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On developing a reading habit- start with this blog.
*low-pitch baritone voice*
“Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body”
“Books are a man’s best friend”
Alright, since we have the cliched sexist quotes out of the way, let’s get you genuinely motivated to develop a reading habit.
On World Book Day, we thought of Slangbusting the concept of mindful reading- something that is needed in the days when we are consuming infinite content without any value.
From bookworms to bibliophiles to sapiosexuals, this is an evolution of exaggerative language that we have seen in the millennial slang- especially in our Tinder bios. Although, it is a sign that nerds are owning up to their liking and finally, intelligence is the new sexy. This is something that we have seen repulsion against; from classrooms where crammers and learners have been wrongfully stereotyped as the same and looked down upon and in pop media where Ross from the hit show F.R.I.E.N.D.S has constantly been ostracized for being passionate about paleontology; something that “nerds” build careers in.
Disclaimer: You will find a lot of random quotes about reading because you are a human and humans love a view quake (more on that later.)
This is the age where we as a generation needs to not just respect readers but also learn from them- the art of reading.
Why do we (think we) hate it?
There are a lot of cognitive biases humans are prone to and one of them is judging the book by its cover. We stereotype something or someone and the likes of it based on one experience. This bias can also be called ‘The Halo Effect’ that causes our impression of someone or something in one domain to influence our impression of them in other domains.
The activity of reading has fallen prey to this bias and we probably hate it because of our education system. We don’t like what is made mandatory for us. This is not only a cognitive bias called ‘Reactance Bias’ but also a restrictive aspect of our archaic education system which was designed to create labor and not creators.
We didn’t like reading textbooks and assumed we hate reading. You need to explore more books and start with a genre you like- and you have to experiment in order to discover. Just like music, you will not find your liking until you hear different music. For all you know, when you are hooked to your favorite type of music, a soul-stirring genre is waiting for you out there.
So, give it all a try.
Let’s rephrase it to why not, and we have literally zero reasons. There is nothing like too much reading (unless, of course, if all you do is read, skipping university/work and do nothing to actually use the gathered knowledge.)
The London HQ of The School of Life claims books make you feel better and not just in theory but in practice too; through bibliotherapy.
A bibliotherapist analyzes you via conversation and questionnaires to give you a prescription of books! Mind you, these are not self-help books that would be creatively titled mirroring your problem, but actual fiction books that would trigger transformational experiences. They also prescribe philosophy, poetry and other creative nonfiction pieces. The School of Life is so confident about this method, that they further went on to publish a book with all the medicinal books called The Novel Cure: An A-Z of Literary Remedies.
Basically, reading is good for your mental health. It also is proven to improve E.Q. levels along with I.Q. by making you understand empathy. A study published in the Annual Review of Psychology proves this. On analysis of fMRI brain scans of the participants, they found when people read about an experience, they exhibit simulation around the same neurological regions as when they would experience it in real life.
Reading is also proven to delay the old age cognitive decline. Our body works in a similar way as a machine, just with more biological complexity. A machine, if not used for a long period of time breaks down before a machine that is used and maintained regularly. Similarly, reading constantly keeps your brain functioning and healthier for a longer period of time.
So, Instead of thinking ‘why should I read?,’ think of ‘why shouldn’t I read’ because if you are not reading, you are missing out on so much.
How to cultivate the reading habit- for novices
‘I want to read more’ is in the top ten resolutions that people make during new year’s along with goals like lose weight, find love, save more, quit smoking and the list goes on. These are baseless goals that people set for themselves and believe it or not, there is a book, and a thousand blogs for each of these goals.
Habits begin with a trigger and this piece aims at being a trigger for you to read. If you do read a book today, this blog triggered you to an action which will definitely lead to a reward. Over time, you build upon the investment and lo! You have a habit. This is a cycle that is a part of Nir Eyal’s ‘Hooked’ model.
Start with reading 20–25 pages every day. Try that you don’t miss out even a day of reading. Pick a time most comfortable to your schedule- read before going to bed or just after waking up and this will also stop the unhealthy habit of scrolling on social media. Later, after working on it, try reading at both times when you wake up and go to sleep. Keep a book right on your nightstand and phone, away from the bed. The easiest way to make a habit is to attach it to a pre-existing habit. If you like, read while you complete the morning ritual of sitting on the pot. Make sure you don’t have a backlog in your mind while you read. Have a peaceful mind when you read.
Always carry a book. It might look pretentious at the airport or while having lunch but you’ll know better since you will be reading more and more. Warren Buffett suggests 500 pages a day. Don’t keep your goal so high that you would avoid it completely. Stephen King’s advice is a daily dedication of 5 hours to reading. This might seem impossible but people on the Internet have seen him reading while waiting in queues and at work between meetings. Aim for the stars and you will reach the moon. Borrow reading time from something that is less important. Prioritize reading.
A distraction-free environment becomes essential, especially for new readers. You do not want any scope for distraction to properly immerse yourself in the world the author has tried building for you. You might not have a dedicated reading space in your house but you can have a go-to spot for reading. It could be a cozy sofa when no one is home, a cafe you really like or a garden near your place where you can sit under a tree. This also helps in building a habit. If you are in a crowded place, use tools like brain.fm that will help you concentrate and block other noises without distracting you.
Take reading recommendations from readers who know you. You might be confused with all the options available. A recommendation would be a small spark that will start the fire called reading within you. Going to the local bookstore or library near you with an approachable owner might be the closest thing to bibliotherapy. They are the best recommenders who will suggest books based on your liking and your experience in reading so far. Eliminate the decision fatigue before you procrastinate your way out of your habit because of indecisiveness. Just pick a book and go for it.
Quitting is okay. That is something you won’t hear often, and rightfully so, but not in the case of books. Quit reading if you don’t like the book. Spend more time reading literature that you like rather than not. Redeeming investment of time spent on reading boring books is foolish. This is where you don’t look at the price of the book or the time spent reading it. You look at the opportunity cost of investing the time that you would read the latter part of a boring book versus reading good literature. This is not where you show your will power. If you feel bad or want to know what happens at the end, you could always pick it back up when you are in a blah mood. No matter how critically acclaimed a book is, it is ok to say, “It wasn’t for me.”
Talk to others about what you are currently reading. The most beautiful part about reading is that two people who read the same book will have different learnings. Talking to other readers will help you get different perspectives making your journey more interesting. Join a book club nearby or form one if you have to. This will be a space for both- recommendations and perspectives from other diverse readers. There are also reading challenges that take place in such communities online as well as offline. Gamification of the process can add excitement. Bookriot and Goodreads have their own challenges that you might want to check out.
Have a reading list. Not just a wishlist you have made on an e-commerce website but a physical reading list where you list books you have, books you need to buy, and books you want to read. Checking off books as you read is a good exercise and motivating aspect. Stock up these books as and when you can so that you never run out of books to read to.
Skim. Readers will judge you if you judge a book by its cover and there is no other way than to read a book to know how it is. A good method of judging a book can be skimming through it on random pages to see if it intrigues you. Chances are, if you like parts of it, you will like it as a complete piece. One other practice is to go through the index and read one page of the chapter you found most interesting.
Look for quake books. You know that feeling that you have when you think you are going to do something good? That is called a quake. A “view quake” is a feeling you get when you are skimming through a book and your gut asks you to read it. That is the best book you can start with.
Hijack Trigger. For any type of habit development or habit breaking, aim at the trigger. Have the urge to scroll? flip a page instead. Hypothetically, if you spend 2 hours a day o social media, that is 700+ hours spend scrolling and consuming random content. Reading only 20 minutes a day would result in 120+ hours of quality reading. Use the DND mode while reading. If you are at the comfort of your home, keep your phone in another room altogether.
Don’t be guilty about guilty pleasures. No one came out of their mother’s womb with Letters to Sartre by Simone de Beauvoir in their hand. Everyone started somewhere and grew from there. It is okay to start with writers like Chetan Bhagat or Stephenie Meyer. You will gradually, with experience realize about other authors and grow to like them. Books mean different things to different people or different things to the same person at various phases in our lives. Do not judge others for their choices, not your past for your own. Be proud you are at least reading.
Surround yourself with literature. Books at the coffee table, the dining table, the nightstand, your car seat pouch, your work bag, your laptop bag, your living room, guest room and every place where you might have free time to read, and you visit often. This way, you can never make an excuse.
Read to someone. This might be a good focus exercise. Listening to a story might be better than just reading it in mind. Read to your grandma, to your kid or your sibling or your best friend. It will add dimensions to your relationship.
Accessorize your reading. Buy a bookmark, use a note card if you find yourself wandering in the lines by holding it under the line you are currently at, purchase a pocket dictionary or an electric dictionary if vocabulary is not one of your biggest strengths. We all hate jargons. Try not using mobile apps because that could be distracting. Kindle could be a good option but it is a long time commitment you will be making to reading. Make reading worth and valuable to personal growth.
How to maintain the reading habit- for avid readers
So you are an avid reader or have become one after following the points mentioned above. There is always scope for development. Stability is the death of innovation and you must always keep challenging your comforts. If you already are a reader, you can develop your skill by working on a few aspects. Investing in small tweaks go a long way.
Read in sprints. Sprints are when you run at full speed over a short distance. You must be reading lengthy books by now and it might seem a little intimidating. Sprints can help you with achieving goals smalls steps at a time. 5217 is a great tool to maintain the work and interval ratio where you read for 52 minutes and take a 17-minute break. This gives your brain enough time to breathe in between continuous reading. This is when you upgrade to time based goals rather than the number of page goals.
Personalize your copy. A very common issue we see with readers is that they get too possessive about their books and want them to last long in their collections. They avoid scribbling on it, folding pages, reading with two hands without rolling the cover page in paperback books, never use any permanent pens or highlighters and keep them like they are babies. We need to limit this possessiveness to only refraining from letting friends borrow your books especially the ones who already have two other that you have forgotten about. Your book will be personalized if you stain it with memories of your experience. The highlights and underlines make it your own. This is how when you come back to a book, you can just skim through your favorite parts- just like going through a photo album to relive the memories instead of repeating the event for nostalgic purposes.
For Dicken’s sake, throw a book if you feel like it. It’s okay.
Maintain a budget. The occasional book sales and book fairs and the quaint little store you saw on your way to the grocery shop can make you a book hoarder with too many books to read before you finish the ones you have previously bought. A monthly budget in alignment to your reading speed and availability of time could help you avoid regrets of month end brokehood.
Reading multiple books at a time is achievable. Not only possible but also advisable. You did it in school with the books you probably hated, you can do it now with boos you actually like reading. If you think you will be confused with the plot and the stories will intertwine, you are underestimating the power of the marvel that your brain is.
Offline is better than online. Both, for purchasing books and for reading them. The physical copy of the book gives a feeling that a device cannot replace. Also, when you visit a store, the options are limited, you are in an environment that is designed for readers like yourself and holding the copy in your hand gives you a preview that the ‘ look inside’ feature can not.
Share what you read. Social media might be a bane for people who are trying to read but for regular passionate readers, it can prove as a boon too. Sharing your gathered knowledge could help a lot of new readers with recommendations through blogs or social media handles or YouTube channels would also add an aspect of motivation for continuing the reading habit, while building a community of like-minded yet diverse people.
Wishlist for birthdays. Avoid getting useless capitalist gifts that will collect dust on your desk and has no value other than emotional. Send your friends your Amazon wishlist right around your birthday so that they can give you something that not only holds value but contributes towards your growth and has the maximum emotional value with the personalized message you get on the first page of the book.
What is mindful reading?
Reading is not an activity, it is a skill that you have to practice diligently. Warren Buffett suggests reading 500 pages a day because “That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest.”
Reading doesn’t make you superior to others and better reading will develop this quality in you. Stay humble, keep reading. Do it for the feeling when you reach.
Now stop reading blogs about reading books and start reading.