So you thought reading books was useless? Do you know that if it wasn’t for books, you may not have existed today? I will tell you why.
To understand the importance of reading books, let us rewind back in time when human beings started taking their first steps on earth. The first men went around hunting animals and eating vegetables to stay alive.
Your ancestor shot arrows to kill some deer. His bow was terrible and so was his aim. Out of the many arrows shot, rarely did he manage to connect and kill. To sustain his hunger, he also had to pluck some fruits and vegetables.
One day, when he panting chasing gazelle, he found some strange-looking plants.
They looked colorful and tasty, so the hungry man decided to toss them into his mouth. Since he loved the texture and flavor of the vegetable, he told his fellow people too. More people started eating mushrooms. One day, one of the members of the group suddenly turned sick. A few days later, he was dead. No one knew why.
Similar deaths kept occurring. Time went by and the size of the group got smaller. Eventually, people figured out that not all mushrooms were edible and some were poisonous and lethal. People started teaching their brethren and children how to identify these poisonous vegetables.
Over many years, humans started learning new methods of hunting. Arrows got sharper and bows got stronger. Since the children learned from their parents, they had better equipment and knowledge to begin with.
Thousands of years went by. Someone developed a language so that people could communicate with each other. More and more people learned the new language, taught their children and the next generations.
Decades and centuries elapsed and kingdoms came into existence. Soldiers fought against each other and the victorious king went on to sit on the throne with a sense of pride. The successful army generals shared their war tactics with the newer members of the army.
Just a few hundred years back, the world believed that the earth was the center of the universe. To disprove the false belief, various scientists deciphered the laws of physics. Other branches of science erupted and technology advancement followed. Today, we are surrounded by technology and advancement.
The sole reason we were able to advance to the sophistication we have today is because we were able to learn from the past successes and mistakes of our ancestors.
One of the primary ways the know-how passed from generation to generation was over books. Maybe books in the early days did not come in hardcover, paperback, and Kindle formats. People used the walls of the caves, flat stones, papyrus and other ways to capture what they knew. The format was different but the importance of books remained the same.
If no one had written down their hunting tips, our great great great grandfather might have died within the jaws of a wolf. You and I would not exist today.
Reading in any form causes the world to move forward towards a higher level of intelligence. If no one wrote their findings and experience anywhere, each generation would have to learn skills by themselves. Many of the tried and tested expertise would fade off into the oblivion when the expert died. The world would stagnate.
If Newton and Darwin did not write down their research, you would not know as much about physics or biology today. Neither would you have a cellphone in your pocket, nor would you be reading this article because the internet would not exist.
Benefits of Reading
When was the last time you read a book or took up a course to learn? You might even ask, why books are important?
Most people stop reading when college ends vowing never to pick a book up again. People fail to realize the importance of reading books and consider it as a tedious effort.
You may not have enjoyed reading books during college but if you do not read, you lose out on a ton of benefits.
1. Knowing from an expert
Let us say you are a basketball player. You have the chance to meet Michael Jordan and spend an hour with him. For the whole 60 minutes, Jordan will talk about his journey, learning, and mistakes. You are only allowed only to listen and cannot ask any questions. Won’t Jordan’s words help you turn into a better basketball player even if you cannot speak? They sure would.
The scenario above is no different from reading a book. An expert talks about his own experience along with the ebbs and flows of his adventures.
Authors of books have spent years practicing their craft. They have put their blood and sweat to gain their knowledge and expertise on the subject. If you had to attain similar competence, you will need a long time. Reading books helps you gain the know-how on a topic faster.
When I started this blog, I thought I knew enough about blogging. When I read the bloggers from renowned authors and their journey to success, I realized I knew less than a quarter of what was necessary.
2. Learning from the mistakes of others
As a kid, you might have touched a hot stove or slipped on a wet surface. As you grew up, you learned from your own mistakes. Due to learning that came out of the experience, you make fewer errors today compared to a few years back.
Wouldn’t you do better in life if you not only learn from your mistakes but also from those of others? You sure would. Books help you do that. By reading the pitfalls the authors faced, you avoid miscalculations and blunders. If you have to learn from your experience, such errors of judgment can cost you time, money and energy.
When I read business books, many a time I come across a tip which makes me exclaim, “Oh damn, I did the same mistake. I wish I had read the book earlier.” At times, I read a scenario of another successful entrepreneur making a mistake and I tell myself, “Noted, I will make sure I do not commit the same error.”
Reading is the most effective form of learning quickly.
3. Increases your brain power
Your brain is a collection of neurons interconnected together as a network. Millions of neurons work in synchrony to carry out many of the simple functions you do every day. Your brainpower increases as these connections strengthen.
Also, the brain closes off connections that are rarely used to maintain high transmission efficiency like throwing a bad apple out of the basket. To keep your brain stimulated, you have to constantly challenge your brain to create strong neural connections.
Reading is one way to achieve that because every time you read a book, you encounter something new. To process what you read, your brain needs to fire neurons into action.
You need to drive your car frequently to maintain the engine in good health. Likewise, frequent reading keeps your brain active and increases your overall brain power.
4. Improves your area of expertise
You have a primary area of expertise which earns you your daily bread and butter. You might be a programmer, a sales executive, a senior manager or an actor. Irrespective of your current expertise, you have more things to learn and improve. Every area involves learning even if you are a maestro.
Reading books by the experts exposes you to new ways of doing things that you would have never thought about. You might believe you know enough on the subject already. People often ask why should we read books when we know enough about the topic already. The truth is, you don’t.
Such presumptions inhibit you from learning and improving.
During my initial days of programming, I thought learning by writing code and googling the problem I face would suffice. I even sailed through with the same approach for more than a couple of years and I believed I knew enough.
When I read a programming book, I felt like slapping myself because there were a hundred better ways of writing code. From that day I have never hesitated to pick up a book on my core area no matter how comfortable I feel with it.
5. Books feed into your subconscious
After reading a book, do you feel like everything you read evaporated into thin air? You might think what is the point of spending time reading when you cannot recall most of it?
You do not forget what you read because what you read feeds into your subconscious. You may fail to recall what the content of the book was when you want to, but when the situation arises, your subconscious mind will pull out that information for you.
Your brain does not store all the information in a format that you can pull out by choice. Most of the storage is a part of your subconscious which springs into action when needed.
If you ask me what are the negotiation tips from the book Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss, I can state only two or three. But if I have to negotiate a number, I instantly recall the tip from the book that I must use a range instead of a single value because of the context.
Your conscious thinking feels like you have forgotten what you’ve read but your subconscious mind knows when to pull it out.
6. Helps you know the world around you better
Each book you read adds up to your experience and enhances it. With each extra book, you understand the world better, especially if you read from a wide array of topics.
A Quora user provided a brilliant analogy to explain which I am unable to locate anymore.
Every book you read is like a dot. The individual dot does not seem to make a significant difference. But when you have multiple dots, you learn to connect the dots by instinct.
When I started reading about the biases of the human mind, from The Art of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli, I understood that such flaws exist due to the process of evolution. When I read the book Cosmos by Carl Sagan, I understood why such evolution took place. When I read Deep Simplicity by John Gribbin, I understood how physics played a part in the laws of the universe.
Though the books were not even remotely related, I felt the whole jigsaw puzzle coming together into a single piece.
7. Helps you make better decisions
Reading books opens your view to the perspectives and the decisions made by others. Some might differ from your thought process, but you will learn new ways to think and evaluate. When you read more and more books, you start thinking deeper before making any decision. Even if you do not put a deliberate effort to improve your judgment, you will become a better decision-maker naturally.
After reading the book Thinking Fast and Slow from Daniel Kahneman, I made a targeted effort to apply only some of what I read. But now when I am making an argument, my subconscious mind uses many other elements from the book. I wonder am I sticking to my opinion for the sake of it due to confirmation bias or am I keeping an open mind?
8. Other benefits
The importance of reading books is widely spoken about in reference to other well know benefits. Some examples:
Your vocabulary improves: Books teach you new words. They also use some of your known words in sentences in a fashion that is new to you.
You become a better writer: Good books undergo editing to convey a compelling message. You learn to write a good message by reading. Sure, you may not have the slightest intention to become a writer, but you at least write emails, don’t you?
You can relieve stress: Books grab your attention and keep you engaged(assuming you read an interesting book). During reading, your brain needs to focus thereby making you less worried about your other problems.
You can remember better: Studies have shown that reading helps with better recall and also slows down the rate of decline in memory with age.
You get better sleep: If you read a stimulating book before sleep, your brain relaxes which aids sleep. Ask anyone who has a habit of reading before sleeping and they will agree it helps.
I will not go into those advantages in detail because enough content exists on those benefits all over the internet.
Many successful people mention reading to be key to their success. Bill Gates reads over 50 books every year and loves to pick a book for an hour before going to bed. Warren Buffet read over 500 pages a day. It was not uncommon for Elon Musk to sometimes read two books a day during the weekends. These are only a few names and many others vouch for the importance of reading books.
You will improve the charm of your personality, the balance in your bank account and the happiness in your life by reading more books. You have a choice to pick a book and read it now. Will you?
Maxim Dsouza has spent over a decade experimenting and finding various time management techniques to improve his productivity. He strongly understands the fact that time is a limited commodity and tries to make every second count. He has extensive experience in leadership in startups, small businesses, and large corporations.
He has helped people of different professions and age groups gain clarity on their goals, improve focus, revise their time management skills and develop an awareness of their psychological cognitive biases.