Why is reading important to making a life that matters, and how do we make time to read?
“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.”
~ George R. R. Martin
Time for reading is a productive use of time
The great thing about reading is that it gives you exposure to other worlds that you may never get to experience in person. Last week I shared my thoughts from Jeff Sanders’s new book, The Free-Time Formula, as part of our recurring Productive Reading series. That got me thinking about how important reading is, and how easily it gets crowded out by other things.
How does reading help us make a life that matters?
- It improves our understanding of and openness to other points of view
“Reading is an exercise in empathy; an exercise in walking in someone else’s shoes for a while.”
~ Malorie Blackman
If you read broadly, from different perspectives and worldviews than your own, it gives you the opportunity to step into someone else’s life for a while. This is true for both fiction and non-fiction. Through reading, you are getting someone else’s thoughts into your own mind and heart which is a valuable thing, especially in this day and age.
- It provides mental stimulation essential to our emotional and mental health
“Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.”
~ Joseph Addison
“Studies have shown that staying mentally stimulated can slow the progress of (or possibly even prevent) Alzheimer’s and Dementia, since keeping your brain active and engaged prevents it from losing power.”
Reading is a stimulation for your brain in a way that TV or Youtube videos do not.
- Reading helps reduce stress, expand our knowledge, improve our vocabulary and writing skills, and improve our memory, analytical thinking skills, focus & concentration
“According to the ongoing research at Haskins Laboratories for the Science of the Spoken and Written Word, reading, unlike watching or listening to media, gives the brain more time to stop, think, process, and imagine the narrative in from of us. This increased mental activity helps keep your memory sharp much in the way lifting weights keeps your muscles toned.”
- Books are great, portable entertainment
“Books are the perfect entertainment: no commercials, no batteries, hours of enjoyment for each dollar spent. What I wonder is why everybody doesn’t carry a book around for those inevitable dead spots in life.”
~ Stephen King
Obviously, reading is important, which is why we have the recurring Productive Reading series and the Productive Woman Book Club where we discuss the book in the Facebook group and in person through video conferencing. There is so much value in reading itself as well as in the active discussion.
What we should read
Easy answer? Everything!
I’ve loved books since I was very young and will read almost anything; books, magazine articles, blog posts, the news. (When reading the news, I encourage all of us to make a point of reading from sources all across the spectrum. Often, the truth is likely somewhere in the middle.) If there’s nothing else to read, I’ll read a cereal box!
How to read
- Widely: different materials, topics, sources
- Critically: don’t just consume the content, but think about it and apply your brain to it, especially when reading material you agree with. All of us have confirmation bias and tend to look for materials that confirm what we already believe.
- With an open mind (especially the material you disagree with) – read to understand, not to refute
- With a notebook at hand
Capture info you want to remember, or quotes you want to keep, or questions you want to ponder or research further. Even with fiction, copy passages you find especially moving or elegant or memorable. Why did that passage move you so much? How did the author evoke the emotion you wanted? If not a notebook, at least keep a writing tool handy to mark in the book so you can go back and find meaningful passages more easily later. I use a pencil, in case I want to erase it later.
Types of books/articles/blogs to read
- Professional development
Read about the profession or job you’re in now to get better at it, or to learn about the one you want to get into.
My library reflects the various stages of my life and interests that I had: homemaking, childrearing, homeschooling, teaching childbirth classes, my legal profession, podcasting, speaking, writing.
- Personal growth
I think this is where books about productivity and character development and faith would fall under. Years ago, I read a book titled Integrity by Stephen Carter, which was very thought-provoking and inspiring to me.
- Acquiring new skills
Books, articles, and blogs are a great resource to learn anything you want to!
You can expand your knowledge about and perspective on social issues, politics, religion, literally any topic you want to know more about.
- Entertainment & relaxation
For many, this will be fiction, and there is a broad spectrum of genres of fiction for everyone. There’s something so relaxing about just curling up with a good book. This is a great way to add a lot of pleasure to your life, a nice element that adds to making a life that matters.
Ways to consume books & where to get them
There are all kinds of sources to access books as well.
- Local bookstore: It’s so much fun to browse the shelves and find unexpected treasures!
- Amazon – if you’re a Prime member, you have access to their First Reads and Kindle Unlimited services.
- Friends – get recommendations from friends you share interests with but also those you differ from. Also, trade books you like or find meaningful. It saves you both money and gives you something in common to discuss.
When/where can we make time to read?
- Skip one TV show a night, or all TV one night a week
- Keep a book with you all the time. (My iPad mini fits right in my purse, so I always have something to read on my Kindle app. I. will read a few pages from a novel, or skim the news stories in the Apple News app.)
- Go to bed half an hour early and read a “real” book. There are benefits to turning off all screens before going to sleep.
“Sometimes it is hard to fall asleep when your mind is racing and busy worrying about a variety of things. Reading, even if just for ten minutes, can help you push whatever was keeping you awake out of your mind. Bright lights from electronic devices can signal your brain that it is time to wake up. Reading under a dim light can be much more beneficial when trying to get some sleep. We recommend making sure the book isn’t a page-turner first!”
“A study highlighted in the Telegraph by the University of Sussex raised a number of participants stress levels and then attempted to reduce them. Cognitive Neuropsychologist Dr David Lewis found that ‘reading worked best, reducing stress levels by 68 per cent’. It was better than listening to music (61%), drinking tea or coffee (54%) and taking a walk (42%). It only took 6 minutes for participants’ stress levels to be reduced.
This is because, when reading a good book, your mind is distracted from daily stresses and worries that causes tension. Stories give your mind the option to be somewhere else for a little while. This means you can leave your own troubles behind. Reading also allows your muscles to relax and slows down your breathing, leaving you feeling calmer.”
- Cut down on social media time and read instead
- Listen to audiobooks when you commute or on a long car trip. (I used to alternate between fiction and non-fiction.)
My reading preferences
I like reading both fiction and non-fiction. I also try to read works by people I disagree with.
- Fiction: I like young adult dystopian books such as the Hunger Games, well written inspirational fiction, and historical fiction.
- Non-fiction: I read the gamut. Productivity, of course, but also history, biographies, books on writing craft, and more. I love Dave Barry’s humor books and own several –they’ve made me laugh out loud more than once.
What do you think?
Are you a reader? What’s your favorite format (Paper? Ebooks? Audiobooks?) What’s the best thing you’ve read in the past few months? Please share in the comments below this post or in The Productive Woman Community Facebook group, or send me an email.
Resources and Links
- “10 Benefits of Reading: Why You Should Read Every Day”
- “What Does Reading Do to Your Brain”
- “What Does Reading Before Bed Do to an Adult’s Brain”
Integrity by Stephen Carter
TPW Productive Reading series:
- Episode 133: The One Thing, by Gary Keller
- Episode 147: The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg
- Episode 166: Lessons from 3 books by Brené Brown
- Episode 182: Soulful Simplicity, by Courtney Carver
- Episode 211: The Free-Time Formula, by Jeff Sanders
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Royse City, Texas