Bill Gates reads one book a week. Warren Buffet attributes his successful investment career to the books he once read. Elon Musk growing up read up to two books a day.

Is reading, therefore the elixir to success? A superpower to harness?

Well, perhaps not the only means in this digital age given our ability to consume content in numerous ways but certainly one of the most effective methods. Reading books effectively, for several good reasons that we’ll explore, unlocks a superior form of rapid knowledge acquisition and self-improvement. Not only as a direct consequence of the content you consume but indirectly in your mental clarity, writing ability, and general intelligence.

To put it to you frankly, two years ago I couldn’t face a book for a second longer than 5-minutes. I absolutely hated reading and genuinely thought it was a s*** use of my time. Fast-track two years, I love reading, gain so much value from the process and have a to-read list longer than the time I have.

Here's my personal journey of how I got into reading and why I think reading is an incredibly powerful tool for personal development and self-education.

1. Getting started

The biggest challenge for me was finding the interest, patience and ability to focus on a book for a prolonged period of time without getting side-tracked. Like anything, getting started is always the most difficult step. For me coupling an activity with a thing I do on a regular basis works effectively. Therefore, I coupled reading with my commute to and from university (a bit of a sticky one for me given current circumstances). You could probably couple reading to breakfast, coffee breaks, evening downtime, just before bed, etc.

Next, if you're naturally digital-first then start there (kindle, kindle app, apple books, etc). However, if you prefer the physical touch and fantasise over having a colourful collection of books in a study/on a bookshelf then read physical copies. Each to their own, and if you’re really struggling try Audiobooks and book shorts (Blinkist, Headway, etc.) but I don’t recommend these because of the lack of ability to highlight, annotate and truly dive deep into the author’s mind.

Finally, read with intent. If you pick up a book on the silk roads but give absolutely no f***s about historic trade routes which connected the East and West then you’re probably not going to enjoy it very much. But, if for example, you are looking to get into entrepreneurship and read The E-Myth Revisited, Shoe Dog, and 24 Assets then you’re probably going to gain a tonne of golden nuggets. The point here is read books based on your current interests or thereby topics in which you lack knowledge if you’re looking to educate yourself.

2. Increase your bandwidth

If you want to train the body, you hit up the gym or go for a run. How do we therefore in a similar fashion train the mind? Mind gym?

It has been proven time and time again that reading books increases our ability to write better, communicate more effectively, and even perform higher on IQ tests. There’s no difficult science as to why other than the fact when we read, we train our minds. Just like how we revise to pass exams. With each line, we learn new styles of writing and maybe even a word or two here and there. When asked, the most accomplished investor of all time about the key to his success, Warren Buffet, said:

"Reading 500 pages like this every day. That's how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will do it"

Most things in life come with a trade-off but reading a lot (of the best books) isn’t dangerous. The hunger for wisdom seems to be the only desire that we can’t fully satiate. There isn’t a risk of overindulgence. After enough reading, we become charged with good ideas as well as the courage to go out and apply the lessons learnt. This means we’re guaranteed to get direct benefits in the real world from regular reading.

“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.” - Albert Einstein

3. Fast-track Leverage

When you read a famous book on a particular topic you tend to read from an author who has devoted their entire life into studying that particular topic. For example, let’s look at 3 books I’ve recently enjoyed:

  • Mindset (Carol Dweck - leading Professor of Psychology at Stanford University.)
  • Shoe Dog (Phil Knight - Co-founder of Nike.)
  • Why We sleep (Mathew Walker - Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology at the University of California, Berkeley. Previously, Harvard Medical School.)

In effect, by reading bestsellers in particular subject areas you will be able to fast-track high leverage knowledge or insight in that particular topic. If like me, you are interested in human psychology/success by reading Influence, Mindset, How To Win Friends and Influence People, and Outliers you will have gained from just a handful of books a wealth of knowledge that would otherwise take an entire lifetime to collate and understand.

4. Therapeutic effects

One other reason why I love reading books is the sheer freedom it provides. You can forget all the troubles/stress you've faced at work or university while immersed in a good book. I don’t know about you but it’s pretty difficult to multi-task whilst reading a book or even divert your mind to another thought whilst deep into reading. You can be truly free.

Medically, regular reading has been shown to lower your heart rate and blood pressure. It's been proven to improve people's memories, increase brain power, and enhance empathic skills. Reading has even been linked to a longer life.

Now, there are plenty of other ways to de-stress like working out, having a fun hobby, gardening, cooking, etc. I do take part in a lot of the aforementioned, but reading is unique in the sense it’s very difficult to focus on anything else whilst reading, thereby providing a method for total zen leaving you with better mental clarity afterwards (and all the other cognitive benefits).

5. Summary

To get started, read with intent and read in a way that best suits you. Like building any habit, coupling the habit to an existing task works effectively and take baby steps before trying to read a book a week or more.

If you’re looking to up your knowledge in a particular subject reading books is a fantastic way to gain superior insights from the leading experts. For me, this is why reading has become a daily activity as I seek to self-improve and learn more about human psychology, entrepreneurship, personal finance, and different lifestyles/cultures.

I hope to in the near future explore how I note-take and annotate books to receive maximum ROI (return on investment) from every book I read. After all, reading does require a lot of time investment and it would be a waste if we couldn’t easily revisit or leverage some of those golden nuggets from time to time.