Reading habits; self-help books

I used to be a very avid reader. I would devour at least two books a month in high school/the early part of college. Mostly fiction — John Grisham, Vince Flynn, Michael Connelly, Dean Koontz.

However, with MVN taking up so much time and my increasing interest in following the sports news, the amount of books that I have read have taken a downturn. Now, my bookreading is basically saved for the annual week-long vacation to Cape Cod. I’m trying to change this in a variety of ways.

First is using DailyLit (hat tip to Cory Humes) to read Moby Dick, which I’ve never read and always wanted to. Every weekday, I get roughly a 500-word e-mail of the book that I can read quickly and conveniently. It’s awesome!

Secondly is trying to motivate myself to read more — that’s simple. And I’m convinced I’ll succeed. In my college dorm I have a bookcase with two shelves that I just add books to. I recently cleaned out a full shelf of books that I had read and brought it to my parents’ house and put it in the attic. I’ve read so many books that our attic is literally covered with books and my four-shelf bookcase in my room at my parents’ house is also jammed.

Now that I only have one shelf left, it looks very manageable and I’m sure I’ll be able to finish all the books. One habit I’ve gotten into that is terrible lately is starting a book and never finishing it. Take for example, ‘My Life’ by Bill Clinton. I got it when it came out, read a couple chapters, and it’s still sitting on my bookshelf. I plan to finish it.

Same with the “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” I got it for Christmas last year, read the prologue, and then put it down and never finished it. I’ve kept it by my bedside for a year to try to make myself read it but I never did. I just read the first chapter, finally, and loved it. This is unsurprising because I loved the prologue … when I read it a year ago.

This book, coupled by “The Double Win” by Dennis Waitley and “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl is probably going to be largely responsible for me being able to change my life for the positive.

“The Double Win” is changing the tenet of “win/lose” to “win/win.” Basically, the world is dependent on “I win, you lose.” Why can’t it be “I win, you win?” It’s a pretty simple concept and I ripped through the book fairly quickly.

“Man’s Search for Meaning” has two parts. The first part is his account of how he survived the Nazi concentration camps during the Holocaust and the tenet he embraced called “logotherapy.” This is a fantastic tenet which I have already applied in the short time I have known this.

There are two things I have learned from this. The first is that you are only what you choose to be. A simple tenet, but it really hammers it home. As a matter of fact, I had a discussion the other day that I would have normally gotten very upset about during the discussion. However, I told myself “you are choosing not to be upset and let this affect your mood. Just treat the discussion as a discussion, there is no reason to get upset.” It worked.

Second is a form of reserve psychology. If you don’t think you can do something, you won’t. So challenge yourself not to do it — and you will. Frankl’s examples mostly deal with sexual impotence (A man is insecure about his potency and thus every time he engages in procreation he thinks to himself that he must show his potency and often doesn’t). This example was eye-opening for me. In the example I just cited, Frankl would have that man tell himself “Let’s see how long I can last before showing my potency” and he says it works — the man often ends up being able to show his potency. As Frankl says, pressure is naturally counteracted by counter-pressure. If you pressure yourself to do something, you won’t — or vice versa.

I haven’t had a chance to apply this tenet yet, but I’m looking forward to it.  Just an example of how I can do it: when working out, sometimes I will add on so much weight that I think to myself “Boy, there’s no way I’m going to be able to do this six times.” Instead of thinking that, I’ll try to prove it. I’ll tell myself to try to not do it six times.

The only problem with this example is that this involves physical strength, not mental apitude while Frankl’s tenets reside mostly in the mental apitude, but the point is there.

Lastly is the “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” which mentioned Frankl in the first chapter. The first chapter talked about being proactive, not reactive. He gave an example of a company meeting of three days in which the days were broken out like this:

What is the environment like? The company decided that the environment was one of low capital and its competitors were doing much better. Everyone was disappointed at the end of this day.

The second day asked what the company was doing wrong. Naturally, disappointment reigned the day.

The final day asked “what can we do about it?” and it was a very positive meeting as everyone discussed being proactive to get things done. The conclusion at the end of the day was despite the depressed market, the company was doing very well and would continue to do well if applying the concepts they came up with during the meeting.

Another example deals with a boss who is very creative and bright but is always telling people under him to do things. (This is a true story, by the way.) The employees of the boss would often get together and complain about the boss but never do anything about it. One employee one day decided to do something about it and went above and beyond what the boss asked for. He gave the boss analysis of what the boss wanted, and then continued on by explaining the analysis and giving possibilities to act on this analysis.

The boss told the author of this book that he was very impressed with the employee. At the next meeting, he delegated tasks to all the other employees except the proactive employee. He asked that employee “What’s your opinion?”

After the meeting, the other employees sans the proactive one got together to complain about the boss and his “favored pet” of the employee. That’s them being reactive, while the employee was proactive.

Also, I learned that often it is not that you can’t. It is that you choose. When people say “I can’t,” “If only…,” etc… it’s often not the environment hampering them; it’s themselves hampering themselves.

I’m largely a reader of fiction, but I would recommend the above three books to anyone — and I’m not even done reading the Seven Habits one yet! I have a feeling it’s going to be a book I constantly re-read.

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