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Five Ways Reading Improves Your Life

Five Ways Reading Improves Your Life

It happens at every party; you’re balancing a drink and a plate of food, trying to make polite small-talk with someone you’ve never seen and might never see again, and in a desperate attempt to clutch at a conversation thread, you ask, “Read any good books lately?”

As cliché as this conversation starter has become, it can still lend tremendous insight into people’s tastes and personalities. Someone who can wax rhapsodic about the poetry of William Wordsworth, for instance, we might imagine to be a nature-lover. A reader of every novel Nicholas Sparks has ever written is probably a die-hard romantic. Someone who has read all of Dr Wayne Dyer’s books might be doing her best to achieve a healthy, balanced, and fulfilling life.

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Yet beyond filling the void in conversation gaps, reading can have significant benefits on our health and well-being, improving our ability to connect with others, and broadening our horizons. Here are five ways that reading can benefit your life.

1. Reading can improve brain function

Believe it or not, Psychology Today reports that approximately 42% of college graduates will never read a book again after graduating, but regular reading can have a positive impact on brain function. A research study conducted at Emory University that examined the correlation between brain function and reading a novel found that FMRI scans of study participants who read Robert Harris’s Pompeii showed “heightened connectivity in the left temporal cortex, an area of the brain associated with receptivity for language.”

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The Daily Mail also reports that reading can help to slow memory decline. The brain, like the rest of the body, requires exercise to remain agile and alert, and reading can help to increase focus and concentration.

2. Reading can improve empathy

According to the same article in Psychology Today, those who read regularly report an increased ability to step into someone else’s shoes and experience the world through alternative points of view. Books are portals into other worlds and other times, both real and fictional. We can’t, for instance, take a trip in a time machine back to Victorian London, but we can read Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist and experience a realistic account of orphan life during that period as only Dickens can tell it.

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3. Reading improves your vocabulary

One of the best ways to broaden your vocabulary and communicate more effectively, whether orally or in writing, is to read. According to an article on Exforzia, those who read regularly “have a large repository of information in their brains, and they can reach into that repository to pull out words whenever they need them.” Reading challenges us to improve our language skills not only because we expand our vocabulary when we look up unfamiliar words, but also because we learn to infer meaning from context.

Imagine, for instance, that you’re reading a passage in a story in which a girl takes a walk on the seashore and discovers an abundance of shells. Perhaps you’ve never before encountered the word abundance, but when the story tells you that she hasn’t enough room in her basket to fit all of her findings, you can infer that abundance likely refers to a large quantity.

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4. Reading can improve your mood

To examine the link between reading and overall well-being, Penguin conducted a study in which they asked twenty “lapsed readers” to read for twenty minutes a day over a period of ten days, keeping a diary to track their moods. One participant reported that “after reading for half an hour on my lunchbreak I felt happy, sharp, and cheerful, and the feeling lasted all afternoon.”

Part of this feeling, Baroness Gale Rebuck observes in her discussion of the study, stems from the fact that reading “helps us feel less isolated. One in four readers say that a book has helped them realize that other people have shared their life experiences.” Whether it’s a novel about a troubled marriage or a self-help book about how to overcome the pain of a broken heart, books remind us that we’re not journeying through this life alone and that we can learn and grow from sharing our stories with one another.

5. Reading fosters friendships

Many of us have probably, at one time or another, participated in a book club; coming together to read and share our thoughts about what we read often allows us to open up and share our own stories. Imagine coming together with a group of other readers to discuss a book like Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, in which she details the first year of her life after suddenly losing her husband. As you delve into her emotions and allow her to share her story with you, that story might evoke memories of a grief of your own—a grief that Didion’s story has gently excavated because it’s created a safe space in which you can unburden yourself. The communal act of reading can create the connective tissue that forges friendships and binds them together through the ritual of sharing.

Featured photo credit: girl reading magazine in hotel bed via stokpic.com

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Last Updated on July 10, 2020

How to Take Control of Your Life with Better Boundaries

How to Take Control of Your Life with Better Boundaries

We all have them—those hurtful, frustrating, offensive, manipulative people in our lives. No matter how hard we try to surround ourselves with positive and kind people, there will always be those who will disrespect, insult, berate, and misuse you if we allow them to.

We may, for a variety of reasons, not be able to avoid them, but we can determine how we interact with them and how we allow them to interact with us.

So, how to take control of your life and stop being pushed around?

Learning to set clear firm boundaries with the people in our lives at work and in our personal lives is the best way to protect ourselves from the negative effects of this kind of behavior.

What Boundaries Are (And What They’re Not)

Boundaries are limits

—they are not threats or ultimatums. Boundaries inform or teach. They are not a form of punishment.

Boundaries are firm lines—determined by you—which cannot be crossed by those around you. They are guidelines for how you will allow others to treat you and what kind of behaviors you will expect.

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Healthy personal boundaries help protect you from physical or emotional pain. You may also need to set firm boundaries at work to ensure you and your time are not disrespected. Don’t allow others to take advantage of your kindness and generosity.

Clear boundaries communicate to others that you demand respect and consideration—that you are willing to stand up for yourself and that you will not be a doormat for anyone. They are a “no trespassing” sign that makes it very clear when a line has been crossed and that there will be consequences for doing so.

Boundaries are not set with the intention of changing other people. They may change how people interact with you, but they are more about enforcing your needs than attempting to change the general behavior and attitude of others.

How to Establish Boundaries and Take Control of Your Life

Here are some ways that you can establish boundaries and take control of your life.

1. Self-Awareness Comes First

Before you can establish boundaries with others, you first need to understand what your needs are.

You are entitled to respect. You have the right to protect yourself from inappropriate or offensive behavior. Setting boundaries is a way of honoring your needs.

To set appropriate boundaries, you need to be clear about what healthy behaviors look like—what healthy relationships look like.

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You first have to become more aware of your feelings and honest with yourself about your expectations and what you feel is appropriate behavior:

  • Where do you need to establish better boundaries?
  • When do you feel disrespected?
  • When do you feel violated, frustrated, or angered by the behavior of others?
  • In what situations do you feel you are being mistreated or taken advantage of?
  • When do you want to be alone?
  • How much space do you need?

You need to honor your own needs and boundaries before you can expect others to honor them. This allows you to take control of your life.

2. Clear Communication Is Essential

Inform others clearly and directly what your expectations are. It is essential to have clear communication if you want others to respect your boundaries. Explain in an honest and respectful tone what you find offensive or unacceptable.

Many people simply aren’t aware that they are behaving inappropriately. They may never have been taught proper manners or consideration for others.

3. Be Specific but Don’t Blame

Taking a blaming or punishing attitude automatically puts people on the defensive. People will not listen when they feel attacked. It’s part of human nature.

That said, you do not need to overexplain or defend yourself. Boundaries are not open to compromise.

Sample language:

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  • “You may not…yell or raise your voice to me…”
  • “I need…to be treated with respect…”
  • “It’s not okay when…you take things from my desk without asking…”
  • “I won’t…do your work…cover for you anymore…”
  • “It’s not acceptable when…you ridicule or insult me…”
  • “I am uncomfortable when…you use offensive language”
  • “I will no longer be able to…lend you money…”

Being able to communicate these without sounding accusatory is essential if you want others to respect your boundaries so you can take control of your life.

4. Consequences Are Often Necessary

Determine what the appropriate consequences will be when boundaries are crossed. If it’s appropriate, be clear about those consequences upfront when communicating those boundaries to others.

Follow through. People won’t respect your boundaries if you don’t enforce them.

Standing our ground and forcing consequences doesn’t come easily to us. We want to be nice. We want people to like us, but we shouldn’t have to trade our self-respect to gain friends or to achieve success.

We may be tempted to let minor disrespect slide to avoid conflict, but as the familiar saying goes, “if you give people an inch, they’ll take a mile.”

It’s much easier to address offensive or inappropriate behavior now than to wait until that behavior has gotten completely out of hand.

It’s also important to remember that positive reinforcement is even more powerful than negative consequences. When people do alter the way they treat you, acknowledge it. Let people know that you notice and appreciate their efforts.

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Final Thoughts

Respect is always a valid reason for setting a boundary. Don’t defend yourself or your needs. Boundaries are often necessary to protect your time, your space, and your feelings. And these are essential if you want to take control of your life.

Start with the easiest boundaries first. Setting boundaries is a skill that needs to be practiced. Enlist support from others if necessary. Inform people immediately when they have crossed the line.

Don’t wait. Communicate politely and directly. Be clear about the consequences and follow them through.

The better you become at setting your own boundaries, the better you become at recognizing and respecting the boundaries of others.

Remember that establishing boundaries is your right. You are entitled to respect. You can’t control how other people behave, but you do have control over the way you allow people to treat you.

Learning to set boundaries is not always easy, but with time, it will become more comfortable. You may eventually find that boundaries become automatic and you no longer need to consciously set them.

They will simply become a natural extension of your self-respect.

Featured photo credit: Thomas Kelley via unsplash.com

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