“The person who stops studying merely because they have finished school is forever hopelessly doomed to mediocrity, no matter what their calling. The way of success is the way of continuous pursuit of knowledge.”
-From Think and Grow Rich
By Napoleon Hill
When asked about their goals in life, most people provide similar answers:
We want gratifying jobs and fulfilling careers.
We want healthy bodies and strong minds.
We want meaningful relationships and loving families.
We want sufficient resources and financial security.
Whereas these goals sound fairly basic, many people struggle to make their dreams a reality. One recent study found that roughly 70 percent of people fail to achieve their personal goals … and that doesn’t include the 80 percent of people who never set goals in the first place!
Similar to navigating downtown Chicago without a GPS (damn you Lower Wacker Drive!), many people set goals without having a clear sense of how to actually reach those goals.
For those who are driven to make the most out of life, I’ve got great news for you: The blueprint for achieving the life of your dreams is already written down somewhere waiting to be discovered.
If you think I’ve always enjoyed reading, you’re wrong.
I used to detest reading.
Here is the full list of assigned books I read from cover to cover starting in 7th grade:
Middle School: The Westing Game
High School: Of Mice and Men
College: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
That’s right. I read three books in nearly 12 years of formal education. “Reading is a waste of time,” I insisted.
It wasn’t until my 27th birthday when I finally discovered the power of reading. During my family birthday party at Texas Roadhouse, my dad gifted me The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey. Initially, I wasn’t thrilled about the present. “A book? What a waste!” I thought to myself as I politely smiled and showed the book to family members.
However - when I opened the book a few months later - I couldn’t believe how much helpful information was stored in one place. At this point in life I had accumulated a credit card bill of nearly $20,000. Mistakenly thinking that I was “building credit” and “doing what all Americans do”, I quickly realized that my spending philosophy was terribly misguided.
Rather than watch another episode of The Real World: Cancun or reorganize my Top 8 Friends on Myspace, I found myself devouring The Total Money Makeover while trying to learn more about personal finance. The knowledge I gained from Ramsey’s book was a major turning point in my life, as I follow many of his financial principles to this day.
Another shift in my attitude towards reading happened in 2012 when I read What Great Principals Do Differently by Todd Whitaker. At this point, I was in my 5th year as an assistant principal. Although I didn't mind being an AP, I had been turned down for several head principal jobs ... which had me second-guessing my leadership abilities.
Whitaker’s book came at the perfect time. Not only did I pick up several new ideas, the book also confirmed many of my thoughts about educational leadership. Countless times while reading I found myself thinking, “That's what I do! I knew that was right!” These realizations restored my professional confidence and convinced me to focus on what I could control, as the right opportunity would eventually come.
Eventually, I realized for all of life's challenges - from public speaking to physical fitness to personal branding - a template for success had already been created. It was now up to me to find these resources and consume the information.
In The Five Major Pieces to the Life Puzzle, Jim Rohn echoes these thoughts:
“All of the books that we will ever need to make us as rich, as healthy, as happy, as powerful, as sophisticated, and as successful as we want to be have already been written. The question is: In the last ninety days … how many books have we read?”
Unfortunately, leisure reading in America is at an all-time low. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 19% of Americans read for leisure. Furthermore, the average American reads 17 minutes a day, which pales in comparison to the amount of time spent on social media (127 minutes), watching television (120 minutes), and checking email (94 minutes).
"But my life is already crazy busy," you might be thinking. "And I waste very little time."
I get that we all have busy lives. In addition to our professional responsibilities, many of us have spouses to spend time with, kids to care for, and countless other competing priorities. I understand that setting aside large chunks of time for reading is not feasible for everyone.
However, understand that many of the problems that consume our daily thoughts - such as money problems or work relationships - have already been explained. By investing a little time to read (and implement) this information, we could save ourselves a lot of time (and heartache) in the long run.
I love learning about the reading habits of others (nerd alert!). Not only do I pick up new ideas, I find inspiration when I realize others use similar approaches.
To help inspire your reading habits, below are eight reading "principles" I follow:
What Books Do You Buy? My book-buying rule is simple: If you're thinking about getting a book, buy it. Lifelong learners must approach a $25 book as though it has the potential to change their life. Don’t think of books as a cost … think of books as an investment. It is fairly common for me to spend $1,500 a year on books (yes, I keep track).
My home office is littered with non-fiction books.
Print Book vs. Ebook vs. Audiobook? Call me old-school, but I prefer reading print books over the more-modern options. The purpose of reading nonfiction books should be to retain information and put ideas into practice. Print books allow me to quickly take notes and mark sections to revisit. To be clear - any reading is better than no reading - so choose the option that works best for you.
How Many Books Do You Read a Year? I read about 30 books read per year. But rather than focus on a "book count," my goal is to read 30 minutes per day. A lot of readers get consumed with the number of books read, making it hard for them to quit a book they have already started. Using a quality over quantity mindset gives readers permission to quit a book that provides little value.
How Many Books Do You Read at a Time? I typically read between 4-5 books at a time. Having options allows me to select the book that matches my current mood. If I'm sick of thinking about leadership, I'll switch to a motivational self-help book. If my workouts are feeling lethargic, I'll pick up a book on fitness or dieting. There's really no rhyme or reason to which book I read at a given point, I simply allow inspiration to guide me.
How Do You Take Notes? I have unique - but efficient - format for note-taking that I call the “slash/bracket” format. When I’m reading a book and come across a section that I want to revisit at a later time, I put brackets around the section and put a slash at the top corner of that page. Being able to quickly leaf through books and revisit key points allows me to retain information while reading several books at once.
The slash/bracket note-taking method is great for retention.
What Do You Do When You Finish a Book? Once a book is finished, I revisit all of the pages with slashes to determine if the bracketed information is helpful. The notes that are most impactful make it into a book summary that is posted on my website. Finally, all notes are dumped into a master spreadsheet where they are organized by theme. Having the passages organized this way allows me to easily revisit key ideas when trying to solve a problem or look for inspiration.
Do You Reread Books? Yes! Rereading books can be incredibly powerful. People who come back to a book after a long break often discover new insights that were previously missed. Why? Because perspectives change over time. When I come back to the same book a couple years later, I often can't believe the quality content that was missed the first time around.
Do You Ever Hit a Wall? For a variety of reasons, we all go through reading dry spells, myself included. When this happens, I’ve found I’m able to get back into the groove by rereading something that has really spoken to me in the past. Instead of expecting a random book to get me out of my funk, I choose a book from my list of favorites.
In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey shares the following:
“There’s no better way to inform and expand your mind on a regular basis than to get into the habit of reading good literature - you can get into the best minds that are now or have ever been in the world.”
The blueprint for achieving the life of your dreams has already been created; you just need to read it.
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