The Steak and the Spice

Note: In this post I refer to ‘reading’ as the reading of predominantly non-fiction/self-help books

When we sit down to eat a juicy, fresh steak, we rarely eat it without some kind of topping. Be it salt and pepper, or something more extravagant like truffle sauce, the spices we have with steak make it taste significantly better.

I heard this analogy recently on Youtube. There are some things in life that we make the metaphorical ‘steak’ when they should only be the ‘spice’.

For example, gossip.

Gossip - The Spice?

It’s ok to gossip, everyone does it. We can’t help to talk about other people behind their backs. This is normal human behaviour.

But the key question we have to ask is, “Is it the Spice, or is it the Steak?”

Gossiping should be the spice of life, it’s something we do every now and then to make things a bit more interesting, but it’s not something we do often. It is not a part of our core being.

We do not want to be around those people where gossiping is the Steak. Those people that only talk about others behind their backs. Those people that come to us with juicy info on someone, while we know fully that they would share the same gossip about us.

Gossip should be the Spice in your life, not the Steak.

Reading

This Steak and Spice metaphor can also be applied to reading.

Recently I’ve been considering my reading. Last year I read 52 books and in 2021 I was aiming to read 60 books.

As the year has gone on, I have found that this reading has become something I am less interested in. Not because of the content in books, but the way I was going about reading them.

I have realised that reading a book is, in itself, not an accomplishment.

Sure it is cool to read and learn more about the world. A great and necessary pursuit.

But reading huge amounts has less and less of a payoff. Reading books for no particular purpose is meaningless.

Meaning in Reading

I would read books just for the sake of it. The only purpose being to finish the book and add another number to my count. I was reading with no goal or aim to get something out of the book. I had no desire to learn anything from the knowledge in those pages. I only wanted some key lessons I could repeat and add a number to my count.

On the contrary, reading with a goal in mind, with a problem to be solved, is a worthy cause. Reading to enhance your knowledge on a particular topic so you can go out and create, make an impact. Not just for the numbers. This is what I want. This is what reading and gaining knowledge is all about.

With my reading becoming something more for the numbers than actual knowledge, I felt that it was becoming the Steak of my life when reading should be the Spice.

Reading should be something that enhances or improves the things you already do. It gives you a new perspective, content ideas, practical insights, qualified opinions. It should not be the main thing.

Reading in itself is not a valuable skill. Knowing lots of things but not doing anything with that knowledge is in many ways worse than not knowing and not doing. If you know what to do but still don’t act, you have no excuses.

Stockpiling knowledge is only useful if you use the knowledge you have gained. If you don’t use this new knowledge, it is useless.

When I first started reading, books changed my perspective. I had found this whole new world of things that I could learn and digest. Slowly though, I found myself still in the same place that I had started. Books did not seem to have a measurable impact on my life.

They made me feel like I was making progress in my life, giving me the illusion that I was taking steps towards success.

In reality, they were just a side quest, not really helping with the main mission. Reading books and chasing numbers was something that I thought was a valuable use of my time. I know now that it is not.

If someone watches self-help or interesting content on youtube all day long, but does nothing with it, we would describe this person as a time waster and someone that is mentally masturbating to self-help content. Yet for some reason we do not apply this logic to reading books. People cheer us on for reading 50 books in a year. In self-help circles, it is ‘cool’ to read a high number of books. What we fail to realise is that reading books with no purpose and no action is the same as consuming any content but doing nothing with it. It is simply a waste of time, and completely contrary to what the purpose of the content is.

If someone is teaching you a lesson, you don’t just go and tell others the lesson to feel good about yourself. You implement the lesson in your life.

Becoming The Spice

Just like the gossiping analogy, reading had become something in my life akin to the Steak, when it should be the Spice. I could tell you so many cool facts or so many lessons from books and stories that I have read. But where has that got me? Not much further than if I had stopped reading entirely. The lack of intention behind my reading is clear. I have been eating Spice, thinking it was the Steak. It’s time for reading to go back to where it belongs.

This is not to attack reading books. Reading books and learning from others is one of the best ways to learn. My opinion is that reading is not an accomplishment. Reading with the aim of learning, and using that knowledge to improve your actual life however, that is an accomplishment.

If you haven’t read any books of this genre, I think they can help immensely. Reading about social skills and psychology should be required reading for everyone. Just don’t fall into this trap, thinking that reading your 47th book for the second year straight is having an impact.

Spice dramatically improves the taste of a Steak. In the same way, reading can have a massive impact on the things you do in your life. I think it’s important to acknowledge this, that reading is not, and should not be the main thing. It is a great supporting act, a cherry on top, a little bit extra. This is where reading has its place, not as the Steak.

Reading

With this in mind, I continue to read, but I read intentionally.

I read with an aim in mind.

I read without thinking about how many books I am going to read this year.

I read to solve a problem.

I read to learn new skills directly applicable to my current situation.

I read because I enjoy reading.

I read less, but I implement more.

This kind of reading is valuable. This kind of reading will intentionally enhance my life, the lives of my friends and all my future pursuits.

As Brendon Burchard says in his book ‘High Performance Habits’, being intentional about the things we do both makes us get more out of the things we do and also enjoy them more. Asking and reflecting on WHY we do certain things is important to avoiding this lack of intention problem in the future.

James

Connect With Me!

I'll email you with updates when something cool happens