How to Start a Reading Habit
Do you want to read more books?
Maybe you can't find the time. Maybe there's a stack accumulating on your nightstand, quietly shaming you for ignoring them. Maybe you feel you ought to read, but, for some reason, you just don't get around to it.
Maybe you're like a woman in my book club. She shows up, sheepishly admitting that no, she didn't finish the book. She wanted to, of course, it was so interesting, she just… didn't finish it. Why not?
Do you really not have time? That's true for some people. But for most of us, we do have time. What we don't have is well-managed time. And we haven't made reading a priority.
Priorities: Deciding to Read
To find time to read, you first have to decide that reading matters to you. If it doesn't, you won't read. You'll do something else.
Look at it this way: if you want to do something enough, you'll find a way to do it. That's one of the principles of human motivation. We want to do things that are fun and give us joy, things we'll succeed at, things that reward us now. If the fun factor is high, you'll do it even if it's hard. If you value reading enough, you'll find a way to read.
Maybe you say things like, "I should read more books." But should read doesn't mean you've decided you want to read. It means you think reading books is something you ought to feel motivated to do, because reading books is good (for whatever reason), but right now you may not feel particularly motivated.
Interrogate that should. Stop doing things because you "should". Get curious. Why is reading books good? What's the benefit to you? What about reading books would be fun or bring you joy? Why would you want to read a book? Why wouldn't you?
Don't read a book because you should. Read because you want to.
Management: Making time for reading
You want to read. But there are lots of other things you want to do, too. How do you fit reading in alongside everything else? Here are some strategies you can use.
First, consider your reading goal. Let's say your goal is to read a 300-page book this month.
- Break your goal into bite-size pieces. Instead of saying "I will read this 300-page book this month," try saying, "I will read 10 pages of this book every day" or "I will for 10 minutes every morning." Ten pages or ten minutes a day is a bite-size goal.
- Make your goal smaller. That way, you can fit it in around your other priorities, so it doesn't get lost entirely. Give yourself two months instead of one. Don't give yourself a deadline, but instead make your bite-size goal smaller: "Read 5 pages every day," or "Read one chapter every Sunday."
In the hectic stress of my final years in graduate school, I forgot to read for fun. I used to read a ton. When I realized I missed reading, I decided I'd start again—20 minutes a day. There had to be 20 minutes available in my day, in between naptimes and mealtimes and everything else.
Where did I find time?
If you dig around in your day, you won't find unused minutes ready to be scooped up. You use all the minutes in your day, every day.
You have to look for time that can be reallocated.
Time ripe for reallocation includes:
- Ten minutes of social media over morning coffee
- Twenty minutes of a show or YouTube in the evening
- Five minutes of screen time in the waiting room
- Twenty minutes keeping half an eye on the kids and half on your phone
- A ten-minute break in your workday in the afternoon
And so on. I began reading after bedtimes and before wakeups. I left my book at the kitchen table so I could read during snacktimes, when the kids didn't need my full attention. I carried my book outside with me, and read while the kids played in the grass. I stopped scrolling social media at night and read ebooks instead. And it turned out that I had way more than 20 minutes a day available for reading. I read 71 books last year.
Maybe you find some time, but you don't stick to your reading goals. Iterate! If what you're doing isn't working, try something else.
Try different book formats. Listen to audiobooks during your walk, commute, or drive. Read ebooks on your phone. The Kindle app works great, and I use the Libby app to get ebooks from my library. Ebooks are especially useful if you want to read in the dark—like I do when putting my kids to bed.
Stop reading books if you don't like them. You're not obligated to finish a book you don't enjoy. Sometimes, the problem isn't that you don't want to read, it's that you don't want to read that book. Try a different book! Pick a book in a new genre, on a new topic, from a new author.
Don't know what to read? Here are reviews of books you might find interesting:
- Get It Done: Surprising Lessons from the Science of Motivation by Ayelet Fishbach
- Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer
- The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey
- Hunt, Gather, Parent: What Ancient Cultures Can Teach Us About the Lost Art of Raising Happy, Helpful Little Humans by Michaeleen Doucleff
- Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott