Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Why The Greatest Leadership Tool You've Ever Overlooked Is Gathering Dust on Your Bookshelf

Here’s a depressing (yet unsurprising) fact: 42% of all college graduates will never read another book after graduation. Even I have contributed to this epidemic of literary abandonment, and I was an English major.
I, like many of you, fell prey to a singular focus on my professional ambition. I subconsciously began to believe that reading stories about fictional characters detracting from precious time that could be spent reading more informative books that contributed to my career.
While business books have undoubtedly enriched my professional life, it turns out I was missing out on an entire world of cognitive potential by ignoring fiction. Studies have repeatedly shown that fictional literature is an exceptional key to unlocking the minds of your peers and becoming uniquely adaptable in the face of uncertainty.
How to Walk a Mile in Someone’s Shoes
As of yet, human beings are incapable of experiencing another person’s life. However, brain scans reveal that reading fiction may bring us amazingly close.
Researchers at the Emory University Center for Neuropolicy found that being absorbed in a fictional novel increased connectivity in several parts of the brain, including the sensory motor region. This area enables you to exercise “embodied cognition;” in other words, to represent a physical sensation in your mind, like running. This kind of brain activity suggests “that reading a novel can transport you into the body of the protagonist,” explained principal researcher Gregory Burns.
So what is the benefit of physically feeling the experience of a fictional protagonist?
It turns out this “extreme empathy”—the ability to not only care about your characters but to literally feel their pain or pleasure—actually translates into higher aptitude for recognizing the motivations of others in the real world.
Courtesy of National Media Museum of UK
Courtesy of National Media Museum of UK

Dancing the Line Between Empathy and Mind-Reading
In the past year, I ended my literary dry spell and joined a book club. While I’ve always considered reading a constructive pastime, spending hours on a single novel felt—I cringe to say this, but—slightly impractical. Reading is time-consuming. If you want to be absorbed by a fictional story, why not watch TV?  If you’re going to spend energy reading, why not educate yourself about the world around you?
It turns out that you develop skills from reading fiction that simply do not emerge from consuming other forms of content. Reading literary fiction is strongly correlated with a higher capacity to understand what’s going on in other people’s heads, a talent often referred to as “theory of mind.”
In 2006 York University psychologist Raymond Mar and his colleague performed a study that examined lifetime exposure to both fiction and non-fiction. They found that engaging with fiction positively correlated to greater emotional empathy, while reading non-fiction did not. In 2009, Mar re-confirmed his results, and went on to prove that the link between reading literature and “theory of mind” persisted even if you control for the possibility that empathetic people mightchoose to read more fiction.
While television has the power to entertain, it doesn’t share the same socialization benefits as reading a book. In fact, recent research suggests television may actuallyweaken our understanding of other people’s desires or beliefs.
Needless to say, the capacity to accurately read other people’s motivations and feelings is crucial for achieving a wide array of professional goals, like nailing job interviews, building trust with your peers and leading people effectively.
Fiction-Lovers Are More Willing to Embrace Uncertainty
If you’ve ever read Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, perhaps this comes as no surprise: people who read fictional literature have less of a need for closure than those who read non-fiction.
In a University of Toronto study, researchers assigned half their subjects a short story, and the other half an essay, then measured participants’ emotional need for stability and certainty. After reading short stories, subjects were significantly more accepting of ambiguity, which allowed them to better process information and exercise greater creativity.
Who among us hasn’t been wracked with anxiety and indecision due to lack of clarity around a situation? Great leaders are able to embrace uncertainty and do their best to resolve problems, even when there is no clear answer.
Luckily, we can all be calmer in the eye of the storm by doing something that seems completely trivial: setting aside 10 minutes to read a short story.
Literal (and Literary) Stress Reduction
Finally, as if the benefits above weren’t enough, reading a book is one of thebest ways to reduce stress. In fact it’s more effective than listening to music, drinking a warm cup of tea or going for a walk.
The evidence is clear: we must rethink the way we perceive literature. Literary fiction is more than a fanciful pastime relegated to those pursuing a liberal arts education; it’s an incredible asset for personal and professional development. Regular consumption of fiction has been proven to help you embrace uncertainty and truly understand other people’s intentions.
It’s time to renew that long-expired library card, because the solution to your very real problem may lie in a fictional book. Pretty novel idea, right?

by Rochelle Bailis

Source: Forbes

1 comment:

  1. Wynn Slots for Android and iOS - Wooricasinos
    A free app for slot machines from WRI Holdings novcasino Limited that lets you play the popular games, such as free video slots, table games 바카라 사이트 and live casino