I picture myself at 12 years old.
I’m defending one of my classmates from the crazy History teacher. ‘You’re useless, you’re stupid and you won’t get anywhere in life. You were born stupid and you will always be stupid.’ He says.
I’m looking at this little bearded joke of man insulting my friend. I’m angry, but I don’t want to get into trouble. I raise my hand, and put on a very confused face: ‘Sir, I’m a little confused. Can’t you learn to be intelligent? Isn’t that the point of school?’
There’s an awkward silence, and the teacher kind of mumbles about. He’s insecure and probably feels like an idiot debating with a 12 year old, so he just says ‘Why yes, you’re right, you can all learn to be intelligent.’ Next day he’s attacking some other ‘stupid student’, trying to inflate his own ego.
Not a great teacher no, and not great for students morale. But it was a French public school and teachers were paid very little – all sort of things came through the door.
However, that event as a 12 year old was marked in my memory; yes, you can become intelligent.
But then I kept asking myself: how?
By reading books
Seriously? You say.
Yes, but there’s a bit more to it.
Hear me out first.
I started this website after reading Rich Dad Poor Dad. Chip Bergh, CEO of Levi Strauss became vegan after reading Eat to Live. Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft completely changed her attitude and mindset after reading Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, reorganized the company’s operations after reading Competing Against Time by George Jr. Stalk.
What I’m saying: books change lives.
And it’s very easy to understand why. As Barney puts it: a person take years and years of wisdom, experience and knowledge and condenses it into one little block of paper for anyone to absorb. When you read a book, you’re gathering all the wisdom from this one person – but it takes you 5 hours instead of an entire lifetime. Pure gold.
Every book you read the more wisdom you gain, the more experiences you read about, the more ideas you get into contact with. This author has decided to spend months, years, decades condensing their knowledge and wisdom into a book, because they believe they have something worth sharing. And you get to read that.
It’s incredible, the power of books.
But how exactly do they make you more intelligent?
It’s hard to define what intelligence really means. Einstein says it’s imagination, Socrates says it’s ‘knowing that you know nothing’, Stephen Hawking says it’s the ability to adapt to change.
No matter what it really means, it’s not difficult to see how books make you more intelligent: reading books written by intelligent people with intelligent ideas will teach you how to think intelligently.
It’s that simple. Learn from others, be their student, and you will go on to think like them, analyse like them and produce like them.
The real question then is, how do I find these intelligent books written by intelligent people? This is where it gets exciting:
Which books do I read?
There are millions of books in the world. How do you know which to read? How do you know which has most wisdom? How do you know which one will change your life and which one won’t?
I say books are a bit like networking. You might go to an event, meet an amazing person and start a business together. You might also go, and leave 10x more inspired. And sometimes you leave exhausted from meeting so many people and feel like it’s a waste of time.
But when you meet that person that changes your life and offers you the opportunity of your dreams, you think: ‘Wow, I’m so lucky, look at this amazing opportunity’. Yes, you’re lucky, but you created that luck. You went out there to all these events and looked for the opportunity. You didn’t wait for it to come to you; you went to the awkward networking event, ate some strange looking bagels and forced yourself to talk to strangers. And that effort allowed the opportunity to come.
It’s exactly the same with books. You may finish a book and feel a bit ‘meh’. You may finish a book and feel inspired to improve your life. You may also finish a book, and it changes your entire life. But you may not find that book unless you go through others first. It’s all about creating that opportunity, giving it the chance to find you, to change your life.
So I have to read every single book on the planet to find the right ones?
No! Thanks to the internet we can now recommend, review and talk about the books that have changed our lives.
I’ve done a lot of research, gone through quite a few books and met a lot of people who read. I call them ‘productive books’. They could be fiction or nonfiction, they could be about business, self-improvement or money, they could be 50 years old or published that same year. There is a huge variety, and I understand that it’s not easy to pick and choose. So look at what other people have read and what other people recommend.
Check out my own Resources page where I share my top books. I’ve also added links to other people’s books lists at the bottom.
How do I read?
So we can all agree that books are an amazing tool for building intelligence and wisdom. But the hard part is getting started.
We all know the biggest excuse for not reading: I don’t have time.
We have other commitments and books don’t sound like a priority. Plus they require concentration and a quiet environment – I get it, too much of a bother sometimes.
Well, as a reader with many commitments as well, I have indeed managed to go through one productive book a month. Here are some snazzy steps to get started:
- Schedule time to read.
Not ‘I’ll read when I have time’ or ‘I’ll read before going to bed’, not even ‘I’ll read on the bus’. Schedule at least 1 hour a week (I try and do 2) purely for reading.
- Find the right spot
Books are great because they force you to concentrate and focus. You won’t be able to absorb any of the golden nuggets in the book if you don’t concentrate. That means no phones, no unexpected alarms and noises. Find a library, a coffee shop, a park, a quiet place at home for your reading. For this 1 hour, it’s just you and the author, don’t let anyone distract you from that sacred moment.
- Take notes
Do this for productive books. There is so much important info, life-changing ideas and knowledge in those books that you need to take note of what you’re reading – or you’ll forget! Take a simple notepad, and just write down the interesting stuff and stuff you might want to check out later. You’ll assimilate what you’re learning much better, and learn to apply it to real life. I kept applying all the marketing strategies I was learning in The E-Myth to Financially Mint, all along the book.
As with many other things, reading takes practice. It’s hard at first ‘1 hour without my phone?!’ ‘I actually have to focus on one thing for more than 10 minutes?!’. But the more you do it, the better you get at it and the more you enjoy it. In the end, that 1 hour is sacred for you: away from distractions, just you, your thoughts, and the author’s great ideas.
I look forward to every Sunday morning; I leave my phone at home, walk to the library with my book and notepad and spend 2 hours reading. No one can take this time away from me. It’s time dedicated to my personal education, to working on my wisdom and on my intelligence.
Not only books
Books are the key to becoming more intelligent.
But we don’t only acquire information by reading words on paper. We also have: movies, podcasts, magazines, blogs, anything that shares knowledge.
Books are for the grand ideas, the knowledge that takes time to process and that requires deep thinking. But diversifying is another great way of comparing different information and learning more effectively.
Sometimes things are better explained in a debate on a podcast, or through a documentary or simply by having a conversation with someone. These other forms of acquiring knowledge allow you to exercise the mind, to think about what you’ve learnt from the books, to compare and contrast.
Some of my favourite podcasts to work on my intelligence:
- The entire ‘Dirty Money’ series
- Minimalism: A documentary about the important things
Some you will like, some you won’t. But remember the networking comparison – keep going, keep trying and you’ll find something life-changing.
And once again, the more you take in all these ideas and knowledge the better you get at learning. You start having opinions of your own with some good arguments and facts to back them up, you start asking more interesting questions and applying what you learn to your daily life. In other words, you become more intelligent.
What struck me the most about reading, listening and watching all this ‘productive’ information was how aware I suddenly became. I noticed how some people use certain words, I started analysing and trying to understand why I feel a certain way in certain situations, I began to push myself even harder to learn more, to understand more, to ask more. Every productive book changes my life in a different way – which I find both astonishing as well as terrifying. Who am I really, if I keep changing?
Well every book is a new discovery of one’s self. Which is why; read a bloody book. And don’t be one of those people who proudly announces ‘I haven’t read a book since high school’. You’re missing out on a LOT.
As you can imagine, I have a very long list of books I want to read. But here are my favourite ones so far:
(check the Resources page for a description too)
Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki
Deep Work by Cal Newport
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson
The Magic of Thinking Big
Good to Great by Jim Collins
1984 by George Orwell
Here are some other good book lists:
Barney’s Life Changing books
College info geek’s Essential Books
What are some books that have changed your life? Or podcasts? Or movies?