Reading is an investment in ourselves. But reading fiction makes us feel guilty.
Why waste our time reading story books when we have professional goals to achieve, errands to run and family obligations to fulfill?
Instead, we prefer reading self-improvement books to improve at our jobs, become more productive and understand the world better.
But strange as it sounds, reading fiction offers many of those self-improvements benefits as well.
This is why successful people also read fiction instead of dismissing it.
Bill Gates often includes a novel in his book recommendations. Elon Musk credits fiction books like “Lord of the Flies” and “Foundation” for shaping his worldview. Mark Cuban states that “The Fountainhead” helped him build a strong work ethic.
So what can we learn from fiction? How does it help us improve as professionals and as human beings?
Here are three research-backed insights.
1. Improved Emotional Intelligence
In 1998, renowned psychologist Daniel Goleman wrote that the new measure to predict star performers would focus more on qualities like initiative and empathy, adaptability and persuasiveness. He called this measure Emotional Quotient (EQ) and the level which individuals possessed it Emotional Intelligence.
Today, emotional intelligence is the norm. The ability to navigate through our emotions and handle interpersonal relations is one of the most critical skills in the current era. People with high EQ work better in teams, remain flexible, and adapt to change quickly.
So how does reading fiction improve emotional intelligence?
a. Increases Empathy
Fiction is a powerful medium to help us put ourselves in others’ shoes and grow empathic, which is key for improving interpersonal relations and working with others to get things done.
When we read stories, we step into an imaginary person’s inner world. In the process, we hone our ability to do the same with actual people.
Multiple studies have shown that imagining stories activates the regions of our brain responsible for understanding others better and seeing the world from a new perspective. Fiction appears like a make-believe world, but it’s built on the struggles and concerns, social dynamics, and nuances of the real world.
Psychologist Diana Tamir also demonstrated that people who read fiction often have better social cognition – they’re better skilled to understand other people’s thoughts and feelings.
b. Makes us accept change
Reading fiction prepares us to accept change more readily.
Writer Eileen Gunn explains it thus:
“What science fiction does, especially in those works that deal with the future, is help people understand that things change and that you can live through it. Change is all around us. Probably things change faster now than they did four or five hundred years ago, particularly in some parts of the world.”
The quicker people embrace change, the better they become to build new abilities and adapt to new trends. They also can help others transition through a change.
Thus, people with high EQ contribute at workplace positively beyond their technical skills.
2. Improved Communication
Communication can make or break our careers.
It can help us connect with others and build rapport to achieve common goals. Or it can alienate people and create unwanted obstacles in our way.
Books contribute substantially to helping us get better at this critical skill. They increase language comprehension and enhance our vocabulary.
A wider vocabulary helps us find the right words to connect with others. And fiction readers possess significantly higher vocabulary than people who read non-fiction, the website testyourvocab.com discovered. They explained:
That fiction reading would increase vocabulary size more than just non-fiction was one of our hypotheses — it makes sense, after all, considering that fiction tends to use a greater variety of words than non-fiction does. However, we hadn’t expected its effect to be this prominent.
A flexible vocabulary is just one part of communication. The other part is the ability to communicate our ideas in ways that convince others.
Reading helps us streamline our thoughts and making them crisper. The crisper and clearer our communication is, the better we get at convincing others, and the more valuable we become. (This is also why people who write well often get paid better salaries.)
Thus, reading is a powerful medium to build your communication skills and progress faster towards your career goals.
3. Enhanced Productivity and Creativity
Stress is the major reason for low productivity at the workplace today.
Nobody can operate at maximum capacity 24/7. Everyone needs downtime to rejuvenate. As Tony Schwartz pointed out, even the fastest car can’t win the race without at least one or two great pit-stops.
During the industrial era, people enjoyed such pit-stops in form of breaks during and after work. But today, people find it difficult to mentally disconnect even during breaks or after work. The disproportionate amount of time we spend browsing the internet further aggravates mental fatigue and stress.
How does reading alleviate this stress?
a. Boosts recovery
Research proves that reading is one of the best ways to disengage and rest, beating popular activities like listening to music, taking a walk, and drinking tea.
According to The New Yorker:
Reading has been shown to put our brains into a pleasurable trance-like state, similar to meditation, and it brings the same health benefits of deep relaxation and inner calm. Regular readers sleep better, have lower stress levels, higher self-esteem, and lower rates of depression than non-readers.
b. Improves sleep
Good sleep does us a world of good. But our constant access to devices has robbed us of restful sleep.
Reading serves as a good antidote to our poor sleeping habits. The relaxation it induces creates a better environment for us to enjoy a restful sleep.
Renowned productivity expert Tim Ferriss has a ritual of reading only fiction before bed. From his experience, reading non-fiction before bed causes projection into the future and preoccupation, while reading fiction engages the imagination and demands present-moment awareness.
When people rest well, they take better decisions, become more creative, and remain productive for extended periods of time.
4. Bonus: Additional Benefits
Studies prove that reading improves memory, opens our minds, and makes us happier overall. Reading also pulls us away from the incessant browsing of social media and the FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) that accompanies it.
If reading fiction does so much good for us, it’s definitely worth the time. Don’t you agree?
Over to You
What difference do you notice in yourself when you read fiction? Which are your favorite fiction books, and what have you learned from them?
Do leave a comment. We would love to hear from you.