Someone I grew up with asked me to give them tips to develop the habit of reading after seeing my WhatsApp status about a book I am currently reading a few days ago. I probed to understand what is stopping this person from reading. The person lamented on how they would love to read but lacks the motivation. He added that he knows he has to read.
Like my friend, a lot of us want more to read this year. Many of us have made this resolution every year in the past but ‘failed’ at it. We know the importance of reading but can’t just get to do it. For some, we cant seem to complete a single book. We open several books throughout the year, but a few pages or chapters is all we manage to read.
I don’t consider myself an avid reader. I have the same struggles; lack of motivation and sometimes not finishing a book I started. I used to read a lot when I was young. However, as time went by I surmised that I was now too busy with work or academics to pick up a book and read. If I recall well, I think during my counseling psychology internship year, I read only one non-academic book because ‘I believed I was very busy.’ Reading is important. We cannot afford not to do it.
The benefits of reading go beyond it being a survival skill we need to be able to understand precautions. Reading develops and improves the mind. Like any muscle in our bodies, the brain needs exercise to be strong and healthy. With our minds, we can change the physical reality of the brain. Studies have shown that stimulating the mind through reading has been connected with the prevention or slowing down the process of Dementia and Alzheimer’s. We discover and learn new things from books. There are various genres of books ;fiction, non-fiction, faith-based, motivational and so on that we can learn new things from that will change our lives for the better. Harry Truman said, “not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers”. If you want to stay relevant in a field, you have to invest in some knowledge and advice. Books are one of the places where you can dig up that treasure of knowledge. Reading can also be a refreshing and relaxing exercise after a long day. I can go on and on.
Developing a new habit is not easy. A habit refers to rituals or behaviours that are done regularly and tend to occur automatically. Neuroscientists often talk about how neural pathways are created in the brain through repeated thinking patterns and actions. This applies to both good and bad habits. It takes some time for that to happen. The good news is that it is possible to develop new habits! It just needs us to be strategic.
I often compare developing a new habit/ getting rid of an old habit with changing a playlist on YouTube. If you have played a certain genre of music or music by a certain artist for a long time, the day you feel like playing a song by a different artist, 2 or 3 songs later, you will be back to your ‘default playlist.’ However, if you search for albums of the ‘new’ type of music you want to listen to, it will take a while before your music changes back to the old playlist. However if you repeat your new search often enough, eventually your playlist will change. There might be strategies that you need to put in place. For example using this YouTube logic, you might need to be near your tv or computer to remove the old music that you no longer want to listen to from the list.
Below are strategies we can put in place to develop the habit of reading:
CHANGE YOUR MIND
Assess how you think about reading? Do you view it as a burden? Do you think about it as something hard to do? Once you are aware of those thoughts, you need to catch them and change your mind. “When you see choosing to change your mind and to learn as a heavy burden, you miss out on the opportunities in front of you. When you see choosing to change your mind and to learn as a wonderful privilege, suddenly you see the opportunities”- Dr Caroline Leaf.
Don’t we all wish we had a magic wand that we could wave around that will change everything for the better?! Unfortunately, life does not work that way. We need to put in the work. The work starts with and in our minds. ‘As a man thinketh, so is he.’ We need to catch our thoughts when they divert into the negative. For example, a thought like ‘I am too busy to read’ needs to be caught and changed. What can work in this instance is to verbalize the opposite of that thought. Something like, ‘I love to read. I make time to read’. Of course, it takes time. You will have to keep at it.
You can start by reading a page per day. Some books are long and can be intimidating or even overwhelming for new readers. When you start small, a few months later you will be surprised by your progress. Desmond Tutu once said that “there is only one way to eat an elephant: a bite at a time.”
No matter your goal for the year or decade, you have to do it one day at a time. Habits work the same way.
BUY A BOOK
You may attach a sense of worth and value to the books that you buy for yourself over the ones people lend you. In this case, you may find the motivation to read them. It can be a way of expressing self-love and showing commitment to the habit of reading. Therefore invest in yourself and get a book that can enrich an aspect of your life. A gift may work as well.
FIND OUT WHAT YOU ARE INTERESTED IN
A few weeks ago, I visited my friend on my way back from the bookstore. I excitedly showed her one of the books by Brenè Brown that I had bought. She asked me,’ how do you know which books to buy?’ She told me she is clueless about which books to read and obviously to buy. Knowing which books to buy or read can be daunting for people who want to start reading. I believe it is important to find out what interests you. For me, it is financial freedom, purpose, healing, grace, and personal development. With information available at our fingertips, we can discover experts these particular areas. That can be a guide on the kind of books and authors we need to consume information from.
Moreover, you can figure out what you need to be investing in, looking at what you are struggling with this season. Or it may not be a struggle, but a skill or strength that you want to improve. With the power of the internet, you will be able to find books in those particular areas.
MAKE READING A PART OF YOUR ROUTINE
Mark Batterson who is the author of the book ‘Win the day’ advises that to get to do the most difficult or challenging task, the best thing to do is to do it first thing in the morning. You can make reading a part of your morning routine and ensure you do it first. For example, if running is not difficult for you, you can read a page of a book before you run. The run will feel like a reward for doing the difficult task which is reading
When you use public transportation if you are not chatting with your neighbour or you feel the conversation has come to a natural halt, take out your book and read. Read whilst you are on a passenger on a road trip. Read when you are on the queue at the bank. Read during your lunch hour at work. This is not to say you block social interaction by holding up a book to your face. Sometimes what we need may be in those conversations than in a book. However, you can discern. Your neighbour may not be feeling chatty, so give them that space and turn to your book.
Stay the course. Keep reading! Do not do it one month and then take a long 2 months break. There is nothing that you cant do if you put your mind to it. Demand a bit more from yourself!
PRACTICE WHAT YOU LEARN
If the goal of reading is to learn and not to just refresh, then there is need to jot down lessons from the book in your journal or diary. After that, try to integrate the lessons and the best ways to apply them in your daily life.
I wish all of us success in our reading journeys!
Dr Caroline Leaf: Switch on your brain: The key to peak happiness, thinking, and health.