Pursue What Matters
Episode 238: Don’t Give Up on Reading
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Dr. Melissa Smith 0:00
Are you a reader? Please tell me you’re a reader. Too many of us have lost this vital skill in our world a scrolling, listening to podcasts and books. Yes, I’m guilty. And YouTube. Don’t give up on reading. There are so many benefits that come from it. And this is the perfect weekend to dig into a great book.
Dr. Melissa Smith 0:21
Hi, I’m Dr. Melissa Smith. Welcome to the Pursue What Matters podcast where we focus on what it takes to thrive in love and work. So we have the long Thanksgiving weekend. And so I hope that as you move into fall and winter, you have a reading habit because reading makes life more enjoyable. So one of my favorite quotes on this topic is by the incredible Lemony Snicket right, so if you’re a reader, you know, who Lemony Snicket is, he said, never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them. And boy, I have felt that way that I can always be satisfied and content if I have a book with me. And so as we move into these long winter nights, it’s a perfect time to curl up with a book, and can make all the difference. And today, I want to talk about 10 Really incredible benefits that come from reading. And so of course, many of us read throughout our day, right? We read here and there we scroll here and there. But are we digging in? are we reading a book? are we reading a newspaper, are we really committing some time and some some cognitive energy to this activity, because if we’re not, we, if we’re not careful, we lose these valuable skills. And these are benefits that expand way beyond the specifics of reading.
Dr. Melissa Smith 2:09
So let’s just jump right in and talk about 10 benefits that come from reading. So benefit one is mental stimulation. So this is really important. This helps to make you smarter. So when you read in a very real way you are exercising your brain. So think about that. Think about the time you spend at the gym, or you know out on walks that sort of thing. Your brain needs mental stimulation as well. And I’m here to tell you watching videos on online or watching them or sorry, binge watching Netflix or scrolling on your phone is not the same thing. In fact, it’s mentally your brain kind of goes quiet, not great. So when we exercise our brain, we keep it nimble and agile, which over time becomes protect protective against the effects of aging. So those who are strong readers have stronger brains as they as they age as they get older. And this is very protective against some of the degenerative effects of aging.
Dr. Melissa Smith 3:17
Let’s jump to our second benefit. Expanded vocabulary. So this is a big one. Reading expands your exposure to new ways of communicating including new words. So I often have friends tease me about my PhD vocabulary. They assume that my vocabulary, vocabulary comes from my years of Journey earning a PhD and other graduate degrees. And certainly while definitely some of the words do obfuscate comes to mind here. Most of my 25 cent words actually come from decades of pleasure reading, I have been an avid reader since early childhood. My reading is absolutely varied. So I love nonfiction fiction, historical fiction, literary murder mystery, a little bit of fantasy, and just about everything except romance. So you know, I must draw the line somewhere. But reading broadly, and reading often has introduced me to many worlds of words. And so, you know, that is a big benefit. In our fund of knowledge, right? If we think about our, the extent of our vocabulary, this is one of the factors that we look at on intelligence tests, so it’s not a small thing.
Dr. Melissa Smith 4:36
Let’s go to the third benefit. This is related, which is increased knowledge. So this one might sound like a no brainer, right? Reading is one of the best ways to increase your fund of knowledge. So it it really helps you to expand your perspective of the world. And so one of the things that I love to do, so if I’m planning to be Trip, which that’s something I love to do. I love going on big trips. But I also love planning big trips. And one of the things that I do to help prepare myself for a trip is I start to read up on the geography of where I’m going, I love to read up on the history of where I’m visiting. So that once I’m there, I have, I have a clue, right? Like, I don’t want to miss the full experience, because I’m clueless about the land, its peoples and its history. And so for me, having some knowledge about the about the area is really helpful. And it provides a really good foundation for learning a whole lot more, and having, you know, the the experience in the five senses of visiting a place. And so what I have found is having some knowledge in my head helps to deepen the experience once I arrived, because it adds a lot of valuable context. And so, you know, increased knowledge is a big benefit of being a regular reader.
Dr. Melissa Smith 6:07
So now let’s move to the fourth benefit, which is improved memory. If you don’t care about this. Now, I promise you pretty soon you will, because you’ll start to lose your memory. And it’ll be very troubling. So reading improves memory, because you are forced to make and retain connections between information you are reading. Have you ever been reading a book and you find yourself flipping back to see like, Okay, wait, who are they talking about? What is that storyline, this helps you to improve memory. So it requires your brain to make stretches across time across pages across different reading settings. So Reading helps you identify patterns, prioritize factors, note, nuance, and track stories across time. As you read, your neural pathways are strengthened, we love our we love good neural pathways, synapses fire more quickly, and connections become more robust. And so that really helps to facilitate memory, consolidation, and access later on. So that’s really very helpful.
Dr. Melissa Smith 7:13
Next is the fifth benefit of reading, which is better focus and attention. So how many of us need better focus and attention. So of course, reading requires attention. This is one of the big problems that I see in our society right now. We don’t read anymore. And so our attention has dropped to Neil. It’s not just reading, right? Like the things that are taking our attention are quick and fast. And so we have been trained out of sustaining our attention. And so we need to build back in ways that we can strengthen and sustain our attention. And reading is one of the best ways to do that. So when you read, you must quiet that restless mind, in order to attend to what you’re reading, which really is a feat in our ADHD world. So I, I have not seen a study on this. I’m sure it exists. But I would be so curious to see the impact that smartphones have had on our reading, it can’t be pretty. My guess is that reading has taken a big hit because the content we see on smartphones is all geared toward entertainment, you know, quick succession of images and slides. Whereas with, with reading, our minds provide the entertainment right, our brain becomes part of the creative force and energy, which is really good. And this is where the real magic happens with reading. It also requires a degree of delayed gratification. Right? So for a period of time, one of my children who shall remain unnamed, would start new books by reading the last page of the book. And I saw this behavior and it made me crazy. I’m like, What on earth are you doing like you’re ruining, you’re ruining the book. So you know, this child had had reasons for doing that. But reading in a very real way requires a degree of delayed gratification, right at least 300 pages. So it it allows a story to unfold, right? And we have to be patient with that we must hold off we must focus we may attend we must attend as a story unfolds to us. In this way. As readers, we become co creators with authors which I just love. This takes time and attention. But it’s so gratifying when we stick with it.
Dr. Melissa Smith 9:44
So now let’s talk about benefit six, which you might not think about, but this is a really I love this one. It’s increased empathy. So think about it. Think about your favorite stories that you’ve read. Reading provides a window into the world the experiences of others and the interior world of another. So reading provides a mechanism for self reflection, and thereby increases self awareness and capacity for compassion, both for self and others. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been reading a book, and you know, reading about a very difficult situation that a character has, and asking myself, How would I respond in that situation? So reading has become a vehicle for self reflection, it’s been a reflection on my values to really look at, how would I cope? How could I handle this? What decision would I make? So it’s really powerful that way, as a young girl, one of the things I most loved about reading is that it could take me to far distant worlds, and connect me to individuals, unlike any I could meet in my small Idaho farm town. But what I learned is that these individuals, whether they were in Old World, Egypt, or in a spaceship set in the future, is that they had many of the same feelings I had as a young girl in Idaho. So reading connects us to one another through empathy, and it increases our emotional intelligence. So it is a wonderful way to develop empathy for others.
Dr. Melissa Smith 11:22
So now let’s look at benefits seven, which is better analytical thinking skills. Now, this is also a measure used to assess intelligence. So this is a big deal. analytical thinking skills is a foundation of intelligence. Reading forces you to make connections, right? I already discussed that. But also to decide what you think of what you’re reading, right? So think about the last book you read, or a newspaper article, or online newspaper, right? That, would they there is a newspaper out there. I’ve just subscribed to a newspaper, and I love it. But most of the news we get is online. And hopefully, you’re still reading a little bit of long form newspaper articles where you get a story where people are able to make a case. But think about the last thing that you read, have any depth, right? You needed to decide what what you thought of what you were reading? Do you agree? Is the opinion well argued? Where is the story weak? Or where is the argument weak? Are you buying it? Do you buy the story, sometimes there are books I read, I’m like, that is so far fetched. And I do know that truth is stranger than fiction. But there are some stories, it’s like, they just haven’t built a good, they haven’t built a good enough foundation for me to be able to go along with this. So the act of reading helps you weave details together, which again, strengthens those neural pathways, and increases your analytical thinking skills. And this definitely makes you smarter. So one of the things that I tried to do is, in terms of news, I try to read very broadly. Because, you know, maybe you haven’t noticed this, but we live in a very polarized society. And when it comes to politics and various issues, right, there’s a lot of polarity. And it’s so unhelpful. And so one of the things that I’ve done is I tried to read pretty broadly. And I can tell you, it’s really strengthened by analytical thinking skills, because I can spot a spin pretty quickly. And I can do that on both sides. And it’s because I’m reading a lot and seeing some of the straw man arguments, some of the really popular arguments that you know, people tend to get away with in a polarized media environment. But they’re not. They’re not critical thinking skills, they’re not using strong analytical skills. And so if you have some good analytical thinking skills, and you’re willing to put in the time, you can see through some of those arguments that makes you better, that makes you smarter, that makes you less likely to be taken advantage of or be taken in by by an ideology, or a message that is not serving you.
Dr. Melissa Smith 14:19
So the eighth benefit is improved writing. So here’s another area where my PhD gets a lot of credit for my writing skills. And I definitely spent a lot of those years writing, but I think my years of hiding out in a corner and reading good books, actually deserves most of the credit. So we know that reading increases your vocabulary, but it also conveys grammar rules, right? You learn where to put a comma, you learn where you shouldn’t have an apostrophe. It also helps you to see various writing styles and exposes you to nuance in writing that helps elevate your own. So I like to consider myself a writer. Of course, I’ve written a ton of nonfiction over the years between theses and dissertations and graduate degrees. But I also a writer of fiction, and I’ve been writing fiction for probably 20 years. And I’m at the point now where I am working on a book draft for publication. So have had some interest in it from some agents. And so it’s exciting. And I’m working with a book coach. And one of the first things that she said to me, as we started working together, was keep reading, keep reading for pleasure, because this will make you a better writer. And it has, and it’s actually been fun to read books, where they, they use a skill that I’m really working on in my own book. And so I’m not only enjoying a great story, but I’m actually getting like, tactical skills as I read these books, and so if you want to be a better writer, be a reader.
Dr. Melissa Smith 16:05
Okay. So now let’s talk about benefit nine, which is that reading sparks curiosity for further learning. So I, you know, there are so many topics that I began researching based on learning about them in a book, like maybe I had never heard about them before. But after reading a great story, I’m like, I want to learn more about that, that’s often happened in relation to historical events that I just never had any exposure to. And so reading in a very real way makes you curious about the world, other people and learning, reading absolutely engages you in life. And I absolutely love that about reading.
Dr. Melissa Smith 16:47
And so now let’s talk about the 10th benefit. So I kind of gave a little bit of a teaser about this with the quote I shared at the beginning. And that is that readers are never bored. Now, if you have kids at home that are saying I’m bored, or you feel the same way, it’s time to pull out a book. So I remember reading somewhere, of course, of course, I read it that a reader is always content as long as they have a paperback in tow. And it’s really true readers can be content anywhere they go. I can be waiting in the line at the DMV. If I have a good book, I still don’t like waiting in line at the DMV. But I’m I’m much better. If I have a book, I can tolerate a bad day fishing if I have a good book. I love a blustery rainy day, if I have a soft couch, and a good book and you know a blanket helps to so I you can just you know I mentioned this a couple of weeks ago, but I always take a book with me anywhere I go. And my family is just absolutely familiar with that pattern. And so if there’s a chance, even a slight chance that I may be kept waiting, or you know, plans end up going another way and I have some time to kill, then I have a book with me. I also don’t love waiting. So I’d always rather be reading a good book instead of you know, twiddling my thumbs and I try not to stay on my phone. But a phone is good if you’re, you know, reading the news or something, something that’s meaningful, not just scrolling that can also be useful. So I hope that this is helpful for you. And I hope on this long holiday weekend, as we move into winter that you really will turn your time and attention to some great reading. It can be such a great stress reliever as well. It gives you a chance to reflect on your life and also get a break from your life and from the worries that beset you.
Dr. Melissa Smith 18:43
So make sure you head over to my website to check out the shownotes with all the great resources for this episode at www.drmelissasmith.com/238-10benefitsofreading and that’s the number 10 So again www.drmelissasmith.com/238-10benefitsofreading. Please also consider joining me on Instagram @dr.melissasmith, I always have a lot of great content related to the podcast. So if you didn’t catch all of those benefits, don’t worry. Find me on Instagram @dr.melissasmith and I will share those benefits with you. And again, I hope you pick up a great book this weekend and and jump into a great story. In the meantime, I’m Dr. Melissa Smith. Remember love and work, work and love. That’s all there is. Until next time. Take good care
Transcribed by https://otter.ai