Let me get this out of the way: you aren’t reading enough.
The global literacy rate has increased exponentially over the last 200 years, but in 2018, leisure reading was at an all-time low in the US. In 2016, 21 percent of Americans didn’t read a single book all year. According to the National Endowment for the Arts, time spent reading has declined on average among every major US demographic — including founders, entrepreneurs, and boardroom executives.
Anecdotally, I’m finding that people seem to be reading less — particularly material that requires deep thought or imagination and is unrelated to their work — and I suppose it’s understandable. Reading has been on the decline ever since the advent of TV, not to mention the Internet, and there’s more quality content than ever before. Of course, that doesn’t make it excusable: reading regularly is paramount to developing self-awareness, educating yourself, and just staying sharp.
Consider the reading habits of some of our greatest leaders and minds:
- Microsoft founder Bill Gates reads at least 50 books a year.
- Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban reads at least three hours a day.
- Billionaire investor and philanthropist Warren Buffett allocates 80 percent of his time to reading — and not just business publications. He loves fiction of all kinds.
- Former NBA coach Phil Jackson, who won multiple NBA championships, would handpick books for players he felt would be inspired by and identify with their content.
- Barack Obama is a voracious reader. Despite the near-constant demand of the office of the President, he always found time to read — and famously began sharing his favorites come the end of the year.
So, you know it’s important. Now the question becomes, how do you build reading into your routine so it becomes a bigger part of your life? Remember, audiobooks is a great way to do this.
Set a reading goal — then design your life around meeting it
Of course, designing your life to meet any goal is a bit more challenging than simply setting the goal itself. Here are a few tips to get started:
Join a reading group. One of my industry friends meets bi-monthly with a group to read classics in philosophy, fiction, history, and other areas. The group actively avoids books related to their industry. Don’t have many friends in your area? Don’t worry. Reading groups can be found on social platforms like MeetUp or Facebook.
Use books to supplement your work. Are you struggling with a vexing work issue? Crack open a psychology book and see if there are ways in which you can apply its lessons to your profession. Generally, looking to outside fields of inquiry and study for inspiration in your personal or professional life is a great habit to build.
Encourage others on your team to read with you. This, I suppose, is something like a book club, but it boils down to you and your colleagues holding each other accountable. If you talk more often about what you’re reading, you’ll get more enjoyment out of the experience and you’ll want to do it more.
The most important question to answer when aspiring to read more is, “Why?”
Why are you, as a rejuvenated reader, investing so much time in reading?
Rather than setting a goal of 20 books in 2020, perhaps your reading goal should address this question. Nothing will be more inspiring than identifying reasons to read that truly resonate with you and compel you to carve out time to hit your reading goals.
Here are the reasons I’ve built serious reading into my everyday routine:
- Reading opens new horizons. Maybe you’re stuck in a reading rut. I tend to overload on spy thrillers and murder mysteries, and while it’s perfectly fine to stick to topics and genres you are familiar with, exploring something completely new requires greater focus and dedication as you explore the uncharted literary territory.
- Reading is research. My daughter traveled to 7 countries in Europe last year — places to which I had not been. So I read books on Norway and Italy, and not just guidebooks, but stories that took place in those countries so I could pick up talking to her about society and culture when she returned. It proved to be a great idea because it enriched my understanding of the stories she shared when she got back.
- Reading improves your health. An active literary life can keep you more relaxed and improve your health, which is pretty high up on my “reasons for reading.” For high-strung executives, reading is a great way to relax — studies show that reading as few as six minutes a day can reduce stress by 68 percent. Other studies suggest reading may even fend off Alzheimer’s, extending the longevity of the mind.
- Reading hones your decision-making skills. A recent study by Anne Cunningham of UC Berkeley showed that people who read often were better at analyzing information than non-readers. That helps your decision-making, as you can identify the most logical or advantageous option and see opportunities where others can’t.
- Reading makes you a better leader. Reading regularly simply makes you a sharper, more curious, and more empathetic version of yourself — skills that translate directly to innovation and leadership. Ultimately, reading truly is like going to the gym for your brain, so it only makes sense that those who do it often will be in better mental shape than those who don’t.
The best reason to read? It’s fun!
Whether you’re the CEO of a growing startup or a grad student living on ramen noodles, the best reason to read is that it’s a rewarding way to spend time. If you need more inspiration to make a habit of picking up a book each day — beyond the variety of health, mental, and emotional benefits reading provides — no reason proves more influential than that reading is just plain fun.
At the end of the day, this is why you need to set a reading goal for 2020: Reading not only betters you as a person, it also provides a uniquely gratifying form of mental nourishment. So don’t wait. Set your reading goal and start reading!