Self-improvement has become an incredibly complicated business. Did you know there are over 120,380 books (and counting) on Amazon and hundreds of apps on the iTunes App Store and Google Play? All to help you sell more, lose weight, enjoy better relationships, communicate better, and worry less, among others. This overabundance of options makes it increasingly likely that we will choose “no option at all” and make no progress toward improvement. In fact, due to this overabundance and the often-competing views on this subject, one very common request we get from OneWire clients and workshop attendees is to simplify the improvement process down to its most basic elements. In today’s article, I’d like to offer two.
Read and write every day and you will improve yourself.
No I’m not kidding and yes that’s it. I know it seems overly simple, but we’ve coached and consulted with hundreds of elite performers and it seems that the common theme that keeps coming up with all of them is that they all read books and have some form writing built into their schedules. We become what we think about, and both reading and writing significantly influence what we think about and, therefore, influence who we become. So, let’s break both of these activities down into bite-sized chunks so we can move off the logistics that sometimes get in the way and move on to the doing and improving part:
As far as the reading part goes, I am not talking about reading your social feed, magazine articles, or the newspaper. They may all have their proper place during your week (and may not by the way, but we’ll save that conversation for an article on time management), but we are talking about books here. Every elite performer we coach, every mentor and advisor I have, and all people in authority on professional and personal improvement that we have polled agree that having a consistent diet of reading books leads to stronger brain connectivity, the sense of control that we seek, and executable ideas for us to take action on. A technique that I have used this year for consistent reading is to read 20 pages a day which usually takes me about 30 minutes. I am not a fast reader, but at 20 pages a day, I can knock out about 2 books per month or 24 in a year even if I miss a day here and there. If you are looking for a place to start, a book that I’ve referred to more than most others is Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People.
Answer one simple question.
And what about the writing part? My recent article on rest spoke on this topic a bit, but in its simplest form, this is the idea of getting your ideas and thoughts out of your head and into written form. If you’re like me, throughout your day there are a lot of ideas, thoughts, and to-do items swirling through your head. Since I was a boy, my father has said that "a short pencil is better than a long memory." I could not agree more. Not only does writing stuff down help me remember things that I need to do (which helps me with that sense of control), but it also allows me to think on a higher plane than just the logistics of life. When I write down what items I need to get done in a day, I am no longer taxing my brain to keep those items in my head, but am freed up to think about how I can be a better husband to my wife or how to help Rewire be a better employer of choice to current and future employees.
The last few weeks I have been answering one specific question in my writing to myself in the mornings, to help me clear my brain for the day. And I answer this same question again in the evening before I retire. The question is “What’s on my mind right now?” Sometimes it takes me a half of a page to answer that question and sometimes I find myself writing a few pages. The trick is not in the length or even in answering it the same way each time, but just getting down on paper what’s in my head at the moment. It is just so freeing! If this sounds like something you would like to try for yourself, grab any old notebook and start by answering the same question I’m asking myself. Or, if you are looking for an efficient way to get a bit more organized with your thoughts, I ran across this nifty little tool called the Five Minute Journal. Often times, I am into the subtleties of how you do a certain activity, but for now, starting is the key. So just start writing and see how it goes.
PS - I recommended Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, but there are so many good books out there to help us stretch and grow our thinking. What book would you have recommended? What’s at the top of your “to read” list?