Both former President Obama and Mark Zuckerberg have publicly talked about how they like to regularly kick back with a good work of fiction. Are they just letting off steam after a hard day at their stressful jobs?
Hardly. “When I think about how I understand my role as citizen… the most important stuff I’ve learned I think I’ve learned from novels,” Obama told The New York Review of Books. Reading fiction, in other words, has made him a better, more engaged person.
That alone is a pretty good reason to pick up a page turner, but it’s not all the reading fiction can do for you, according to science. There’s also a growing body of research that suggests that getting lost in well-written stories actually can actually make you better leader. Fiction works as an empathy workout, these studies find, helping bosses better understand diverse viewpoints and boosting their EQ.
And there are still more reasons to liberally season your reading diet with a healthy sprinkling of novels and short stories, according to Stephanie Vozza. Writing for Fast Company, she explains that there are multiple ways fiction can improve your performance at work. Here they are in brief, but check out the post for lots more details as well as testimony from bosses who swear by the benefits of reading fiction:
- Enhanced reasoning skills. People aren’t automatons and making good decisions often relies as much on understanding emotion and culture as it does on crunching data. “Reading fiction can give you insights that help you work beyond logic, says Michael Benveniste, an English professor from the University of Puget Sound,” Vozza writes. “In situations that may be colored by emotion or past experience, it helps you cultivate qualitative reasoning.”
- Understanding complex problems. “People who read fiction gain a broader understanding of others, according to a study from the University of Toronto,” claims Vozza. According to the researchers behind the study, fiction is like “a computer simulator for your brain.”
- Increased empathy. Vozza too cites the empathy-boosting abilities of a great story. “Imagining a character’s situation can help you become more empathetic toward people in real life. That’s because when you read a story, you connect to personal experiences, according to research done by Raymond Mar, a psychologist at York University in Canada,” she writes.
- Stress relief. “Reading a novel relieves stress better than listening to music, taking a walk or having a cup of tea, according to a study from the University of Sussex. Reading reduced stress levels by 68 percent, said cognitive neuropsychologist David Lewis. Just six minutes of reading lowered participants’ heart rate and eased tension in the muscles, he found.”
- Strong role models. Detailed character descriptions in novels can help you think through your own personality and behavior. “I’ve often found myself silently quoting Elizabeth Bennet of Pride and Prejudice, who declares, ‘my courage always rises at every attempt to intimidate me,'” one English professor explains to Vozza for example.
Do you feel like reading fiction has made you a better leader?