Throughout history, Bill Gates and many of the world’s most successful and influential people have been avid book readers.
Unfortunately, many Americans are not. One in four Americans did not read a single book in 2013, according to a Pew Research Center poll. In 1978, that number was 8 percent. By 2005 it was 16 percent.
It’s a trend to avoid it you want to do great things.
Warren Buffett — the legendary investor and world’s third-richest person — spends hours a day reading. He credits reading with building the mind that lets him wield so many high-stakes decisions.
A reporter in Buffett’s office once asked him how to get smarter. He held up stacks of nearby papers.
“Read 500 pages like this every day,” he said. “That’s how knowledge builds up, like compound interest.”
Buffett has even taken to recommending a few books in his annual letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders.
Bill Gates credits reading with giving him the spark it took to pursue big things.
“I really had a lot of dreams when I was a kid, and I think a great deal of that grew out of the fact that I had a chance to read a lot,” Gates has said.
Gates, by the way, is one of only two people in the world with more personal wealth than Buffett.
Mark Zuckerberg this year launched A Year Of Books, an online book club on Facebook.
“I’m excited for my reading challenge,” the Facebook founder wrote when announcing the initiative. “I’ve found reading books very intellectually fulfilling. Books allow you to fully explore a topic and immerse yourself in a deeper way than most media today. I’m looking forward to shifting more of my media diet towards reading books.”
So what is it that’s making successful people — who have made billions off of high tech communication tools — so enamored with one of the world’s oldest forms of mass media?
You see things from another point of view
Like Zuckerberg mentioned, books allow you to fully immerse yourself in a topic. Sure, someone might share an experience on social media. But if you want insight on a nuanced and complex topic, you’re going to need more than 140 characters.
And if you’ve ever tried to make a difficult decision, there’s a chance someone else has faced the same dilemma before you. And they wrote it down.
“People have been doing [whatever it is you’re deciding about] for a while now. They’ve been moving West, leaving school, investing their savings, getting dumped or filing for divorce, starting businesses, quitting their jobs, fighting, dying and fucking for thousands of years. This is all written down, often in the first person. Read it. Stop pretending you’re breaking new ground.”
Running a business means making decisions that impact many different people, in deep and important ways. Being able to see things from another point of view helps entrepreneurs consider how different people might react to a decision. And when you get a knack for predicting how others will react, you constantly play the game a few moves ahead.
You train your brain to be stronger
Just like going to the gym gives you more physical abilities, reading makes your brain more effective.
Research published in the journal Brain Connectivity found that becoming engrossed in a novel improves brain function and enhances connectivity in the brain. More research suggests that reading helps fight memory loss and dementia as people get older.
A strong brain and keen memory helps these leaders make more informed decisions. When you can store more information in your brain, you’ve got more information to base your actions on. Buffett has said it takes him less than two minutes to decide to say no on an investment that doesn’t sound interesting. This isn’t just intuition, this comes from years of collecting and retaining information on other deals.
You fight stress
Running a billion-dollar company, or controlling billions in investors’ money, takes its toll. It’s important to unwind. Reading, researchers have found, is the fastest and best way to do this.
Reading reduced stress levels in research participants by 68 percent. Dr. David Lewis, who led the study, called reading “the ultimate relaxation.”
“It really doesn’t matter what book you read, by losing yourself in a thoroughly engrossing book you can escape from the worries and stresses of the everyday world and spend a while exploring the domain of the author’s imagination. This is more than merely a distraction but an active engaging of the imagination as the words on the printed page stimulate your creativity and cause you to enter what is essentially an altered state of consciousness.”
When you’re Gates, Zuckerberg or Buffett, it’s hard to get away from it all and unplug. But by diving into a book, these leaders are able to get some — perhaps more — of the stress-reducing benefits of a week at the beach. You might not be running Facebook or Microsoft, but there’s a good chance you could benefit from the same.
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