Slow reading advocates seek a return to the focused reading habits of years gone by, before Google, smartphones and social media started fracturing our time and attention spans. Many of its advocates say they embraced the concept after realizing they couldn’t make it through a book anymore. The benefits of reading from an early age through late adulthood have been documented by researchers. A study of 300 elderly people published by the journal Neurology last year showed that regular engagement in mentally challenging activities, including reading, slowed rates of memory loss in participants’ later years. Reading habits have declined in recent years. In a survey this year, about 76% of Americans 18 and older said they read at least one book in the past year, down from 79% in 2011, according to the Pew Research Center.
When was the last time you read a book, or a substantial magazine article? Do your daily reading habits center around tweets, Facebook updates, or the directions on your instant oatmeal packet? If you’re one of countless people who don’t make a habit of reading regularly, you might be missing out: reading has a significant number of benefits, and just a few benefits of reading are listed below.
1. Mental Stimulation
Studies have shown that staying mentally stimulated can slow the progress of (or possibly even prevent) Alzheimer’s and Dementia, since keeping your brain active and engaged prevents it from losing power. Just like any other muscle in the body, the brain requires exercise to keep it strong and healthy, so the phrase “use it or lose it” is particularly apt when it comes to your mind. Doing puzzles and playing games such as chess have also been found to be helpful with cognitive stimulation.
2. Stress Reduction
No matter how much stress you have at work, in your personal relationships, or countless other issues faced in daily life, it all just slips away when you lose yourself in a great story. A well-written novel can transport you to other realms, while an engaging article will distract you and keep you in the present moment, letting tensions drain away and allowing you to relax.
Everything you read fills your head with new bits of information, and you never know when it might come in handy. The more knowledge you have, the better-equipped you are to tackle any challenge you’ll ever face.
Additionally, here’s a bit of food for thought: should you ever find yourself in dire circumstances, remember that although you might lose everything else—your job, your possessions, your money, even your health—knowledge can never be taken from you.
III. The 16 Daily Rituals
Exercise is essential; I briefly touched on what happens to you in the short term but consider also the long term effects of regular exercise. As you maintain a regiment of exercise your body fat percentage drops, your flexibility and strength increase (less chance of injury) your lifespan extends, your immune system is bolstered, you maintain your youth longer, you carry over a sustained vigor to other parts of your life, your resting heart rate goes down, and you have a general feeling of well being. Pretty sweet. Clearly exercising is very important; given both its short and long term benefits.
But do you have to do this every day? That seems strenuous. Try expanding your definition – You don’t give it your 100% every day. Some days may be 10 minutes of simple light stretching, just to keep the habit. Other days may be 2.5 hour monster gym sessions.
I use this habit to help me accomplish two other things very important to me, meditation and getting into nature. Often times my physical exertion is a one hour walk through the park or along the water front. Practicing a walking meditation is a great way to center yourself and help carry the skill over to everyday life. Being in nature has a similar balancing effect on your well being.
But you don’t need me to tell you to work out. The benefits are all clearly documented by scientists and people. There are networks and resources for support and endless sources of inspiration to motivate you.
This habit is invaluable. You need to meditate. Think about what part of the human experience spirituality addresses – the ego and fear – two concepts that would benefit you SO much to control. I think a lot of people get messed up here because the benefits are very intangible at first. The “S curve” of Mastery that I described above has a very looong period of ‘sucking shit’. If you’re not experienced then your image of what meditation should be like is wrong. Fighting your expectations will be a constant battle as you learn to meditate. Here are some resources to help you learn.
Practice – Start meditating everyday. The evidence is in by a landslide, both anecdotally and empirically. Meditation will change your life so start today, any reason you may have for not trying is an excuse.
Once you get the hang of it you will leave your meditation sessions feeling centered, calm, and relaxed. It has an ego-lessening effect and awareness increasing effect that spills over to your everyday life. If you keep up the practice you’ll notice that your focus and attention span increases dramatically, as does your sight and sound sensitivity (think of the most visceral things you do – sex, eating, sports etc.) Brain regions associated with attention, interoception and sensory processing will literally become thicker.
In the long term, meditation offers a ‘profound transformation of how you experience reality’ It will bring you joy, peace, and happiness. This is real and you need to be doing it.
If you read the right books you will be moved, inspired, and motivated.
Think about what you expose yourself to. There’s a million shitty blogs on the internet written by whoever. But then there’s books out there that will change your life. Books that the most gifted human beings on earth have spent years writing. A lifetime of experiences, insights, and lessons learned given to you in a nice handheld easily digestible form.
I started this habit at a half hour a day. Recently I’ve started reading about an hour a day and am burning through books. With a constant flow of information in, you increase your ability for information to flow out (applying knowledge to your life)
Reading is an easy habit to put off and you need to make it a priority. If you’re not regularly reading then you may start to fall asleep as you pick up a book. Your mind is not conditioned properly and you need to force yourself through that period. Your reading speed and comprehension do pick up over time – just stick to it.
If you have no idea where to begin, the recommended reading section is a good place to start.
4. Creative Recreation
People are going to approach this one very differently but if there is something you can sit down and do purely for your enjoyment than that’s awesome. Think of a flow state activity that you can put your full expression into. For me it’s playing an instrument. If you’ve ever seen someone play the guitar or piano at an extremely high level in a non performance setting then you’ll know what I’m talking about. The “S” curve of learning an instrument is very, very, very long. But you get out what you put in. Your amusements will leave you feeling rejuvenated and can often break up and lighten the day. As you invest in your hobbies you will get more and more out of them
I generalized this habit as ‘creative recreation’ because I want to emphasize the fact that recreation is not a spectator sport. Vegetating on the couch watching commercials is not recreation.
As you build a productive life your ability to stay focused and have energy becomes very important. What you eat has a big effect on how you feel. If you eat right you can avoid energy crashes, fight off sickness, and generally just feel ‘good’.
I know that I’m definitely not the best person to give nutrition advice but the resources are out there. It should be obvious that what you put in your body is very important. Do yourself a favor and learn how your body works.
For me, I don’t eat sugar or processed food. I drink 1.5L of water a day and I make an extra effort to eat more plant based foods. I supplement my diet with fish oil etc. I think what’s most important though is that you proactively decide what you put in your body. Make the time to cook your meals, keep your fridge stocked, and don’t buy convenience food.
6. Reasonable Spending
Like nutrition, this habit is more of a choice you make rather than an active investment of your time. Its pretty straight forward, every day I try to manage my money reasonably.
Apply the concept of reactivity/proactively to your spending and you have an excellent framework for managing your money. Did you plan on making this purchase? If not then don’t do it. The nature of planning a purchase is that it is in line with your goals and budget. The nature of making an impulsive/reactive purchase is quite the opposite, ‘it is right here and will satisfy me right now’ (mostly consumer/convenience items)
7. Brain Buster + Current Events
Part of my morning routine is to check out the economist, my local news site, or the new york times and read two or three articles. Given my background and where I want to go in life it is going to serve me well to be informed and have the ability to notice trends and understand the complexity of global issues.
I also work very hard to develop my critical and lateral thinking. Every day I challenge myself to solve one extremely difficult problem. Actually I only figure them out about 30% of the time. On my computer I have a repository of IQ, Mensa, brain buster type books that would take a lifetime to work through. Some problems I solve in five minutes others take me thirty until I break down and look at the solution.
If you run a business or are any kind of decision making authority (or eventually want to be in that position) then I can’t vouch enough for this habit. You need to be sharp and informed. Period.
Every day I make an effort to advance my social skills. Your ability to communicate effectively with human beings has so many implications in your personal and professional life. I’ve gone through experiments with this habit and I think the less your around people the more you need to make it a priority (my lifestyle right now has me around new people ALL the time, but there have been other times in my life when I actively had to make that happen)
I’ve tried a few different things. For a while I really focused on listening to people with the intent to understand, pushing the urge to get my point across aside and giving other people the floor when they were expressing themselves. I’ve done different experiments with eye contact and physicality while communicating as well. Regardless, going out and just talking to people trumps all when it comes to developing your social skills.
9. Personal Management
This is the easiest of all habits to implement. Just 10 minutes a day and your bachelor pad is looking clean and fresh. Not many long term benefits here except maybe you don’t lose your possessions as often and they have and increased lifespan. In the short term doing your laundry, not letting your dishes pile up, and making your bed can offer you a peace of mind and allow you to work unfettered on other projects.
10. Project 1, 2 or more times a week
For me I set aside a two hour block twice a week to work on a personal project. This could be fleshing out a business feasibility plan, recreating my weightlifting routine, catching up on some reading, creating a budget, doing research, or writing this mega post.
At the beginning of each week I choose what two projects I plan to work on and within the week I find time to fit them in. Use this habit as a way of revitalizing old projects that are collecting dust or to begin something new that you’ve been thinking about but haven’t got around to.
The effects this habit has on your short and long term productivity are enormous.
11. Podcast/TED Talk/University Lecture
If you’re a thinking human being with a desire for knowledge then you should be listening to podcasts, watching ted talks and viewing the thousands of lectures professors and researchers have on the internet.
This is a habit I integrated for both its short term and long term benefits. In the short term I find it interesting to learn about new topics. A lot of times it’s on a subject I’m interested in at the time, other times its something completely new. Either way I’m exposing myself to the best and brightest minds of today and expanding my understanding of the world.
If you engaged yourself with this material every day, what would the long term effects be? Besides a vast and varied wealth of knowledge you would begin to draw disciplines together. Your understanding and awareness would grow so large that the value and wisdom you could offer other people would be incredible.
*For a practical tip, throw a queue of talks you’re interested in on your iPod and listen while exercising.
Every day I spend thirty minutes learning a new language. This is an ongoing task that I struggled to integrate. You realize almost no immediate benefit and that makes it exceptionally difficult to do every day. The “S” curve of mastery is very, very long (years).
But alas, the benefits in the long term must be exceptionally rewarding. I can only speculate as I currently only speak one language, but from my time studying in Italy I can tell you I would have got a lot more out of the experience had I spoke the language. Coming from a business perspective being bi/multi-lingual would likely be a huge advantage.
For me, I intend to spend a large part of my life travelling. If you expect to live another 50/60 years of life on this earth then imagine the lifetime of opportunities and experiences other languages may open you up to. Don’t cut yourself off.
For some practical advice getting started I recommend the Rosetta stone. It’s a visual program that is a great way for getting you started. Listen to talk radio (via internet) and get a language book with exercises to help you practice. Get a woman your seeing to join in. It accelerates the process so much if you have someone to practice speaking with.
We are the first generation with ready access to the internet. The resources to help you pick up a language are out there and they are free – use them.
13. Plan the next day
This is so crucial.
Note that there is a small learning curve to this as you figure out a system that works for you. Maybe you like to manage your timetable through your phone, or maybe you just pencil out what you do on a list. Whatever the method it must satisfy two requirements: 1) The document must be easily accessible to you throughout the day, and 2) it must specify approximate times when you will complete each task.
It’s pretty simple. When you have some time to think with a clear mind you plan out what you want your next day to look like you do it. The time you know you have to yourself (mornings usually) you can set a more ridged structure than the times where there are many variables as to what you may be doing.
The plan is your servant, not your master. Never get upset if things don’t go the way you thought – it’s just a guideline to keep you on track. Lost time, interferences, failing to execute out of laziness or apathy, unforeseen events, all of this will happen. Don’t be worried, the element of proactivity you introduce into your life by planning your days out already places you way ahead.
Another thing to keep in mind is that your primary goal is not to be efficient. It is to be effective. Don’t be so worried about having some intense schedule that will burn you out quickly. Allow a good amount of time for transitions and even more for other forms of time you will use organically. If you have in your head a picture of someone ruthlessly triaging priorities, feverishly executing tasks and running around from one item to the next then you should rethink your understanding. As you go through your day you will apply yourself to each activity wholly and with everything you’ve got. You will take things slow and execute with passion, care and effort not with haste or carelessness.
You’re either plugged into the matrix or you’re not. If you’re plugged in you’re a spectator – you watch TV, you kill time on Facebook, you days slip by as you wander through in lower consciousness. If your unplugged you’re a player – You are taking consistent and massive action, you are constantly ingesting new information, you are pushing your boundaries and limitations, you are growing.
So naturally if you’re living your life fully engaged you need a good night’s sleep. The amount of stress you experience by pushing yourself, the information your internalizing, and the focus and stamina you need to keep going can all be facilitated by a good nine hours on the pillow.
Take this shit seriously – you will notice a difference.
If you’ve ever studied sleep you know that your body goes through approximate 90 minute cycles (from deep sleep to REM sleep), you know the amount of light you are receiving effects your bodies melatonin production, you know that what you eat before bed can affect your sleep, and you also know that sound can disrupt your sleep. You know that sleep plays an integral role in learning and memory. You are also aware that the human body associates certain surroundings or conditions with sleep (think when you walk into a bathroom you feel like you have to pee. The same thing when you are in your bed – you get sleepy. Therefore only use your bed for sleep and sex).
I sleep in total darkness, in a cool room, with a fan for white noise (drown out traffic and creaks in house that would otherwise wake me up). I have comfortable mattress and I wake up to an alarm clock that gets brighter instead of making noise. (simulates the sun rising) I don’t set my alarm for the same time every morning, I set my alarm either 7.5 or 9 hours from when I fall asleep (so I don’t wake up in the depth of a sleep cycle – you may have to tinker with the times but you will learn your body). Try some of this and you will be amazed with the effects on your energy levels, retention of information, and how you enter your days in the morning.
15. Professional Development
You’re either working in the industry you want to be in or you’re not. Either way you should spend some of your day developing the skills necessary to succeed in the industry you want to be in.
If you’re stuck in a job you don’t like then this daily ritual is the key to breaking through. You will develop yourself in the area of your interest until you have the credentials, credibility, or opportunity to move permanently. Maybe you’re stuck working as a bank teller, but you want to get into internet marketing. You should begin to spend a part of your day learning the skills you are going to need to be an internet marketer.
Think of it this way, most people are reactive. Most people land a job through connections or convenience and after they have that job they then learn the skills necessary to succeed. You are not that person. You will do the reverse. You will gain the skills through your own force of will and then land ‘the job’. This is the formula to carve a life of your design and live your dreams.
If you’re already in the industry of your dreams then you should never stagnate. Constantly focus on learning new material, keeping up with trends, observing competitors, or expanding your professional reputation. Focusing on this will allow you to offer more value in whatever you do and will facilitate success.
16. Journal + Research
Keep a journal and update it every day.
What is a journal? A journal is a place where you write out your thoughts and then look back at them and ponder. You then write about what you thought of your thoughts and think about that. (Meta-meta cognition) Do you see how this can be a valuable tool for personal insight and growth?
This isn’t a high school dairy. It’s a tool you use to track your thoughts, expand on insights, accelerate your growth, and look back on your progress. Shits happening? Write about it. The very act of consciously creating syntax to your thoughts can help you become more rational and can facilitate problem solving in your life.
There is a second part to your journal writing ritual that you need to engage in. Research. As you make discoveries and insights you should seek out truth and guidance. We have the internet and it is an amazing tool for feedback.
Our parent’s generation had to live with misinformation their whole lives. Our generation enjoys the luxury to – with incredible ease – access the forefront of human knowledge in the snap of a finger. Use this luxury to fuel your growth.
“We first make our habits, and then our habits make us.” -John Dryden
I am suggesting that you implement all 16 of the rituals listed above into your daily routine. I know this is hard – I’ve walked the path and failed many times. I learned that this is very hard to do. It takes discipline, skill, and proactivity, BUT if you can do it the rewards are great. The capacity for you to out perform others is massive.
In the next section I explain how I used technology to help track my progress. Now I’m not suggesting you do this as intensely or for as long as I did but you can always experiment. We spend an amazing amount of on screen time, and I figured since I was on my laptop everyday I would track my progress with a very simple binary system. I started small, 7 things I wanted to do every day. I opened up excel and made a spreadsheet with the dates on the x axis and my habits on the y axis. Fairly self explanatory, if I completed the task I would color it green, if I failed I would color it red.
I’ve kept this up now for the lesser part of a year and it has grown and evolved. I was always extremely honest with myself and I found the objective measure of progress to be very blunt. Your success or failure is right there, staring you in the face. No ego can manipulate the facts, only your interpretation.
Part of the reason this helped me was that I could recommit. I would continually recommit to something until I gathered enough first hand experience that the activity was something I should value. Your ability to stick with something for the long term is a function of intrinsic motivation (process orientation), not extrinsic (outcome orientation). If you’re motivated by validation or external forces you will likely fail in the long run.
This is what my spreadsheet looks like now. All 16 habits I discussed are incorporated into my daily life. Keep in mind that I am in school full time, have a girlfriend, play on pokerstars every day (for ~20$/hour), am preparing for my GMAT’s, and live an extremely social life – you can fit it all in, even if you work a 40 hour week. If you don’t think you can do it then you have limiting beliefs. There’s a lot of fat to be trimmed out of your daily routine, you just need to look.
Again, I’m not suggesting that you go full nerd like I did and track your progress every single day. But if you did do that you would definitely learn some very interesting things about yourself and how you operate. I’m going to share some of my discoveries with you here and hopefully they can help you on your journey.
Full article here