Years ago, one of my college-age sons invited his girlfriend at the time to our family Christmas gathering. After dinner, we all sat around playing Catch Phrase. Are you familiar with it? You divide into two teams and when it’s your team’s turn, one of your teammates gets 60 seconds to offer clues to the phrase on a card and the rest of your team tries to guess the phrase. When it was the girlfriend’s turn, she yelled out, “I don’t read these!” Any idea what was on the card?
It has been said that, if you want to know what kind of person you will be in five years look at the people you hang out with and the books you read.
I remember as a kid complaining to my mom that I was bored. Her response was always, “go read a book.” But I hated to read – until after I got married when I became an avid reader of business, leadership, and spiritual books. It got so bad that my wife threatened to cut my book budget.
The point is that I can’t even imagine myself reading fiction. Why would anyone waste their time reading fiction? I don’t want to be entertained or amused – or escape. Then, a couple of years ago, a dear friend of mine and I were talking about writing. She, a very good writer, told me, “If you want to write better, you need to read fiction!” Really?
So I found “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” on my son’s bookshelf. “I’ll read these,” I thought – but I couldn’t. I tried.
Then I stumbled upon a grammarly.com blog post about “How Reading Affects Your Brain” and it’s causing me to change my mindset about all of this.
Writer Katie Oldham said about reading, “You stare at marked slices of tree for hours on end, hallucinating vividly.”
That’s how I thought about fiction. It was about hallucinating, not the process of learning and growing which is what I wanted.
But then the blog post author said, “And as if it weren’t already strange enough, consider this: If you do enough of it—that is, read a lot—it may not only rewire parts of your brain, but perhaps even make you a nicer person.”
That got my attention! Who doesn’t want to be a nicer person? So, I finished reading the blog post, and here is some of what I learned:
Reading has positive neurological effects on our brains. Multiple parts of the brain interact while recognizing symbols, relating them to sounds and spoken language, and ultimately extracting meaning.
Neuroscientist Gregory Berns of Emory University, says that reading, taps into a process known as grounded cognition, by which reading about an action such as swimming activates neurons that are associated with that act, even while you’re sitting still.
A 2013 study at New York’s The New School found that people who read fiction seem to better understand other people’s feelings. Reading fiction helps us to better imagine ourselves being a part of other’s lives. That may help us be more empathetic and better relate to others in real life.
Keith Oatley, a University of Toronto cognitive psychologist suggests that fiction, is akin to a flight simulator—a kind of life simulation that allows us to gain experience…that enables us to better understand people, better cooperate with them.
But, according to David Lewis, a cognitive neuropsychologist at the University of Sussex, if you’re trying to de-stress: “It really doesn’t matter what book you read,” as long as it’s “thoroughly engrossing.”
In the end, Bishop Fulton J. Sheen may have made the point best when he said, “any book which inspires us to lead a better life is a good book.”
What do you read? Why? What kind of person do you want to be in 5 years?
Written by Jim Gernetzke, business/life coach and founder of Nos Lumine