A study recently published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology confirms what parents and educators have know for centuries: you are deeply shaped by the books you read.
To break it down even further: you are what you read.
The stories we read shape us, guide, and influence us more than we know. But what about scrolling Facebook or Instagram for 30 minutes. Do we consider that reading time? Would you consider your time on Instagram to be shaping you? Because it is. In an article titled, “Tell me what you read and I’ll tell you who you are" author Rana says,
“When we spend 20 minutes scrolling down our Facebook feed, we’re reading. When we choose to click on an enticing title from a questionable news source, we’re reading. When we browse without reason, we’re reading. The only difference is that this kind of reading isn’t intentional. It’s done in our default day-to-day setting, and it’s not only a waste of time, but quite often, it negatively warps how we see, think about, and analyze the world."
Well, what do we do?
I think the first step is to create space to read. The second is to be intentional, alert, and discerning about what we’re choosing to read. Creating space to read and thinking about what we are reading are catalysts for shaping the direction of our mind.
To shed light, here is an example from my own personal life (Payton). A podcast I listened to recently was urging me to put the phone down in the early moments of the day and before bed. For the most part, I do this well because I know that I function best in the morning. I want to optimize growth by not being distracted (aka putting down my phone). However, at night after a full day of work and activities I can be way more “lax” with my time and what I read. Soon after I listened to that podcast, my mom was in town visiting for a few days. My mom is very self-disciplined and aware of what she’s reading and how she is spending her time. I love moments of significant time with her because her lifestyle always rubs off on me. She surprised me with a book she purchased called, Run The Mile You're In by Ryan Hall the fastest American Half Marathon runner. Because we were running a half marathon together during her visit, naturally, I was more keen to open the book immediately!
In an effort to spend deep quality time with my mom I decided to disengage from all social media during her visit. This intentionality in my time also opened significant space in my nights to read before bed.
The sad day approached and my mom had to fly back to Chicago. The tears gently came as I realized how I was so thankful for our time together. I felt re-energized through relationship and ready to keep this momentum of connection and good time management moving forward.
After my Mom left, I continued to read Run The Mile You’re In and each time I opened the pages of Ryan Hall’s faith and running journey I wanted to keep turning the page. My desire to scroll on Facebook or Instagram or surf the internet practically died. I wanted to read. I wanted to consume more of the wisdom I was reading in his journey. I noticed too that I was more inspired to take action in my life. His book was shaping me because I was fully in the pages, not just half in because my phone wouldn’t stop buzzing at me.
The action I decided to take was to quite literally run the mile I was in. As a runner, it’s easy to think about the daunting distance ahead and forget about the mile you’re actually running in. Hall’s main theme of his book became my running anthem. This new anthem was shaping my running. Before, my runs would be sucked of joy because my mind was full of distractions and never at ease. But now, my runs were becoming enjoyable again, something I missed. In addition, my relationships felt like new life was being poured into them because I was present again.
It’s not that the distractions won’t come or the scrolling on Instagram won’t happen. It’s about being aware of the choices we are making in what we are reading. Now that I am more aware, I’m able to bounce back when I’ve noticed I’ve slipped into mindless reading. I’m quicker to put down my phone and say no to another episode on Netflix. I’m able to choose what I am putting in my mind which directly shapes my decisions and actions.
I encourage you to quiet the distractions in your life. To take a deep look at what you are reading. Keep doing this. Over and over again. Let awareness become a daily rhythm in your schedule. This kind of intentionality can shape you and can guide your children to do the same in their lives as they grow.
“Reading shouldn’t be something that happens to you. It should be something that you actively do. It should be done with awareness.”- Rana