Usually, we consider reading as a way to acquire other knowledge or skills: for a career, hobby or self-help. Arguably, reading has its own intrinsic value. When we read for fun or as a sport, it does something to our soul. It also has positive physiological and psychological effects. In this post, we focus on the effects of reading. We recommend you to read the materials that inspired the post here, here and here.
We live in a stressful world. Forty years ago the world used to be simpler, quieter, almost boring. There was no internet, no mobile devices. People worked regular hours and could choose between several forms of entertainment, none of them very exciting. Once they have chosen a career path, they would propagate back and forth along that career path, being pretty much sure their expertise will be required till they get old. This is not our reality. We have too many inputs and too little time to process them, our careers must adapt to a rapidly changing world, we cannot imagine the future 10 years from now, and we are constantly trying to stay relevant.
The stress cycle is a bad trip. We fill our lives with demanding and manageable activities to enjoy and to get into the “flow” state. Being productive is fun, we feel energized and empowered. And then something goes sour. It could be a new opportunity we cannot miss, a task we cannot delay, something breaking up or someone getting sick. It could be a myriad of thinks, and suddenly we are forced to work more. We get tired and get less productive. Suddenly all of our tasks start to suffer and we work harder and harder getting progressively more tired till we get burned out. In theory, it is easy to monitor various stressors, be attentive to our own needs and avoid burnout – in practice, it is a skill hard to master, and even then it is not fail-self.
Recently scientists noticed that people who read regularly get less stress, have improved cognition and live longer. Choosing to read is a conscious decision: people who read can be very busy and can have many urgent activities. People who read prioritize reading over their other needs. Suppose you balance your schedule, make an effort and get into your “flow” state while allowing 90 min of reading per day – for example, allocate 30 min in the morning for the news, 30 min at work for professional materials and 30 min in the evening for fun and self-help. Personally, I prefer to do my reading at work and work longer hours because I need a big screen for speedreading. Now suppose something unexpected happens, you can temporarily [no more than two weeks] drop your reading rate and still be OK. Once the excitement subsides you can resume your schedule, maybe even spend some time during the weekend to fill-in the gaps in your reading.
There are several benefits to this sort of reading habit:
- You are very well informed since you read a lot. This means you will find more opportunities, have more meaningful conversations, do your work and handle life more effectively.
- The “flow” state is always in your reach. You can increase or decrease the amount and complexity of the reading you do and keep the optimal level of excitement.
- If something goes sour you have a healthy buffer. This is actually a big deal.
- Having a quiet reading time, reading the stuff you enjoy, can be very soothing and can fill your energy reserves.
When we read, it is important to match our reading to our day cycle. Probably in the morning we will be a bit sleepy and will want to read something informative very fast just to wake up.
During the noon, we will want to address the ideas we have and things we hear from other people, in the evening we will want some “easy reading”, maybe some fiction or something motivational to reduce the day’s stress and prepare to sleep. I find it quite helpful to manage a “negative reading” list, where I put the things I would like to read given time.
Reading is not the only activity we do “for ourselves”. We balance reading with watching video, casual gaming, sports, meditation, socialization. Each of these activities can be done almost everywhere, any time, each of these activities offers tremendous benefits. Each activity can also function as a temporary buffer. It is probably practically impossible to fit all of them in our daily routine, so we need to prioritize based on personal preferences. For example reading/video 3 days a week, balancing sports/meditation 3 days a week and socializing on Sunday (or equivalent). There are no recipes on how to do life: you should always experiment and adapt.
Your resilience is built from many skills:
- Having good daily habits
- Social support system
- Self awareness
- Healthy physical activity
Reading can add something to each of these skills.
As we get older, cognition becomes a real issue. Here daily reading really shines. People who read are almost as sharp, relevant and well-informed as they are in their twenties. Recently Israeli ex-president Shimon Peres died aged 92. He used to read A LOT every day. At his 92 he was still incredibly smart, enthusiastic about nanomechanics and other cutting edge technology. During his last day before stroke, he was making a campaign to promote local manufacturing. This is not just anecdotal evidence, there is solid research behind the statement: reading contributes to cognition and cognition contributes to longevity.
Incorporate daily reading in your routine. You will be less stressed, live longer and enjoy life more.