According to a 2013 Pew Research Center survey, 23% of Americans didn’t read a single book that year. Which is a shame, because they’re missing out on all the benefits reading has on productivity and creativity. Full disclosure: I am an avid reader so I do have a bias in writing this, but I’m going to convince you to read more books. Aside from being an enjoyable pastime, reading has a positive impact on your creativity, focus, and emotional well-being.
There are many ways to reduce stress, and different activities work best for different people. Some enjoy listening to music, drinking tea, or exercising. But reading may actually be better for relaxation than all of those things. A study conducted by MindLab International at the University of Sussex revealed that reading reduces stress by 68%, compared to listening to music at 61% and taking a walk at 42%. Dr. Lewis, who conducted the experiment, says: “It really doesn’t matter what book you read, by losing yourself in a thoroughly engrossing book you can escape from the worries and stresses of the everyday world… This is more than merely a distraction but an active engaging of the imagination…” Reading doesn’t just distract you from your stress, it engages and absorbs your attention. It “put[s] our brains into a pleasurable trance-like state, similar to meditation, and it brings the same health benefits of deep relaxation and inner calm.” The next time you start to feel stressed, read a book and lose yourself in a different world.
Plus, reading before bed can make you sleep better. Sleep experts already recommend avoiding bright lights before bed, as it signals to your brain that it’s time to be awake. So cracking open a book is an alternative that relaxes you, and the lack of light allows your brain to prepare for sleep. Reduced stress and a good night’s sleep? Win-win!
These days there is so much content to consume online – blogs, Tweets, news, you name it. And that’s great, especially for staying informed in world and industry events. But there’s something extra you get when reading a novel. With no hyperlinks, chats, emails, or other notifications competing for your attention, reading books requires undivided focus. This uninterrupted way of reading is conducive to “deep reading,” which is “slow, immersive, rich in sensory detail and emotional and moral complexity” and more than just decoding words on a page.
Fully immersive “deep reading” is a skill that needs to be practiced, and that’s hard to do when reading on the web. According to a 2006 study, most people who read on screens do so in an “F” pattern – they read the first sentence on the page in full, but then read less and less of each subsequent sentence. Reading a book with no hyperlinks or distractions forces the reader to focus and read each line in full. This allows for better reading comprehension and greater concentration.
This focus you get from “deep reading” is especially important for jobs that require long periods of reading complicated text. Processing what you’re reading becomes easier the more you do it.
Further studies link reading to increased empathy. Researchers from Carnegie Mellon discovered that your imagination while reading is similar an athlete’s muscle memory when thinking about a sports play. Your brain’s reaction when you read puts you in somebody else’s shoes.
This 2013 study examined whether people who read fiction have a heightened sense of empathy. It concludes that when people become emotionally invested in the story, their emotions are transported into what they’re reading and yes, they become more empathetic. This is unique to reading fiction, as it’s easy for a person to relate to another individual character than a non-fictional analysis or statistic. It’s similar to charitable donations – people are more likely to respond upon learning about an individual’s suffering than learning about a mass group of people that need help.
Reading is a great way to understand another point of view that you wouldn’t otherwise have access to. You can put yourself in an entirely different world, and take your imagination to places you’d never experience otherwise. While reading non-fiction is informative and educational, fiction creates a better understanding of people.
Boost Creativity and Productivity
Not only does reading help improve personal goals, but it’s also good for business. Empathy is a key quality to being a good leader and inspiring your team to reach their full potential. Empathy is necessary to connect with your customers – the more understanding you are to their needs, the more they’ll trust your brand.
Opening yourself up to new experiences through reading also helps come up with creative, unique business solutions. Reading about different characters and points of view opens your mind to new ideas.
The kind of focus you experience while reading can translate to your work – greater attention can help you concentrate on one task and boost productivity. And the more you can relax in your downtime, the less likely you are to suffer from burnout. Try reading before bed, or crack open a book on your morning commute. See for yourself whether you feel more relaxed or productive.