How to make book reading a habit that sticks
Are you thinking of brushing up on your book reading? Maybe you have realised you haven’t done any real reading for some time or you just want to read more often. Well, I am afraid I have to disappoint you because that’s probably the wrong starting point. A better plan is to look at the things you currently spend your time on and find the time wasters that you should eliminate and make way for the good habit of reading. We all have 24 hours in a day and 7 days in a week, right? You can’t change that. At least, not unless something extraordinary happens, which is highly unlikely. Read on for some tips on how to develop the habit of reading and start expanding your horizons and creativity.
Building habits takes time. Especially good habits. Forming the habit of reading is not an exception. Just like the new year resolutions that we make every year and never see through, if not done properly, reading regularly can be an illusion. So what must you do to build a habit of reading that sticks? Read on.
Find the time to read
As mentioned at the beginning, you cannot just start reading more. You need to find and block the reading time. So the first step should be a genuine audit of your current habits and eliminating things like spending lots of time watching TV. Did you know that the average adult in Britain watches 24 hours of television per week? Probably that applies to many other places. It’s not surprising that adults can’t find that much time to do things like reading, is it? As they say, where there is a will there is always a way. It’s a matter of priorities. So eliminate the unnecessary activities and find the time you need to read.
Instead of trying to read a book from cover to cover on your first attempt, start with a page or two and then increase the number of pages as time goes on and you become more and more comfortable with reading often. You could even start with one paragraph. Don’t stress yourself from the very beginning, otherwise you will burn out before you even start.
Take advantage of the flywheel effect
As with most things in life, if you stick to anything long enough, the flywheel effect will kick in and you will start gathering momentum without putting too much effort. One clever person once said, starting a habit is like launching a rocket into space. A lot of fuel and energy is required at the beginning in order to reach the escape velocity. However, as soon as the escape velocity has been achieved, much less energy is required. The same principle applies to developing any kind of good habit.
Always have a plan
Make a plan to make it easy to achieve your goal of reading. For example, you could start with books that you are most likely to enjoy. I wouldn’t advise starting with a huge 500 page book. The idea is to achieve small successes right from the beginning. So start with small books, if possible. Also remember that if you fail to plan then you are planning to fail.
Find a reading accountability partner
Find a reading partner or simply register on I Read Every Day to be an early bird and join the reading marathon groups we are creating there. You will find people that you can form a book discussion group with or just be each other’s accountability partners. The reason why having an accountability partner works is that you are more likely to keep going when you have made a public commitment according to the principle of commitment and consistency as explained in the book “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion” by Dr Robert Cialdini.
Choose the book format that suits you
Using the book format that suits you best can go a long way towards making it easier for you to form the habit of reading. Some people love feeling the touch and smell of a so-called real book. If you are that kind of person, do go ahead and get real books to read. However, if you are like me, then you like your books in electronic format, synchronised across all your favourite devices. Price is also a factor as ebooks are usually cheaper. I personally find myself reading more as I can start reading on my desktop at work, continue on my tablet at home and then on my smartphone when waiting in the queue at the post office. No more wasting time looking at the post office walls.
Take breaks from reading
My English teacher used to say, “too much of the same thing becomes a monotony”. Don’t spend every free moment reading books. You need a break. Go out there and talk to people, breathe some fresh air. After all, they say all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. You need some free time to get the creative juices flowing or to put the theory from the books into practice.
Make it easy to read
Always have a book with you and take it whenever you get the chance to read. It could be while you are in a queue or when lying in your bed before you fall asleep or right after you wake up. Believe me, you are more likely to start reading when the book is right there next to you than when you have to get up and go to another room to get it. After some practice, having a book with you will become second nature and you will start feeling uncomfortable when you leave your house without a book. When that happens, that will be the time you will know you have built a habit that is likely to stay for good.
Celebrate small successes
Celebrating small wins is what keeps you focused, motivated and raring to achieve more. Celebrate all your wins, however small, and strive to make as many small wins as possible. It’s a good idea to get a calendar where you can mark the days you have practised the habit of reading and those you didn’t manage to. Building a habit is difficult so expect some failures, especially at the beginning. However, what is important is to have more positive days than negative ones. Try to have as many consecutive reading days on your calendar as possible. In other words, when you start reading, try not to break the chain. This is the don’t break the chain method of productivity borrowed from the actor Jerry Seinfeld.
How the habit-forming process works
According to Charles Duhigg, the author of the book “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do, and How to Change”, building a habit requires a cue, routine and reward.
- Cue — this is what triggers the habit. So let’s say you want to stop watching TV and start reading. The cue for you could be the urge to watch TV. So if you feel like watching TV, you get a book. If you dig deeper, you might discover that the reason you watch TV is that you are bored. So the correct cue here would be the feeling of boredom instead of the urge to watch TV.
- Routine is what you do when the trigger is set off. So in our example, when you feel bored you get your favourite book and start reading.
- Reward in this case it could be that warm feeling inside that you have done something more productive. Or you could actually reward yourself by watching an episode of your favourite TV show and nothing more than that. Other people prefer eating chocolate at the end of their routines. The reward is what makes your brain respond to the cue so that you follow the routine. So make sure it’s a good one.
Now that you know what is the cue, routine and you have chosen a good reward, all that’s left is to keep repeating these steps until the moment comes when you will start feeling like reading instead of watching TV.
Beware of LIFO
If you manage to form a new good habit, don’t think it’s the end. That you don’t have to work on it regularly any more. Unfortunately, when it comes to habits the LIFO rule applies. That means Last In First Out. If anything happens, let’s say you have to travel and you won’t have time to read and consolidate your new habit of reading, the last habit you formed will most likely be the first one out. So beware.
According to Max Ogles, the author of the book “Boost: Create Good Habits Using Psychology and Technology”, the main reason why we fail to form habits that stick is that we simply don’t enjoy doing them. He came up with the “Habit Success Matrix” which shows that to make a habit easy to maintain, it needs to be enjoyable.
The Habit Success Matrix from the book “Boost: Create Good Habits Using Psychology and Technology” by Max Ogles
Some ways of making a habit enjoyable are making small steps, getting other people involved, e.g. friends. When I was in high school, I made systematic learning an enjoyable habit by involving my friends and creating a kind of mastermind group which helped us all stay motivated and keep working until regular learning became second nature. The same can be done with reading.
It’s the doing that matters
Remember wanting something doesn’t usually get you far. It’s the doing that matters. As Mark Twain said, “The secret of getting ahead is getting started.” If you just take a small step like reading one page per day, you are already way ahead of those still sitting in front of the TV dreaming of reading books. Good luck. May the Power of Habit be with you. If you have other tips for building the habit of reading, leave them in the comments below.
Join the Read Around The World Challenge, if you are serious about forming reading and writing habits. Also check out Boocshare for how to share your paper books with friends and save money.