This article was originally published on Forbes.com, under Jeff Miller's Forbes Human Resources Council column.
I’ve always been a reader. When I was a little kid, I once tried to read the entire encyclopedia (I think I made it to K). Today, I make sure to always have a book on hand or on my tablet to read at night or while I’m traveling. I’m always reading.
As a country, however, many of us aren’t. Data from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics’ "American Time Use Survey" (via The New Yorker) suggests the time Americans spend reading is on the decline, and it’s no wonder. Between busy schedules and competition from attention-grabbing TV shows and smartphones, reading often falls to the bottom of the to-do list.
Still, there is a whole host of benefits to reading, from improved cognition to increased empathy and emotional intelligence. It can make you more articulate and improve your communication skills. It can reduce stress and keep the mind sharp.
Summer often means more time spent traveling and unplugging, and more time to pick up a good book (and maybe even a reading habit). Each of these books offers valuable lessons around self-reflection and self-improvement that can be applied to both work life and personal life. I've done so, and I believe I’m better for it.
1. Thank You for Being Late by Thomas Friedman is one of my favorite books of all time — anyone can find personal meaning in this book because it (and my next recommendation) helps you reflect on the way you think about the world.
The main idea that resonated with me: Now, for the first time in history, the rate that technology is changing is faster than the rate of human evolution. We need to accept that we will never catch up to computing’s ability to transform. If we’re not constantly learning, we might find ourselves and our professional skills very quickly becoming outdated. Instead, we have the opportunity to find ways to use this ever-advancing technology to improve our lives, businesses and career prospects.
2. While Friedman helps you consider our human context, in The Art of Possibility by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander, the Zanders invite you to consider your personal context with one question: Do you look at yourself through the lens of "I can" or "I can’t"?
We often limit ourselves because we don’t look at the world through a lens of possibility. In the opening anecdote of the book, two shoe salesmen arrive in a community where no one wears shoes. The first salesman thinks the situation is hopeless — no one in this community wears shoes (I can’t). The second sees endless possibilities (I can). The Zanders help you adopt that lens of possibility (without taking yourself too seriously) through 12 lessons, from topics of leadership to finding purpose in your work.
3. In Influence, the Psychology of Persuasion by Dr. Robert Cialdini, the author talks about seven key constructs that influence the process of persuasion, looking closely at the roles social psychology and human dynamics play. Like The Art of Possibility, this book is a great tool for self-reflection because it unravels some of our psychological tendencies that impact us at work and in life in ways we may be unobservant to.
For example, Cialdini’s chapter about commitment and consistency explains how, once we make a commitment, we’re more likely to see it through. It’s a good reminder for me to write down and tell others about my work and life goals, since I know I’ll be more likely to accomplish them if I do.
4. One of my goals in 2019 is to sweat the small stuff much less than I did last year. Mark Manson's The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life is my blueprint.
Manson’s premise isn’t to care about nothing; instead, it's to care about the right things. The book asks: Can you recognize what’s important and urgent versus what’s not? When Apple releases a new technology, there’s a rush for everybody to be the first one to get it. That's a thing that I have learned to not be concerned about. Career aspirations and legitimate workplace wins, challenges and barriers are things to be concerned about. This book can help you get into a practice of recognizing the things that you should — or shouldn’t — stress.
5. Put simply, The Straight Line: The Shortest Distance Between You and Your Results by Brad Spencer and Edward Monser talks about how and why we need to speak straight to our colleagues, acquaintances and peers. It’s about communication and motivation, and it questions why we dance around feedback instead of giving it directly.
One of my mentors gave me direct feedback when I asked if I could work for his company. He told me, "You're not ready. Here are three reasons why." It shook me at first. He followed up by saying, "You probably don't get direct feedback often. But tell me, do you disagree with what I'm saying or how I said it? Or do you appreciate the fact that I just gave it to you and now we can talk about it?" He was right. I was glad somebody cared enough about me to point out how I could improve.
Whether it’s giving this kind of straight feedback, reflecting on your attitude and social tendencies, or caring less about the things that don’t really matter, there is so much to be learned that can directly and positively impact your career from reading just a few books. And this summer, I hope to add more to my list.
Image via Unsplash
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