Be a Reader, to be a Leader.

Since my freshman year in college, I have been an avid reader.  As a young man attending St. Michael’s College in Vermont, my dorm advisor and English professor, Father Henry Nadeau, S.S.E., told me with force and genuine concern that if I wanted to achieve anything in life I needed to develop the habit of reading.  “Don” he said, “I want you to promise me that you will read 15 minutes every night before you go to sleep.  I don’t care what you read, but you must read before you sleep.”  Father Nadeau was a very smart man.  He understood the goal was for me to get in the habit of reading.  Once the habit was established the content would take care of itself.  It worked and it was one of the most valuable lessons I ever learned.  Today, many years later, I still can’t turn off the light to sleep unless I have read for those 15 minutes.

Now, I know that 15 minutes doesn’t sound and a lot of time and you’re probably wondering what you can accomplish in that short amount of time.  Well let’s do the math.  If you read 15 minutes a day, 365 days a year, you have spent 91+ hours reading.  If you stayed with one area of interest, for example leadership, you would accumulate a significant amount of information on that one subject.  In fact if you read at 300 words a minute, then each night you would read about 20 to 24 pages of an average book.  That means, on average, you would read a book every 15 days or 20+ books a year.  Think you would know something about leadership after reading 20 books on the subject?  It adds up quickly. 

There are two secrets to this habit.  First, you rarely read only the minimum once you develop the habit.  I find that my nightly reading varies between ½ hour and one hour.  If it averages 45 minutes a night then that is 273 hours a year or 6.8 work weeks a year.  What could you accomplish in that time?

On a personal level, after years of reading I am amazed at the amount of information I can retrieve and the quotes and anecdotes I recall.  I frequently receive feedback from participants in the seminars I conduct on my ability to pull a story from memory that fits a question or concern of the group.  I thank them for the compliment and then inform them that if they read every day for 15 minutes for a number of years, they could do the same thing.  We can never overuse the capacity of the human brain.  

Second, besides the knowledge you will acquire, you will be doing your brain a world of good.  Your brain is like a muscle in that the more you exercise it the better it performs.  Reading is one of the best exercises for the brain.  Your brain activity is dramatically increased when you read and you make connections with earlier learning.  This process of interconnection improves your creativity and problem solving skills. The research seems to be saying, use it or lose it.

If you have someone who influenced you like Father Nadeau did me, please share your story.  And to all the individuals like Father Nadeau, who make a difference, Thank You.

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