“Of all man’s instruments, the most wondrous, no doubt, is the book. The other instruments are extensions of his body. The microscope, the telescope, are extensions of his sight; the telephone is the extension of his voice; then we have the plow and the sword, extensions of the arm. But the book is something else altogether: the book is an extension of memory and imagination.”
This quote from Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986) beautifully captures the little miracle that is a set of printed pages bound within a cover. We are living in strange times. On one hand, there is no dearth of books being published. E-Readers, moreover, have made their content available to audiences all over the world at inexpensive rates. Despite economic fluctuations, newer presses continue to rise in the English-speaking world. Somehow, it seems that we’ve never been more aware of the magical value of books. And yet, often you will find people saying (I certainly do) that it is increasingly difficult for them to sit down with a volume, concrete or digital, strictly instructional or plainly entertaining, even when they would very much like to.
The hindrance, mostly, is a supposed “lack of time and energy”. Even professionals who earn well and have a fairly good disposable income find it hard to pause and reflect on written content; it appears too demanding. The physical and psychological strains of modern life and work are too many and too intense. But what if the very activity that you are unable to consider on account of your hectic and desperate schedules could actually relieve you of your anxieties? What if it helped you arrive at a more resourceful frame of mind and a healthier state of body that can improve the quality of your personal life and ultimately make you gain an advantage in the workplace?
Here you will find a few benefits of reading, some obvious, some surprising but science-backed.
1. Reading Gives You a Drive, Improves Focus and Concentration
An excess of electronic devices has made our lives easier in ways innumerable but, unfortunately, it has also radically shortened our attention spans. With an abundance of apps, social media platforms and over that, constant connectivity, many of us have lost the ability to focus on one thing at one time—a habit that can greatly lower our productivity, affect both the quantity and quality of our work negatively.
This lack of an ability to concentrate can be considerably rectified with reading, particularly with stories (fictional or non-fictional) that can absorb us and pull us deep into them, and make us give up everything else that distracts us from them. As British author Neil Gaiman notes in his book The View from the Cheap Seats (2016):
“The drive to know what happens next, to want to turn the page, the need to keep going, even if it’s hard, because someone’s in trouble and you have to know how it’s all going to end…that’s a very real drive. And it forces you to learn new words, to think new thoughts, to keep going.”
In a Daily Mail article from 2012, neuroscientist Baroness Susan Greenfield noted that reading helps to lengthen attention spans, especially in children, and improves their capacity to think clearly. She said: “Stories have a beginning, a middle and an end – a structure that encourages our brains to think in sequence, to link cause, effect and significance. It is essential to learn this skill as a small child, while the brain has more plasticity, which is why it’s so important for parents to read to their children. The more we do it, the better we get at it.”
So reading gives you a drive, a sense of structure, which compels you to go on. You can easily apply this inquisitive urge to reach “the end”—that you develop through flipping the pages of a book—to your other tasks.
2. Reading Makes You Knowledgeable, and Better Positioned to Interact with the World
Dr. Seuss said: “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” Follow any major entrepreneur or CEO closely and you will realise that this is true. Pioneers are also avid readers. Bill Gates has a reading list on his blog Gates Notes that he updates regularly. He has written: “I read all kinds of books, including ones that only the harshest college professors would assign.”. Also, in a 2017 interview for Rolling Stone, Elon Musk mentioned that he was “raised by books”. Books, and then his parents. Mark Zuckerberg famously started a book club “A Year of Books” on Facebook, resolving to read a book every fortnight in 2015 to learn about “new cultures, beliefs, histories and technologies”. Not only would he encourage his followers to discuss the books among themselves, he would invite the authors—whoever would be available on Facebook, including figures like Steven Pinker, Yuval Noah Harari and Eula Biss—for a little Q-and-A session in the comments section.
Books—whether novels, memoirs, scientific studies, historical chronicles, sociological theories, psychological research–open up entire worlds to you. They reveal who is where, who arrived there how, who has what, who appreciates what, who fears what, who loves what, who enjoys what, who avoids what, who has discovered what, who is suffering from what. This information renders you smarter and sharper, well-equipped to meet different countries and cultures, groups of people and domains of activity at the point and place they stand. It makes you identify specific needs and untapped potential across locales, and consequently, deliver value successfully.
3. Reading Can Reduce Stress
A 2009 research conducted on a group of volunteers by the consultancy Mindlab International at the University of Sussex came to the conclusion that even six minutes of reading can be enough to reduce stress levels by more than two-thirds. The Telegraph reports that reading “works better and faster than other methods to calm frazzled nerves such as listening to music, going for a walk or settling down with a cup of tea”, it “eases the tensions in muscles and the heart”. By losing yourself in a thoroughly engrossing book–of any kind—you enter an altered state of consciousness and truly get to transcend the worries of everyday world.
4. Reading Makes You a Better Writer
If you aim to do something, you ought to know who has done it before and how and when and why and where all. No further explanation here is necessary.
5. Reading Makes You a Better Speaker
On a technical level, reading will not magically enable you to speak well before an audience, unless you put a lot of effort into practising that particular skill and also listen a lot…to talk show hosts, news reporters, actors and actresses, singers, politicians, among other people. But wide reading can surely work wonders at a thematic level, giving you rich and varied content to discuss with potential business partners, colleagues, friends, family and even total strangers.