One key habit to improve your critical thinking (and other skills)

Have you ever found yourself checking Facebook and before you knew it, an hour or so had gone by? You might flip past the clickbait asking what you would look like if you were a dog, or you might have paused to see a meme about your zodiac sign described as a breakfast cereal, but it’s still an hour of your life you will never get back. And you’ve done it all with the justification of checking in on your friends and family, maybe even business contacts. If you’re lucky, you didn’t get sucked into the latest political argument or trendy hashtag that everybody is socially obligated to post about.

There’s actually a term for this time drain: scrolling paralysis. It’s when you get stuck in a loop of endless scrolling through social media, even if you don’t care about the content.

What makes me the most mad about scrolling paralysis is it was the one hour I could have done my workout. Or I could have cleaned the apartment. Or I could have done any number of things with far more productive outcomes.

But at least I know I didn’t sacrifice my precious reading time.

My habit is to read at least one hour every morning, first thing after I pour myself a cup of coffee. Reading in the morning helps me get into a flow state—a mental condition of full engagement in an activity—and improves my ability to focus throughout the day.

That hour of reading each day is so incredibly important to me. There have been numerous studies conducted attesting to the benefits of daily reading, not just for children but for adults too. One of the most succinct but comprehensive articles I’ve read lately was a blog post dated October 15, 2019 on Healthline. It was titled, “Benefits of Reading Books: How It Can Positively Affect Your Life,” written by Rebecca Joy Stanborough, MFA and medically reviewed by Heidi Moawad, MD. Source:

In the article, Stanborough asserts that reading strengthens the brain, builds vocabulary, prevents cognitive decline, and lengthens one’s lifespan. Reading fiction in particular increases empathy, reduces stress, aids sleep, and alleviates depression.

“… research has shown that people who read literary fiction—stories that explore the inner lives of characters—show a heightened ability to understand the feelings and beliefs of others,” the article said. “Researchers call this ability the ‘theory of mind,’ a set of skills essential for building, navigating, and maintaining social relationships.”

Speaking from my own experience, I can tell you how much I was better able to under the gay community after reading “The Great Believers” by Rebecca Makkai, and the British Punjabi community after reading “Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows” by Balli Kaur Jaswal.

I enjoy reading about diverse subjects. This diversity gives me a better cross pollination of ideas, making me a more informed citizen and better able to converse with people from different backgrounds.

As a writer, I read to study each author’s word choice, sentence structure, cadence, narrative, and dialogue. How do their characters get out of trouble or handle themselves in difficult situations? How does the author describe the setting? Do they tell the story or show the story? I really appreciate books that keep me guessing a character’s ulterior motive; suspense is a huge motivator for keeping me engaged. 

Last year, I read 49 books, according to my Goodreads account. My goal for 2021 is to read 52, at least four a month:

• 1 for my book club (Books, Broads and Brews on Facebook);

• 1 by a fiction author who has reached a level of success to which I aspire;

• 1 nonfiction book to help me grow my business; and

• 1 by a local author.

The other four books this year will be from local authors—gotta support my fellow scribes.

Harry S. Truman, 33rd president of the United States, said, “Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.

Nonfiction books are the exact words, ideas, advice, mindset, knowledge, and experience of the author. Even with fiction, some authors, myself included, go to great lengths to research their subjects before making up their imaginary stories.

A recent article found that “Comparisons of confirmatory factor analysis model confirmed that RFSS (reading flow short scale) items loaded on different latent variables than items assessing other narrative engagement concepts, namely presence, identification, suspense, and cognitive mastery, and hence distinctly capture flow states in fiction reading.”

The research was published in the December 13, 2018 edition of Frontiers in Psychology, in an article titled, “Measuring Optimal Reading Experiences: The Reading Flow Short Scale” by Birte A. K. Thissen, Winfried Menninghaus and Wolff Schlotz. The authors went on to say, “While presence states are defined as the sensation of being in the story world, states of heightened reader suspense pertain to the anticipation of emotionally charged story events. A state of identification is characterized by the internalization of story-characters’ feelings and thoughts, and cognitive mastery states arise from the sense of retrieving meaning, truth and purpose from the story.” Source:

Reading has also been shown to improve memory, decision making, and attention to detail by building and strengthening synapses in the brain. And it can reduce stress by giving the reader an escape mechanism.

This is why reading is so important. It’s on us to do what we can to make this world a better place, and we can start by making reading a daily habit.

Published by Gwen Clayton

Gwen Clayton is a freelance writer living in Ashland, Kentucky. She is the former editor of the Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly, and has written for numerous other publications since 1986. Her first book, the paranormal thriller "Fermata Cellars," was published in 2016, and her Bible-inspired short story, "Purr: A story of love, lions and a Hebrew named Daniel," was released in 2019. She recently finished writing, "Zinfandel’s Grimoire," which is the sequel to 'Fermata;' that book is in the editing and design phase of publication. Her current works in progress include the third book in the Rivervine Trilogy, tentatively titled, "Comatis Unveiled," and the nonfiction, "Dragon's Poker Table: A rocker chick's breast cancer journey." Her books are independently published under the imprint, Rivervine LLC. In addition to writing books, Clayton contracts as a copywriter for local, small businesses.

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