New year, same resolutions–cutting calories, exercising more, reducing screen time. According to a 2020 poll of over 2,000 Americans, though, it takes only thirty-two days for the average person to break their resolution. The top two reasons are a lack of discipline and a busy schedule. One resolution, though, doesn’t necessarily pose these obstacles, and offers unique professional and personal benefits: reading more.
THE BUSINESS CASE
A couple of years ago, while working at a Fortune 500 company, I was fortunate to be present for a seminar with the firm’s CEO. While I don’t remember all of the specifics of the conversation, one aspect stuck with me and inspired me to reflect more deeply on the value of reading. He told the audience of interns that a great question to ask someone you admire in the business world is: what are you reading?
At first, the question seemed simple and ordinary. As he progressed with his explanation, though, it grew more profound. The answer to this question reveals what’s currently on another person’s mind–what they’re eager to learn about. If you’ve already read the book, you create an immediate connection that extends beyond business. If you haven’t, there’s an opportunity to inquire, in a genuine sense, about the book and why the person is reading it.
SCIENCE BACKS DR. SEUSS
As Dr. Seuss once said: “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” His comment has ramifications for professional aspirations across industries. As a budding consultant, I’ve realized that in the professional services world, the desire to learn and knowledgeability are invaluable personal assets. Reading propagates them.
The cultivation of empathy from building relationships with characters from both fiction and nonfiction facilitates connections between people in real-life settings. Connection is always mutually beneficial in business situations. For fiction in particular, a recent article from the BBC provides several striking research examples of why this is the case. One of my favorites is from psychologist Diana Tamir at the Princeton Social Neuroscience Lab, who used brain scans to show that people who often read fiction are more skilled at working out what other people are thinking and feeling.
While there is less scientific research surrounding the benefits of nonfiction writing, I believe the benefits are similar. For example, I recently read Tara Westover’s memoir Educated. Even though I consider my social circle to be relatively diverse, I’ve never met anyone from her background of Mormon fundamentalism and End Time survivalism. Her story was a strong reminder not to make assumptions about anyone, including colleagues and clients, but make the effort to truly know them.
SHIFT YOUR STANDPOINT
Reading more doesn’t have to be a chore. Reframing your perspective to view reading as an escape rather than an intellectual burden could be an effective destressor, especially when compared to other pre-sleep rituals like doomscrolling through social media.
If your daily reading consists of your Pop Tart box, then start small. You can regenerate depleted discipline by using benchmarks like time spent reading or number of pages read per day. For example, reading for just ten minutes, or a couple of pages, per day will help get you on the right track. If you already qualify as a bookworm, reading even just a page more than your current average will boost your pace and increase the benefits of reading.
THE PERSONAL PLUSES
Overcoming these barriers will open the door to advantages that will extend to all areas of your life. Lifestyle writer Catherine Winter provides a list of these:
- Mental stimulation
- Stress reduction
- Vocabulary expansion
- Memory improvement
- Stronger analytical thinking skills
- Improved focus and concentration
- Better writing skills
Mental health and refreshment have physiological impacts that can improve health in a holistic sense. Turns out reading every day keeps the doctor away.
This year, I aim to have an answer whenever someone asks me what I’m reading. I urge you to join me.