Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “I cannot remember the books I’ve read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me.” Our choice of what we read, and by default what we do not read, is one of the most significant factors in determining the person we become.
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, ultimately have the inverse effect from what we are looking for.
Every successful and influential person I know has been heavily influenced by the depth and breadth of his or her reading habits. Consider the reading habits of the following famous leaders. Bill Gates reads about 50 books a year, approximately 1 per week. Mark Zuckerberg developed the “Year of Books” challenge on Facebook, committing to read a new book every 2 weeks, inviting others to join him. Warren Buffett is known for carving out time to read hundreds of of pages each day
You can become a well read person, just like Gates, Zuckerberg and Buffet. But it will never happen by accident. Only when you have a plan for choosing challenging reading will you successfully develop the reading habits of a well read person.
5 Steps to Becoming a “Well Read” Person
- Read Intentionally – Have a plan
- Read Frequently – Schedule time every day
- Read Widely – Expand your choices
- Read Deeply – Take time to understand
- Read Together – Share what you are learning
1. Read Intentionally – Have a plan for what you read. As kids, our teachers made plans for what we would read. As adults, we are charged with the task of determining what we read (or don’t read) for ourselves. We all desire to be well read… but as Benjamin Franklin quipped, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” For too many years I lacked a plan, and the quality of my reading suffered. When I began to plan my reading intentionally, I learned more, felt fulfilled and became more excited by what I read.
Here are a few aspects of my current reading plan that might help as you develop your own reading plan.
2. Read Frequently – Like exercise, reading is most effective when done consistently. We daily time carved out for intentional reading to truly experience the transformation reading can bring. My personal rhythm is to read for about 30 minutes each morning before my family wakes up. At the end of every day I spend another 30 minutes reading before going to sleep. If you can find a time every day that works for your schedule to read consistently, the cumulative intellectual effects are as powerful as compound interest on a financial investment. However, frequency alone isn’t enough… we must carefully and intentionally read widely and deeply.
3. Read Widely – There is nothing wrong with reading popular fiction novels. However, if that is all we read, there is a limit to how much we will learn and grow. Similarly, if we only read blogs and news written from our own political and social perspectives, we will limit our intellectual development. Intentionally planning to read widely will stretch and challenge us. The result will be incredible growth personally and in our influence. Here are a few way I choose to read widely.
- Alternate between fiction and non-fiction
- Seek out different perspectives on similar topics
- Read books that are recommended by people different than myself
- Try and read every book that is recommended by 2 or more influential people
- Read news from both conservative and liberal media outlets
Recently, I asked about 20 of the most influential people I know to send me a list of 10 most influential books in their lives. This set of lists has given me countless books to add to my reading plan that I would have likely not considered. Send out a few text today and you can begin gathering a list of books to add to your plan.
4. Read Deeply – We live in a culture that loves to take short cuts. Book summaries, news headlines and 140 character twitter posts seem to be the preference du jour for must of our reading consumption. Dependance on these circumventions to reading deeply on a topic or subject have the benefit of quickly covering a broad range of topics. However, if we never read deeply, we fail to truly develop the depth of knowledge and understanding that can stand the test of time. Similar to most rich quick schemes, infomercials that promise a beach body in 30 days or books on how to have a new child by Friday, we will end up sorely disappointed. Every morning, while reading my Bible I underline key verses, take notes in a journal and take time to meditate on how what I read applies to my life. Similarly, when reading a challenging book in the evenings, there is always a pen in my hand, looking to make notes about what I need to remember. Here are a few suggestions for how to read deeply.
- Block time for reading deeply
- Read with a pen and mark up the book
- Take notes in a journal
- Look up words you don’t know
- Share what you learn with a friend
- Track your insights in an Evernote file
Francis Bacon observed, “some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.” What books are you planning to read that require you to chew and digest?
5. Read Together – Have you ever noticed how much more fun a television show becomes when you find other people who are watching it as well? The chance to talk about what you saw and felt makes the watching more meaningful. If a book is worth reading, there are other people who should read it as well. Whenever you find yourself really enjoying a book, talk about it to anyone who will listen. If someone seems interested, ask them to read it as well so you can talk about it. Some of the greatest learning I have gleaned from books has come when a friend was reading the same book and we could talk about it and learn together.
As you begin to develop your own reading plan, make sure you are choosing a wide range of books that will challenge you. Carve out intentional time each day to read deeply and look for ways to share what you are learning with others. Then, sit back and watch how you are transformed by the books you read and the conversations that ensure!
Note: What we choose to read is the third factor that determine how influential we become. Click here to read the an overview of this framework.