“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” Lao Tzu
Maybe not consciously, but unconsciously I have referred to this quote every day of my life. Every day is day one. Every hour is hour one. Every minute is minute one.
Every step is step one. Just start.
The first book I read was a 600 page investment book titled The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham. I was a sophomore in high school and thought I was going to make a cagillion bucks. Most of the book was scanned over and all of the book forgotten.
It took me forever to finish that first book, and another forever to pick up another book. Fast forward to today and i’m reading an average of two books a week. It doesn’t matter where you start or what you start with, just start. There are books about any and everything, you will find the books that interest you.
Carry a book with you everywhere you go. If you are traveling bring it along. By just having a book in sight you will be more inclined to open it. Similar to eating healthy, it’s hard to eat unhealthy when your fridge is filled with only fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats. Your environment greatly determines the person you are / are becoming.
The past is gone. Poof. Learn from it and keep moving forward. The future hasn’t happened. Stop planning for perfect and just start.
What is reading for?
To get from point A to point B
To achieve anything there is a period of trial and error and a lot of learning. Experience is the greatest teacher, and there are books that can help reduce the amount of errors. Authors write about their experiences for others to mimic and learn from.
Want to learn how to take a business from Zero to One? Read Peter Thiel’s book Zero to One and copy his concepts. You will make mistakes along the way but at least there is a reference to see where you went wrong.
Want to learn how to be an expert marketer? Read Seth Godin’s book This is Marketing and start telling stories and creating change.
Want to learn how to make Mr. Olympia gains (massive muscle growth)? Read Arnold Schwarzenegger’s book The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding and start working out.
Putting what you learn into practice is the scary part. The books will tell you what to do, and it’s your obligation to do the work. It took me a while to get past my fear of the application part.
It wasn’t until Nonviolent Communication by Marshall B. Rosenberg that I learned how to communicate my feelings. Whilst reading his book I watched his three hour seminar on YouTube to get a better understanding. I had to learn how to find the words for what I was feeling and then articulate that so another person could understand. It wasn’t easy, but now my conversations are a lot deeper and personal
Whatever it is you want to achieve there will be a book to help you along the journey. We all want stuff to happen now. Unfortunately, reality doesn’t work that way and it takes time.
The common phrases goes: There is a woman with experience and another woman with money. Soon the woman with experience has the money and the woman who had the money now has the experience.
Who is Reading For?
Reading is for anyone. We apes have been blessed with an amazing ability: turn black marks on a white piece of paper into meaning, and ultimately into a civilization of primates so ahead intellectually then any other animal in the animal kingdom.
Think about the significance of language. Just sounds we make with our mouth that other people can understand. Don’t think that’s crazy?
Aldous Huxley in his book Doors of Perception states on page 12,
“We live together, we act on, and react to, one another; but always and in all circumstances we are by ourselves … By its very nature every embodied spirit is doomed to suffer and enjoy in solitude. Sensations, feelings, insights, fancies–all these are private and, except through symbols and at second hand, incommunicable. We can pool information about experiences, but never the experiences themselves. From family to nation, every human group is a society of island universes.”
We are all Island universes living out an experience only the person: I, can experience. Language gave us the ability to communicate our incommunicable experience.
The literate person can better communicate the experience they are having and influence more people. Reading increases your vocabulary and verbal skills. Be better able to structure sentences and speak many different dialects.
The Wandering Mind
Every word is not there to be understood. Non-fiction books contain nuggets of knowledge throughout. If an author stated only the nuggets of knowledge then the book will consist of a couple pages. Stories are used to help readers better grasp the nuggets so they stick, adding length to the book.
We all have a wandering mind. Practice and training can help keep focus for longer durations of time. Like any muscle, in order to grow it takes repetition.
During meditation when a person closes their eyes the mind takes over and the thoughts flow in like waves.
One of the reasons it is difficult to start a reading habit is because of this. We feel like we can’t concentrate long enough and our mind always wanders. That we need to understand every single letter on the page, and when we see this is difficult to do we give up. We see the amount of time required to get through the book and give up.
There was a miner who caught the gold rush fever. He dug and dug for miles with no luck. After three miles of digging he gave up and carried his tools out of the mine never to return. A week later a man passing by saw the mine and went on exploring. He got to the end of the mine and dug another 100 yards in until he struck gold!
The moral of the story, never give up, keep coming back and keep moving forward. Everyone is on their own timeline.
If you read one chapter today,
Or if you read one page today,
Or if you read one sentence today,
Or if you pick up the book today,
It is a successful day.
The more times you come back the further into the mine you get and if you keep digging you will strike nuggets along the way. Just keep digging.
The Wandering Mind pt.2
The nature of the mind is to create thoughts. Like waves in the ocean the thoughts come and go continuously. There are many times throughout reading my mind is completely focused on something else while my eyes and finger is still following along the page. Keep moving forward.
While we read our eyes want to read every word one at a time. This is a slow process. We believe we need to read every word to understand the book. This is not necessarily the case. To increase reading speed use your finger to glide across the rows of words. Do not worry that you miss a couple words. As you continue reading the concept is built.
Also, the authors of non-fiction want the reader to learn something from their book. I’m always searching the book for nuggets of knowledge. Writing all over the book there is always a pen in hand to capture these nuggets. I will talk about the quality of pen later on.
As my friend Thea stated when I asked her how reading has helped her: “It gets me out of my head. I become emerged in a world of characters, and into the mind of the author”. Although Thea reads mainly fiction, I experience this same state while reading non-fiction. A book is simply the mind of an author. Contemplating ideas in a book. Most of the time the book finished will lead to deeper exploration of a similar topic.
It takes time. The more time spent, the thicker the habit. Working it’s way to the unconcisous mind, you will start to find yourself putting a preference on reading.
Also known as flow states. Have you ever been typing up a paper and the words seem to be flowing from your fingertips. All sense of time and space is gone. It’s just you and the work.
In Stealing Fire by Jamie Wheal and Steven Kotler the authors go into detail about altered states of consciousness: more specifically states of flow. We apes are always seeking altered states of consciousness. For example, your morning cup of coffee.
There will be times while reading that you read 50 pages without breaking a beat. How do we enter this flow state?
Number one, just start, as stated before: A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
Number two, set yourself up for success: create a ritual and be consistent.
Number three reduce distractions: put your phone on airplane mode and close the laptop.
This is all about ritual, more specifically what other habit you pair with your new reading habit. My morning ritual includes:
Alarm clock signaling it’s time to wake up. First thing I do after turning off the alarm is grab my book, find my way to the kitchen, and get the coffee pot going. Grind the beans, pour in the water, and hit the brew button. During the time the coffee is brewing I prepare my blender with cocoa, lions mane mushroom, maca, MCT oil, and some delicious butter. Blend it all together, pour, wash blender. Grab my book and my freshly brewed coffee. Make my way to reading spot.
This is my ritual. Exactly as stated. I have done this same ritual enough that I don’t think about it anymore. The amount of time it takes me to finish my cup of coffee is usually how long I read during the morning. Between 45 minutes to 1.5 hours.
First thing upon waking: grab my book. It sets the intention of “I’m going to read”.
Most habits are paired with other habits. Picture a web, every intersection is a habit.
Understand that a habit is a combination of many variables. First there is a cue, followed by a routine and then leading to a reward.
Wake up, grab my book and pen, find my way to the kitchen, make my coffee cocktail, start reading in my reading spot, satisfaction of growing and sharing the new knowledge.
Want to develop a new habit? Focus on the new routine you want.
Habits are stronger when paired.
Decisions & Options
Take a look at pictures of Steve Jobs. What do you notice? Did you notice that he wears the same clothes all the time, you’re right. That black turtleneck, one of many can be seen on him.
It was for his self brand, but also it was to reduce the amount of decisions he had to make in a day. Every decision we make takes a certain amount of energy. It is easier to pick from an option of two then from an option of ten.
We have all probably been caught standing in front of our closet wondering what to wear. Trying on different variations of the same outfit. Most of the time returning to the first outfit we tried on.
Reduce the amount of decisions and options you have and increase your productivity. Personally speaking reading and technology are conflicting. I could, and have, spent hours watching podcasts while on my phone scrolling through Instagram. While reading, if my phone or laptop is near me I feel pulled to pick one up and start procrastinating.
Grab your book, keep the technology where it stands, and find a reading spot. Reduce your options of distraction and you should be more likely to focus on what’s in hand, your book.
Have you ever heard of Buridan’s Donkey? Buridan’s Donkey is a thought experiment about a donkey that was not able to choose between two barrels of hay ultimately starving to death. Do not be Buridan’s Donkey, reduce your options. Read one book at a time.
Would you rather be 20% proficient at five things or 100% proficient at one thing. Focus on one book at a time.
Performance fatigue, Lower your standards and focus on one thing a day. If you open your book and read one page that day that is a successful day. Somedays you will read one page, other days you may read one book. The point: keep moving forward.
Ever read a book that has a wealth of information? How do you capture the information?
Most nonfiction books have nuggets of knowledge that the author writes for the reader to think about, question, and put into practice. I write all over the books, interacting with the author, asking questions, and underlining interesting ideas/concepts.
The pen. Very undervalued, but critical. It’s as important, in my opinion, the quality of your pen. There is an intimate feeling when the line is fine and crisp. As mentioned, I search the books for concepts and insights. When a phrase catches my attention I want to remember it. Rewriting the sentence gives my mind more time to conceptualize. Interacting with the text as if I wrote it. Spend an extra two dollars and get yourself a nice pen. The one I use is a Pilot G-2 0.38 Sharp fine point pen.
Who you surround yourself with is who you become. There are probably at least one person in your friend group that does some type of reading. Ask them about reading. What do they do? When do they read? What do they read? What is their reading ritual? Do they have any book recommendations?
If no one in your immediate social circle reads, visit ImprovedBeing.com it is a website I put together for the curious. On the website you will find many book recommendations, book reviews, and interviews with guests. Also, you will be able to view the portfolio’s I have put together of my travels. Books do not get me places, but what they do is help me learn how to get past the barriers that are stopping me from being the best version of myself.
Books are a peek into the authors mind: alive and deceased. No one in your social circle with an interest to explore? Pick up a book and start reading. Become friends with the pages. Seek out other material that the authors produce: seminars, podcasts, interviews. Most of the time you can find the authors on podcasts discussing their work.
If you are reading this you have all the resources needed to get you out of your current situation, and into a situation you created. Stop making excuses.
The only competitor
The only competitor is the one staring back at you while looking in a mirror. That’s it.
Here’s What it Comes Down to
I was watching an interview with Seth Godin and in the interview he stated something that really resonated with me: No one is going to save you. Life is what you make it. As Jim Collins puts it: I would rather live a life of discipline then of luck. This concept struck him when he was climbing the side of a mountain. In a situation that one wrong move could have costed him his life. He got very luck that day, and realized that if he continued leaving life to luck he would be living an uncontrollable life. “Discipline equals freedom” states Jocko Willink, retired Navy Seal, which is also the title of one of his books. Have the courage to say no.
I understand that was three quotes back-to-back-to-back but understand I am not just adding them in here for fluff. You are the only one in control of your life, stop wasting it. I have just laid out everything you can start today to improve your life. Take action now. Buy a book now, don’t wait.
Did you catch on?
I don’t have the money. I don’t have the time. I can’t focus for very long. I’m stupid. I have to many other things going on. It’s my friends birthday. I’m hungover. I am sick. It’s raining outside.
The hard truth: nobody cares.
You can spend your day making excuses or making change. Either way the day will pass.
Did you catch on?
Keep Moving Forward
Note from Robbie,
Throughout writing this I kept asking the question,
“What will interest people to start reading?”
I believe the answer to that question is to show by example. To show the trial and errors I go through personally. What books have taught me. To not preach, but to apply, practice, fail, start again, share. If you would like to follow along my journey Instagram, @RobbieKnecht, is where I post where I am at. To get into what I have learned and am learning at the moment, ImprovedBeing.com is where you can find all the book reviews and podcast episodes. Thank you for taking this journey. What brings me joy is when I see people living, growing, taking chances, taking the punches life throws and getting back up.
– Robbie Knecht