7 Reasons Why Reading is the Compound Interest of Self Improvement
“An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest” — Benjamin Franklin.
Reading is the compound interest of self-improvement.
For me, reading is equivalent to investing. And like money, knowledge accumulated over time compounds. Exponentially.
The more knowledge you gain today, the more knowledge you will get tomorrow. Knowledge begets more knowledge.
All the great minds of the past and present were not only committed life-long learners but were also veracious readers.
As a child, Elon Musk often read 2 books a day.
“I was raised by books. Books, and then my parents.” — Elon Musk
During the peak of Microsoft’s dominance, Bill Gates dedicated himself to reading 50 books a year.
“Reading is still the main way that I both learn new things and test my understanding.” — Bill Gates
President Obama committed himself to read a book a fortnight.
“Reading is the gateway skill that makes all other learning possible, from complex word problems and the meaning of our history to scientific discovery and technological proficiency.” — Barack Obama
Oprah Winfrey describes the transformative power of reading during her tough upbringing.
“Books allowed me to see a world beyond the front porch of my grandmother’s shotgun house…[and] the power to see possibilities beyond what was allowed at the time.”
The most successful investors in the world Warren Buffet spends five to six hours everyday reading.
“Read 500 pages…every day. That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will do it.” — Warren Buffet
Despite being busiest people in the world running corporations, countries and launching reusable rockets into space, they still managed to prioritise the habit of reading.
They understand that reading is a fundamental pillar to their ongoing success, their ability to be innovative, think critically and continually evolve into better version of themselves.
Here a 7 reasons why reading is the compound interest of self-improvement.
1. Individual Growth
My own commitment to daily self-improvement is built on reading as its foundation.
Reading is a habit I do everyday. It is often the first to start my morning and last thing I do to end my day. I will prioritise it over relationships, food and exercise. Why? Because these things are enhanced by me reading.
It sounds a bit extreme, but the Dutch philosopher Erasmus said it best:
“When I have a little money, I buy books; and if I have any left, I buy food and clothes.”
For me, reading is a medium I learn best from. It enables me to reflect, provides unique perspectives from other people and exposes me to novel ideas. In short, it makes me more empathetic, wise and innovative.
Whether we like it or not, we are always investing our attention and energy into something. Whether we choose to consume mindless reality TV or cultivate productive habits will ultimately shape who we are now and who we will become in the future.
Your brain is constantly growing and developing whether you like it or not. This means that the brain you will have in 5 years will largely depend on the books you read, the ideas you engage with and the perspectives and emotions you’re exposed to.
It is binary. You’re either moving toward something or moving away from something. Towards growth or stagnation. As Abraham Maslow said:
“You will either step forward into growth, or you will step backward into safety.
I am not saying reading and learning everyday is easy or straightforward. It is actually really hard and uncomfortable. But you can either experience hypertrophy in daily resistance or atrophy in comfort.
The decision is yours to make.
2. Broad Application
“In my whole life, I have known no wise people (over a broad subject matter area) who didn’t read all the time — none, zero. You’d be amazed at how much Warren reads — and at how much I read. My children laugh at me. They think I’m a book with a couple of legs sticking out.” — Charlie Munger
Reading can be thought of as a meta-habit that can solve any problem that you might have.
If you want to become a better consultant, there are books on that.
If you want to have better intimate relationships, there are books on that.
If you want to learn to code, there are multiple books on that.
Reading is fungible.
Its unique multifinality means that it can be applied it to a broad range of topics, ideas and domains.
There is nothing new under the sun.
The dead out number the living 15-to-1. So the chances are that someone else has previously faced something you’ve faced and taken the time to write about it.
Reading provides a gateway into another time, another dimension and period of human history that can teach us lessons today.
Stoic wisdom can teach us about discipline.
Philosophy can teach us about morality.
Shakespeare can teach us about love and relationships.
You can shortcut any learning curve on almost any topic by taking the time to read about it.
“A person who won’t read has no real advantage over one who can’t read.” — Mark Twain
Most of the developed nations (or level 4 nations according to Hans Rosling) have achieved a baseline level of literacy to make reading common to almost their entire population.
Reading is one of the only habits that is available to most of the modern world regardless of status, power or privilege. It is a great equaliser in many ways. The story of twentieth century was the story of giving everybody access to the privileges of the rich.
There is almost no excuse to not to be able to read something valuable everyday. Even for only 2 minutes.
In previous times, knowledge was scarce and restricted to only those with the power and status to access it. History tells us the greatest impact of knowledge does not come when it is found but rather when the knowledge is democratised.
Modernity and the internet has democratised knowledge for mostly free mass consumption.
The proliferation of online blogs, articles and content has significant lowered the cost of entry to be able to access and read high quality knowledge everyday.
Motivation, discipline and energy are the new and often the only barriers to entry.
5. Limited Risk, But Unbounded Upside
Reading follows an exponential rather than normal distribution pattern.
This means that reading is an investment that has a bounded risk (such as time and cost of reading a book) but unbounded upside.
The transactions costs of reading are relatively low and fixed but the potential pay-offs from the investment of reading are exponential and variable.
One word can expand your perspective.
One sentence can change your understanding.
One book can change your life.
There are very few investments in life with a controlled downside, but uncontrolled upside.
Reading is not subject to the law of diminishing returns.
The dissemination, acquiring and collision of new ideas is not only theoretically infinite, it has actually been the keystone process to human progress since the beginning of time.
The more useful knowledge you get from reading causes that useful knowledge to breed more useful knowledge.
In his book Rational Optimist, Matt Ridley describes this phenomenon best:
“Telling people about the idea of bicycles doesn’t diminish the idea. It does the opposite. The more people you tell about bicycles, the more people will come back with useful new features for bicycles — mudguards, lighter frames, racing tyres, child seats, electric motors. Knowledge is dispersed throughout society. Knowledge can never be gathered together in one place. It is collective, not individual.”
Put simply, the more that you read and exchange ideas with other people, the greater the return. There is almost no limit to the mutual benefit that reading can provide to an individual, group or society’s progress.
Matt Ridley argues that it is the ever-increasing exchange of ideas that causes the ever-increasing rate of innovation in the modern world. This means you can simultaneously be the beneficiary and benefactor of the exchange of knowledge.
To paraphrase Matt Ridley, reading is to cultural evolution what sex is to biological evolution.
Reading upgrades your thinking process.
It provides more tools to be able to think critically, solve complex problems and develop innovative solutions.
Your actions are a lagging measure of your thoughts.
Your thoughts are a lagging measure of what you consume.
What you consume is largely comprised of what you do or don’t read.
If the only mental tool you have in your toolbox is a hammer all you’ll see are nails.
Increasing the quantity and quality of what you read improves the quality of mental models you use to interpret and respond to the world.
The equation is simple, but not simplistic.
Choose better inputs. Get better outputs.
There is almost no reason not to read more than you currently are. Even if it is only 1 more page a day, 1 more chapter a week, 1 more book a year.
The benefits of reading are enormous. And they are yours for the taking.
The question is, are you ready to take it?