133. Do castles touch the clouds?

No two persons ever read the same book. – Edmund Wilson

Wow!

I cannot think of any other words that more succinctly and precisely sum up the rich and rewarding benefits that are ours for the taking the moment we embrace The Habit of Reading.

The power behind it brilliantly highlights what happens inside our heads each minute we devote to The Habit of Reading.

The author of a story describes the following scene:

“As he rounds the bend his eyes feast on a large castle with tall towers stretching to the sky. The tops of the wall are lined with soldiers keenly watching everything. The castle is surrounded by a large mote. Alligators swim back and forth in the water.”

What do you see?

As I read those words I saw the young boy running through a forest. He is, perhaps, 9 or 10 years old.

His skin is a golden-brown and he has long, flowing dark hair.

He is dressed in a toga-like robe and in his right hand he is clutching a rolled up manuscript.

I assume him to be a messenger and his mission is to deliver the manuscript to an important person inside the castle.

He gazes skywards and is mesmerised by the magnitude of the castle.

The towers reach into the clouds and the turrets are lined with open squares, much like what we call windows.

The sun glistens off the bronze/gold walls as if to exude wealth and power.

His eyes lower from the height of the towers and he notices the tops of the walls are lined with soldiers dressed in bright maroon/red tunics and adorned with shiny helmets and breastplates.

The presence of these fierce looking men send a clear message to all who would enter uninvited.

Lowering his eyes again he becomes aware of an enormous drawbridge, the height of the castle walls and the width of three chariots.

As his eyes drop further down he becomes aware of a massive mote circling the castle and filled with crocodiles swimming back and forth.

That is exactly what you saw, isn’t it?

Of course not. We read the same words and then paint our own canvasses.

The Habit of Reading brings genius-level of creativity to us all. We create every image and sound and stir emotion within ourselves. No two of us ever share the same experience and indeed some of us will treat the book as a page-turner while others will put it down having lost all interest.

The Habit of Reading strengthens our memories while teaching us to become better storytellers. The more we read the broader our vocabulary becomes and the more articulately we are able to elucidate our considerations.

There is no talent or skill available to any of us that can provide anywhere near the benefit and treasured value we receive by becoming avid readers.

Not only can we build exciting stories but reading will help us we the vagaries of mathematics, the trials of physics and the challenges of calculus.

Next week I will introduce another valuable habit.

As I write this I have no idea what that will be but I can tell you regardless of how useful, powerful and sole enriching it may be, it will most likely not equal all that is yours each and every time you reach for a book.

A wise person once said, “Read as if your life depends on it.”

Your life may not depend reading but the quality of your life most certainly does.

Let’s make a habit of meeting like this.

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133. Do castles touch the clouds?

No two persons ever read the same book. – Edmund Wilson

Wow!

I cannot think of any other words that more succinctly and precisely sum up the rich and rewarding benefits that are ours for the taking the moment we embrace The Habit of Reading.

The power behind it brilliantly highlights what happens inside our heads each minute we devote to The Habit of Reading.

The author of a story describes the following scene:

“As he rounds the bend his eyes feast on a large castle with tall towers stretching to the sky. The tops of the wall are lined with soldiers keenly watching everything. The castle is surrounded by a large mote. Alligators swim back and forth in the water.”

What do you see?

As I read those words I saw the young boy running through a forest. He is, perhaps, 9 or 10 years old.

His skin is a golden-brown and he has long, flowing dark hair.

He is dressed in a toga-like robe and in his right hand he is clutching a rolled up manuscript.

I assume him to be a messenger and his mission is to deliver the manuscript to an important person inside the castle.

He gazes skywards and is mesmerised by the magnitude of the castle.

The towers reach into the clouds and the turrets are lined with open squares, much like what we call windows.

The sun glistens off the bronze/gold walls as if to exude wealth and power.

His eyes lower from the height of the towers and he notices the tops of the walls are lined with soldiers dressed in bright maroon/red tunics and adorned with shiny helmets and breastplates.

The presence of these fierce looking men send a clear message to all who would enter uninvited.

Lowering his eyes again he becomes aware of an enormous drawbridge, the height of the castle walls and the width of three chariots.

As his eyes drop further down he becomes aware of a massive mote circling the castle and filled with crocodiles swimming back and forth.

That is exactly what you saw, isn’t it?

Of course not. We read the same words and then paint our own canvasses.

The Habit of Reading brings genius-level of creativity to us all. We create every image and sound and stir emotion within ourselves. No two of us ever share the same experience and indeed some of us will treat the book as a page-turner while others will put it down having lost all interest.

The Habit of Reading strengthens our memories while teaching us to become better storytellers. The more we read the broader our vocabulary becomes and the more articulately we are able to elucidate our considerations.

There is no talent or skill available to any of us that can provide anywhere near the benefit and treasured value we receive by becoming avid readers.

Not only can we build exciting stories but reading will help us master the vagaries of mathematics, the trials of physics and the challenges of calculus.

Next week I will introduce another valuable habit.

As I write this I have no idea what that will be but I can tell you regardless of how useful, powerful and sole enriching it may be, it will most likely not equal all that is yours each and every time you reach for a book.

A wise person once said, “Read as if your life depends on it.”

Your life may not depend reading but the quality of your life most certainly does.

Let’s make a habit of meeting like this.

132. One chapter each night keeps grey matter bright.

Last week I introduced The Habit of Reading and, courtesy of some readers, I have a shopping list of some 53 book titles recommended to me and which I intend to work my way through over the next several months.

I am blessed to have a wife who is as avid reader as I am and our lives are filled with fascinating, detailed, conversations resulting from topics introduced to our awareness by the books we read.

In my day job as a business coach and consultant, I am constantly dazzled and impressed by so many of the senior corporate executives I interact with when the discussion turns to knowledge and they share the degree to which reading has, and continues, to play a role in their daily performance.

The old saying, “Readers are leaders” has perhaps never been as true as it is today.

A long time Buckminster Fuller, the renowned American designer, theorist and architect created the “Knowledge Doubling Curve.”

He became aware that prior to the commencement of the 20th century the total body of human knowledge doubled approximately every 100 years.

By the middle of the century the pool of knowledge was doubling every 25 years.

Today our knowledge base is estimated to double every 2 years and is expected to double every 12 months by 2020.

Experts tells us that as the internet expands and matures, world knowledge will eventually double every 12 hours.

Yikes.

The sheer magnitude of what this means is difficult to fathom and yet it makes a compelling case for why reading should become an essential part of our daily lives.

If we hope to stay fresh, competitive and, indeed, useful in this world of ever-increasing knowledge then The Habit of Reading is an imperative we ignore at our own peril.

Bill Gates, when asked which superpower he would chose if given the opportunity, responded that his choice would be “to read superfast.”

Interestingly, Warren Buffett when asked the same question provided a similar answer.

Both of these men – the #1 and #2 richest people on the planet – both attribute much of their success to their insatiable, unquenchable and constant thirst for knowledge and it is indeed, that very quest for knowledge that has propelled both of these business giants to reach heretofore unimagined heights.

Many years ago I took a speed-reading course and my frustration at my inability to achieve what I believed to be a desired result led me to quit practicing and give up.

My enthusiasm for reading was not dampened I just continued to read at the same 250 to 400 words per minute that I had maintained in the past.

Some years later, perhaps having acquired a bit more wisdom (and patience) I began practising the speed reading skills again.

This time rather than give up, I persevered and eventually reached the point where I could speed-read with the same levels of both comprehension and retention I had enjoyed in my regular reading habits.

This skill has enabled me to take The Habit of Reading to the point where I can quite comfortably read an average of two books each week.

Sadly, not for one moment do I believe the volume of reading has raised my level of wisdom but it has unquestionably contributed to the unconquerable passion that I have for life.

Gimalle, my wife, has imposed a moratorium on further book purchases as our bookshelves have long been filled to overflowing and she is concerned that the pile of books on my bedside table will soon collide with the ceiling.

Please don’t tell her this but I am still buying as many books as ever. I just store them at my office.

I am getting better at reading e-books. I have read my way through many of them but each time I do so I long for the feel of a real book in my hands.

The Habit of Reading. If you aren’t already in its grasp it is a terrific habit to pick up.

But beware!

You may not be able to put it down.

Let’s make a habit of meeting like this.

131. Do you read me?

Lionel called the other day with a simple question.

“When are you going to write about The Habit of Reading?”

“Reading,” he explained, “is the greatest gift we can ever give ourselves. Reading breathes life into our experiences in ways that no other media can ever compete with.

“Reading gives us far more gratification than listening to a story in digital form or in watching a movie or a video.

“Audiobooks and movies do all the work for us and thereby remove this sheer enjoyment that comes from bringing our own imagination into play.

“When we read a book we become every character, every location, every prop, and every description on every page.

“We choose exactly what each character looks like, how they dress, how they talk, the pitch, pace, tone, rhythm and volume of their voices and rhythm of their voices the colour of their eyes, and the expressions on their faces.

We design every image and sound, we create every nuance of their behaviour and we select every emotion they portray.

When we watch that same story unfold in video we are seeking enjoyment from the creativity of others and denying ourselves the delight that comes from our vivid imaginations.”

Lionel’s obvious passion for reading reverberated through the phone as he went on to describe how his lifelong habit has helped him in so many facets of his life.

Reading has given him the creative flow so necessary in many areas like problem-solving and decision-making and this creativity has paid dividends in many parts of his life.

I had listened, fascinated as he described his interpretation of characters and scenes from several books we had both read and as I compared his descriptions to my creations when I read those same books I could only agree with every word he said.

It has long been said that if you dedicate one hour each day to reading about a particular topic at the end of five short years you will become one of the world’s foremost experts and authorities on that very subject.

Personally, I do not know a single day without reading as The Habit of Reading was ingrained in me from early childhood.

I come from a family of readers – my parents were both avid readers and my brother, sister and I read every chance we get.

In all the many business trips I have taken over the years I have always included some form of reading material when packing and I have never entered a restaurant to have a meal by myself without having something to read while I eat.

I claim no expertise in any field as a result of my reading but I do know that both the knowledge I have gained, the wisdom of I have acquired and many of the good choices I have made have come about as a result of my reading habits.

On more than one occasion someone – usually a client – has remarked that they envy my passion for reading and wish they had could bring that same discipline to their own lives.

There is no discipline required. Reading is as natural to me as breathing and to go two, three, four or more days without reading would absolutely require a level of discipline that I know I do not possess.

Fortunately my wife Gimalle is a reader too which means that much of our time together is spent with our noses in books, engrossed in the content, lost in the words and yet all the while enjoying each other’s company.

I have met people who have confided in me that they have not read a book since graduating from high school or college or simply “not for many years.” I sympathize with these folks for, in my opinion, by not reading they are denying themselves one of the easiest to attain, longest lasting and hugely favourable benefits available in abundance to us all.

After Lionel and I said our goodbyes I googled “The benefits of reading” and the very first article listed the following 10 benefits available to all who choose to read regularly.

I suspect the article I read in the opinions represent not much more than the opinion of the author but even if she was exaggerating, by a multiple, the following listed benefits and even if the true benefit of each is only a fraction of what is written in her article, then the huge upside in reading, available to all, is a treasure not to be pushed aside.

She lists the following 10 benefits, available absolutely free, to all those who make reading an important part of the lives:

Mental stimulation.

Stress reduction.

Knowledge.

Vocabulary expansion.

Memory improvement.

Stronger analytical thinking skills.

Improved focus and concentration.

Better writing skills.

Tranquility.

Free entertainment.

Reading is a wonderful gift to yourself and The Habit of Reading is one you will never be able to quit.

That’s because “old habits die hard.”

I think I read that somewhere.

Let’s make a habit of meeting like this.

130. When in doubt, let the truth out.

The past two weeks have taught me that The Habit of Being Forthright is more widespread than I had previously thought.

A typical blog posting will generate 10 to 15 calls each week and yet I have received more than 50 calls from readers in the past 14 days.

Overall, the vast majority of callers stated their firm belief in and support for The Habit of Being Forthright. I have heard numerous stories of how pursuing this habit, and staying true to oneself, has proven to be of tremendous long-term benefit notwithstanding that sometimes forthrightness will produce short-term ill feelings.

A few callers questioned whether The Habit of Being Forthright has any exceptions and a couple cited, by way of example, withholding unpleasant and bad medical diagnoses and prognoses from seriously ill people.

Interestingly, several callers were supportive of the no-exception to rule for The Habit of Being Forthright and felt it to be their obligation to impart and share the bad news but also that they have absolutely no right to withhold bad news regardless of how difficult or painful it would be to the recipient.

I think whether or not one should apply The Habit of Being Forthright to this type of example lends itself to philosophical debate and, as with so many things in life, there is no one right answer and one wrong answer.

There are a plethora of opinions predicated on what participants in the debate feel and believe to be true.

One repeated theme identified the need for people to refrain from asking questions if they may not like the answers.

More than one person explained to me that when we ask questions, i.e., “Do these jeans make me look fat?” we do so with the full expectation of being told the truth by the respondent, and yet quite often we become angry or disappointed when the “truth” they tell us is not the “truth” we wish to hear.

Several of these conversations reminded me of earlier postings in which we have discussed the merits of Transactional Analysis – a psychological theory of human interaction – which has told us that in each waking moment we are all operating from one of three “Ego States.”

We are either conducting ourselves as a Parent, an Adult or a Child and it is only while in the Adult Ego State that we can hope to receive unwanted truths to our questions and treat the responses as being nothing more than data.

Just pure information that we are free to either accept or reject.

In my day job as a coach I am constantly faced with the dilemma of telling my clients what I believe to be the truth and in so doing run the risk of angering or hurting them.

Or I can let them down as gently as comfortingly as possible.

I long ago learned that if I am to hold my head up high as a coach who believes in his ability to truly help others then utilizing The Habit of Being Forthright can never be optional.

When faced with a difficult choice if I choose to not tell my client the truth as I believe it to be then I must sadly acknowledge to myself that I have failed my client.

I would be guilty preventing short-term pain at the expense of long-term gain.

When we are trying to make important changes we often delude ourselves into “falling off the wagon” by rationalizing why it is okay to do what we know we shouldn’t be doing or why it is okay to not do what we know we should be doing.

My job as a coach is always to point out the truth.

The Habit of Being Forthright is not always easy to uphold but the rewards for doing so far outweigh any real or imagined cost.

And it is for that reason that I encourage each and every one to embrace The Habit of Being Forthright into every facet of your life.

You won’t be sorry.

And that’s the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Let’s make a habit of meeting like this.

129. Be honest with yourself.

Last week we talked about The Habit of Being Forthright.

Several people called to stay how much they agreed with the very premise of the blog and how they have benefited from incorporating The Habit of Being Forthright into their everyday lives.

A few spoke about the internal challenges of always saying what you believe to be true; their concerns about hurting others feelings; having to defend their comments to an unappreciative listener; and being courageous enough to present an unpopular viewpoint.

Overwhelmingly though, the consensus was clear. When asked a question, the best answer always is the one you believe to be true and the “asker” of the question needs to learn a simple rule that states, “If you aren’t prepared for an answer you don’t like, don’t ask the question.”

And then I received a call from Margaret. She called to tell me that while she agreed in principle with the content of the blog, she pointed out that I had omitted discussing the key portion of The Habit of Being Forthright.

Margaret clearly articulated that there is a portion of The Habit of Being Forthright that is crucial to our lives and yet many of us fall victim to the bad habit of distorting the truth to ourselves.

She explained that the first step in adopting The Habit of Being Forthright is to always tell ourselves the truth and not the delusion that comes from rationalizing false facts and convincing ourselves of their truth.

By way of explanation, Margaret spoke of a friend who has been wrestling with obesity for many years.

This friend, in addition to at various times joining Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, Herbalife and “every other weight loss program the world has to offer,” has also sought professional counselling and the constant depression that has resulted from all of these failed attempts have left her friend dependent on antidepressant medication.

Before Margaret explained how her friend’s failure to adopt The Habit of Being Forthright into her life contributed to her present state, she felt it important to tell me that she is a physician in a family practice and is therefore eminently qualified to make such statements.

Her friend, like many of her patients, lives her life in what she calls the “moment of desperate delusion.”

“Desperate delusion” is the decision making strategy we revert to when our present-moment needs for gratification encourage us to turn away from the truth – to not be forthright with ourselves – and convince ourselves to do something that will provide us with immediate gratification even though we know it will have long-term adverse consequences.

The example she used was the frequency with which her friend convinces herself to order meals in restaurants that she knows contribute to her weight issues.

She rationalizes this behaviour by telling herself that she will be really good the next day even though experience has repeatedly taught her that this will not be the case.

Margaret described how many of us have mastered this practice of self-deception even though we know that, “I’ll just have a tiny piece,” or “I’ll eat this bag of potato chips today and really hit the gym hard tomorrow,” or “I’m going to finish the pack of cigarettes I have and then definitely quit smoking” are just lies we tell ourselves to justify, and make okay, the things we know that are preventing us from having the lives want.

I can’t disagree with Margaret. I can personally attest to the hundreds of lies I have told myself over the years in order to justify (and rationalize) that “just this once is not a big deal.”

It took me a long time to learn that it is a big deal.

The Habit of Being Forthright means not only always telling others what you believe to be true but ensuring that you always tell yourself what you know to be true.

And that surely is a habit worth having.

Let’s make a habit of meeting like this.