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A More Powerful Brain From Reading Fiction

On my latest Moneylove Club audio, I talk about some secrets of success that folks might find shocking, or at least unexpected and surprising. One of these is something I have actually been advocating for thirty-some years:  The regular reading of fiction in addition to any nonfiction one reads for education, motivation,  inspiration, or work-related information. Now this is being backed up by a number of studies by brain scientists.

One such study at Emory University shows that reading a novel that really engages your attention causes changes in the left temporal cortex of the brain that can last up to five days. This part of the brain is the part most associated with language. Also neurons of this part are the ones that can fool the mind into thinking it is doing something it is only thinking about. I used to talk about this a lot when I was involved in running the Biofeedback Institute in New York. How a basketball team training by just visualizing playing had close to the same results as a team actually practicing out on the court. A recent name for this phenomenon is “grounded cognition,” commonly known as muscle memory.

The best brain-boosting results happen when the reader is pulled into the plot of the novel, and strongly identifies with the hero or protagonist. This has a strong impact on one’s measurable level of empathy and ability to communicate. And these two factors, in turn, are greatly responsible for success in achieving one’s aspirations in the real world. This is quite a realization and quite a change from back in the 19th Century, when reading novels was considered a sinful waste of time.

A study at the New School for Social Research shows the empathy factor is enhanced because reading literary fiction helps us put ourselves into the minds of others, and enhances our ability to guess the feelings of others. Children are greatly impacted by reading novels, with better performance in vocabulary skills and even math.

On my audio, I recommended two favorite books that are nonfiction but talk a lot about fiction. They are by two of the most talented storytellers of the 20th Century:  W. Somerset Maugham, author of The Razor’s Edge and Of Human Bondage, and the highest paid writer of the 1930s, who talks about his love of writing and reading novels in his memoir, The Summing Up. And Louis L’Amour, who wrote 100 novels and many short stories, many of which were about the Old West. L’Amour left school and went to sea at the age of fifteen with a very large box of books. He normally read 100 books a year, and some very interesting lists of these books appear in his Education of A Wandering Man. I consider these two books the best ever written in terms of inspiring those reading them to want to be readers all their lives.

I’ll leave you with one quote from each of these authors.

From Louis L’Amour:


It is often said that one has but one life to live, but that is nonsense. For one who reads, there is no limit to the number of lives that may be lived, for fiction, biography and history offer an inexhaustible number of lives in all periods of time.

And from W. Somerset Maugham:

To acquire the habit of reading is to construct for yourself a refuge from almost all the miseries of life.

Now go find a book.

Jerry

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