How To Use The Reading Habits of Billionaires To Radically Improve Your Intelligence and Success

Elle Kaplan
Nov 21, 2016 · 4 min read

Science says the reading routines of Warren Buffett and Bill Gates are guaranteed to make you smarter and wealthier.

When asked about the key to his success, the billionaire investor Warren Buffett once said:

“Read 500 pages every day. That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will do it.”

He starts his day off by reading through dozens of newspapers, and devotes a huge portion of his day to his voracious consumption of books. He’s not alone, either. Mark Cuban spends up to 3 hours of his day reading books, and Bill Gates reads 50 books a year.

And when asked how he learned how to build rockets, Elon Musk simply said “I read books.”

Unsurprisingly, research shows that these mega-moguls are on to something. Their specific reading habits will make you dramatically smarter, and are highly correlated with building wealth and success.

Your Mom probably told you to read when you were a kid, but she might have actually accomplished it if she mentioned this fact: 1,200 of the world’s wealthiest people all read extensively.

The right reading habits are also scientifically proven to fire up your brain synapses in unique ways and improve your memory and learning capabilities.

That’s all well and good, but how can you realistically read 500 pages a day and reap the full benefits?

I’m sorry to break this to you, but Warren Buffett doesn’t read Twilight in his bed before going to sleep.

According to Thomas Corley, author of Rich Habits: The Daily Success Habits of Wealthy Individuals, rich people (annual income of $160,000 or more and a liquid net worth of $3.2 million-plus) read for self-improvement, education, and success. Whereas less well-off people (annual income of $35,000 or less and a liquid net worth of $5,000 or less) read primarily to be entertained.

Well after they graduate, the ultra-successful never stop being scholars. They’re constant learners who have become their own professors in life, so it’s not surprising that they read to improve their knowledge.

The good news is this doesn’t have to be boring. For instance, Fast Company found that the most successful people obsessively pour over the autobiographies of other successful individuals to look for guidance, find inspiration, and get motivated.

If you’re looking for somewhere to start, luckily the ultra-successful aren’t shy about their book choices: check out the favorite books of Bill Gates or 20 books that the ultra-successful recommend.

Especially for something seemingly unimportant like reading, it’s too easy to sweep reading hundreds of pages to the wayside.

But to Warren Buffett and other successful moguls, a dream isn’t something achieved by deliberating how to reach it, but rather a specific, well-conceived desire that always happens. That’s why the scientific key to creating an iron-clad reading habit is to state when and where you intend to perform the action.

In a study performed by the British Journal of Health Psychology, people who set an intention by creating an action plan of when and where to work out had a 91 percent success rate in making time for exercise each week. The other groups had double the failure rate.

If you want to stick to this billionaire habit, consider setting up a designated reading time that’s non-negotiable. A great suggestion is to schedule it at night so you can wind down before bed.

If you’re not a voracious reader, 500 pages a day can seem like a huge endeavor (I know it does for me). The good news is that you don’t have to start with Chaucer or Shakespeare, or read exactly 500 pages daily to begin your habit.

Just like you wouldn’t start bench pressing 500 pounds, you can start off small with this billionaire habit and work your way up. Entrepreneur and habit expert James Clear recommends 20 pages a day to start, because it’s “small enough that it’s not intimidating. Most people can finish reading 20 pages within 30 minutes.”

He notes that this is a perfect average speed for readers, and that he’s managed to up the pages he reads in this time, while also squeezing in other reading. The most important part, however, is that “ regardless of what happens during the rest of the day, I still get my 20 pages in.”

Just like Warren Buffett is a big fan of diversifying his investments (same here), he doesn’t put all his eggs in one basket when it comes to reading.

The reason behind this is that you’ll reap the benefits of varied knowledge. Instead of adding one perspective, you’ll benefit from a patchwork of new ideas.

It might seem tough at first to switch between different types of books, but science says this process of switching up a habit— known as interleaving — can double the rate in which you learn and process new information.

Even if you don’t finish them, consider reading an autobiography one week, and then switching to non-fiction the next.

It might not seem like it, but once you start following this habit, you’ll reap the proven benefits that took billionaires like Mark Cuban and Bill Gates to the top. You won’t become a billionaire overnight, but it can happen eventually.

Do you have any similar habits that have improved your life for the better? Be sure to give me a shout-out on Twitter!

If you like this piece, be sure to follow me on Medium and check out my column in Inc Magazine!

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