Does reading novels have an effect on one’s executive functions and reasoning skills?


Yes! And not only that—it actually has an effect on all brain function.

Neuroscientists from Emory University published a study in the Brain Connectivity Journal called Short and Long Term Effects of a Novel on Connectivity in the Brain.

The conclusion?

Reading fiction books improves all connectivity in the brain.

The novel that was given to students who participated in the study is Pompeii by Robert Harris, and it’s based on the real-life eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Students were instructed to read one chapter per day, which is approximately 30 pages. The experiment lasted 9 consecutive days. To monitor brain activity during both active and resting states, students had fMRI brain scans done before and after the reading sessions.

Results of the study showed the following:

  • There was increased activity in the left temporal cortex—an area of the brain associated with language learning.
  • Additionally, there was increased activity in the central sulcus of the brain—the fold in the cerebral cortex that separates the parietal lobe from the frontal lobe, and separates the sensory and motor areas of the brain.

What do these results mean?

  • Reading a book improves our ability to put ourselves in the role of another person (the main or other characters in the novel), so it’s like assuming another identity and exploring what it might be like to interact with the entire cast of characters, experience a range of different emotions, and even make decisions as that person.
  • Reading boosts brain connectivity so we perceive the body sensations of others through the “mirroring”technique, which is similar to visualization. For example, if the protagonist in the novel is running, even if we just think about that activity, this will activate our own neural networks associated with actual running—so we’ll actually “experience” the physical act.
  • The important takeaway from the study is to read fiction, specifically novels, so that we allow ourselves to become part of the story and to bond with the characters and plot in order to boost brain function. This can’t be achieved in the same way when we read non-fiction, because the goal in non-fiction isn’t necessarily to identify with others, but rather to do research and gather tips based on studies described in the book.

What do these results mean for the brain in the long term?

  • Even when they weren’t reading, students’ brains showed increased activity. Scientists call this “shadow activity”, and this activity in the brain is similar to muscle memory. Muscle memory enables us to master a difficult task through repetition and practice over time so that it becomes second nature. In other words, muscles “remember” to act a certain way that over time will not require as much strain as it did initially.
  • Improvement in brain function wasn’t limited only to the experiment period. Here’s perhaps the most fascinating part of the study. A boost in brain connectivity persisted—neural changes remained active for days after the reading assignment was over, which suggests that we can experience similar benefits even while doing other types of activities such as studying, working, learning a new skill, or problem-solving.

How can you incorporate reading fiction into your day?

  • Make it a super easy mini habit. Instead of thinking you will now have to save up money to start buying a ton of books, remember that reading can be free; simply get a library membership. To streamline the novel selection process, download the Goodreads app so you can look for book recommendations, reviews, and plot summaries.
  • Make your reading habit a pleasant ritual. That way you’ll start looking forward to it. It can be as easy as setting aside 30 minutes to an hour each evening to find a comfortable seat in your home, pick music to get in the mood, and make yourself a cup of hot chocolate or caffeine-free tea to help you relax.
  • Select a book that’s the right fit for you. If you don’t know where to begin, try going through Quora’s list of suggested literary fiction, novel recommendations. If you’re a history buff, try looking up the topic of best historical fiction books; it’s packed with excellent ideas that are certainly going to keep your mind in that curious mode you’ll want to be in as you are working on your new brain-boosting habit!

How can I make my writing better?

Here are my 5 tips.

Tip #1. Feed your curious mind.

Before you even attempt starting the writing process, it’s a good idea to think about the brain food you’ll need. What will help you select that brain food? Your curiosity! Being curious is critical to the creative process. It’s impossible to be a good writer if you’re not someone who is curious and always in learning mode. Let’s think about what being curious means in daily life. It can be trying to get to the bottom of things to understand their meaning, or finding out how something works, or observing people’s behavior, or listening to others tell stories. When you have the word why in your daily thoughts, when you try to deconstruct a concept in different ways to make it easier to understand, and when you discover more ideas along the way that need to be explored, you will know that you’re moving in the right direction.

Tip #2. Read more books.

In the pursuit of becoming a writer—which you may choose to do for pleasure or for your career—your role as a reader is often ignored and undervalued. That’s a missed opportunity. If you truly care about the act of writing and if you possess a deep love for the written word, then you should expose yourself to works of literature on a regular basis. This isn’t a vague or abstract goal. It means that you are proactive about always being in research mode, you’re discovering authors and topics they’ve written about, you’re creating lists of what to read for the month and even the year, you’re going to the library or making trips to the bookstore on a weekly basis, and then you’re devoting time to absorbing the books you’ve selected. As you’re reading, a good idea is to do it always with a pen or pencil in hand so you can take notes, write down sections you find interesting, and listing page numbers of sections you’ll want to revisit.

Tip #3. Select topics that can provide value to others.

Don’t be surprised if you experience some resistance as you’re reading this. Maybe you’re doubting yourself or even engaging in negative self-talk. It might go something like this: But I don’t have anything valuable to say! Maybe I just like writing things that are interesting to me, but are boring to other people! Instead of giving in and giving up before you’ve even begun, practice adjusting your mindset. Ask yourself, What could I write about? You may have an original idea or an in-depth look at how the human brain works. Perhaps you experienced a life-changing event that dramatically influenced the way you view your personal or professional life. Maybe you mastered a skill you find enjoyable such as practicing jiu-jitsu or playing a game of chess. The key is to become aware of the main reason why you are writing about something, and to think of an audience that could potentially benefit from what you know.

Tip #4. Create a dedicated space for your writing.

In order to make your writing habit stick, turn it into a ritual. Make sure to have a desk in a quiet corner with plenty of natural light. If you’re sensitive to noise, be sure to have noise-cancelling headphones ready and queue up several playlists to help you stay focused. Next, prep the tools of the trade: your computer, notebook, pens, highlighters, and loose leaf paper for jotting down notes quickly. You might also need reference materials such as a thesaurus. Use your phone or watch as a timer to divide up your work into segments to get more done, and don’t forget to switch the setting to silent or Airplane mode so you don’t get distracted. Finally, prep some refreshments—a thermos of hot coffee or tea, a bottle of water, and a snack such as fresh fruit, dark chocolate, or a handful of walnuts and almonds to give you energy.

Tip #5. Develop stronger self-discipline.

Here’s a habit that many famous writers—from Tolstoy to Hemingway to Stephen King—incorporated into their daily lives, which you can benefit from as well. If you are under the impression that all writers write only when they hear the call of their muse, think again. That’s not exactly how it happens! It will benefit you to understand what’s at the core of the writing process. In essence, it’s less about waiting for inspiration and more about mastery— making a continuous effort to improve your skill of writing. If you’re serious about improving this skill, then your writing needs to be a habit, a necessary part of daily life, and a dedicated time to sit down and get your work done. What does that mean? Make it a priority and not an option. Nurture your skill daily, water it like a plant, and give it plenty of space to grow. And most of all—treat your writing seriously. Make it your most important and favorite part of your day.

What are some of the best life-changing books?


Here are 7 books that have made a big impact on my life most recently, along with a few details on why I think they’re important:

Letters from a Stoic by Seneca.

There’s so much timeless wisdom in this book! A collection of letters written by Seneca, it’s a dense read but be warned—you’ll be taking notes from every letter because each one is full of practical advice we can incorporate into our lives. And maybe it’s an even better idea to read it through once, then go back and take notes the second time—you’ll be glad you did. The letters cover quite a large selection of topics. You’ll get to the bottom of what is the importance of true friendship, to why you should exercise your mind daily, to specific ways of reducing anxiety about all the different events that are happening in your life, Seneca’s ideas are a blueprint for living a high quality of life every single day.

Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin.

Written by two decorated, former Navy SEALs who fought during the war in Iraq, this book is a glimpse into what happens on the battlefield, and even more how a leader makes (or breaks) the success of a team. It’s a fascinating read about the importance of setting a strategy, how to prioritize what needs to be done first, how critical it is to check your ego, and why taking full responsibility when things go wrong promotes good leadership and success. At times the book reads like a thriller, and then you realize all the scenarios that are described are based on real events and experiences we can learn from and apply to our daily lives.

Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life by Susan David, PhD.

If you’re interested in learning more about how to acquire a growth mindset, this book is an informative and excellent read. Written by a psychologist PhD who teaches at Harvard Medical School, the book introduces the concept of emotional agility—being flexible with our thoughts and feelings (the equivalent of having a growth mindset), instead of being rigid and holding on to beliefs from our past (the equivalent of having a fixed mindset). There are four key concepts of emotional agility: showing up (facing your thoughts and feelings), stepping out (detaching from them), walking your why (focusing on your core values), and moving on (getting proactive in changing your habits and mindset).

So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love by Cal Newport.

The title comes from advice that the comedian Steve Martin gave a while back to aspiring entertainers: be so good they can’t ignore you! Newport challenges the advice we often hear that we should follow our passion, and says that going down this path can be dangerous, invoke anxiety, and feed into a constant need to reinvent ourselves. Instead, Newport argues that matching our dream job to a preexisting passion doesn’t matter, but that passion comes after we put in the hard work to excel at something that provides value to others. This is a must read for anyone who feels they don’t really have any specific passion and are not sure how to choose their career path or move forward with their life.

Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers by Tim Ferriss.

This book looks and reads like an encyclopedia: there’s so much information included and it’s best if you read it in small chunks! In essence, the material is divided into three sections (Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise), and consists of a comprehensive collection of life experiences, tools, and hands-on tactics compiled from a series of interviews Ferriss conducted with world-class leaders in diverse fields of expertise. These leaders range from top athletes to best-selling authors to Special Ops commanders. It’s like drinking from a very concentrated cup of wisdom!

The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman.

The Daily Stoic is almost like a workbook: it offers 366 days of quotes of Stoic philosophers as well as practical applications of their wisdom through exercises. The philosophers mentioned include Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, Epictetus, Zeno, and Cleanthes. Here are two examples of powerful quotes: “We suffer more in imagination than in reality” (Seneca), and “We all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinion than our own” (Marcus Aurelius). In other words, everyone can find something here they can relate to! There’s also a ton of commentary to accompany each quote, and a super useful glossary of Greek terms.

Never Broken: Songs Are Only Half the Story by Jewel.

The artist provides a blueprint on how we can build strength and resilience in order to become a stronger, better balanced, and happier person. Instead of being impatient with ourselves, we should be more like hard wood that grows slowly: not look for quick fixes, but focus more on who we want to become in the long run. Jewel suggests this is possible to do by making decisions that aren’t focused on only the present, getting to the root of the problem we’re facing, and giving ourselves the permission to grow so that we can become the architect of our dreams.

What should one do in one’s free time?

As long as you have free time, that’s a good thing!

Just one suggestion: use it wisely. Because it’s finite. And because it’s the perfect opportunity to lead a high quality of life.

Here are 5 tips on what to do in your free time.

Tip 1. Spend it on your future self.

Those 48 hours sound like an opportunity to put school or work on pause and just look for what can entertain you. That’s perfectly okay! But many times we end up spending a lot of time doing things that other people want to do. It can be hanging out with a friend because they want to go to a party, even though we don’t feel like going. Or it can be spending a whole afternoon shopping because someone asked us to come along.

How about making a change and devoting some time to yourself? You can create some space to process what you’re going through, and to think where you want to be in 5 or 10 years from now. It’s a good time to dream big: think of that life you want to have in a specific city, with a career in an industry that motivates you, and maybe a partner who’s the right fit. Which is why it’s a good idea to set aside a few hours to do the following:

  • Write down your top 3 goals: they can be personal, professional development, or both.
  • Under each goal, write down 3 things you would need to do on a consistent basis to get you closer to each goal.
  • Create a plan for the week ahead so that you can devote blocks of time to making progress in the areas you’ve identified.
  • In a week, do an assessment of the progress you made. Did some activities take more time than you anticipated? Did you need to plan better? What could you have improved? Then make adjustments for the following week.

Tip 2. Feed your brain.

Use your free time to learn something new, expose your brain to different ideas and perspectives, maybe even others’ point of view. You never know when you might find an idea or two you can implement into your daily life. Use this time to learn, be curious, wonder, question, pause, think. One way to do this is to listen to podcasts. They help to feed your brain, keep you alert and focused, and boost your curiosity. Try some of these podcast ideas:

  • The Tim Ferriss Show. He’s the author of the famous book The 4-Hour Workweek, but this entrepreneur powerhouse is the author of many more—my favorite is Tools of Titans. His podcast is full of interviews with smart people, useful tips on living a high quality life, and excellent advice on everything from important life lessons we can learn from Warren Buffett and Bobby Fischer, to deconstructing concepts such as meditation, mastery, and mindset.
    • Episode ideas: Look for Testing the Impossible: 17 Questions that Saved My Life (#206), How to Design a Life – interview with Debbie Millman (#214), Seth Godin on How to Think Small to Go Big (#177), the Canvas Strategy (#165), and On Zero-to-Hero Transformations (#155).
  • Optimize with Brian Johnson. This podcast feels like getting an education in how to live smarter. It’s about gaining more wisdom in less time to help you live your greatest life. Brian condenses big ideas from the best books on optimal living and micro classes on how to apply these ideas.
    • Episode ideas: Look for The Power of WOOP, based on brain training research by Gabriele Oettingen, PhD; Create Zen Habits with Leo Babauta; and Do the Work by Steven Pressfield. Then check out his micro classes on a variety of topics, from overcoming procrastination to how to train to be a hero.
  • The Model Health Show with Shawn Stevenson. Shawn is an author, nutritionist, and coach and he hosts a fantastic educational show on many interesting topics related to health, fitness, and personal growth. He does a ton of research to prepare for each episode.
    • Episode ideas: Look for tips on how to learn faster and increase focus with memory expert Jim Kwik (#197), how to embrace change and become emotionally agile with Dr. Susan David (#185), how to exercise your “NO” muscle with Michael Hyatt (#206), and how to stop the stress cycle with Dr. Pedram Shojai (#142).

Tip 3. Read books.

Why? It’s the equivalent of living multiple lives; reading can stimulate your imagination, utilize your critical thinking skills, and ultimately, give you food for thought (regardless of whether you agree with what you’re reading or not). And find your thing, fiction or non-fiction, that you’re super interested in.

  • Fiction: Dive deep into the lives of others and get lost in private lives of fictional characters, find out what makes them tick, ask yourself what would you do in their place.
  • Non-fiction: Learn from the experiences of others in their quest to live a happier life, become healthy, start a business, excel at a skill, overcome an obstacle, live a life with more meaning and a sense of purpose.

Tip 4. Forget about TV and find interesting documentaries.

The downside to TV is that it can easily take hours, where you might start watching one show and end up channel surfing. Next thing you know, that precious free time you had is gone. You’re much better off customizing what you watch, which is easy when you look for topics that suit you and your interests the most. Here are a few documentary ideas:

  • Finding Joe: It’s a documentary based on the work of professor and writer of mythology, Joseph Campbell, and the concept of the hero’s journey: why the myth of the hero is still important to us, how we can discover what excites us and gives us greater purpose, and what we can do to apply these ideas to the personal journeys in our lives.
  • The Ancient Worlds: British historian Bettany Hughes shares her passion for ancient societies and talks about everyday life in ancient Alexandria, Rome, and Athens. She gives an in-depth look into the way society was organized among Minoans, Spartans, and the Moors.
  • Ultimate Rome: Empire Without Limit: Mary Beard, a professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge, explores questions such as how the Roman Empire was constructed, how it functioned, what the infrastructure was like, and how different parts of the world merged together to expand one of the most powerful empires of all time.

Tip 5. Be good to yourself.

And here, like everywhere else, you’re the best judge of what this means. Being good to yourself simply means knowing what helps you to relax, what can charge your batteries, what makes you happy. This of course depends on your personal interests, your passions, as well as your personality. And bottom line, it depends on how well you know yourself. Because regardless of whether you’re a true introvert and prefer staying in each evening, or an extrovert who likes to go to concerts and parties, you need to spend quality time doing what is best for you.

  • Do you enjoy spending time with friends? Get a couple of close buddies together for an evening out to watch a movie together, attend a concert, catch up over coffee or dinner at your favorite restaurant.
  • Would you prefer to spend some quiet time alone? Schedule a night in, order takeout, watch a film or a documentary that interests you, or do something else that makes you feel really good, like playing guitar, painting, writing, or any project that really gets your mind engaged.

What’s a great educational podcast?

Optimize with Brian Johnson

What makes it a great educational podcast?

It’s a collection of condensed big ideas from the best books on optimal living, from philosophers from ancient Rome and Greece, to contemporary philosophers, psychologists, scientists, and thought leaders from around the world. The episodes are of different lengths: some are 30-minute interviews with writers of the books being discussed, while others are 5-minute micro classes on how to apply ideas from the books to your daily life: in school, at work, in your personal life, and towards achieving your personal goals.

What makes it unique and different?

It’s both fun and informative: the approach, language, and style of presenting the material is engaging without sounding too academic or dry. Every episode has ideas for practical application of the concepts that are covered.

What are some examples of topics presented?

Some of the most important topics covered in the podcast are developing mini habits, the benefits of positive psychology, how to achieve mastery, what helps you keep your focus and motivation on work, the importance of emotional intelligence, tips for mind hacking, why fear is the #1 enemy, how strategy and a good plan can help you master your life, and others.

What’s an example of a book that is recommended?

This is my #1 podcast where I get the majority of book recommendations, including most recently Seneca’s small book On the Shortness of Life. I wrote a review of the most important ideas from this book in this post.

Any suggestions on what’s a good time to listen to this podcast?

Try it at the beginning of your day: as you’re getting ready, while you’re having breakfast, or during your commute to work or school. You can also maximize the time when you’re running errands, doing household chores, or taking a walk during your lunch break or in the evening when you have some time to yourself. All of these times are an excellent opportunity to feed your brain and get new ideas for making a positive change in your life and taking your education to the next level.

What kind of books should I read if I want to become a smarter person?

Get super strategic about the types of books that can help you discover the world, enhance your learning experience, give you skills to become smarter about what you can do, and overall improve the quality of your life.


Start with several ideas to customize your own fun and informative reading experience:

Idea #1. Download the Goodreads app as your starting point.

It’s one of the most practical ways to stay on top of reading. With this app you can:

  • Discover new books and authors and check out book lists
  • View book summaries, reviews and updates from your network
  • Get recommendations based on your personal reading preferences by genre, topic, and author
  • Use the barcode scanner to scan books you find in a bookstore or library
  • Keep an up-to-date status of your reading by selecting books you want to read, those you’re currently reading, and those you’ve finished

Idea #2. Use Quora as a source for what to read.

  • Get a list of recommendations on the best books of all time
  • Regularly check and skim through answers under the Book Recommendations topic
  • Follow writers who post frequently about books and book recommendations, and write down the names of books they write about if the topics intrigue and fascinate you

Idea #3. Get condensed book ideas to speed up your selection process.

Idea #4. Read books on developing a life philosophy by discovering unique life stories of interesting and wise people.

  • Man’s Search For Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl: the psychology of survival and finding strength to live in circumstances where most would give up. It is written as a real life story by a psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor. A very humbling reading experience.
  • The Surrender Experiment by Michael A. Singer: it reads like a roadmap to achieving happiness. The author explores what letting go can do to one’s life and what can happen when we tune out the noise of our busy lives.
  • The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer: a book about transforming your relationship with yourself and the world around you. It reads as a practical guide to letting go of painful experiences, living mindfully, and freeing yourself from habitual thoughts, emotions and energies that limit your growth, your work, and the quality of your life.
  • Fear: Essential Wisdom for Getting Through the Storm by Thich Nhat Hanh: it is a practical guide to finding peace, reducing daily stress, and overcoming fears, written in a voice that is kind, calm, reassuring, and wise – a true mark of a spiritual leader.
  • Mastery by Robert Greene: this book debunks the myth that it takes a genius with innate talent to produce work of timeless quality. It’s full of examples of some of the biggest minds through history, and it emphasizes how focus, true passion and dedicating ourselves to doing deep work all make us successful in what we do.

Idea #5. Pick books to boost your strategic and leadership skills that you can use to build your career or personal development.

  • The Prince by Machiavelli: learn in depth about human behavior, politics, and gaining power.
  • The Art of War by Sun Tzu: think ahead, develop tactics to manage conflict, and ensure victory.
  • Turning Pro by Steven Pressfield: find out how to go from amateur to a complete professional, and what it takes to gain respect from others as well as yourself.
  • The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick) by Seth Godin: learn the importance of working on the resistance you feel when faced with a challenging situation, instead of simply giving up.
  • Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell: learn from high-achievers and what makes them different, and discover whether it’s genius, talent, or mastering a skill through overcoming a difficulty that makes them be the best in their field.
  • The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb: it can help you understand the impact of the highly improbable and our error of placing too much weight on the odds that events from the past will repeat themselves.

Idea #6. Work on developing a more positive mindset.

Idea #7. Ask!

Whenever you have the chance, ask people which book they’re reading and if they’d recommend it. You never know: sometimes you might get an answer you couldn’t have guessed, and many times you’ll be glad you started the conversation to get to know them better. Some places and situations where this can work best:

  • Waiting in line at the bust stop or coffee shop
  • In a bookstore
  • During lunch break at school or work
  • Hanging out with friends on a walk, hike, or anywhere outdoors
  • Catching up over the phone with someone you haven’t seen in a while, but whose opinions you respect

What are some of your favorite podcasts to listen to in the morning?


Here’s an eclectic mix of podcasts I like listening to:

  • BBC’s From Our Own Correspondent (an in-depth look at the stories behind the top news headlines around the world, told by BBC correspondents, journalists and writers in a captivating storytelling format; hosted by Kate Adie)
  • Optimize with Brian Johnson (condensed big ideas from the best books on optimal living and micro classes on how to apply these ideas; here’s where I get a lot of book recommendations, including most recently Seneca’s On the Shortness of Life)
  • Invisibilia (a show about invisible forces that affect and control human behavior: our ideas, beliefs, and emotions)
  • Intelligence Squared (the world’s leading forum for debate and intelligent discussion; I like the diversity of topics that are covered and that include Brexit, democracy, foreign intervention, capitalism, the art market, contemporary literature, feminism, events in the Middle East)
  • The Memory Palace (storytelling podcast about events from the past)
  • Middle East Analysis (podcast on events happening in the Middle East and North Africa regions; the main contributor is international lawyer and political advisor Dr. Harry Hagopian)
  • This Is Your Life with Michael Hyatt (a podcast dedicated to living a life with more passion, working with greater focus, and pursuing goals that give purpose and meaning to our lives)