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In 1992 I first learned of the habit of reading one book every week (on average), with most of them being in the field in which you desire to develop expertise. This translates to about 50 books a year. Brian Tracy explains that this habit will make you an international expert in your chosen field within 7 years. Imagine if you work in sales. If you read 50 books on sales this year, will that make a difference in your success at selling? No doubt.
I decided to adopt that habit back then, and now a dozen years later, I have indeed read about 600 books during that time with most of them being broadly within the field of personal development. That’s a lot of books.
This includes books on health, diet, exercise, nutrition, weight loss, weight training, healing, martial arts, biographies, spirituality, self-discipline, time management, overcoming procrastination, relationships, marketing, selling, management, business, entrepreneurial pursuits, finances, emotional intelligence, NLP, courage, confidence, self-esteem, success, achievement, mental conditioning, goal setting, planning, execution, investing, prioritizing, generating income, writing, speaking, social skills, rapport building, philosophy, persuasion, motivation, humor, leadership, effectiveness, productivity, longevity, organizing, growth, contribution, love, optimism, inner peace, relaxation, meditation, thinking clearly, consciousness, visualizing, lucid dreaming, memory, excellence, passion, negotiation, winning, honor, awareness, masterminding, creativity, zen. I’ve also read many fiction books and technical books.
My goal isn’t to impress you but rather to let you know what lies on the far side of applying this habit. When someone suggests a new habit, I personally find it valuable to know where it actually leads if you follow it for 1 year, 5 years, 10 years. So possibly what I can share will be of some benefit if you’re currently on the front side of considering this habit.
Where does it lead? I thought it would lead me to acquire a great deal of knowledge about the field of personal development. That did happen, but it also expanded my ignorance. Imagine your knowledge of any field as a circle. Within the circle lies what you know. Outside the circle is what you don’t know. The edge of the circle represents your awareness of what you don’t know. As the circle grows in size, its area increases, but so does its circumference. So the more you learn, the more you become aware of what you have yet to learn.
There is a benefit to that though. As that outer circle keeps expanding, and you gain a better understanding of what you don’t know, you can be more selective in what you decide to learn next. Your awareness increases. You can use what you’ve learned within the circle to predict where you’re most likely to learn some powerful new insights at the edge of the circle. It’s sort of a process of learning how to learn.
One concept that really came through for me was just how interdependent all these areas of personal growth are. Often the problem we think we have is not the actual problem we need to solve. For example, you may be suffering from a lack of motivation, but reading about motivation and trying to motivate yourself may get you nowhere. In fact, that may actually further demotivate you. The real problem could be a lousy diet or a lack of exercise. Or it could be insufficient social connections, leading to mild depression. Or it could be that you’re stuck in a negative environment that’s reinforcing the wrong behaviors. Or if could be a lack of clarity about your goals. Or even a mixture of all of these. The obvious cause of the problem is usually NOT the true source of it. Poor diet and exercise, for example, is usually not the real source of being overweight. Those are usually just additional symptoms of a deeper issue. You may read books on diet and exercise, and then you go out and don’t apply them. Something deeper stops you from acting on what you know — that points to the real problem to be solved. So I’ve developed a more holistic respect for this field.
But the actual knowledge and the new distinctions you gain from reading are not the main benefit. My experience has shown me that the real benefit comes not from what you read but rather from the habit of reading. When you read a new book every week, you condition your mind to keep taking in new knowledge. Your thinking remains fresh and sharp. Your brain is always churning on new ideas, looking for new distinctions it can make. Every day you pour in more ideas, which your brain must find a way to integrate into your existing knowledge base. Frequent reading fires up your neural activity, even during the periods when you aren’t reading.
This is why when people ask me to recommend specific books to help them solve a particular problem, I often cringe. First, I don’t know that the problem the person states they want to solve is the real problem that needs solving, especially if I don’t know the person well. But secondly, it isn’t the reading of a single book that matters as much as the habit of reading every day. When you condition your brain to become comfortable with a lot of fresh mental activity, your thinking improves dramatically, even while you aren’t reading. “Use it or lose it” is very true. It’s easy to identify people who read a lot because every time you talk to them they have some fresh ideas or anecdotes to share. They keep trying out new perspectives, new ways of thinking. You know when you talk to them that there’s a lot going on upstairs. But when you talk to people who haven’t read a new book all year, their thoughts are more stale, and a month later they’re still saying the same things, complaining about the same problems, stuck in a mental rut. They haven’t grown much, either internally or externally.
Reading is a lot like physical exercise. Reading is a workout for the brain. You wouldn’t say, “Tell me what workout I can do on Saturday to achieve fitness.” And it’s just as silly to say, “Tell me what book I can read to overcome procrastination.” Just as toning your body requires the HABIT of regular exercise, toning your mind requires the ongoing habit of reading. And just as a lack of exercise will cause your muscles to atrophy, a lack of fresh mental exercise will cause your mind to atrophy.
This is good news, however, because it means you don’t have to stick with the habit for a decade or more to gain the most important benefit, which is the daily mental conditioning. Within a few weeks of maintaining the habit of daily reading, you’ll begin to notice some powerful results. An added side effect is that your self esteem will gain a boost as well, especially if you read a lot of empowering books. Taking in positive ideas every day serves to counteract more negative influences.
Reading a book a week is an enormously worthwhile habit. And it’s enjoyable too. All that’s required is to set aside 30-60 minutes each day for reading, sit down, and read. But the best part is that you can double it up with physical exercise. This morning I got up at 5am and did 20 minutes on my exercise bike while reading. Then I thought about the ideas I just learned while doing some weight sets. Tonight when I go for a 4-mile walk, I’ll listen to an hour of a new audio program I bought, and then I’ll probably read for another 30 minutes before bed. That’s 110 minutes of absorbing new ideas, 80 of which are multitasked. With such a daily routine, I always have an abundance of ideas for new blog posts, articles, speeches, info products, and even conversations. I can maintain a strong flow of interesting ideas going out because there’s a strong flow going in. Every week I’m making new distinctions as my brain integrates new knowledge with existing knowledge.
All of the above applies not just to reading of course but to the general practice of absorbing new information, including seminars, audio programs, meaningful conversations, classes, etc. Reading articles or blog entries online is also helpful, assuming you’re learning new ideas that challenge you and which make you think. If you forget it as soon as you read it, it won’t be of much value.
Read a book a week. Do it for a decade. You’ll love the results.