There’s probably no more of an apt introduction for Barack Obama than the title of David Letterman’s new Netflix show, ‘My Next Guest Needs No Introduction.’ Obama was featured on the show earlier in 2018, one of many public interviews and appearances the former President has made since leaving office in January 2017. Indeed, as the first US African-American President, Mr. Obama has a fascinating background and possesses an interesting outlook on life.
Since departing the White House, Obama has experienced a surge in financial wealth, with his net worth reaching an estimated $40 million on his 56th birthday and expecting to rise to $200m. Former Presidents can thank their taxpayer-funded lifetime salaries and expense accounts for a comfortable life after they leave office, but Obama is expected to benefit heavily from highly-paid lecture appearances and his political memoirs. Already the author of several books including ‘Dreams from My Father,’ ‘The Audacity of Hope,’ and ‘Of Thee I Sing’, Barack and former first lady Michelle have recently signed a new book deal as co-authors for a reported $60m.
Obama’s habits of reading and writing
According to an article by the New York Times covering his eight years in the office, Obama was described as the President most influenced by reading and writing since Abraham Lincoln. He believes that reading provides him with empathy - the opportunity to slow down and put himself in someone else’s shoes in order to gain wider and differing perspectives on important matters.
“[Reading and writing] have been invaluable to me. Whether they’ve made me a better president I can’t say. But what I can say is that they have allowed me to sort of maintain my balance during the course of eight years, because this is a place that comes at you hard and fast and doesn’t let up,” said the former president.
The consistent combination of reading and writing has helped him form a powerful habit that allows him to digest large amounts of new information and to consistently write down his thoughts and opinions.
How to build the habits of reading and writing like Barack Obama
1. Deliberately set time aside for reflective writing
Setting aside non-negotiable time every day to read, write and practice gratitude is something that many influential people include in their daily routines. As president, Obama's schedule was undoubtedly filled beyond the capacity of most people. Despite that, he always made time for reflection:
“I’ll probably read briefing papers or do paperwork or write stuff until about 11:30 p.m., and then I usually have about a half-hour to read before I go to bed, about midnight, 12:30 a.m., sometimes a little later,” said Obama.
Reflective writing gives you a chance to think through ideas or concepts that might have been brewing so set aside a small, manageable amount of time to do so. For example, try to:
Spend 5 minutes each day doing reflective writing
During this time, ask yourself questions like “what went well today?”, “what could I have done better?”, and “what was I grateful for today?”. You can increase your reflection time as you become more accustomed to writing and you’ll naturally find that you’re able to process more thoughts and feelings through practice.
2. Read a variety of content
Reading about a wide variety of subjects is a great way to maintain a high level of general knowledge. According to Obama, drawing his knowledge from a wealth of sources and people has been an important factor in shaping the way he makes decisions and understands the world.
He’s not the only successful person to recommend reading as a means of learning. Reading is perhaps the single most important key to success, just ask Warren Buffett, Mark Cuban, Neil Gaiman, Bill Gates, and many more. One way to accomplish this is to simply:
Read for 10 minutes each day
You can increase the amount of time you read or even set yourself targets for the type of content you read as you progress, for example, reading [x] pages of fiction each day. As with all new habits, committing a small amount of time - in this case, just 10 minutes - to practicing will ensure your commitments are realistic and your chances of completion therefore higher.
3. Discuss what you’ve read and written about with someone else
Talking about what you’ve read and written can help you retain knowledge and develop ideas further. As a leader like the US President, you’re going to be bombarded with new information every single day. Similarly, if you’re running your own business you’ll have a lot of people giving you news, updates, and requesting your attention all at once. To help you process all this information you could:
Talk to a friend or colleague each week about what you’ve read or written
For a more structured approach to this habit, schedule a recurring coffee date with someone, join a book club, or even attend a topic-relevant networking event.
As always, the suggested habits throughout the above article can be copied into the Evolution 2 habit tracker. Just sign-up for your account here.