry ended up getting a Masters in Investment Finance and made several million dollars on the stock market. Now Jerry writes books about investing and flies around the world teaching.” The purpose of these stories is to teach the reader that we are what we make of ourselves.
Reading is one of the ways you cultivate that intelligence. Reading deeply and widely across a variety of topics has taught me tons about how the world worked and given my mind the fertilizer it needs to grow new and unique ideas.
3. Connected me to other intelligent people
It’s no secret that people tend to become friends with people who are similar to them. When I became a reader, I started to become friends with people who read more often. As friends, we…
- Get together and talk about what we read
- Go to the library or bookstore together to check out books and read together
- Lounge around the living room reading together
- Set reading goals and challenge each other to meet them
It’s lonely being a reader when none of your friends are. You can’t discuss ideas from books you’ve read because your non-reader friends don’t really know enough about the world to discuss them deeply with you.
When your friends are readers, you can discuss ideas in what you’ve read with them. You can provide book recommendations to each other across disciplines and genres that broaden intelligence for both of you. In business terms, the power of your network multiplies the power of your reading habit.
In regular-human terms, it’s just nice to be friends with intelligent, sophisticated people. Thoughtful ideas and opinions make the world a better place.
4. Took time away from unhealthy activities
In my last two years of college, I spent a lot of my time watching TV, playing video games mindlessly, and goofing off. I would do both my homework and my job while sitting on the couch watching rerun after rerun of Supernatural. Sure, I was “being productive,” but I was mostly absorbed in the entertainment in front of me.
I was checking out like that because there was nothing in my life at the time which brought me joy. Nothing about my life was terrible, per se, but nothing about it really made me happy either. Checking out was the only way I knew how to feel good on a regular basis.
Reading isn’t the kind of thing you can do while half-assing homework or juggling a work assignment. Reading does allow you to “check out” of life and become absorbed in what you’re reading, but only if it brings you joy (and we never say no to what brings us joy). Reading is a perfect antithesis to watching your life trickle away on the television screen.
5. Exposed me to six thousand years of human wisdom
Text is the most unlimited form of information access. Every other medium — YouTube videos, classes, podcasts, e.t.c. — is much newer, meaning you’re limited mostly to what people have created since that medium’s invention.
Writing is nearly as old as civilization itself, so when you are a regular reader, you have direct access to over six thousand years of human wisdom. There is no greater store of information than that.
6. Saved me money
This one is simple. All that time I’m spending reading isn’t being spent window shopping, buying video games, going to bars, or any of the other expensive hobbies Westerners cultivate.
Saving money shouldn’t always be your first priority, but it’s always nice when you can cut your discretionary expenses down a little.
7. Prevented me from becoming partisan, bigoted, or radicalized
Back in the day (as in, before Trump ever ran for President), I was a pretty ardent Republican. Liberals were the butt of all my jokes, and when people asked what I was afraid of, “increased business regulations” was my answer. Not all Republicans are incredibly partisan, of course, but I sure was.
My partisan ignorance was enabled by my lack of education. I didn’t read widely on a variety of topics. I only read about ten books a year, and they were always the books recommended by a partisan source. No wonder my views were unbalanced and biased — the only things I read and heard were unbalanced and biased as well.
In my first year of reading, I read 75 books in one year. Instead of sticking to partisan sources, I read books across a variety of topics, like economics, psychology, and marketing. After learning so much about how the human mind works, I was forced to drastically revise my political views. Now, my political views are a lot more sophisticated than they used to be
Most importantly, I’m no longer at risk of being drawn into a propaganda machine. This is important because nearly all modern political media is a propaganda machine one way or the other. A wide reading habit (and quitting social media) has allowed me to expand my mind beyond what political marketing teams have spoon-fed me.
8. Improved my speech and diction
Strangers regularly compliment me on being intelligent and/or well-spoken. No doubt some of that comes from improving my writing skill, but much of it comes just from reading a lot.
When you read a lot, you’re exposed to a lot of different kinds of sentences and paragraphs. Your brain absorbs all the different ways you could say or present information. The more you read, the more you give your brain to absorb.
Any regular reader will tell you that when you are reading a book you just love, you will even start speaking and writing in the style the book is written. This effect is temporary, but the language skills it gives you stay with you forever.
9. Made me money
There have been multiple times over the past few years employers have actually paid me to read a book.
What happened in both cases is that someone on the executive team read a few business books that really revolutionized his thinking on the business. Then he asked everyone to read these books as well. Most people on the team just thought “Oh, I’m far too busy for that,” but I thought, “This advances my reading goal, makes me more intelligent, and I’ll get paid! Score!”
If you’re a white-collar worker and you want to do something that will push your personal growth forward and make you look busy at the office and impress your boss, read something your boss recommends you read for work. Bonus points if you ask them for the recommendation first.
10. Given me a better way to wake up and go to bed
After quitting social media, I could no longer do that thing in the morning most people do where they pick up their phone and check all their notifications before they’ve even fully woken up. When you do this, by the time you’re awake, you’re already knee-deep in Facebook. You never stood a chance.
I do check my phone in the morning, but unless I have a text that morning, all it ever says is “Time to take your morning medication!” Not much to get sucked into there.
This moment of peace is a great time to think to myself, “I could start the day by reading.”
Similarly, we all know how important it is to wind down before bed. Most people I know do this by — again — using their phone. But this is another excellent opportunity to put down the LCD screen and pick up a physical book to read.
The benefits of reading grow on an exponential curve. After your first month or two of reading, you may struggle to identify how it’s made your life any different. Six months down the road may even see the same. But I’m three years down the road now, and it’s easy for me to see how reading has shaped my thoughts and actions. Stick with it, and it will be easy for you to see too.