If we want to stand out from the crowd, we need to continue growing, learning and acquiring knowledge.  There are really only three resources at our disposal to accomplish this; experience, conversation and reading.  Every person of great influence has leveraged these three resources to the best of their ability.

The 3 Way to Develop Your Influence

  1. Curate – Great Life Experieinces
  2. Cultivate – Quality Conversations
  3. Choose – Challenging Reading

Curate Great Life Experiences: The resource of life experience, by its very nature, is a passive method of acquiring knowledge, requiring the passage of time in order to make its impact.  We can choose to engage in rigorous experiences that will challenge and grow us, but this resource, in its very nature is time intensive. This does not mean we should neglect to be strategic in how we cultivate and leverage our circumstances. Rather, we should take the approach of an financial investment advisor, playing the long game of compound interest in our personal development that is gained over time.  Pastor Pierre DuPlessis often says, “You can’t expect to get in a few days, that which took another person years to attain.” There is no substitute for life experieince.

Cultivating Quality Conversations: Researchers at the University of Missouri recently reported that humans spend between 70 and 80 percent of our waking hours in some form of communication. What is fascinating, is the breakdown of what forms of communication we engage in most. “Many of us spend 70 to 80 percent of our waking hours in some form of communication. Of that time, we spend about 9 percent writing, 16 percent reading, 30 percent speaking, and 45 percent listening. Studies also confirm that most of us are poor and inefficient listeners” (University of Missouri).  Almost half of our communication is spent listening. And most of our listening is “poor and inefficient.” Many questions come to mind as one reflects on his research.

  • What are we listening too?
  • Who are we talking to and what are they saying?
  • What media outlets and pundit voices are we allowing to shape out thoughts and perspectives?
  • What conversations are filling our mental faculties and shaping the person we are becoming?

Cultivating quality conversations as a means of personal development, is dependent on our ability to engage in extensive dialogue with others who can add value and knowledge to our lives.  The kinds of conversations that we choose to engage in, as well as those we choose to listen to (news, social media, talk shows, etc…) have a far more powerful effect on the trajectory of our development than we realize. A mentor of mine used to say, we are all the average of the 5 people we spend the most time with.  Here are a few questions that are worth reflecting upon to assess that quality of our conversations.

  • Who do you spend the most time with?
  • What is the quality of those conversations?
  • Are their any people you need to spend less time with?
  • Are there people in your life that you need to spend more time with?
  • How can you cultivate conversations of higher quality in your life?

Choosing Challenging Reading – Our choice of what we read, and by default what we do not read, is the one variable for personal development over which we have the most independent control. If we are strategic in what we read, it will have dramatic and accelerated impact on who we become as a person. It is important however to note, that if we want to truly grow, it is imperative that we do not simply read from a handful of authors who align with our preferences, favorite genres and ideologies.  If we do not get outside of our own sphere of comfortability we will never grow.  Inability to diversify what we read, will make us more of who we already are. It will actually lead to insular thinking and circular logic, and ultimately have the inverse effect from what we are looking for, devolving us into a less informed person with a less meaningful contribution to the world.

Consider the following statistic about the extent of reading in America. 27% of American adults did not read a single book last year (Pew Research). Compare this with the following list of great leaders and their reading habits:

  • Bill Gates – Reads about 50 books a year, approximately 1 per week (Business Insider)
  • Mark Zuckerberg – Famously developed the “Year of Books” challenge on Facebook, committing to read a new book every 2 weeks, inviting the Facebook community to join him.
  • Warren Buffett – Known for carving out time to read hundreds of of pages each day

Daniel modeled this example from the beginning of his life until the very end. In the first chapter we read that Daniel and the group of guys he had gathered around him were “skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace, and to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans” (Daniel 1:4).  The fact that he was skillful in wisdom, learning and literature, tells us that he was an avid reader in a wide range of areas.  Later we read that they acquired “skill in all literature and wisdom” (Daniel 1:17).  Although Daniel spent much of his life in the business of the royal courts, he consistently managed to find time to read.

Later in life, we encounter Daniel continuing to practice the discipline of reading relentlessly.  “In the first year of Darius… I, Daniel perceived in the books the number of years that, according to the word of Jeremiah the prophet must pass before the end of the desolations of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years” (Daniel 9:2). He had risen to the heights of power and influence.  At this point in his life, Daniel was the highest political official in the empire, second only to the King! Presumably he had a cadre of scholars and advisers under him, and yet he continued to read voraciously.

As we continue through the ninth chapter of Daniel, we discover a shift in focus as a result of his continual research and reading.  The prayer and dialogue that ensues marks a profound shift in his focus and authority. He was led into a final stage of life in which he began to intercede before God on behalf of the entire nation of Israel. No longer do we see him simply leading politically and responding to individual dreams or interactions with God.  Instead, he seems to fully embrace the prophetic calling on his life. This was a calling that God had placed in him, and had nurtured and prepared in Daniel for that moment.

Daniel’s life experiences, those he chose to converse with and he voracious commitment to reading a wide range of challenging books allowed God to work in and through him, continually developing in Daniel the fortitude, knowledge and character that allowed him to stand out from the crow and add value and insight to everyone around him.

My personal habits in the area of choosing challenging reading are fairly structured, as I know that with out a plan I am more than likely to neglect this critical area of personal growth and development. I have a weekly Plan in which I schedule my reading, as well as tools to record and capture what I am learning.

My Weekly Reading Schedule:

  • Every Morning – I Spend 20-30 Minutes Reading the Bible
  • Every Evening – I Spend 15-45 Minutes Reading a Book That Will Stretch My Mind
  • Every Weekend – I Spend 4-5 Hours Reading, Research and Writing

How I Decide What To Read: I am continually asking people I admire and respect, whom I observe are life long learners, to share book recommendations. If more than one of the people I ask mention a particular book I will put it on my list of books to read.  Recently I began asking people I highly respect for a list of the top 10 books that have had the greatest impact in their personal and professional growth. Over the next few months I will be using these recommendations. To develop a year long reading challenge that will be posted to this blog, so stay tuned for that.

Tips for Determing What Books to Read:

  • Plan It – Keep a “Books to Read List”
  • Record Ideas – Record every book you hear someone else talking about that sounds interesting
  • Ask Others – Ask those you respect for their recommendations
  • Test Read – Download a free sample on iBooks or Kindle and read a chapter before committing to an entire book
  • Selectively Finish – Stop reading mediocre book, even if you are half way through it

Cultivating a personal practice of reading widely and extensively is an absolute must for anyone looking to stand out from the crowd and have a significant impact on the world around them.  Our own continual acquisition of personal knowledge and growth can never be delegated to others.  We must chose to carve out time every day to leverage the power of  reading.

When we choose to continually curate our life experieinces, cultivate quality conversations and choose to read challenging books, we will inevitably grow and develop into people who by the force of who we have become, will have a profound impact on the people and the world around us.  These kind of people stand out from the crowd.

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