Last updated: May 15, 2017
Photo by celeste
The public library is a phenomena that to this day I still can’t get over. Free knowledge, for anyone. Literally, anyone. I can’t think of an equivalent other than going to a clothing store, “checking out” an outfit, wearing the outfit and returning it in four weeks, free of charge.
Except books are so much better than clothes.
Recently I’ve been on a huge reading kick, checking out anything I can get my hands on in the library.
I’ve found that no matter what I read, the act of reading every day has helped me in nearly every aspect of my life. Here are a few of my favorite ways that reading has improved my quality of life, and will definitely improve yours.
1. Enhanced Smarts
Wow, this may be the most obvious statement of the post, right? Well, it turns out that reading helps in almost every area of smarts. Those that read have higher GPA’s, higher intelligence, and general knowledge than those that don’t. In Anne E. Cunningham’s paper What Reading Does for the Mind (pdf version), she found that reading, in general, makes you smarter, and it keeps you sharp as you age.
No matter what you’re wanting to do or become, you can’t do it without more knowledge. Reading is an excellent way to get where you’re wanting to go.
2. Reading reduces stress
When I’m reading a book, my mind shifts gears. Where I might have a had a stressful day, a book can easily distract me. Fiction is fantastic for this. Reading an awesome fiction book is perfect right before bed time. Though sometimes it’s hard to put the book down if it’s really good. Still, you’ll be relaxed ;)
Photo by MorBCN
3. Greater tranquility
Reading can soothe like no other. Given that I’m a pretty high-energy person, reading forces me to sit and be still. This daily act of making myself be quiet and still has been nothing short of miraculous for my anxiety and my “fidgety factor”.
Lisa Bu has a fantastic TED talk about how reading can open you mind. It’s only 6 minutes and well worth a watch.
4. Improved analytical thinking
That’s right, ladies and germs. Cunningham’s studies have found that analytical thinking is boosted by reading. Readers improve their general knowledge, and more importantly are able to spot patterns quicker. If you can spot patterns quicker, your analytical skills receive a boost.
5. Increased vocabulary
It’s no secret that reading increases your vocabulary and improves your spelling, but did you know that reading increases your vocabulary more than talking or direct teaching? Reading forces us to look at words that we might not have seen or heard recently at the pub. In fact, language in children’s books are likely to be more sophisticated than your average conversation.
Increased vocabulary is especially crucial for bloggers or writers. All successful writers will tell you that in order to write well, you need to read. Every day. You’ll be surprised at the words you start incorporating into your writing.
A beefier vocabulary isn’t just for writers though. Knowing what other people are saying and using the perfect words to convey your feelings is a critical part of being a better human. Better listeners are more successful in life.
(Side note: If you’re concerned with your well-being at previously mentioned pub, you might lay off the more obnoxious terms you’ve picked up.)
6. Improved memory
I have an awful memory. Just ask my fiancee. I usually can’t remember what I’ve eaten for breakfast, let alone things like names and address. Yet I’ve been finding that I can remember stuff much easier when I’ve been reading consistently. Do I have any scientific data to match this up? Not really. But I’d say it’s a pretty safe bet that reading has somehow given me memory mojo.
7. Improved writing skills
This isn’t much of a stretch, considering that reading improves vocabulary and critical thinking. I feel like a better writer, as I’m constantly surrounding myself with works from people who are better than me. That’s why English classes in High School make you read “the classics”. That’s why art students learn to copy masterpieces, so they know what creating something incredible should feel like.
The more you read, the better of a writer you’ll become.
Photo by prosperina*
8. Helps prioritize goals
Many times we’re certain we know what we “really want” in life. Yet I’ve found that activities like reading show me things I didn’t know about myself. My mind will drift to things that I’d really like to do, and it isn’t long that these little lapses in reading start to cycle. The same sort of goals keep popping into my head, allowing me to see what I really want to do.
For example, I’ve been playing music on a consistent basis, but I’ve always wanted to produce and distribute my own music. As I’ve been reading, I’ve found that song ideas and other general thoughts on music keep popping into my head. It’s my times reading that have really pushed me into giving music a serious go.
When you remove yourself from your work environment, you’ll start to see things that you might really want to do, that you’re not doing yet. Reading gives you a chance for your mind to wander.
No time to read? No money for books?
If you think that you don’t have enough time to start reading, you’re wrong. How do I know? Because we make time for the things that are important to us. How much TV do you watch? How much time do you spend trawling the web? You could easily replace reading with those activities.
If you’re worried about the cost of books, check ’em out at the local library. Most libraries take advantage of the interlibrary loan system, so you can check out nearly any book on the planet. I also use Worldcat to find libraries in the area that might have my book.
There’s really no excuse to start reading on a regular basis. The benefits far outweigh the costs, and more knowledge never hurt anybody.
Ready to start reading? You might also be interested in How to Focus on Reading and my book summary of How to Read a Book.
In business, how you write (and speak) is who people think you are. If you have lousy grammar, use tired cliches, spout biz-blab, or dress up five-cent ideas in five-dollar words, people secretly (or openly, if you're not the boss) think you're mediocre or even stupid.
They're probably right. Clarity of word goes hand in hand with clarity of thought. With that in mind, here are five free online apps that help you write more clearly.
The readability concept has been around for a long time, but online application Readability-Score.com makes it easy to see where your writing ranks.
You plug whatever you've written into the box, and the app calculates two metrics: 1) Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease and 2) the Grade Level.
Flesch-Kincaid (named after the researchers who invented it) has a "higher is better" scoring. For business writing, shoot for a score of 80 or above.
Grade Level (which is calculated using several methods) defines the probable grade level of education required to understand the passage. For business writing, shoot for Grade 7 or lower.
Yes, I realize that Grade 7 implies the reading level of a 12-year-old. This seems a bit counterintuitive, because it sounds as if you're "dumbing down" your content. But that's not the case.
In business, the ability to simplify something complex is a sign of high intelligence, while writing in long, bulky, unreadable sentences is a sign of average intelligence combined with insecurity.
In other words, stupid people use big words so you won't think they're stupid.
To illustrate how this app works, I ran the two paragraphs above (which say pretty much the same thing) through the readability checker.
The paragraph "In business, the ability..." has a grade level score of 18.7. The paragraph "In other words, stupid..." has a grade level of 4.9.
The SpamAnalyse.com tool checks the content of emails to see whether they're likely to be caught by spam filters. As so with the readability checker, you plug your writing into a box and it flags words that might identify what you've written as spam.
What does this have to do with seeming more intelligent? Well, it turns out that many spam filters flag (and junk) emails with words that salespeople use, like "opportunity," "free," and "winning."
Many business people (wrongly in my view) think that professional salespeople aren't as smart as engineers, marketers, and executives. Therefore, when you write or speak "sales-talk," people tend to think you're less intelligent than you actually are.
This tool not only flags sales-talk that you might want to reconsider but also helps ensure your writing, if in an email, actually gets to the recipient.
3. Online Text Correction (for fixing grammar)
Obviously, bad grammar makes you look stupid. The Online Text Correction app does a much better job than most word processors at identifying errors, both grammatical and stylistic.
I ran some of my own writing through the app and discovered I have a habit of introducing sentences with "There is." The app identified this is a "dead phrase" and suggested that I rewrite the sentence.
Original: "There are ways to keep the beast at bay: [list]"
Rewritten: "Keep the beast at bay by [list]"
The original doesn't exactly make me sound stupid, but if you consider that I'm a professional writer, it's a bit embarrassing to discover I'm using such awkward wording.
4. Cliche Finder
This app is a bit less polished than the previous ones, but Cliche Finder is still useful. Rather than find spam or grammatical errors, it locates and flags commonly used cliches. Cliches make you sound unimaginative, so stop using them.
5. Corporate BS Generator
Corporate BS Generator is fun and useful. It shows a cartoon of four business people sitting around a conference room table. You click on the Go button, and speech balloons containing biz-blab appear over the participants' heads.
The app is humorous because we've all been in meetings like that. But it's more than just funny.
Corporate-speak is a habit, and like any habit, it's impossible to break if you're unaware that you're doing it. This app not only helps you realize how silly you sound when you talk or write biz-blab, but also makes you more aware of when you're doing it.
As a bonus, the app has an exhaustive list of corporate jargon to avoid.
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