FF Insights #606: How to build a reading habit

March 9, 2022: The Road to 2024; Why bugs matter; The face of reality

Founding Fuel

[From Unsplash]

Good morning

It is one thing to get an education and learn to read. It is another thing altogether to acquire the reading habit. But it is vital because “reading is the most important method of self-improvement,” writes Susan Wise Bauer in her lovely book The Well-Educated Mind. And just how do we acquire the habit? 

Start short. The brain is an organ, and mental exercise, like physical exercise, has to be introduced gradually. Don’t leap ambitiously into a schedule that has you rising at five to spend two hours in reading; you’re likely to skip it altogether. Start with half an hour of reading first thing in the morning, and develop the habit of sticking to this shorter time of concentration and thought before extending it. And even if you never extend it, you’re still doing more reading than you were before you began the project of self-cultivation.

Don’t schedule yourself for study every day of the week. The body begins to drag if exercised every day without a break. Aim for four days per week; this makes it possible to establish a habit of reading while giving yourself the weekend ‘off’ and a ‘flex morning’ for the days when you’re still catching up with the previous week’s paperwork, the plumber arrives at daybreak, the car battery dies, and the toddler develops stomach flu.

Never check your email right before you start reading. I thought this was a personal problem until I ran across several essays in a row—from the Chronicle of Higher Education, our local newspaper, and several other equally varied publications—about the distracting qualities of email. There is something in the format of email (its terseness? the sheer volume of messages? its tendency to reward skimming over deep reading?) that pulls the mind away from the contemplative, relaxed frame so important for good reading. If you get good news, you’re distracted by it; if someone writes you a nasty note, you’ll spend the next forty-five minutes mentally formulating blistering replies rather than concentrating on your book. If no one writes at all, you’ll be depressed because you’ve suddenly become invisible in cyberspace.

Guard your reading time. Forced to choose between a chapter of Uncle Tom’s Cabin and some more immediately rewarding task, you will come face to face with your deepest values: What do you prize more, a temporary visible accomplishment or the beginnings of a deeper understanding of racial tensions in the United States? A finished to-do list, or a teaspoonful of wisdom?

“This is not a small question. The world that applauds visible achievement is giving you a very strong message about why you are worthwhile. When you choose to think, rather than do, you are rejecting production in favour of reflection; you are pushing back against a system that wants to locate your worth as a human being in your ability to turn out a commodity. Reading, rather than working, is a small but meaningful dissent.”

Have a good day.

The Road to 2024 [FF Exclusive]

As five states were gearing up for Assembly Elections 2022, the results to which will be declared tomorrow, we partnered with our friends at The Signal to host a conversation moderated by its editor Dinesh Narayanan on Twitter Spaces. Our intent was to examine the emerging economic narrative through the eyes of veterans such as Anil Swaroop, Niranjan Rajadhyaksha and Neelanjan Sircar. Their perspectives were most interesting.

Take the demonetisation exercise of 2016, for instance. How does the electorate view it? Rajadhyaksha, CEO and Senior Fellow at Artha India, flagged off an interesting question: “If we take the medium-term impact of 10 years, we are still half way through that. That also is leading to a push towards formalisation. The question is whether this will lead to structural changes in the economy and therefore the politics built on it.”

Swaroop, now founder chairman, Nexus of Good, was in the government then and had an insider’s view as events unfolded. “I was very happy [with demonetisation]. One of the chief ministers I served as secretary was Mayawati. Given the wealth she had amassed, I was very happy that all the money she had collected would have become zero now. But the manner in which demonetisation was implemented—there could not have been any planning because [no one in the government, no civil servant knew about it.] The intention was good, but the execution was terrible. And it had virtually no impact on the politics of the country. BJP swept the 2017 UP elections despite the inconvenience of demonetisation.”

Dig deeper

Why bugs matter

When the world faces a risk of nuclear war, survival of insects during peacetime is not something that might be on the top of our minds. Yet, an interview with Oliver Milman, an environmental journalist at The Guardian and author of a new book called The Insect Crisis: The Fall of the Tiny Empires That Run the World, opens our eyes to what’s happening in that world, and why we should be worried. 

First of all, insect species are declining. Milman says: “Over a long time, we’ve wiped out a good chunk of tigers, for example, but in just a short period of time—we’re talking just a few decades—we’ve wiped out an enormous range of insects from seemingly stable, well-protected, well-regulated parts of the world. One meta study from 2019 found that 40 percent of insect species are declining around the world. They compared that to other creatures and found that the extinction rate for insects is eight times faster than it is for mammals or birds.”

Second, their survival matters a lot to human lives. Milman says: “As much as it would be a terrible shame if we lost rhinos or elephants or orangutans—these big charismatic creatures—it wouldn’t trigger a food security crisis. It wouldn’t cause the loss of potential medicines that could save us from antibiotic resistance. It wouldn’t cause whole ecosystems to collapse. That is what would happen if we lost insects.

“We are heading toward a world where there are far more mouths to feed at a time when insect pollination is under severe strain. Some parts of the world are either going to have far more expensive food or no nutritious food at all.

“Insects also have intrinsic value. Butterflies are beautiful, for example. A garden filled with insects is alive, and it’s a place you want to be.”

Dig deeper

The face of reality

(Via Jim Benton on Instagram)

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Warm regards,

Team Founding Fuel

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Founding Fuel

Founding Fuel aims to create the new playbook of entrepreneurship. Think of us as a hub for entrepreneurs- the go-to place for ideas, insights, practices and wisdom essential to build the enterprise of tomorrow. It is co-founded by veteran journalists Indrajit Gupta and Charles Assisi, along with CS Swaminathan, the former president of Pearson's online learning venture.

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