Why you should stop reading books and try to experience them instead
Reading books won’t allow you to become the best version of yourself. Or not quite so simply.
Deep down, I’ve always felt a sense of futility when reading books. The more stacks of books followed one another on my bedside table, the more I felt this bitter taste in my mouth that invited me to run away from them and rather to leave home and enjoy the fresh air.
As if filling up and feeding on words only increased my appetite for things without really satisfying it…
As if by reading I was wasting the time I had in front of me and that instead of reading I could have experienced some of the most wonderful things that I would have now missed…
Yet, God alone knows how many books I have been able to read with my eager eyes and how much intense pleasure I have sometimes had from them. I even wanted it to be the focus of my future career.
But I quickly realized that I could not neglect so easily this strange disgust I was gradually developing towards reading. It was a feeling that would have been unreasonable not to trust. And that feeling had its reasons.
History, without books
One must remember that people throughout history have done very well without books. A Caesar, a Napoleon or any other great man of war, the most persuasive, intelligent or insightful men of their time have never really needed a book to become what they were and what they will be for us forever.
Guided and animated by a natural gift and certainly a birth heritage that goes back to their entire genealogy, these men have developed and deepened their talent and expertise through the ordeal of a lifetime.
On the one hand, it could be said that it was precisely the education they received and the family culture that enabled them to excel in their field throughout the ages. A certain social disposition, which evokes Bourdieu’s “habitus”, had been bequeathed to them through rigorous discipline.
On the other hand, one might think that it is through progressive experimentation that they have forged such a disposition of mind, through the problems and obstacles they have encountered during their exceptional life and that they have learned to confront by their own means. Their extraordinary perseverance has made them extraordinary men.
In any case, these two versions complement each other to come to the same conclusion: that great men did not need reading to become the best version of themselves. And if they were able to read, it was generally an ancillary and external factor to their success.
I know what you’re thinking. You certainly remember all the books that by their elusive prose, their knowledge and their deep and surprising inspiration transmitted to you this little something that eventually managed to transform you internally, to the point of waking you up in the morning with the strange feeling that something more has been added to your life.
Some books have a power, a power that emerges and takes hold of us and changes us. And many of you have already met the decisive book that literally changed your life, that decided the fundamental reason for your life.
But what I would like to say to you is that it is not the books that have actually changed you, it is you, it is your inner disposition in relation to the world.
What is beyond books
More precisely, it is the mental and psychic models that help you interpret your everyday situations and shape your values and the general direction you have decided to take in your life.
When you decide to take a shower in the morning rather than in the evening, when you realize that your habits or your living environment are bad for you, or when you give meaning to the new period of your life that is opening up to you, it is the internal programming of your thoughts that changes.
But how does this magic work?
When faced with an unforeseen consequence, a result that exceeds or disappoints your expectations or a surprising and totally new event, your intimate interpretation of the world is rewritten.
Then, the unconscious processes of your thought, which work unknowingly in the background, powerfully set to work to renew what was once disconnected or torn apart. In a way, ironically, it is your mind’s book that is being reconfigured.
This means that books are not the only drivers of your change, far from it. In fact, they are only the spark that lights the wick.
What fuels the fire is the testing of your models in reality and the deep reflection that follows and turns everything inside you upside down. And so what you need to focus on first and foremost is your curiosity and your ability to be surprised by events. It is your taste for experimentation and action.
It is for these reasons that I can come to tell you, in a rather extreme way, that reading is a waste of your energy: the time you take to read a book line by line and try to understand it from the first to the last page, that time you could use it to live and really feel the ideas you collect and make flourish.
Don’t be mistaken, I know that books can help. But it’s only about redefining the way we read.
A new way of dealing with books
We must succeed in inventing a new posture towards books, more practical and pragmatic, that knows how to make the most of it for the conduct of our lives. Find a balance between careful and rigorous reading and the joy of experimentation and adventure.
Rather than taking what the book say for granted, one should give him time to infuse itself into us, to inspire us and to work upon us from within.
Paradoxically, we should learn to distract ourselves from our daily readings in order to give the book time to transform us. That means really experiencing what we are reading, from inside and outside.
And the best way to do that is to take action, take a chance, get ourselves busy.
The fruits of our readings will soon recall themselves to us, when we’ll be too busy to remember them, too changed to remember what has changed us.
And perhaps this posture also involves reconsidering the way we write books. But that’s another story.