Learning, psychology

How to Start Reading and Never Stop 📖

When I’m not sleeping in the bath, I’m reading. Today was a long day, so I’m in search of some respite. Since I’m caffeinated, I think I’ll read. For this session I’ve selected “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl.

Now, I’m not one of those people who reads 50 books a year. I’m not even one of those people who pledges to read 50 books a year and fails. I’m closer to the average adult who hasn’t read anything longer than four pages since school.

Or, at least I was.

These days I make a conscious effort to read something every. single. day.
I guess by some methods of accounting you could say I was already reading something every day. But, when I don’t count Twitter (or anything else with a news feed) it gets pretty bleak.

On my life timeline, I was closest to what could be described as a “voracious” reader during my first year of university. That summer and into that school year I probably read more books than I‘ve read in the 10 years since.

Though I’ve always wanted to return to the reader I was during that period. I remember the day the dry spell started. Have you ever heard of the book Herzog? I started it and logged a DNF. Herzog took my inner reader behind the shed and neutralized it.

After that and for most of my twenties I read here and there, but never with any consistency. My attention was dominated by the continued proliferation of Web 2.0 apps and OCD.

…But today I’m the kind of person that reads about the meaning of life in the bath. TALK ABOUT AN EVOLUTION.

Let me put the book down, pull myself together, and I’ll meet you in my reading spot.

💡 Okay, now that I’m settled into my chair and before I get back to my other book, let me tell you how I made the jump, the jump from a lengthy reading dry spell to now, the most enriching & stimulating period of my life since school. (There’s an Eden metaphor in there somewhere).

The weird thing is that the desire to read never left me. I graduated from school and life got busier. I could never find the time to read. Without the scaffolding of school to structure my day, my days collapsed in on themselves. It was suddenly up to me to decide what was important and where to spend my time. I was not ready for that to be the case. My reading habits weren’t the only thing that suffered.

That gets us to my first point. No matter how busy I am, I make time to read every single day. It doesn’t matter what, where, or how long. The first thing that got me back on track was just to read. Once I was started, even if just for a few minutes each day, it became an anchor inside my busy days. Everything else continued to swirl in the hurricane of daily life around me, but reading grounded me.

And that’s it.

Just kidding. Of course that’s not it. If it were that easy, I’d have been able to overcome it with willpower. The next step after deciding to read every day was to actually read every day. I don’t think the reason we don’t read every day is a matter of discipline and willpower. For me it was more a matter of distraction. Over the last ten years I remember many times wanting to “start reading again.” The problem was that when I look back across the last decade of my life I can remember a bunch of individual decisions to read more, but in the throes of everyday life I would make a promise to myself one day and then forget it the next, swept up in whatever the swirling hurricane served me that day.

Here’s the thing. After you decide that you’re going to read every day, you need to create a reminder to yourself to read every day. The mechanism that’s worked best for me is a collection of marbles and a jar. Each time I sit down and read I get to put a marble in the jar. The jar sits on my counter and is a great reminder of the commitment I made to myself. I find myself making decisions and long term commitments all the time, but without an obvious, visual reminder of the journey I’m on, I sometimes forget I’m on the journey. And what happens after that? 6-weeks later I find myself sitting at the salad bar eating lunch wishing that I read more.

Another thing about the marbles? They transformed the way I thought about measuring my reading. Before, reading was about finishing books or reading a set number of pages or chapters. Don’t get me wrong. Sometimes I do get sucked in. I love those moments, but even now it’s not uncommon to have a day where I don’t feel like reading. Once I’m engaged in my book though, ooo baby it’s another story (pun intended). I sit down, read a few pages and earn another marble for my progress, each day filling up my jar a little bit more. And with each marble that goes into the jar I reinforce my identity as a “reader.”

When I made the mindset shift to focus more on the inputs (time spent reading) and less on the outputs (number of pages read) reading became a lot more enjoyable. That said, sometimes it takes time to warm up to a new book. Sometimes the emotional toll of reading about Dr. Frankl’s life in Auschwitz is heavier than I can handle on that day. That’s okay. But that does not mean that I get a pass for reading that day. Instead, I put Man’s Search for Meaning down and I start another book. To my younger self this was heretical. I was raised to finish what I started and setting aside a book was quitting. These days however I view it a little differently. When I’m not ready to keep reading a book I pick up another book. The old book goes on ice. I may come back to it or I may not. A lot of times I do come back to it, but thinking of it as on “pause” rather than “abandoned” gives me that nudge to keep on going, to keep reading. I find this to be helpful too when I’m reading longer books. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I need variety. This helps with that too.

Building on that point, that means I also need to make sure I have extra books around the house. To that end I’ve started a habit of purchasing (or renting from the library) books that I want to read as I decide I’d like to read them rather than when I’m ready to read them. Something about having a pile of books waiting in the wings also makes me feel good, but that might be just me.

Before I let you go and get back to my book, the last point I’ll make is this. I like to read for a bunch of reasons. It’s fun. It makes me feel smarter. It broadens my horizons. It’s all those things and more. But sometimes it still feels like a chore. I think that’s pretty natural. When I’m reading and vibing I try to call it quits before it starts to feel like a chore. This keeps me hungry for more tomorrow.

And, if all goes according to plan, the next day. And the day after that…

Thanks for reading. ✌️& 💜.

Written while listening 🎧 to Scott Adams on the Joe Rogan Experience.