The benefits of reading are countless and impressive.
Reading puts your brain to work. It involves several brain functions, including visual and auditory processes, phonemic awareness, fluency, comprehension, and more. It increases your attention spans, focus and concentration. Reading also stimulates mental processes, and that helps preserve memory skills as we grow older.
When I became serious about digital wellness a few years back, reading for pleasure as an alternative to digital entertainment was the first activity I decided to take on seriously. Throughout the years, I have learned these three practical tips that have made reading an immensely enjoyable leisure activity, and not another to-do item on the list: quit reading books you don’t like, cut out distractions, and remove friction.
The first and most important change I made was to quit books I didn’t like.
Prior to discovering this simple idea, I used to feel guilty about not finishing a book I have started. I would feel especially guilty if the book was considered a classic or a must-read, blaming myself for not being smart enough, or interesting enough, to enjoy something regarded so highly. I would blame it on my own laziness or distractions. How many times have you picked up a book because it’s a bestseller or a classic only to find it tedious to get through a chapter, let alone the whole thing? How often do you feel obliged to finish a book you’re not enjoying at all?
That was until I came across a brilliant post from Rosie Leizrowice, How to choose books you’ll actually read, in which Rosie advises us to be picky about the books we choose to read until the last pages, by opting for books on topics we are passionate about, reading books by people we admire, and/or looking for the favorite books of our heroes.
Reading, especially reading for leisure, should be a delightful activity. The truth is, when you find a book you truly enjoy reading, you will know because you won’t be able to put it down. You don’t find yourself zoning out constantly and not remembering what happened in the last couple of paragraphs you just read. You look forward to reading it to find out more about the characters and the storyline. You long to find out what happened to the characters long after the story ends on the last page.
Since realizing this, I have been ruthless when it comes to choosing the books I read. I could be half-way through a book and if it starts to feel tedious, I leave it alone. If a book doesn’t grab my attention a couple pages in, I don’t bother with it. I only read books written in the first-person perspective, with very few exceptions, because that is what I enjoy the most.
Here is another perspective.
Tim is a 34-year-old man who reads about 5 books a year. If Tim lived to be 90, he only got 300 more books left to read, out of the millions of books available, in his lifetime. According to Tim, “even though it feels like I’ll read an endless number of books in the future, I actually have to choose only 300 of all the books out there to read and accept that I’ll sign off for eternity without knowing what goes on in all the rest.” In other words, don’t waste your time reading books you don’t enjoy. Your time is limited, so dedicate it to books you truly find pleasurable.
As Austin Kleon puts it very eloquently, “every hour you spend inching through a boring book is an hour you could’ve spent plowing through a brilliant one.” Choose books that excite you, and discard the ones that feel like a chore to read. It significantly has improved my reading habit.
Another no-brainer advice is to cut out distractions. Find out what your distractions are, and minimize them.
Once you choose a book you want to read, the next step is removing distractions that get in the way. Even the best book one can find is no match for digital distractions. I read the most books last year during the times I killed my phone. As a result, whenever I got bored, or had time to kill, I read books instead of scrolling through time-wasting websites. Reading a page here and a chapter there adds up over time.
I also read a lot more when I put my phone away and bring a book to bed. The additional benefit of this is, of course, better quality sleep. I could have read double the amount of books I read in 2019 if I worked more diligently to remove online distractions.
Another really good advice: remove frictions.
I discovered this idea from the podcast episode, Creatures Of Habit: How Habits Shape Who We Are — And Who We Become, on creating good habits. According to psychology Professor Wendy Wood, an important ingredient for habit change is removing frictions. Friction is the amount of effort required to perform an action. When it comes to implementing a habit, it is important to remove or minimize friction by reducing the amount of effort required to perform the action. Professor Wood wears her workout clothes to sleep so when she wakes up, she is ready to go for a run. In doing so, she has minimized the effort required to go for a run in the morning.
I keep an e-book or two going at all times so I always have something to read even if I don’t have a physical book available. I maintain a to-read list so when I’m done with a book and don’t know what to read next, I can always refer to the list. I have signed up to receive weekly book recommendations from my local library to add to my book list.
Life is full of excuses not to do the things we would like to do, the things that are good for us. Prepare for your future self’s excuses by putting a plan in place to remove frictions.
Until next time,
Sign up for my curated weekly newsletter, time spent offline, on spending less time online and (re)discovering the pleasures of the offline world. Five ideas delivered right to your inbox. Every Tuesday.