Reading takes less time than you think

 

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If you’re anything like me, burning half of an hour online is second nature, it happens without a thought. I pull out my phone or open up my computer and bounce from website to website, check the news, adjust my fantasy football lineup, clear a few emails, delve into a twitter trend (or 3), and the time evaporates. It’s shocking the amount of reading I can do simply by opening a book before I open my computer. And all you have to give up is some artificial dopamine inducing frenetic blue screen time. You can easily read a half-hour per day (and probably more) without making any real concessions. Start with 10 minutes. Start with a book that’s short or easy to read. Just open the book before you turn on your screen.

Book Recommendation: Billion Dollar Whale

 

38743564._UY630_SR1200,630_.jpgI recently finished Billion Dollar Whale by Tom Wright and Bradley Hope. Talk about a scintillating read. Wright and Hope uncover the incredible true story of a young Malaysian businessman, Jho Low, who pulled off an unparalleled heist. It’s incredible on a number of levels: Jho Low orchestrated all of it in plain sight, a number of A-list celebrities are involved, and the story hasn’t ended yet, Jho Low has gone into hiding while facing charges from the U.S. and Malaysia. He stole an estimated total of 5 billion dollars, spending outrageous sums on parties, kickbacks, jewelry, bribes, yachts, real estate, and even a few businesses (not the least of which was the production company that created and released The Wolf of Wall Street). It’s the stuff of movies. This year a production company (SK Global) purchased rights and actually plan to release a movie. From explaining intricate details of financial transactions to describing the most extravagant parties imaginable, Wright and Hope have put forth an exciting enjoyable read more akin to a novel than a news report. Grab a copy for the holidays, it’s a high recommend.

Read for the sake of reading

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Books are awesome. They do all sorts of good things for people (not the least of which is longer life). Most of us have no problem admitting that books are great and reading is a beneficial thing, at least to some degree. Some people don’t read, which is fine, though they’re definitely missing out. Some people devour fiction because it’s fun, though seemingly more and more people turn to Netflix for escapism. Many treat reading as a purely pragmatic exercise, hoping to glean helpful information for work and life. Those things are all good, but consider this a quick encouragement not to read for any explicit or immediate benefit, but to read for the sake of reading. A couple of notes:

  • Read things that you’re interested in and enjoy. A wide variety of books and topics is not bad, in fact, it’s better. Read novels, read history, read self-help, read stories and studies and theories and thought experiments. If you start reading something that interests you, your interests will likely broaden.
  • Don’t read for escapism (only). By all means, read novels, read lots of them, delving into another world is one of the greatest gifts of literature. But don’t limit yourself to novels and don’t only read to escape reality. Occasionally pick up something that challenges you, delve into something that will stretch you.
  • Don’t read pragmatically (only). Books are pragmatic, you won’t be able to help but pick up practical tips and helpful things that will change the way you think about and accomplish things. But don’t avoid a book that interests you because you don’t see how it could immediately benefit your life or work. A good book will impact you in ways you’ll never suspect, and may not even realize.
  • Read because you’re curious. As you read your curiosity will grow, you’ll probably find it’s impossible to satiate, you’ll probably end up with more books than you’ll ever be able to read, but you’ll be so happy to have learned and stretched and changed because of the books you’ve read. I have never encountered a person who regretted their reading habit. So pick up a book, and read for the sake of reading.

Be a failure

So here’s a question, why do we love motion so much? If motion isn’t what moves us forward, if it’s more like wasted time than productive time, how come we spend so much time on it? James Clear (author of Atomic Habits) has one more helpful suggestion here, he says it’s because motion lets us feel productive without risking anything. Action necessarily involves some risk of failure, which is obviously not ideal. Failure is the worst, or at least it seems like the worst. It’s super uncomfortable, awkward, humiliating, and generally terrifying as a prospect. It makes sense that we want to avoid it.
Malcolm Gladwell has some compelling thoughts on this topic. Based on the multitude of interviews he’s conducted with entrepreneurs and successful people, he discovered that a disproportionate ratio of them are dyslexic. Research backs this up, for some reason around 35% of company founders suffer from dyslexia compared to about 15% of the broader American population. Dyslexia is thought to be a great hindrance, what about a learning disability could push people to succeed? Gladwell suggests that the main reason for this implausible statistic is the fact that those who suffer from dyslexia have become so acquainted with failure. Take school for example, grade school provides an endless arena for dyslexic children to fail from early childhood. Reading, writing, test-taking, all of it is perfectly primed to flunk a dyslexic child. So while the rest of us were earning kudos and awards for our normal learning styles, those with dyslexia were learning a much more valuable lesson, how to fail again and again and again. People with dyslexia often demonstrate proficiency with verbal communication (because writing is very difficult), comfort with delegation (because they’ve had to rely on people for help), and other very helpful characteristics of an entrepreneur in a free market society. These characteristics are grown out of a response to failure and weakness. They’re more than a natural or genetic lean, these are learned out of necessity.
Gladwell is not the only one to theorize on the value of failure, Winston Churchill stated that “success is going from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.” C.S. Lewis said “failures, repeated failures, are finger posts on the road to achievement. One fails forward toward success.” Theodore Roosevelt, perhaps most famously, said “far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure… than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.”
Failure seems scary, but maybe it’s time for a new perspective. Failure is actually your friend. Failure means that you’re taking risks, that you’re in the game, that you’re learning. So let’s embrace failure, let’s get comfortable with it. No more playing it safe with endless motion, we’re here to act. Be a failure, and find success.

Stop Aspiring

Aspirational material is everywhere. We see headlines like ‘7 steps to shredded abs’ or ‘how I made this much $$$ working from home’ or any other exciting material promising to help you be or have something different. Aspirational material is addictive, probably because we pretty much all aspire to things. Who doesn’t want more money or a better body or a more fulfilling job? Seems pretty natural that we’d be interested in engaging with the manuals.

Simon Sinek is his Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action makes the point that all of this aspirational jargon is a type of manipulation. Here’s a helpful quote:

Though positive in nature, aspirational messages are most effective with those who lack discipline or have a nagging fear or insecurity that they don’t have the ability to achieve their dreams on their own.

By ‘effective,’ Sinek means for the company or person who creates the content, it’s not effective for the individual. Companies use aspirational messaging to sell us things, and it works. You buy a gym membership because you aspire to be healthier, and if it’s a nice gym for a great deal it’s easy to justify. An entire gym membership business model is built on these aspirations. They sell innumerable memberships, far more than the gym could actually accommodate, because they know people won’t show up. They know people aspire to be healthier making a membership an easy sell, but they also know people only aspire, they don’t want to put in the work to execute on a goal.

When we feel stuck in some part of our lives, when there’s something we would love to change about ourselves or our circumstances, we often think the problem is a lack of knowledge or motivation. If it’s knowledge, we think that either we need more knowledge or someone else needs more knowledge (probably both) in order to make progress or affect change. If it’s motivation, we think we need some sort of special inspiration in order to get us moving. Neither of those beliefs is helpful. How many aspirational blog posts do you think you’ll need to read before you’re sufficiently knowledgable and motivated to make those pounds fall off or start that passion project? If you’re anything like me, you’ve definitely put your time in with this aspirational stuff, but those hours probably haven’t paid really well. It’s fun, but it never does what we hope it will. Aspirational material is not all bad, you can find some really helpful tips and tricks buried in there, and maybe even a little motivation now and again, but it’s important to understand what that stuff can and cannot do for you. Aspirations and aspirational material can’t change you.

So here’s a little trick I picked up: stop aspiring. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t set goals and make plans, in fact, goals and plans are the opposite of aspiration. An aspiration is foggy, vague, mostly unhelpful. It’s more like a wish than anything else. And it’s really easy to spend hours and hours thinking about our wishes. A goal is objective, something you can act on, something you can make a plan to achieve. If you want to do or be something different an aspiration won’t take you very far, but a plan of action could.