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How to make the habit of reading books

‘Reading is a good habit’ is a cliché we have heard since childhood. It is a cliché because it is true. A scroll through the lives of achievers confirms that they are all voracious readers. But research is now finding other benefits to reading – those who read are usually more successful and less stressed, reading as opposed to watching television can prolong our life or help us get smart. There is even a study that shows that parents who read to their kids build a deeper relationship than those who don’t. 

And yet on an average we are reading less. Even folks who read a lot more are finding it difficult to read. So if you are one of those who is either interested in making the habit of reading or wants to dust off the old habit you seemed to have lost, here are a few tips that could help. 

Park that phone. Pause your favourite series binge.

We probably need no reference to scientific research to recognise that our phones, tablets and generally available 24×7 internet is affecting our attention span. And reading is an activity that needs attention. This is what makes it good for us. So separating ourselves from our phone is both critical and easily dispersed advice hard to implement. What can help?

Slotting it.

Set aside a slot in your day for reading. It could be at the start of your day or at the end when you get into bed or it could be that extra 30 mins of free time you have after lunch on a work day. The point is that this slot of time should be one that doesn’t need you to be connected to the net. Choose a slot when you do not need to check your phone for urgent messages, track emails or to follow a match. This digital silence will help create a space for you to read. 

Don’t look up.

Once you do start reading you will feel the need to look up something interesting on your phone. Do not give in to this anxiety. If a word doesn’t make sense, try guessing the meaning from the context or use an offline dictionary. If you really need to, keep a notebook next to you and jot down the query to look up online later. It is most likely you will be surprised how many of these notes will stay unused. And that’s fine. 

Start Easy.

When you are trying to build a new habit, it is better to start small and easy. If you set the target to read a 600 page Brandon Sanderson novel, just a look at the size of the book may make it feel daunting. However, if you start with a short story collection, reading 10 odd pages that give a complete story may give you more satisfaction than reading 5 chapters of that mammoth of a book. It will keep you motivated to go back and read more everyday.

Use a Pacer

Nilesh Ukey has attended a Non-Fiction writing workshop at HWR in the past. He developed a reading habit a bit late in life and now is a voracious reader and blogger. From his experience, he suggests using the aid of a visual pacer: ‘A visual pacer helps you to concentrate and focus on your reading. It could be a pen, pencil, marker, or your fingers. For me, it is a pen. So, when you move your visual pacer across the page, you concentrate better. It helps to reduce regression, that is, your eyes don’t move up and down the paragraphs or before and after the sentence you are on. When that happens, you can lose concentration and have reduced comprehension of what you are reading.’
Another useful thing about a visual pacer is that it keeps you in focus mode. So, when you pick up your pen, it becomes a focus ritual for your mind to get into reading mode. ‘But when I read something for leisure—a comic or a light novel—I don’t always use the visual pacer.’

Read more than one book.

This is what I call the Bill Gates way. Gates who reads more than 50 books a year often reads more than one book at a time across various topics. This is actually a pro tip recommended by many habitual readers. It is also a good bridge from a digital way of acquiring knowledge. It helps you follow various threads at a time without getting bogged down by the monotony of one topic. Further, the satisfaction you get when you start finishing multiple books at a time is a great high to keep you going. 

Your physical reading space is important.

Sticking with Bill Gates’s reading habits, he is known to carry a bag of books with him. This physical act of having books around is important. The space we create for ourselves dictates our habits. James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, notes that if we keep more cookies on the table, we will find ourselves eating more cookies. Similarly, having books around you will prompt you to pick them up more often. Have a bed-side table with books you are reading and carry a book with you when you travel and you will find yourself reaching out for it when there is a free moment. Clear also says that this applies to your digital space too, move reading related apps such as Kindle, Audible or Pocket to the homepage of your device and you will be tempted to open and use them more often. 

Another aspect of physical space is to have a comfortable space to read – verandah, a favourite chair or beside that big window – settle down at a place you like and get reading.

Read stuff that interests you. And its ok to give up on some books.

So you like mysteries or the hunting habits of medieval lords… but is that really useful? 

This kind of thinking has stalled many a prospective reader. Outside of school there have never been any rules for reading. If it isn’t already a fundamental right we should make it one- 

Thou art free to read what you like without judgement or prejudice. 

It is nobody’s business what you read and why you want to read it. It is your time. Feel free to read what you like. 

But sometimes you will need to make an effort with the stuff you read. Give it a fair chance and give the author some time to build their argument.  If it still doesn’t get you it’s ok for you to give up. It’s not a battle and you haven’t lost. It could just mean that you are not ready for a that book right now. My favourite book is One hundred years of Solitude by the Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez, a book I must have read at least 10 times and yet the first time I picked it up, I couldn’t get through and had to put it aside. Maybe it was the language or the setting or the tone, something about the book didn’t work for me until a few years later – it did.

However, if you do find yourself abandoning the last ten books you tried to read, there is a problem and it is probably not the books. Perhaps you are allowing someone else to dictate your tastes or you have strayed too far from what you like . It happens. Whatever the reason, take a look at your reading list and rework it a bit. What helps me sometimes is re-reading stuff I know I liked a lot. That helps me reconnect with my likes and reminds me intuitively why I love reading in the first place.

If you are looking to brush up your knowledge about India, here’s a list of 15 authoritative non-fiction books on India.

Connect with other readers.

I read somewhere – of course I did – that artisans thrive in communities where they live close together. This might be why everyone from ancient temple sculptors and impressionist painters aggregated towards one location to work together. When people with similar likes get together, they talk shop about their favourite thing, share ideas, exchange tools and generally help each other get better. 

So one way to stick to your habit of reading is by being with other readers.  You can find them  both physically (book clubs, literary festivals, book signings / readings etc) and digitally (goodreads, online book discussion groups, HWR Book Club etc). Interacting with other readers can be uniquely rewarding: you will notice no one reads the same book the same way and that people who read often have some great recommendations. Persist with the search even if you do not find the right group right away. They are out there and once you find them, chances are you will  make some great friends. 

Try finding a book about it.

Google is a great source of knowledge. It covers a vast limitless area and makes information available to you instantly. How many times have you attended a dinner where everyone whips out a phone and races to find the answer on Google? That kind of instant gratification is great but I wonder if it quenches true inquisitiveness. As a hypochondriac, I have a unique view of information accessed primarily online. When I do look up a pain or an ache online, the knowledge usually scares me. It is because context, history and subtlety are lost in the quest for speed. There is a reason most books on any subject are long – a few thousand words at least – because anything worth knowing in detail needs space to tell its story. 

So the next time you truly have a question about something, try finding a book about it and read it. Then go back online and look up the same information on Google and you will immediately see through the flimsiness of knowledge available online. Do this once and you will always want a book about topics that truly intrigues you. In a few iterations, you will have a habit that is pretty much unbeatable. 

Or, you can walk into a physical bookstore. We can give you 10 reasons why you should visit a physical bookstore rather than buying books online!

Tips for Parents

If you think it is tough for you as an adult to get a habit of reading started, it can seem almost impossible to wrest a child away from that screen they are hooked to. While most of the points  we have listed above apply to adults and children – there are some unique distinctions to help get a child reading. 

  • Make reading an event for the child. Go to reading sessions or take them to a local book sale or library session. It builds excitement and creates a memory for children to build their habit around it. 
  • Children love to re-read favourites more than adults. It’s one way they learn to spot nuances and apply their growing knowledge to something familiar. So if your child is spending time with her favourite book again – let it be, it’s really ok.
  • Children learn from watching their parents. If they see you enjoying reading, they are more likely to follow in your footsteps. So, set an example for them.

“Everyone is a reader… Some just haven’t found their favourite book yet” ~ Anonymous
So, what are you waiting for? Start working towards making a habit of reading books today and you may just find your favourite!

Sources:

Reading habits of famous personalities

https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/articles/james-clear-make-reading-a-habit/

Starting a habit of reading

https://www.inc.com/jeff-haden/everything-you-thought-you-knew-about-reading-and-watching-tv-turns-out-to-be-ri.html

Watching Television might be killing you

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/06/25/tv-television-early-death-premature-risk-sedentary/11366047/

Mother child relationship while reading

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1468-2958.2011.01413.x

Independent UK’s habit of reading article

https://independentbookreview.com/2021/12/03/how-do-you-develop-a-reading-habit-at-home/

James Clear on Penguin Random House

https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/articles/james-clear-make-reading-a-habit/

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