A while ago I was talking to a friend, and he asked me how I can focus so intensely for such extended periods. This conversation got me thinking because I’ve never thought of myself as an intense thinker. Sure, I love thinking deep thoughts but I’ve never thought of myself as someone that stands out from the crowd when it comes to deeply committed concentration. As I put more thought about it more I realised that one thing that I differently to this friend is read a substantial amount more than he does. When I asked him about reading he mentioned to me that he hardly ever, if ever reads books and that he’d much rather listen to an audiobook. For him, reading is about absorbing valuable information. I don’t think this view is wrong at all, however, I don’t think it’s entirely right.
Something else that caught my attention was a social media ad for an app called ‘Blinkest’ that allows you to supposedly listen to the audio version of a book in 15mins. As someone that loves reading, I find the idea of reading books in such a short amount of time appalling and terrifying. I can, however, see how that would be appealing to someone who is very busy and doesn’t have time to read full-length books. For this argument, there are two camps, people who read full-length books and people that prefer to absorb their information in much more bite-sized chunks like podcasts, videos and articles. I don’t think either is wrong. If your intent is just to absorb information in as short a time as possible, then, by all means, continue as you were before. I want to try to convince you that there is another reason to read books other than just absorbing information.
There are multiple reasons why reading books are beneficial. I believe that the biggest reason that you should be reading books, is to cultivate the skill of prolonged concentration. This is a skill that has been lost in our world of social media and instant gratification. One of the biggest fallacies with modern culture is that we have been taught, indirectly and sometimes subconsciously, that it’s ok to be distracted. Before I continue, it’s no secret that I am a huge fan of doing a weekly digital detox to spend less time on your phone.
Reading a book for hours and hours on end teaches you to endure boredom. It also teaches you to recall information and stitch it together to derive new conclusions. This is something that is lost in a 15min summary. In a summarized version of a book, you’re told: “These are the facts”. In a book, the author has a chance to explain his/her thought process to you. This also gives you a chance to decide whether an author’s conclusion is valid based on the data they have presented. In a book summary, you’re totally at mercy to your scepticism.
Learning to concentrate for prolonged periods is like physical exercise. As a runner, one of my favourite analogies is that of a runner running up a hill. You don’t have to be a runner to understand that running up a hill is hard. You also don’t have to be a runner to understand that running up a hill fast is even harder. The amusing part here is that to become better at running up hills the best thing you can do is, run up more hills at a faster pace.
Just like a runner running up hills if you want to become better at concentrating for prolonged periods. Books are one of the best tools to cultivate this skill. This is entirely my opinion, and I am aware of this. However, it’s something that I have observed in my lifetime and time again.