Insight: Build the Habit of Reading

People overcomplicate reading. We make it work and then we hate it and we neglect it. And somehow we know it has the power to change our life. So then we try again. We grab a book, read for a few minutes, get bored, put it down, check social media, feel guilty, make excuses, rinse, repeat.

The problem is that we have made it painful. You have made it painful. If you had the privilege of being read-to as a child, you will remember it fondly. The stories were engaging and you loved them. My own children demanded story time. They loved it. And I loved reading to them.

So what made reading fun when you were a child and how could we leverage those same principles? Think about it. You had two things happening as a child that are missing in the drudgery of reading as an adult.

Step 1: Read what you like

The first thing missing is that you actually liked the content you were reading. The problem with most reading you ‘should’ do is that it does not interest you enough to hold your attention.

For example, you may believe that you should read that book about meditation a friend recommended. Or that you should read that book about time management you heard about in a podcast. Or that you should read a book about running effective meetings your boss told you about.

Ugh. So many ‘should’s. Stop it. No more ‘should’ reads. In fact, if you have a list of ‘should’ reads, go ahead and destroy it. Delete it, tear it up, burn it or put it inside a model rocket you built and send it into space. Destroy it in whatever way feels best to you.

Now make a new list. This list is just categories of things you actually want to read. Not specific book titles, just types of things you want to read. Fiction. Novels. Stories about love or history or food or dogs. True stories. Not true stories. Stories people wrote from their own experiences. Or maybe it is not stories for you. Maybe it is about how to play the guitar better. Or how to coach youth football. Or how to improve your golf swing. Or how to understand the language of your toddler. What actually interests you enough that you would search up a youtube video in your free time? Put that stuff on your list.

And that is step 1. Read what you like. Now on to step 2.

Step 2: Read how you like

I have a small collection of very old hard cover books. They are fragile. They have a certain smell about them. The pages feel a certain way. I love those books. Sometimes I read them just because I want to be inside an old book.

I have a ton of paperbacks. They have pages folded over, sticky notes, highlighter and pen marks everywhere. I read those books differently than the old hardcovers.

I have some picture books. Like the kind you would see on a coffee table. A graphic walk through the entire bible. Portraits of Canada. Cars of the 60’s. Sometimes I just want to look at the pictures and read about stuff that captures my attention in that moment. Like how the Mustang came to be. I have football coaching books that are full of pictures. Others on paperback.

I have a collection of Kindle books, and another collection of e-books in Apple’s book app. There are times when I am sitting around in a doctor’s office waiting for an appointment and I will just grab a book and read through pieces of it. I’ll grab my iPad and head out onto my front porch in the evening and read for a while.

I also have a huge collection of audiobooks. Anytime I am driving, or flying, or exercising, I will grab an audiobook and let someone else read to me. And I do not always listen carefully through every word. But I do trust that my brain is catching more than I am consciously aware of. Sometimes I just want to get lost in a good story that someone else is reading.

I have plenty of books in multiple formats. I might get the audiobook first and then realize I want to slow it down and mark it up. So I will order a paperback or download a Kindle version. I might have a nice hardcover I do not want to mark up so I will have another version I can scribble in.

There is no single best type of book. They all have pros and cons. Consider the context. Consider the intent. Consider the time you have available. Consider the mental bandwidth you have at your disposal. And then just grab the type of medium you like.

Go slowly through one book at a time. Or listen at 2X speed and crush a book every week during your commute.

How reading evolves

I typically have anywhere from 3 -12 books in my current reading list in a variety of the formats I have listed. Multiple categories. Multiple topics. Then, from time to time, I will take a couple of weeks and just live inside one book. 7-Habits is like that for me. Once every year, I make an effort to just work my way thoughtfully through that book.

If any of this sounds like work, you missed step one. If you are genuinely interested in a topic, you will be drawn to it. If you are still hearing a voice saying “yeah but, I should be reading more business stuff instead of all these Vince Flynn novels“, you are still missing the point.

Build the habit by reading what you actually want to read. That is the most important factor. You will find that you cannot put the book down (in whatever format that is).

And then an amazing thing happens.

You will fall in love with a format and/or a style and/or an author and/or context and then you stumble into something that connects to the thing you started with but in a way you would have never guessed and you only found it because you were just doing something you loved doing.

That is intentionally a run-on sentence. And a metaphor for life. Read it again slowly.

Read what you like.

Read how you like.

Reading will never be work again.

Insight: The World Is a Beautiful Mirror

The world is a beautiful mirror.

I tend to find that in most circumstances of our lives, what we see most often and others are the same things that exist in us. This seems to be especially true when we have negative traits that seem to be in everyone around us.

For example, if I constantly find the people around me to be arrogant, it just might be true that I am seeing in them a small reflection of what is a prominent characteristic in myself. Our brains have an incredible ability to hide this information from us. And it truly appears as though the problem is only in others.

Jesus uses hyperbole to describe this problem. In Matthew 7 he reprimands:

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?’

Matthew 7:3, NIV

No one actually has a plank in their own eye. It is telling, though, that the plank is made of the same substance as the sawdust. This is the underlying principle of the mirror.

That which I readily see in others is likely originating with me.

This is equally true only of positive and negative characteristics. If I tend to be highly trustworthy, I will likely find trustworthiness in others. If everyone around me is a thief and a liar, it might to me well to check the mirror for some honest personal reflection.

As leaders, this principle tends to flow through our teams. I have observed this in many different organizations. Business and non-profit, paid and volunteer. I have even come to recognize that the people begin to resemble one another in physical presentation. They look alike. They dress similarly. They speak in similar ways.

What is the application for you? What is it that you are constantly finding in others that frustrates you? What are you finding in others that you like?

The Problem

Seeing your own reflection clearly can be difficult. Your brain has worked a lifetime to hide from you the very things you wish to see. Often, it takes the eyes of another to clearly see what seems hidden to one’s self. Choose someone you trust, and someone who will speak candidly. Resist having this kind of conversation with a person in whose eye you see the ‘sawdust’. Find a trusted, neutral, third party.

And then turn on your listening. Just absorb and contemplate. You may find that you want to defend yourself. That is only reinforcement that you need to dig in and listen.

The mirror is beautiful because it reveals to us that which holds us back. It shows us the way to self improvement. It unveils leadership deficiencies. It is an important part of your growth.

Are you willing to look in the mirror?

Insight: The One Word That Unlocks Your Life

My daughter was 12 years old. I had been away for a few days on business. After a hectic travel day getting home, I landed in bed about 3:00am, exhausted. Abigail (not her real name) was at the side of my bed at 7 whispering “Dad, are you awake?”. Enough times to get a response.

“Can we go to Starbucks?”

And here it was. The moment of truth.

Years prior, when my son was three, I came home from a long day of work. I worked in the trades back then. Grueling, manual labor. The backbreaking kind.

Chase (again, not his name) came running up the stairs when he heard me, jumped up into my arms and after a very tight squeeze exclaimed, “Dad, come play lego with me!”

The moment of truth.

I was in New Jersey providing consulting and training for a large local company. It was 6pm on Friday night, the end of my second day with them, and a 6am meeting was coming up Saturday morning. I was drained, I needed some peace and quiet, and I was looking forward to watching a hockey game and ordering some room service before turning in for an early bedtime. Alas, the owner of the local company invited me to his weekly poker game.

The moment of truth.

These moments happen every day. Opportunity has a way of showing up at inopportune times. The key to unlocking opportunity is the language with which we respond.

Yeah but…

Yeah but let’s do it later. Yeah but I don’t have the energy right now. Yeah but just let me rest first. Yeah but I have to get up early tomorrow. These are all quite reasonable, and quite real. The problem with ‘yeah buts’ is that they are usually true. And they’re always stifling.

Yeah buts feel real, and they’re always well supported. They’re easy to justify. Worse, there is never any felt loss upon the deployment of a yeah-but.

You don’t know what you’re missing. That’s the hidden cost.

The moment of truth

When you are confronted by an opportunity to enhance the life of yourself or another, say yes. Yes. That’s it. That’s the magic. It’s both the simplest thing you can do and the most profound.

Yes had me on my way to Starbucks with my daughter, singing along to Taylor Swift at the top of our lungs. It was never about Starbucks and I wouldn’t trade that memory for all the lattes in Italy.

Yes put me on the floor rolling around with my son, building robots and warships and race cars. Hours passed before I realized I was still in my work clothes. It was never about the Lego.

My kids are well into their teens today, and the substance of my favorite memories with them are not from lavish vacations or planned outings or scheduled ‘quality time’. They are the seemingly random moments that can’t be planned for or scripted in advance. And they were all preceded by a moment when the yes coming out of my mouth was in direct contradiction to all of the yeah-buts coming from mind.

Yes had me in a basement with 13 men, any one of whom could have been part of the cast of The Sopranos, playing poker in a smokey cloud around a pool table until 3am. This sheltered Canadian experienced a side of the American Northeast that lived only in the movies. Sleep be damned. It was never about poker. I’ve got friends from that poker game that I still keep in touch with 13 years later.

Yes unlocks your life. It unlocks a part of your life that you don’t currently know could exist. That’s what makes it so powerful. When a buddy texts you and asks you to go to the game, it’s not about the game. When your spouse wants to go out for an ice cream and a drive, it’s not about the ice cream.

You’re deliberating your answer on entirely the wrong criteria. You’re evaluating the answer to life’s queries based on the query. Consider the query the lid to pandora’s box. Starbucks and Lego and Poker are just different labels on the same door. When you say yes, you open the door and discover a whole world of moments, memories and experiences that will go with you the rest of your life. The kind that are unscripted (unscriptable!), unplanned and unforgettable.

Objection

I can hear all of the objections now. I hear them every time I teach this concept. Let’s deal with your yeah-buts to saying yes.

Yeah but if I say yes to every thing I’ll never have a life.

You’ll have a life alright. It’ll be unscripted and unforgettable. If you mean you’ll have less time for Netflix and scrolling social media, you couldn’t be more right. I can’t wait to hear about it.

Yeah but I’ll be broke! Do you mean to tell me that if my spouse asks me to to go to Hawaii, I should just say yes?

What if you did? That seems like a big win to me. Say yes, and then sit down and figure out how and when. My son asked me if could have a Ferarri when he was 11. I said yes and we talk often about what he’s going to need to do to make that a reality. He’s late teens now and still says he’s going to do it. He’s laser focused and I believe he’ll do it, or at least be in a place where he can realistically choose whether or not he still wants to when he can afford it. It’s inspired great conversations about college and career and life. What if I had said no? It ends the conversation, it shuts down creativity, and it limits possibility.

If I say yes to literally everything, I become a boundary-less doormat.

I really like that you see the boundaries disappearing. Not the healthy ones, that’s not what I’m asking. Be really clear, I’m not asking you to say yes to something that would cause harm to you or anyone else. I’m not asking you to say yes to abuse or hurt. I’m asking you to say yes to the seemingly innocuous moments where something special could be just on the other side of that yes. You’ll know them when you see them. In fact, by saying yes more often, you’ll become even more clear where no is appropriate. Your boundaries will be strengthened.

Say Yes

Say yes when doing so has the potential to enhance your life or the life of another. Say yes, not to the query, but to the unknown opportunity that lives behind the query.

Say yes to unlock your life.