When I was a kid, every two weeks my mom would gather my four siblings and me into the minivan and take us to the local library. While the youngest two chased each other around on the dusty carpet downstairs and the other two played games on the computers, I would scour the shelves in search of new worlds and characters to explore.
Then I would leave hauling an armful of novels and non-fiction, ready to spend the foreseeable evenings with my nose buried in them. And you know what? I managed to finish quite a few of them before their return date came around.
So what’s my excuse now for taking over a month to read one book?
My list of “distractions”:
- spending time with loved ones
- spending time with the dog
- re-watching the same TV series over and over
- spending hours lost in video games or my phone
- cleaning until every last speck of dust is eradicated
The thing is: NONE of these are valid excuses for putting down the book in my hand.
I know that reading isn’t hard (I learned how to do it before I learned so many other essential life skills), I know I can make the time for it, and I know I’m not the only one who struggles to read as much as I’d like to.
So how can this habit be changed?
Or more importantly, why should this habit be changed?
Well, for starters, reading is scientifically proven to be good for you. Studies performed by the University of Sussex in the UK and people like Keith Stanovich have proven that reading reduces stress and can broaden your vocabulary and your knowledge to make you better equipped when put in never-before-seen situations.
Did you know that reading can also be physically stimulating? Reading once per day exercises your brain and can even help prevent dementia and Alzheimer’s. After all, you need to retain information concerning plots, ideas, characters, and worlds while reading.
Reading also helps you become a more creative person. Don’t believe me? Whenever I hit a roadblock in my writing, I pick up a book and read a couple of chapters, and voila! The writing techniques, the dialogue, everything I love about the book can be transferred over to my writing.
And lastly, in a world where most of us spend over three hours a day on our phones or other devices, reading can help improve our self-discipline. Instead of scrolling, commenting, watching videos, and texting all in a single minute, you can sit down and put all your focus onto one page. *Sigh* It’s an easy way to force yourself to practice concentration and relax into one task at a time.
That’s plenty of good reasons. Now how do I change my habit again?
I know I’m probably not the first person to tell you that forming a habit should take a minimum of 21 days. Dr. Maxwell’s 21/90 rule is pretty well-known. In order to make something a routine, you need to perform that activity every day for a long period of time. You need to read every day.
I know what you’re thinking.
Read every day?
I have no time.
Ah, here we are. Back at the beginning of this article.
But this time, I have three steps for you (yes, you only need three!).
One, start small.
Instead of jumping in headfirst and aiming to read 100 books in a year, cool your jets. There’s no rush. Remember that you’re having a hard time squeezing in one book, so don’t stress yourself out by trying to read several in one month.
Start with one.
Read one book a month. That’s twelve a year. Still great while not biting off more than you can chew.
Time is also an important factor. I used to try and read by pages, usually around 50 a day. That’s a lot when you’re just starting out. Some days I struggled to reach that number and on others, I vaulted over it. But I don’t recommend putting yourself through this. Start small.
Read for ten to fifteen minutes. Hell, read for five. The point is that you’re carving out some time every day, no matter how large or small, to read. Once you’ve mastered it, increase the time.
Two, get comfortable.
Quick. Picture your dream reading spot.
Now make it happen.
Set up a comfy reading chair by the fireplace or curl up under the covers with the cat purring at your feet. Reading doesn’t have to be fancy (unless you want it to be).
Try to keep this as your dedicated spot so that as soon as your eyes see it, your mind says, “Okay. Time to read.”
Most people think of reading as a solo task.
Who said it has to be?
Just like a gym buddy, a reading budding can call you out when you’re slacking or sit alongside you to make you feel less lonely. Create goals together or create competition if that helps. Sometimes just having that person cheering you on can make all the difference.
If you can’t convince any of your family or friends to join in, try setting goals for yourself. Add reading to your to-do list, post your progress online or in a journal for yourself, or reward yourself every time you finish a book.
Now for the Reality…
Remember that list I made at the start? The distractions seem foolish now, don’t they?
Reading opens up so much while allowing us to temporarily shut the door on the rest of our lives. Whether it’s fiction, non-fiction, comics or graphic novels, poetry… it all removes us from stress and engages our minds in a way that nothing else can. So we owe it to ourselves to read widely, read carefully, and read more.
Right now, I’m on my second book this month. That little girl in the library would be proud.