This post was previously published in January, 2011.
If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn’t be. And what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see? – from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
I have a confession to make: I haven’t read an entire novel from cover to cover since September, 2010.
This is an alarming revelation to me as I consider myself a lifelong voracious reader who has an extensive vocabulary knowledge banked in her busy brain. But the bank account must be depleting, because lately I’ve really noticed that I’m faltering when trying to spell even some common words.
After thinking about it, I realized that most of my reading activity now consists of racing through several articles and resources every day, performing a sort of mental highlighting scan, taking notes regarding the most relevant information (to me, at the time). I’ve formed an addictive habit. And there is a LOT of information out there…
Most writers and artists in today’s world are (still) voracious readers I imagine. But if the majority of what we are consuming is ‘fast food’ (skimming blogs and gulping tons of information from the Internet, of varying degrees of ‘nutritional’ value), how much of what we are digesting is really good for us?
Does it give us the necessary fuel our imagination and intellect need to inspire and produce our best work? Or does it just overload our thoughts, bloat our minds to the point where we’re listless and disconnected from our enthusiastic, healthy, creative selves?
Reading something ‘meaty’ or challenging can also be a great cardio workout for your flabby brain, and bring your own thinking back to life.
According to research conducted by Travis Proulx ,a respected academic from the University of British Columbia, if you read something that is challenging (complicated narrative) your brain works hard to problem-solve and change it into something more meaningful that you can understand, thus improving brain sharpness and boosting overall mental fitness.
The more you exercise the muscles of your brain, the faster and more efficient your brain will be. Literally.
Another important point is that reading quality fiction can improve your empathy skills. By engaging your brain and interacting with the characters in the story, your brain simulates the experience and ‘remembers’ it so that you can recognize the same emotions and social cues in real life when you encounter them. If you don’t read fiction, but solely skim informational or entertaining articles on the Internet, you don’t give your brain that same experience.
Better understanding of social behavior and good communication with others has obvious benefits in general. But it is crucial when you are busy with your work(s) in progress and at the same time implementing and carrying out your own social media strategy for your creative business.
If you don’t know (or care about) what motivates the people you’re trying to reach, it will speak loudly and clearly in everything you communicate.
You want to be able to lead that horse to your water AND have her/him start drinking happily from your trough. That will only happen if s/he has developed a trusting relationship with you, or trusts whomever has recommended you and your business. Or if they really, really wants what you’re offering.
I’ve discovered I get a flood of creative ideas for any project I’m currently working on (and more new ones…yikes!) after challenging my brain like this. Even just 30 minutes of my undivided attention a day should be enough to see some improvement. This seems similar to how you have increased energy levels and general vitality after going to the gym or exercising on any given day. You basically can DO more.
If you read good, challenging fiction on a regular basis, your brain will be able to do more too.
Reading allegory is especially effective in helping your brain get better at problem-solving, not to mention opening up your imagination for you to notice all the allegories that are present in your tangible world beyond the page.
For example, do you ever feel like it’s taking forever to work towards accomplishing your life ambition or creative goals? Noticing a caterpillar inching slowly across the road on its way to attach itself to a tree right before winter can be symbolic if you are paying attention. Some of those tenacious, industrious creatures make it through the winter and get to fly out of their cocoon the following spring!
Here are just a few great allegorical feasts to sink your brain into:
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
Watership Down by Richard Adams
Life of Pi by Yann Martel
Blindness by Jose Saramago (Jury is still out for me whether this is an allegory or fantasy, but it will stimulate your imagination for sure!)
Still thinking you can’t possibly fit in regular time “just” to read a book?
Why not read with your kids, or get your kids to read to you? (no cheating by letting your mind wander to other business matters!). If uber-busy human business mogul Chris Brogan can carve a slice out from his hectic life schedule to read to/with his kids regularly, I think you can take a nod from him and make the time. You may be surprised how it sparks some great ideas for you to use in your creative endeavors.
Got any other suggestions for a good fictional cardio workout for your brain? How much time do you put aside to read fiction? Please share in the Comments below.