“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.”
— George R.R. Martin
Want to stand out amongst your peers? Get into the habit of reading.
Everyone knows they should, but very few do (as with exercising, getting enough sleep, eating right, the list goes on). I’ll give you an example. During the first day of class this semester, the professor asked the class how many of us read. Four hands went up in a class of 40 senior year business students.
Most people don’t put in the time to become smarter and obtain a knowledge advantage. It’s easier than ever to tune out and reach for the dopamine rush of video games, TV and Facebook. One thing humans are very good at is hyperbolic discounting, i.e. setting a diet goal but eating cake after dinner. We just can’t resist short-term temptations.
Although literacy rates have soared in recent decades, 33% of U.S. high school graduates will supposedly never read a book after high school. That number is 42% for college graduates. Even if those numbers aren’t totally accurate, it’s easy to see why it happens. Our education system has equated reading with studying and evokes painful memories of cramming for mundane tests.
I know, because it happened to me. I used to be a voracious reader as a child, but less and less so as I grew older. It was only in this past year that I decided to reignite my passion for reading, and I am amazed at how profoundly it has changed my thinking in a way that school could never imitate.
When you actively choose to read something that interests you, you retain far more information than if you were forced to study it. Education does not stop after school (in fact, Einstein believed that education only truly starts after you forget everything learned in school). Whatever problem you’re facing right now, somewhere in the history of mankind, someone probably much smarter than you has written about it. Save yourself the trouble and learn from those who have already figured it out.
Books are also one of the best investments on your money you can make. If it took the author 40 hours to write his book, you’re essentially buying 40 hours of his time for the price of the book. Imagine how much it would actually cost to buy that amount of time with Donald Trump or Kevin O’Leary, both of whom have written numerous books.
The purpose of reading is not to simply obtain raw knowledge though. It’s that reading brings meaning to your life, allows you to see things in a different light, and simply makes you a better person.
Studies on reading show a host of benefits, including:
- Improved intelligence through larger vocabulary and abstract reasoning skills
- Greater creativity after reading across fields
- Increased verbal intelligence, i.e. better writing skills
- Greater empathy and understanding of social cues
- Reduced stress and extended longevity of the mind
Want evidence? If there’s one common trait among successful people, it’s that they read. A lot.
Charlie Munger once famously remarked,
In my whole life, I have known no wise people who didn’t read all the time — none, zero. You’d be amazed at how much Warren(Buffett) reads — at how much I read. My children laugh at me. They think I’m a book with a couple of legs sticking out.
When asked how to get smarter at a conference, Warren Buffett held up a stack of papers and said,
Read 500 pages like this every day. That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will.
Buffett understood that even after giving away his “secret,” the majority of people would not act on it. One person who did take his advice to heart was Todd Combs. He now works closely with the legendary investor.
Here’s another example. When Mark Cuban was starting out in his first business, he read every book and magazine he could. He ignored the price. A twenty dollar book could lead to a new customer or solution, which paid for itself many times over. While he was reading, he learned a valuable lesson:
The same information was available to anyone who wanted it. Turns out most people didn’t want it.
The lesson here is that if you do the same thing everyone else does, you will achieve the same results. Given the fact that relatively few people actively read, you can put in the extra work and spend an hour a day (or more) reading to stand out amongst the crowd. Then take the ideas you’ve learned and run with them.
There’s no real secret to reading more. Adjust your priorities and make it a part of your daily routine, just as eating dinner or brushing your teeth is. Start small if you have to. Twenty pages a day amounts to 24 books a year.
Make reading a part of who you are. Your future self will thank you.