A Most Important Daily Habit

As the group prepared the camp, the dwarf Tyrion wrapped himself in his furs and leaned against an ancient oak that sheltered him from the biting wind.  A swift-running stream ran beside him, its waters as clear and cold as ice.

He took a sip of wine, pulled out a book, and began to read.

As he became absorbed by the pages, a question from Jon Snow snapped him out of his reverie. "Why do you read so much?"

Tyrion began his answer in a seemingly-roundabout manner, pointing out the fact that he was a dwarf, and was born into a highly-esteemed, royal family. But as he continued, his reasoning began to crystallize, and he put forward an answer that we'd all be wise to pay heed to.

"My legs are short and twisted, and I walk with difficulty. I will never make a swordsman. Had I been born a peasant, they might have left me out to die, or sold me to some slaver's grotesquerie.

"I must do my part for the honor of my House, wouldn't you agree? Yet how? Well, my legs may be too small for my body, but my head is too large....I have a realistic grasp of my own strengths and weaknesses.

"My brother has his sword, King Robert has his warhammer, and I have my mind...My mind is my weapon.

"And a mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone, if it is to keep it's edge.

Tyrion tapped the leather cover of the book. "That's why I read so much, Jon Snow."*

 

A Whetstone For The Mind


Growing up, I was voracious reader. This isn't because I was smarter than other kids or because my 11-year-old self understood the vast benefits of books, but because I was so introverted I enjoyed the company of books—which couldn't talk to me—more than the company of human beings.

I read in the car, on the bus, at home after school. I even read during the class - I distinctly remember my 7th grade home economics teacher repeatedly catching me reading The Hobbit under my desk in lieu of listening to her discussion on the finer points of sewing. [She wasn't too happy about that, and although she was patient with me, she expressed concern to my parents that I was perhaps a little too interested in elves and dwarves.]

But upon entering the working world, I found myself in a number of ruts where I regularly neglected to read. Sure, I'd read blogs and online articles, but not books. While winding down for bed in the evenings,  I'd spend my free time watching Netflix shows or mindlessly goofing around online. I made the excuse that since I worked from 9am-9pm each day, my brain simply wasn't "up" for reading when I got home.

Not surprisingly, every one of those periods was attendant with a palpably duller mind, weakened critical thinking, and decreased focus and concentration. My "sword," as Tyrion put it, had lost its edge.

So my encouragement to you, if we can learn from my mistakes and from Tyrion's sage counsel, is to read every day.

Not blogs. Not internet articles. Not the news.

But books. Real, books.

Books sharpen your mind and equip you for life's many challenges in a way that other mediums profoundly fail in. They improve your writing and public speaking. They broaden your perspective and enhance your problem-solving skills. They provide a deep wellspring from which to draw wisdom and creativity.

Books also provide a benefit that is completely unique to our late modern, information-saturated culture: concentration building.

You've noticed how difficult it is to wait in line without pulling out your phone. Most of society can't even sit at a traffic light without checking their phone, let alone remain focused on a hard-copy book for an extended period of time.

Reading a book - without any nearby hyperlinks to click on or social media outlets to check - will do wonders in helping you acquire one of the rarest commodities of our present culture: focused attention span. 

Read fiction. Read non-fiction. If you follow Jesus, then the Bible should be an obvious choice. Whatever you do, diversify your reading, so you can "connect the dots" across the various disciplines you're immersed in.**

 

What If You Don't Have Time?

I'm often told, "I don't understand how people read. I simply don't have time for it."

Here's the thing: everyone has time for the things they prioritize.

So, the real question is, what do you prioritize?

If you prioritize watching sports or scrolling through social media, then no, you may not have time to read. Just like when you prioritize excessive work, you won't have much time for strength training or deepened personal relationships.

 

A Great Place To Start


James Clear wrote an excellent article titled "How to Read More: The Simple System System I'm Using to Read 30+ Books Per Year."

The premise is simple: commit to just 30 minutes per day. Most people can read 20 pages within 30 minutes, and if you do that every day, the pages really add up. Even though 20 pages per day may not seem like very much, that can add up to around 3 books per month, and over 30 books per year.

You'll also experience the "snowball effect," where if you get over the initial hump of opening a book and reading it rather than resorting to your standard fix, you'll often discover you'll read more pages than you initially intended to, and begin to enjoy it to boot, finding it much more energizing and life-giving than watching TV or repeatedly swiping your thumb down a screen.


A Few Other Tips

Take a book with you wherever you go. Any time you have a spare moment, read it.

Keep it in your bag so you have it handy while waiting at the doctor's office, getting an oil change at the gas station, cursing the heavens at the DMV, riding on a train, or waiting for a friend to meet you at the coffee shop. Read your book rather than checking email or Instagram for the 34th time that day.

I've amassed 100 pages of reading solely from standing in line at Chipotle.

I've also found it helpful to refuse turning the TV on during the week. The great paradox of watching TV after work or during the weekends is that, while you may feel like you're too exhausted to do anything else, it actually tends to make you more tired, mentally and physically, than if you didn't watch it at all. You've seen the same principle take effect when beginning a strength training or running routine - you feel too tired/overwhelmed to start in the beginning, but by taking that first step, and then small steps after that, you soon wonder how you ever went through your week without it.

A mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone. Don't allow your mind to lose its edge. Sharpen it daily.

 


*For the top section, I paraphrased an excerpt from the novel Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin.

**If you need a diverse source of book recommendations, check out Tim Ferriss's podcast; he always asks his guests about the books they recommend, and I've discovered a number of exceptional books as a result.