In my whole life, I have known no wise people who didn’t read all the time — none, zero. Charlie Munger, Vice Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway.
Another post in the improving your learning from A to Z series.
If you’re not reading from a book every day, you’re missing out on one of the most powerful ways to learn and connect the dots. There is no reason why you shouldn’t be reading each day, it’s that important. Reading a book is like fertilizer to your mind.
- Don’t like or find it difficult to read? Listen to audio books (this can be as effective as reading a book).
- Bored by books? You’re not reading the right book for you.
- Don’t have the time? Begin with 10 minutes a day. Reading may even give you time back.
Reading is Good For You
If we encounter a man of rare intellect, we should ask him what books he reads – Ralph Waldo Emerson
If you’re still reading this post, you must believe that reading has some benefit. Why else would you be reading this? Here are a few resources on the benefits of reading.
- Anne Cunningham found that reading makes us smarter.
- John Coleman wrote a good article summarizing the many benefits of reading including studies that have shown that reading makes you smarter through “a larger vocabulary and more world knowledge in addition to the abstract reasoning skills.“
- Reading improves your thinking skills and provides other benefits outside of learning like like reducing stress and better writing,
The best place to see the benefits of reading is to begin reading a book. Pick a book on a topic you find interesting or know nothing about. Begin reading this book for 10 minutes a day. Be patient and curious, the benefits will come to you.
How to Read a Book
Here are a few resources to help improve your reading:
- How to Read Well by Farnam Street
- How to digest books above your level by Ryan Holiday
- How to Read a Business Book by Seth Godin
Books to Read
One of the easiest ways to begin finding books is to see what others are reading. Here are some examples:
- Bill Gates has an annual list plus a list of books on his book shelf
- Ben Casnocha’s list
- Joel Gascoigne’s list of 50 books that transformed his life
- Ryan Holiday has a newsletter with recommended books
- Jay Cross’s list
- 14 Thought Leaders Share Their Bookshelves
- FavBooks lists book recommendations from influential people
There are sites that can help you find books, here are a few examples:
- Amazon – there are many ways to find good books here (e.g., best seller, award winning, similar to this book, etc)
- What Should I Read Next – type a book or author you enjoy and this site recommends a list of similar books for you
- Goodreads -contains recommendations from a large community
Another good way to find books is through sites that summarize and recommend books. Here are my 3 favorite sites:
If You Only Read Non-Fiction, Try Fiction
If you want your child to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want your child to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales. Albert Einstein
Reading novels helps you embrace ambiguity, says research from three University of Toronto scholars.
“The thinking a person engages in while reading fiction does not necessarily lead him or her to a decision,” they note. This, they observe, decreases the reader’s need to come to a definitive conclusion.
Annie Murphy Paul describes recent research showing that stories stories stimulate the brain and even change how we act in life. One of the statement I found fascinating was from Keith Oatley, an emeritus professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto.
He suggests that reading produces a vivid simulation of reality, one that “runs on minds of readers just as computer simulations run on computers.”
Does listening to book provide the same benefit as reading? Unless it’s a complicated or highly detailed book, it does.
University of Virginia psychology professor Dan Willingham provides an explanation of how they are similar:
“The way this is usually interpreted is that once you are good at decoding letter into sounds, which most of us are by the 5th or 6th grade, the comprehension is the same whether it’s spoken or written.”
So, if you feel like you’re cheating and not really “reading” when listening to a book, listen up! Listening to books if one the ways I am able to read more. Some of this is also personal preference. When I want to take lots of notes and continually refer to a book, I usually read rather than listen.
Here are some audio book resources:
Begin Reading Today
Like anything you want to do that you never find the time, you need to make it a priority. It doesn’t mean you have to rearrange your life to make a change. Don’t over think it, just start.
- Select a book
- Make time to read or listen each day (start with 10 minutes a day)
- Keep an open mind, be curious and patient. You will realize many benefits.
Another post in the improving your learning from A to Z series.
There are two parts to connecting the dots. Collecting and connecting. It reminds me of an episode of the popular Seinfeld TV show.
Jerry reserves a rental car and goes to pick it up. He arrives at the rental car company and asks the agent for the car he reserved. Here’s the quick exchange:
Agent: I’m sorry, we have no mid-size available at the moment.
Jerry: I don’t understand, I made a reservation, do you have my reservation?
Agent: Yes, we do, unfortunately we ran out of cars.
Jerry: But the reservation keeps the car here. That’s why you have the reservation.
Agent: I know why we have reservations.
Jerry: I don’t think you do. If you did, I’d have a car. See, you know how to take the reservation, you just don’t know how to hold the reservation and that’s really the most important part of the reservation, the holding. Anybody can just take them.
This illustrates a simple point about our dots, collecting dots is important but connecting the dots is the most important part.
But before you connect, you need to collect.
Collecting the Dots
“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” Henry Miller
Dots are experiences you have throughout your day and life. These experiences (dots) are the raw materials you use to connect. A wide range of experiences helps you broaden your perspective. So, you should have many different experiences to keep a healthy inventory of dots.
The more variety of experiences you have, the better connections you can make. Collecting the same dots doesn’t help you make new connections, it keeps you trapped like a tiger in a cage.
Don’t Trap Yourself
“The energy of the mind is the essence of life.” Aristotle
Having the same experiences makes your mind pace back and forth like a wild tiger in a cage. The tiger paces back and forth on this same experience and has a primal urge to break free and collect dots in his natural environment. He knows there is a bigger world out there. He doesn’t care what anyone else’s agenda is, he just wants out, he needs out.
Your mind, like the tiger, needs to get out and collect more dots. If he doesn’t get out of the cage, he will eventually get tired and stop pacing. So will you.
Don’t give up!
Set the Tiger Free
“So often times it happens that we live our lives in chains, and we never even know we have the key.” The Eagles
You have the key to let the tiger out. The key is to have more experiences, different types of experiences. So, open the door and let the tiger run free.
Feel the earth on your feet, first the front paws, then the back. Embrace the wind on your face. Smell the clear air and natural scents. Connect with your environment. You can go anywhere and do anything.
Getting More Dots
“The only source of knowledge is experience.” Albert Einstein
Now that you’re free, how do you collect more experiences? There are unlimited ways you can collect or connect dots and you may even connect a dot while collecting a dot. Here are 30 examples of how to collect more dots. Many of these items are simple, the harder part is doing them.
- As a customer, buy or use one of the products you sell.
- Do job rotations outside your primary area.
- Spend time as a customer support representative.
Do the opposite of what you normally do. Get out of your routine. If you usually:
- Spend time with people, make time to be alone for a while and hear yourself.
- Eat lunch in the same spot everyday, go somewhere else to eat.
- Fly when you travel, take the train or bus.
- Kids on the playground or dogs run at the park.
- Go to an airport or train station and watch people.
- A grocery store or restaurant during peak time and watch how people behave.
Personal Knowledge Management (PKM)
- Collect and manage digital dots.
- Write a blog post or make a comment in an online article.
- Attend a conference using the backchannel.
- A book that has nothing to do with your job or interests.
- Re-read a book that you loved when you were younger.
- A magazine that you would would usually not purchase
Travel and explore to:
- The town where you live (pay attention to the details).
- Another state, territory or country. It’s a big world.
- A place you used to visit regularly as a child.
Try a New Hobby
Volunteer your time for an hour, a day or a week. See what someone else’s life is like by:
- Using your your existing skills.
- Hosting an international exchange student.
- Helping your local food bank or elderly home.
- A museum that you’ve never seen.
- A friend or relative that you haven’t seen in a while.
- The place were you or your parents were born.
So, seek out new experiences to broaden your perspective. Start small and get uncomfortable. But be careful, don’t seek out experiences in order to get the high score in a game, you’ll miss the point.
The point is to have an open, curious perspective as you interact with the world around you. There is a lot out there.
“Learn how to see. Realize that everything connects to everything else.” Leonardo da Vicci
Why is it easier to connect the dots for a character in a movie than in your own life? Often times when you’re watching a movie or TV show you connect the dots for the main characters before they do. “I can’t believe she can’t see that!”
It seems obvious, right? It’s because you’ve the been invited into the story to connect someone else’s dots.
Imagine if you could sit back and watch your own life unfold in a movie. Wouldn’t that be a lot easier to connect the dots for yourself? You could see what happened in your past knowing what you know now. You could pause, rewind, fast forward. You could see all the little clues that you didn’t see before.
Well, there are ways to do this in your own life too.
Connecting Your Dots
“Use the force, Luke.” Obi-Wan Kenobi
How do you to get more dots? Obi-Wan says “use the force”, I say “use the curiosity.” Your curiosity will guide you.
Connecting dots is your ability to join your experiences into new ideas. You’re giving birth to new ideas that you can use to take future actions in your life.
To connect dots, you use various thinking skills like critical thinking, lateral thinking, creative thinking or no thinking to connect dots.
It can happen anywhere. You can connect dots while driving in your car, taking a shower or while having an engaging conversation with a co-worker. There is no perfect answer for how to do this – keep an open and curious mind.
Many of the items listed in Learning A to Z help you connect dots. The A,B,C’s are foundational and D thru Z are activities to help you learn.
Try to be more aware of your actions. Before participating in an activity, remember that you:
- Are accountable for your own learning
- Can do it – believe in yourself
- Are a dot connector
Then, select an activity based on the mental focus required. The activities listed below are organized by the amount of mental focus required for each activity.
Your brain requires a lot of energy to think and you should rotate the mental focus you’re applying to activities.
For example – many people have more energy in the morning. Try engaging in activities requiring more mental focus in the morning and choose activities needing less mental focus in the afternoon. Or cycle activities (e.g., from more focus to less focus to more focus, etc) to give your brain a workout, then a rest.
Some activities can swing to either side and be either more or less focus. For example: Reading a fun book required less mental focus than reading a scientific book. Go with your gut and do what works best for you.
Activities on the right require more mental focus.
Activities on the left require less mental focus.
Activities in the middle can swing to either side and require more or less focus (your choice).
Get Out and Connect
“Without new experiences, something inside of us sleeps. The sleeper must awaken.” Frank Hebert
On your journey, remember:
- Collecting dots is important but connecting dots is the most important part.
- You hold the key to let the tiger out of the cage. Set him free.
- Go have a variety of experiences to create a healthy inventory of dots.
- Use your curiosity.
- Try an activity and rotate based on mental focus required.
What do you do? Do you:
- Try to find others who have faced a similar situation?
- Search the web or your social networks to find resources?
Then, when you find people or content to help, what do you do? Do you look for more, then what?
Do you ever ask yourself, “what do I think or feel?”
The age of instant access to information can create an over-reliance on what others think. We can over rely on the tools and technologies available to us so that they become a limitation rather than being helpful.
We have all the answers at our fingertips through our phones, tablets and computers. Someone has done a study about it, someone has written a book about this exact topic, someone has a Ph.D in this topic.
How could you not feel a sense of seeking for the right answer?
It’s always there waiting for you. We look for answers in so many places in the hopes of finding the “right answer.” Is there a right answer? Who’s to say that it’s right or wrong? The constant seeking to find from others, without reflecting on your own thoughts, will get in the way of your grow and learning.
Aren’t you exhausted?
Having instant access to people and information is powerful. I connect every day. I seek and connect with others to help me grow and I share my thoughts to help others.
This should be an input into your thinking process, not a substitute for your thinking process. Other people’s thinking can greatly help you or limit you depending on your reliance of this input.
Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking ~Albert Einstein
How much time are you spending with yourself?
Sounds funny considering that you’re with yourself all day. You may not even realize how much time you’re spending outside yourself. You are the foundation for all of your experiences so you owe it to yourself to check in every day.
To help think for yourself in this connected world, try:
Making an appointment with yourself every day
Try to do this when you have energy. I do this first thing in the morning before anyone is awake. Some like to do this late at night. It doesn’t matter when as long as you’re setting aside this time for yourself.
Disconnecting from the internet
When it’s time for tap into your thoughts, literally pull the plug or disconnect from wireless. If you’ve never done this, give it a try. It may cause a sudden panic, but you’ll get over it and will begin to create thoughts you didn’t know you had.
Getting up and moving
Go for a short walk or exercise. This helps break the cycle and can help you re-center on your thoughts and feelings. Plus, it’s good for you, you’ll feel better.
Creating something new
Create something that doesn’t exist. If it doesn’t exist, then you have to tap into “you” to generate the thoughts for a new creation. It could be anything (e.g., a drawing, a graphic, a letter, etc). You get to decide. You will learn when you create.
Recognizing that this could be scary
If you’ve been “out there” for a while, it could be a little nerve racking to rely on your own thoughts. Trust yourself, the more time you practice, the more comfortable you’ll be.
What do you do to think for yourself?
Would you like to create more but feel like you’re not all that creative or talented? Guess what – lots of other people do too, so don’t feel bad (it won’t help you anyway). But, there is one thing that you can do that will help you create. You can admit (to yourself) the reason why you are not creating.
The reason you’re not creating might be different than what you think. It’s probably fear, a fear of yourself. Before you dismiss this, think about it for a moment. There may be other symptoms (e.g., lack of time, motivation, skills) but those are usually masks to the real issue. Even talking about fear being the cause is fearful. Nothing bad will happen because you’re thinking about being scared of creating. In fact, nobody needs to know.
You’re Already Good Enough
When you create something that didn’t exist before (e.g., painting, writing, coding, etc), you’re putting yourself out there. When you put yourself out there, you invite feedback for your creation (from yourself and others). When this feedback isn’t what you want it to be, it can lead to a host of emotions (anger, hurt, anxious, etc) that usually leads back to feeling “not good enough or as good as.”
But the thing is, you are already good enough to create. There is no good or bad, it’s creation. All you have to do is try. Pick up that paintbrush, pen, computer or whatever it is for you and start. You begin learning and growing when you start creating. You won’t know what you’ll learn until you start!
“I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.” ~Stuart Smalley
Your Personal Growth is Irrelevant to Others
When you begin creating, don’t compare your creation to an ideal state. Just start and experience your creation “flow.” You’re not competing against anyone – learning and knowledge are personal. We learn socially but each person has to do their own learning and growing. If you create, you will learn and that learning experience is yours to keep and apply in future.
If you want to create music with a piano – play piano. Comparing yourself to Billy Joel is irrelevant to the growth of your piano skills.
If you want to draw better, draw. Comparing yourself to Hugh MacLeod is irrelevant to your drawing skills.
When You’re Not Feeling Good Enough
Think of a cave drawing. What thoughts come to mind? Do you ever think “that is not good enough?” Or does it invite you into someone else’s wold through their creation. Think of the learning and stories that took place through the drawings (during their creation and through time). They had no special training and had everything they needed to create. So do you…get started!