Scientifically speaking, you’re doing a great thing right now.
No, I’m not talking about surfing the web. I’m talking about Reading, with a capital-R.
For entrepreneurs, there may be no single action that’s more critical to developing the good habits that make for effective leadership. Yet according to Psychology Today, some 42% of college graduates will never even read a book after graduating a college. Ever.
To reverse that, we decided to look at the scientific reasons for reading — the real boosts in brain function and cognitive skills. What does the science say? Reading’s good for more than just passing time. It can also improve your quality of life for those occasional moments you’re not reading.
Reading Literary Fiction Builds Empathy
Entrepreneurs tend to be practically-minded people who view reading as a sort of information download. If knowledge is power, then reading non-fiction books is a way to improve your abilities as an entrepreneur.
But reading literary fiction for entertainment can be just as beneficial. According to conclusions across five studies, reading literary fiction helped subjects show a marked improvement in their empathy. Researchers believe that the active part of reading — using our own imagination to fill the details left out by the author — is essentially good mental practice for this skill.
Books best at achieving this effect tend to focus on character psychology. Scientific American mentions The Round House by Louise Erdrich as an example of literary fiction that helped subjects improve their empathy.
Reading Improves Your Whole Mind
Let’s stay in the realm of fiction for now. As it turns out, fiction is good for more than just building empathy. Psychology Today even suggests that reading builds basic brain function and connectivity:
The scans revealed heightened connectivity within the students' brains on the mornings following the reading assignments.
The idea is simple: reading is an act of the imagination that essentially forces the reader into visualization, the way you might visualize shooting a basketball into a hoop. As the mind works to fill in the gaps left by the author, the imagination gets active, forging new connections where there were none before.
You are, in essence, having a new experience.
Remember the Holodeck from Star Trek? On the Holodeck, people could live out any scenario they wanted, which made it perfect for training without consequences.
That’s reading. As the act of reading forces you into the mind of a protagonist, you’ll have experiences you otherwise wouldn’t have. Watching television is entertaining and all, but it simply doesn’t make the same demands on your imagination.
Successful Entrepreneurs Like to Read for Information
The old saying “knowledge is power” isn’t just true. It’s actionable advice.
In a study of the habits of successful entrepreneurs, Thomas C. Corley found that not only did these entrepreneurs have different reading habits than the rest of us, but that they tended to read non-fiction. A lot of non-fiction.
Of those with over $160,000 in annual income, 85% read two or more books per month simply to learn more about the world around them. That may sound nebulous, but chances are that these books were more than guides to birdwatching or geography. Many entrepreneurs tend to seek out books that will educate them specifically on strengths they want to develop.
According to the study, a measly 11% of the “rich” read for entertainment purposes. They’re more interested in the practical value they can cull from the content they enjoy.
This isn’t to say that non-fiction is better than fiction, or vice versa. But it does show that both types of reading can have a massive impact on your long-term growth as an entrepreneur.
Reading Will Inhibit Your Mental Decline
Want to stay sharp as you age? We all do. As it turns out, the highly brain-active exercise of reading is good for keeping your neurons finely-tuned.
One study that looked at participants who died at an average age of 89 found that those who enjoyed “mentally stimulating activities” like reading were able to slow the mental aging process. Think of it like continuing to work your muscles so that you never lose them. The same logic applies to the way you think.
If you’re a whippersnapping entrepreneur with plenty of years ahead, remember that the habits you form now will last for years, if not decades. Keep stimulating that mind by turning off YouTube and the television, and force yourself to work a little for your entertainment. Your brain will thank you for it.
Tips for Getting the Most Out of Reading
If you’re already an active reader, chances are that you flew through this article in a few moments and already know how to get the most from your reading sessions. But that doesn’t mean it hurts to brush up on the basics:
- Embrace the e-reader. I know — those old curmudgeons among us who like to say “Read a book!” are just as likely to say “I like the feel of paper in my hands!” But embrace the e-reader. The brain benefits of reading come from your own imagination — not the tactile sensation. If you love solid books, knock yourself out. But you’ll have more money to read more books if you embrace the efficiencies of tablets and e-readers.
- Stop glossing over paragraphs. The benefits you seek from reading happen when you engage yourself in the process. Remember, it’s not a race. Just read carefully and fully, absorbing the details as you go. The more you’re transported to a
- Include both fiction and non-fiction. Non-fiction feels like homework to fiction lovers. And fiction feels like a waste of time to non-fiction enthusiasts. Meet somewhere in the middle and get the benefits of both.
If you want a little less screen time and don’t want to commit to a non-fiction book just yet, start printing off long-form blog posts and taking the time to fully absorb them without the ability to click away in a heartbeat. Go ahead. Click “Print.” Your brain will thank you.