Why Do I Read So Much?

My objective for this year is to read 52 books. The reason I’m saying this is to keep myself accountable, and to also try and inspire you to read a little more. I’ll post a list of all the books I’ve read at the end of the year with some insightful recommendations.

But why do I seem to want to read so much in the first place? Is there more to it than just expanding my English vocabulary and comprehension? Perhaps. In fact, I think I may be addicted to learning. I’ve spoken before about how to read more, but let’s unwrap why I read in the first place.

I’ll talk about how reading is similar to going to the gym, utilizing a growth mindset, how reading enables leaders, turning knowledge into power and using it to get better at academics.

Going to the gym for your brain

I love exercising. It’s a way for me to keep my physical health in check. I also get invigorated when I start pushing past my previous limits. There’s a similar feeling that I get when I read books. I like to think of reading as exercise for the brain. You have to constantly push past certain limits and absorb information rapidly.

You should also approach it in a similar way to physical exercise. Start small, get used to it, stay consistent and then slowly push yourself. The last thing you want to do is get overwhelmed because you decided to read a full book in 2 days, and then give up after 3 pages.

I like to think of myself getting smarter after every page that I read – to try and embrace a growth mindset.

Growth mindset

Let’s talk about neuroplasticity again! I read so much because I understand the effect it has on my brain. It’s a way for me to strengthen certain neural pathways and make the process of comprehending, digesting and analysing information a lot more efficient.

When you believe that something is truly useful to you (and you’ve experienced it first hand), it gets hard to stop. It almost doesn’t make sense to. The same applies when you believe that you can get better at something through putting in practice. All you have to do is keep trying, in order to grow.

How The Growth & Fixed Mindsets Apply To Hiring a Virtual ...

Understand that where you are now is just part of the journey. You can get better. You can get smarter. You can get stronger. Just keep on learning.

Leaders are readers

Another reason why I read so much is because I know that it helps me understand the world better. Fiction allows me to become more creative, empathetic and understanding, as it forces me to think from different people’s point of view. Non-fiction allows me to grow, make sense of myself and to learn about how things work.

That being said, the quote ‘leaders are readers’ comes to mind. To try and understand the reason behind this, I thought about how effective leaders need to have a vast array of knowledge. This would be vital to taking charge and moving teams towards a common objective.

Reading (from a diversified set of genres) equips you with the skills and knowledge that is required to positively impact the world and bring about change. You gain confidence, depth and understanding, which catalyzes your ability to solve problems.

Knowledge is power (when you put it to action)

There’s a misconception when it comes to the phrase ‘Knowledge is power’. That is because it’s relatively easy to acquire knowledge, we do it all the time. What’s difficult is actually applying that knowledge and taking action based on it. That is where true power lies.

To try and actually gain some power out of my readings, I firstly engage actively with the content. This comes in the form of highlighting, taking notes or writing book summaries. Once I’ve extracted the key pieces of information, I try to reflect on it and see how I can apply it into my life. Another really useful technique is to try and explain the concept that I’ve learned to other people. This allows me to spread beneficial knowledge and solidify the information in my mind.

Eric Thomas Quote: “Knowledge isn’t power, applied ...

Helps with academics

Something that has been incredibly beneficial to me from a reading stand point is the ability to perform well in my academics. Like I’ve already mentioned, reading enables you to browse through large pieces of information and pin-point the most relevant and important aspects.

When it comes to reading academic literature, this skillset is incredibly valuable. Not only to get through the documents more efficiently, but also to extract what’s valuable for the reports and assignments in a short period of time.

It’s a skill that can be developed. It wasn’t something that I was always good at, but it’s something I continuously worked on, bit by bit, until I got better at it. It’s the result of incorporating a growth mindset.

A snippet of some books that I’ve read last year

So I hope I managed to answer the question ‘Why do I read so much?’. It’s truly liberating and can be used as an incredibly productive form of distraction. Remember that everything needs to be done in moderation.

Think of reading like going to the gym for your brain, incorporate a growth mindset to learn as much as you can, remember that leaders are readers, that knowledge put to action is power and that it can also help you academically.

Please share some of your favourite books in the comments and feel free to reach out to me should you want any recommendations. Happy reading!

What Is Learning All About?

Are you someone who is thirsty to learn and improve on a regular basis? What does learning even mean? In what aspects of our lives are we actually ‘learning’? Are some people naturally better at it than others?

Today’s post will be about knowledge, wisdom, intelligence and personal growth. I’d like to dive into the different areas of learning and how we can maintain a holistic growth mindset.

Knowledge

This is a little bit tricky to dive into because it encompasses so much. Knowledge is essentially your level of understanding of any topic or skill. It’s your awareness based on what you’ve learned or been exposed to.

When we gain knowledge, we’re essentially equipping ourselves to better deal with future problems. I’m sure you’ve heard of the saying: “Knowledge is power”. But that’s not true unless you consciously apply that knowledge.

I’d like to divide learning into 3 categories:

  • Theoretical
  • Practical
  • Observational

Each type of learning works more effectively for different people, based on their nature and nurture. Knowledge can be acquired through any of those learning types. We can learn the theory behind complex concepts, apply that theory practically, or observe other people performing the practice.

Understanding what type works best for you will assist you in your journey to becoming a life-long learner. It may even be a combination of all 3.

Wisdom

“Wisdom is nothing more profound than an ability to follow one’s own advice.”

That quote speaks accurately about how to understand what wisdom is all about. My personal understanding of wisdom is learning from mistakes (it can be your mistakes or just observing others) and walking the talk.

How can we learn to be wiser? Simple really, just reflect more often. I spoke thoroughly about that in my previous post. Look back at how far you’ve come. Write down the important lessons you’ve gained. Read more books and write down more quotes.

Another fantastic way to gain wisdom is by speaking to people who are older than you or have more experience than you. Nothing is more efficient than learning life lessons from people who’ve been through similar experiences to you. It’ll also make your conversations more interesting.

Intelligence

Learning about intelligence has profoundly changed my life. The simple idea that we’re not ‘fixed’ means that we have so much potential for growth. There are also several types of intelligence and it’s quite unfair to judge people based on one metric.

This infographic shows the 9 potential types of intelligence:

I won’t go into too much detail here, I just want you to appreciate how incredibly diverse intelligence can be. The schooling system and academics barely make up 11% of what’s out there.

If you feel like you’re not intelligent, maybe you just haven’t explored them all. We’re all incredibly gifted and have so much to offer the world.

Keep a growth mindset and deeply appreciate how malleable we truly are. The more effort and energy we put in, the better we become.

Who you are today is a result of your previous efforts. Who you will become tomorrow, is a result of the effort you put in today.

Personal Growth

There are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to personal growth and self-development. I view it as being a fundamental aspect of human growth. By learning about yourself, how you need to improve, what’s working for you and what isn’t, you’ll be better equipped to serve the world around you.

Personal growth is also a commitment to learning in general. It’s integrating your knowledge, wisdom and intelligence, and striving to continuously learn from your mistakes.

The most important relationship you have is with yourself (after God of course). Taking care of yourself can be a means of you contributing to the world.

The key point I want you to take from this post is that we’re all wired differently. There are so many different ways and things for us to learn in life. Don’t compare yourself to other people who have spent more time in a certain category of intelligence. Focus on your objectives as best as you can and lift up other people with you along the way.

Life is a journey of learning. Keep trying your best, especially when it gets tough. You’re so much more capable than you give yourself credit. You got this. I believe in you.

Mirror Neurons

Have you ever started copying someone’s behaviour subconsciously? How often do you learn just by observing? Do you think moods are contagious?

As most of you may know by now, I’m quite passionate about psychology and learning about the mind. Today I’ll be talking about a very interesting phenomenon called Mirror Neurons. I’ll run through what they are, how they behave, why we have them and some neuroscience behind leadership.

What are mirror neurons?

These are neurons in the brain that create a shared experience by detecting and then mimicking other people’s emotions. This is fired when you act a behaviour out or when you simply observe and imagine the behaviour.

It’s called mirroring because the observation behaves as if you performed the action yourself. A very similar reaction occurs in your brain.

Have you ever cringed by just watching someone do something cringe-worthy?

https://sites.psu.edu/psych256su16-2/2016/06/28/mirror-neurons/

How do they behave?

Remember that we’re just a bunch of neurons constantly firing. This is essentially what neuroplasticity is all about. It’s how our thoughts, experiences and behaviours change the shape of our brain on a constant basis.

When we are actively engaged in visualization or observing other people in an activity, our brains actually change in structure. This is why we’re often told to become friends with those who are smarter than us or in sports with those who are better than us.

Being surrounded by those people actually have an impact on the way we think. That’s also why they say the company you keep is so important. It physiologically affects you.

Why do we have mirror neurons?

Our good ol’ pal evolution. The concept of mirror neurons has enabled us to better determine people’s intentions when they carry out certain behaviours. It is also what enables us to empathize so well with others.

Mirror neurons contribute to our understanding of other people’s emotions and how they’re feeling, by helping us put ourselves in their position.

I’m sure you’ve experienced being surrounded by someone who is distressed and then started feeling a little uneasy yourself too. This is also why they say that smiling is contagious. It quite literally is.

The Neuroscience of Leadership

Another remarkable concept that I’ll briefly go over is how mirror neurons plays a role in leadership. People who are charismatic and confident exude a certain aura that makes us feel comfortable and heard.

Empathy is a key skill for effective leadership, because you’re able to show others that you understand what they’re going through. Mirror neurons are also vital in subconsciously mimicking people we’re socializing with. We often end up copying certain gestures, phrases, behaviours and facial expressions to connect with those around us.

By understanding how these subconscious attributes affect our interactions, we can all actively engage in becoming better leaders.

This topic is still deeply under-researched and there’s a lot of work to be done in thoroughly understanding how mirror neurons work. The concept is extremely fascinating to me, even if it’s just at surface level.

I hope I’ve managed to intrigue your curiosity about neuroscience and how incredible our brains truly are. Our empathetic nature is highly-dependent on our ability to detect the emotions in other people and then feel them for ourselves.

Keep in mind that observational learning is a powerful tool that we shouldn’t undermine. Finally, surround yourself with people who are better than you to make a powerful impact on your subconscious.

These insights will definitely amplify your ability to become a life-long learner and a courageous leader. Stay strong, vulnerable and always curious. You are truly blessed.

References:

https://sites.psu.edu/psych256su16-2/2016/06/28/mirror-neurons/

https://inspireone.in/blog/mirror-neurons-neuroscience-leadership/

Thinking out loud ~1

So I’ll take a different kind of approach here. Not any sort of book review, rather just a post where I’ll blab out some thoughts. “Writing is closer to thinking than speaking”. That’s a quote ingrained on one of my journals. Quite true I’d say, things are much clearer when you get to write it out.

If you think about it, every time you write something, you’re just narrating a story of some sort. When I read back over previous journal entries, it made me realize how much of a time-machine it is. The story is always remembered in some vivid way.

Speaking of memory, whenever we think of past experiences, the version of the story slightly alters. That’s purely because, the less you think about a certain experience or event, the less likely it is to stay in your mind. Kind of like an old trail, if it isn’t used enough, it’ll get covered up. Just realizing how easy it is for us to re-wire our own neurons. However, certain experiences do trigger a longer-lasting memory, especially if they’re unpleasant. We could go on for quite a while about this, but let’s move on.

Getting back to narrating a story. I recently joined something called the Student Leadership Program at UCT, which is essentially a weekly course on becoming a better leader in your community. The first session I attended was about thinking through your own story (and leadership). A few of my peers from the program went up to speak about their story, which I found incredibly inspiring and motivational.

We all have a story, whatever that means to us. What I realized while I was trying to articulate my own story and listening to others, was how important it is to have some sort of self-awareness.

Being self-aware enables us to see the patterns within our self, that may or may not be serving us. Identifying with our own journey is something vital, because we need to have some sort of driving force. If we don’t know where we’re going, we’re never going to reach the destination.

I believe that if we can start asking ourselves the right questions, it’ll automatically allow us to reflect on what matters most to us. Let me just jot down a few:

  • Who am I?
  • What are my key values?
  • What is my purpose?
  • Where am I going in this current direction?
  • What am I trying to achieve?
  • What do I believe in?
  • What is the impact I want to have on the world?
  • How can I be of service to others?
  • How do I want to be remembered?
  • Why do I care about certain people?
  • Am I surrounding myself with people who encourage and motivate me?
  • What is the greatest ideal of myself that I can be today?
  • Why am I here?
  • How can I learn from this?
  • How can I do this better?

Some of these questions might be a little foreign or even ‘too deep’, but they’re critical to having an idea of our own story. When we spend time thinking about these things, we’ll start getting answers we didn’t even realize we needed. This will be probably be through the change of habits and behaviours; unconsciously.

These are also questions that aren’t static, they’re dynamic and continuously evolving. We’ll never have the same answer to those questions everyday, because our story changes each and everyday.

The more experiences we have, the more we’re exposed to, the more interactions we engage in, the more we’ll inevitably change. Don’t forget that we’re just a bunch of neurons firing different pathways. Those pathways are re-constructed with every single thought!

“Reasons reap benefits.”

I didn’t intend on making this a long post, just wanted it to be something quick and meaningful. I hope I’ve managed to offer you a different perspective.

Ask yourself the right questions, and the answers will become clearer and clearer. When we have a better sense of where we’re going, we’ll find more effective ways to get there. So think about your story more often, and allow yourself to be. We’re all here momentarily, so let’s make it legendary.

Dare to lead?

Just want to start by reminding myself and those of you who don’t know, why I started this blog. My aim with these posts is ‘Aspire to Inspire’. To gain a better understanding of the knowledge I’ve acquired, put it into use, and share it with as many people as possible.

If you find this useful, please subscribe using your email to get the posts regularly, like and share it with those who may also find it helpful.

The philosophy I’m trying to adhere to is that ‘The teacher learns the most’. So even if you just try and explain what you learn to other people, you’ll make so much more sense of it. I appreciate each and every one of you who have read and supported me through this; thank you for your time.

I was thinking of the best way to describe this topic, especially since it’s a domain I’m trying to work on quite rigorously. I’ll be going through quite a few aspects of leadership, the most important factor here being communication.

As usual, I’ll be reminding you of things I’ve mentioned in a previous post, namely the one about communication (I recommend you go over it considering how relevant it is to this topic, if you have the time to). The source of inspiration for this topic is from: Dare to lead, by Brene Brown.

We’ll start with why, and unravel the various reasons behind leadership, and how you first need to take ownership of yourself. We can then start seeing how communication plays a role in being an effective leader, through vulnerability, courage & empathy. Finally, we’ll dive into some tips on being a more effective leader and how the best way to lead, is by example.

“Daring leadership is ultimately about serving others, not ourselves. That’s why we choose courage.”

Start with why

Let’s start with a little curiosity, why should we even try to become better leaders? A lot of us (myself included) tend to have a misconception regarding who leaders are. We see leaders as those who take responsibility, run projects, captain sport teams, lead organizations or rule countries. But the truth is, we’re all leaders in some way, each and everyday. To our families, friends, colleagues, roommates and community. Whether or not we take ownership of it is up to us.

Being a better leader is therefore beneficial for every day interactions, forming more meaningful relationships, and serving those around you to your best ability.

When it comes to taking ownership, the first person we should think about is ourselves. Once we’re able to lead ourselves; by allowing ourselves to feel, make nonjudgmental decisions, and strive towards our goals in the face of hardship, can we then consider being leaders to others. That’s not to say that we always need to have our shit together to be great leaders. But better awareness, leads to better choices, which leads to better results.

So another pivotal point here, is having some sort of self-awareness. By forming a healthier relationship with yourself, you can ultimately form a healthier relationship with other people (I’ve emphasized that quite a lot by now). So first understand your own goals, reasons, values, and emotions. Understand what works best for you and what doesn’t, then build up your emotional confidence.

Once that’s established, ensure that you surround yourself with people who share your values, visions, and goals. I’m not saying that we should stick to our comfort zone and those we’ve always been acquainted with, but rather find those who are ambitious, hard working, and determined in the same direction. Once we have a solid reason, a why, we can move onto communicating that with other people.

Communication

Okay this is something I purposely chose to speak about again, because it serves as a reminder to myself and those of you who are reading. The biggest problem I notice whenever people are in a disagreement or have issues between each other, is lack of open communication. In the words of Brene Brown:
Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.

Being clear is something that sounds so simple, yet we struggle so much with it. The issue with being clear, is that we need to lead into our vulnerability and courage. It’s so much easier to beat around the bush and just kind expect the other person to understand what we’re trying to say. But that’s why being vulnerable is so vital, it allows you to dive into how you truly feel and discuss that with another person.

Also important to note: You can’t give what you don’t have. So you can’t give other people love and compassion, if you don’t have it for yourself first (without it taking a toll on you).

I’m trying to bridge the understanding gap between myself and other people, through uncovering uncertainties and assumptions that I make with them. This can be done by figuring out where I leave others in a blind spot by assuming they know specific things about how I feel, what I’m going through or even about them.

Also, looking into where I lack clarity in truly conveying my feelings and how those affect my relationship with them. A critical aspect of communication therefore, requires more than just speaking; it requires us to be open listeners.

Listen! This is probably something we struggle even more with, if speaking wasn’t so hard already. But just listening to what people have to say will go such a long way in fostering a healthier relationship with them. Don’t formulate your response while they’re speaking.

Immerse yourself in the experience and fully understand where the other person is coming from. Stay present. This leads to the next point that I absolutely love speaking about; empathy.

Empathy

Empathy is more than just connecting to an experience (putting yourself in another person’s shoes), it’s about connecting to the emotions underlying that experience. This means that it requires vulnerability, because you have to be willing to tap into your emotional reservoir and think about how you would feel in that particular situation.

Although certain people have challenges or experiences that we’ll never face, we can still find a situation that we’ve been through, that allowed us to feel a similar emotion. Herein are a few ways to help develop your empathy skills:

  • Perspective taking
  • To be nonjudgmental
  • To understand other people’s feelings
  • To communicate your understanding of their feelings (and your own)
  • Mindfulness

The most common skill that people understand when talking about empathy is the perspective taking. This requires us to be the learner, not the knower. Curiosity is a key factor here, and if you don’t understand where someone is coming from, be brave enough to ask.

“Only when diverse perspectives are included, respected and valued can we start to get a full picture of the world.”

To be nonjudgmental is absolutely critical when trying to deal with other people. This means that we need to be aware of where we are most vulnerable to our own struggles. We judge the most, when people are susceptible to shame and when they’re doing worse than us.

Emotional literacy or intelligence is necessary when trying to understand and communicate other people’s feelings, as well as your own. It’s an uncomfortable process that most of us seem to struggle with, and proves to be damaging in the majority of relationships. If we can’t articulate the emotion, we won’t be able to move through it. That’s why I think we need to actually spend time trying to learn the different emotions that we do experience, so that we can communicate it better with other people.

We also need to be able to show people that we do understand what they’re feeling, as that forms the basis of a connection. Albeit risky, we need to have the courage to ask them about their feelings if we don’t properly understand it.

To be mindful with emotions means that we don’t attach ourselves to them. As with life, everything we feel is temporary. This too shall pass. By paying attention to what’s happening in the conversation, what you and the other person are feeling, as well as the body language, we’ll be able to formulate a more empathetic approach to our responses.

Just a quick reminder that there’s a critical difference between empathy and sympathy. Empathy drives connection. Sympathy fuels disconnection.

Leadership tips

I just wanted to discuss a few skills that I’m trying to implement, in being a better leader, through the form of questions and phrases that I can keep in mind. When dealing with issues within a group, bringing up and discussing the issue may sometimes be a roadblock. Here are a few points to follow to help overcome that:

  • Name the issue.
  • Prioritize being a curious leader.
  • Acknowledge and reward great questions.

Don’t be afraid to bring up the issue and talk about the problem. Remember: better awareness leads to better choices, which leads to better results. Stay curious and try to understand the source of the problem and how it can be overcome, together.

Use your empathy skills to further connect with the other group members and gain an understanding of why this might be an issue for them. The aim is to ‘get it right’, not ‘be right’. Another factor can be to encourage questions, which are sometimes even more important than just searching for answers. Don’t let your ego get in the way of asking for help, or admitting your faults. Being nonjudgmental with yourself is critical to being the same way with other people.

Reasons reap results, so don’t shy from asking.

A concept that I found incredibly helpful was to ask the question: “What does done look like?” This allows the person in charge to identify and clearly paint an image of what they expect to be done, and the objectives required to get there. Clear communication allows for more effective management. Here are a few more questions to ask as some rumble starters:

  • What problem are we trying to solve?
  • What are the assumptions you’ve made to get to your understanding?
  • What do you see as the goal of this meeting?

Engage in tough conversations, it’s the only way you and your team will grow.

Be motivated. Observe mindfully. Stay present.

Another important tip is to maintain boundaries. Show your level of self-respect through abiding with your values and don’t just let other people step over you. The same works for you, understand people’s boundaries better and learn to respect them. This works wonder for building up better trust and connecting more healthily.

The best way to lead?

By example. Practice what you preach. Walk the talk. I can’t emphasize this enough, people learn exceptionally through observation. I’ll use the example of parenting to further clarify this point.

When parents are found speaking contradictory to their actions, they wonder why their kids don’t listen to them. It’s simple, children learn the most through observational learning. The psychology behind that is absolutely phenomenal (to me at least), but that learning ranges from emotional reactivity, behavioral responses and habits. Not everyone follows that trend, but it’s a general concept we can mostly agree on.

You can’t just tell someone not to do something, when you’ve been doing it the whole time. I know we want the best for others, and for them to learn from our mistakes. But proving that requires action, determination, vulnerability and courage in the face of our short-comings.

When we can lead through vulnerability and being receptive to having braver conversations, we’ll find it a lot easier to create more meaningful interactions in our lives. It’ll open room for more honesty, creativity, productivity and even love.

So next time you ask someone: “How’s it going”? Don’t just wait for them to say: ‘good and you’?, with your response being “I’m good thanks.” Let’s leave the robotic cycle and aim to have deeper interactions on a more regular basis. Next time someone asks you how you’re doing, give yourself a second to actually think: “How am I actually feelings right now?” and then respond within the relevant boundaries. And when you’re asking them that question, listen attentively, notice their tone and the words their using. Show them that you care, and your relationships should start to flourish.

I’ve hopefully inspired you to take more initiative in your daily interactions and to strive to become a better leader, in whatever way you need to be. We should always start with why and have a clear sense of our objectives, as well as intentions and assumptions.

When we’re able to clearly communicate that with others, it’ll be easier for us to form a structured team. Being empathetic is a no-brainer for forming healthier and more trustworthy relationships, so it’s important to keep the different skills in mind: Perspective taking, being nonjudgmental, understanding and communicating people’s feelings, and being mindful. Some of the leadership tools include naming the issue, staying curious and rewarding good questions. Finally, leading by example through your actions, will always prove to be the most effective way to get those around you to improve.

“Strive always to excel in virtue and truth.” 

Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)