What do you digest on a daily basis? Your Shopping List provides insights into how you value your physical health, but what are you doing to boost your mental health? What’s on your Reading List?

Sometimes you encounter a quote and it makes perfect sense; it fits your frame of reference perfectly. That’s what happened to me when I first heard someone say; “Leaders Are Readers”. I immediately recalled a recruitment interview I had with Terry Neill. Terry was a Partner at Andersen Consulting and Head of the newly formed Change Management Division. His brilliant leadership at a time when change management was evolving quickly was soon recognised and he went on to become Global Head of Change and, ultimately, Chairman of Andersen Worldwide (now Accenture.) What struck me most about my interview though, was the amazing library of books Terry had in his office. I had met about a dozen people on my search for a job after University and none of them had a library, in fact many of them barely had a book! Terry was different and it soon became clear that the books were not for show. Our conversation was incredibly “unfocused” considering it was an interview. He was interested in my thoughts, my dreams and aspirations, why I prioritised certain things and how I made decisions. These things were far more important to Terry than the banal questions my other interrogators had asked. I left his office knowing that if he was willing to give me a job, I would be incredibly proud to take it.

 

Terry Neill

That’s what real leaders do; they inspire the people around them. They feed their minds, they encourage right thinking and right action. Terry had shown me that leadership was accessible, all I had to do was tap into the wisdom of those who had exhibited leadership through their words and deeds. My journey toward robust, resilient and resourceful mental health had begun. A few hundred books later and the journey feels like it hasn’t even started. Indeed, to misquote a bunch of more intelligent people than me; the more I learn, the more I realise I don’t know. The emphasis on “realise” is intentional. The acquisition of knowledge, through reading and experience, provides useful insights into what may work and what may not. It’s not foolproof, but most of the time it helps.

If this was a blog about your physical health and your diet there would now follow a small list of the key things to do to optimise your health, so let me share what I consider to be some of the best things reading can do to help maintain great mental health.

  1. Reading provides perspective. Picking up from my blog about multiple perspectives, reading gives you access to a world of mentors who have probably encountered many similar challenges to you and documented how they worked through it.
  2. Reading stimulates imagination. The infinite number of stories and fables captured in written form is staggering. You never know when inspiration will strike, triggering a new thought, revealing another insight, generating energy for an idea yet to be implemented.
  3. Reading is inexpensive consulting. Writers provide their expertise for free (or nearly free) and many of them are sharing ideas, thoughts and processes you can implement immediately to improve your business, your relationships and your life. All you need to do is add some personal reflection!
  4. Reading is meditative. Losing yourself in a good book quietens a busy brain and can take you on endless journeys of the heart and mind. The restorative power of meditation is well-documented and reading can act in a similar way.
  5. Reading challenges you. In fact, if all you read is writing that confirms what you already know, you are not reading enough or reading the right things. Accessing new thinking is a great way of expanding your knowledge and opening you up to a world of possibilities hitherto unseen. There is nothing wrong with stretching your current understanding with new insights in an area you are already familiar, but never underestimate the value of something completely outside of your current zone of expertise.

A health warning as you set out on this journey towards self leadership. Don’t just read anything. Some reading can in fact be the equivalent of a bad food diet. Avoid toxic writing, avoid the equivalent of fast food (those magazines, videos and online hook-bait headlines that provide a quick fix and no real nourishment.) Avoid anything that doesn’t provide real sustenance on some level. This does leave space for fiction. Fiction, as opposed to gossip and toxic, hate-filled, journalism, will provide you with your essential 3-A-Day for good mental health – ideas, insights and inspiration, as much as any non-fiction offering.

In summary, when it comes to reading, be intentional. Scope an area of interest and then go deep and wide, be a hungry student.

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