On timeless books and reading habits

Around a year ago I decided to read more books that would directly impact my life in some way; through insights, past and present, that have been thought of by people who have spent more time on it and are quite frankly, a lot smarter than me. They have been kind enough to put their ideas in words, for the world to read and absorb. I figured these books were the ones worth reading. Tools of Titans, by Tim Ferriss, has a list of books most gifted or received by world class performers. Spurred on by this and other lists, I ordered a whole bunch of them. They include ancient Chinese books on warfare and sci-fi classics from the 70s. It was a good way to get back into reading and the promise I made myself to simply read more. The books on personal development I read paved the way for an increased interest and active search for more knowledge, which I found in abundance in these new set of titles.

Where did the motivation go?

I did wonder how I got to the point where I had to motivate myself to read more, even though I knew I’d enjoy it. It’s strange how an interest in reading can change over time. I’ve asked a few people who I know are into books and most say that they always enjoyed reading but generally lost interest in high school or in uni when they were ‘forced’ to read stuff. I feel the same. I read a lot when I was a kid, starting with comic books (Calvin and Hobbes, yay!), Goosebumps and the Carry Slee children’s novels.  Then high school came along (and we got rid of dial-up internet) and I lost interest. I’d still occasionally read before bed but I rarely properly sat down with a book anymore. Especially when it came to school projects, you were handed a list of books to choose from (if you were lucky) and assigned to write a report on it. That just took all the fun out of it for me. While I couldn’t pick the books or projects, I did copy a way of making them bearable to write.

Being crafty

Findings ways to not to read them but to still write a kick-ass report became somewhat of an art. Oftentimes I put more effort into making stuff up for the report than actually taking the time to read the book and dissecting its lessons or takeaways. Like reading other people’s summaries and taking bits and pieces from several different ones. If I had been asked to write a book report on a book I actually liked or found interesting, rather than ‘a classic I was supposed to read because the generation before me had’, I’d have made the effort willingly. I’m not saying I was a saint in this, far from it. While I started out as an eager-to-learn student, I had a tendency to be incredibly lazy at times as well. Let’s just say it was a combination of the two. Nevertheless I think things could’ve been handled differently by both sides.

Little changes down the road

Things didn’t really change at uni, where I was supposed to read marketing and finance books of ~1000 pages and go through hundreds of pages a week. Ever hear that quality beats quantity? Well they obviously hadn’t. So I powered through a few books but quickly learned a different approach: reading bits and pieces and hoping I’d get through the exam OK. It’s not that I didn’t want to study it, but the sheer volume was too daunting. Present people with too many options and they fail to focus on the things that matter. Not everyone, mind, but I definitely fit into this category. I didn’t know how to handle it and simply managed with minimal effort and.. minimal results. (Not to say the newly discovered student lifestyle didn’t take up any of my time though)

Reading = invaluable 

I digress. The point I was trying to make is that the habit and pleasure of reading was lost along the way and I know I am not the only one. I think everyone should read, period. Types of books are personal, the ability to read and obtain information is universal and invaluable. I have found this out with the recent list, specifically the Tao te Ching by Lao Tzu, which is “The most widely translated work in world literature after the Bible. From the China of the fourth century BC.” With a description like that I just had to read it. More on that later. Happy reading!


Sleeping with fiction

Slumbering, snoring, snoozing, synonyms, for this post on sleeping I’d like to share some of my own experiences and findings. So without messing about, here goes:

I currently sleep between 7-8 hours a night. It used to be < 7 but a slightly older and more realistic version of me told me yawning around a 100 times a day is not the healthiest of habits. Common knowledge, I knew that just fine. I just didn’t want to spend too many hours of my day sleeping. I still prefer not to but have finally accepted that I need a few more winks or those extra hours awake won’t account to anything anyway. Besides, I got tired (tee-hee) of dozing off like Chandler here.

I see sleeping as a practical matter, so a couple of years ago I experimented and monitored my sleeping patterns to figure out how many hours I needed, what my sleeping ‘segments’ were and what resulted in me feeling the most fit and chipper the next day. I started by doing some research, which mostly focused on the 90 min cycles and reaching deep sleep, which I took into account. As for my own results, I found that I would usually ‘wake’ after 3.5 hours and again 3.5 hours after that, totaling the 7 hours I felt I needed. Due to an increase in physical activity, age and probably many more factors, I now follow a 2x ~4 hour pattern. At the end of both segments, my body sort of starts up again. Most of the time I don’t notice this at all but sometimes I’m vaguely aware. (Or fully aware, bathroom breaks occur in this ‘waking’ stage)

Now, whatever my pattern is, there’s a lot that influences it and there’s loads of research and science behind all this. Deconstructing sleep just isn’t that simple. There’s plenty to Google (like: howsleepworks.com/types_cycles) if you want to find out more. Also, if you’re keen on finding out your own sleeping patterns, try using a fitness/smart watch or phone app. I find it remarkable how much effect a little extra knowledge and self-awareness can have. Side note: there’s also a lot of research on alternative sleeping cycles, like 20-30 min naps every 4 hours or 2x 4 hours with a 4 (productive) hours in between. Interesting stuff.

In the end, winning is sleeping better. 
– Jodie Foster

Even though I found it intriguing, I stopped using apps after a while because I don’t want to have my phone in or near my bed. In fact I’ve banned all screens in or just before bed. A slight Netflix-launch relapse aside, this has worked well for me. I used a combination of fewer screens, reading (fiction) and meditating (light forms) to decrease my ‘falling asleep’ time from 30-60 mins before to max 5 mins now. Oh and yes, I still use my phone as an alarm, it’s just in another room. On silent except for the alarm tune.

I still use these methods to help me fall asleep when necessary, or whenever I feel like reading. I only read fiction at night, so my mind can just absorb and doesn’t have to activate [and process] too much. On top of that I tried taking a little cocktail “That knocks your right out.”, recommended by Tim Ferriss and Chase Jarvis (see video below). It’s made of Apple Cider Vinegar + honey in hot water. Whether it’s placebo or not, it worked pretty well!

I highlighted the prioritizing sleep bit but the whole video is worth a watch. It’s part of the reason I got into journaling as well, mentioned in There and back again. Tim and Chase are definitely a fascinating high energy duo.

A proper night’s sleep and activities such as journaling and meditating are regarded as a few of the most important parts of the day by a great number of successful and inspiring people. If by studying your own sleeping habits you could increase your productivity, fitness or creative output by as little as 10%, it’d still be worth it, right?  Feeling rested and energetic can change a day for the better, so see what works for you!