Building up good habits | Reading

(Originally published on  14/04/2020)

For a while I have been getting questions on how I picked up my reading habit and kept it consistently over the past couple of years. I didn’t think much of it at first; however, after coming across many people with the same question I realized that some people do, in fact, struggle with making good habits stick.

So, in this post I’m going to share with you on how it all started for me and how you can do the same if you follow the tips that are provided in this post, regardless of the busy schedule you may have. I also believe these tips would be helpful for those of you that are looking to pick up a new hobby when there is plenty of downtime during the lockdown period.

Although these tips that I’m laying out are specifically for picking up the reading habit, I believe they can be applied to forming any other habits as well. For me, there are four essential elements to picking up any good habits. You have to:

  1. Willingness to get started
  2. Discipline to keep it up
  3. Keep it fresh
  4. Keep it challenging

Willingness to get started

First and foremost, you gotta have the genuine willingness to form any new habits or skills. Keyword being “genuine”. Without it you will have a hard time keeping up even for a week, let alone a year.

Nonetheless, all is not lost for those of you that are asking yourselves if you have it in you or not, since it is something that you can build from the ground up with enough discipline and willpower. I, like many of you, went through the same stage of self-doubt at the early days of my habit forming.

To provide a little back story, it was in late June of 2017 that I decided to give reading another go. At the time, I just got my first ever full-time job training as an apprentice at a woodworking workshop and the place was really far from my house. Therefore, I had to face the reality of taking a grueling and long commute to work and back every day. So, I felt the need to occupy myself with productive means of reading and I thought it was a better use of my time as opposed to having my face glued to a phone.

So, I thought it wouldn’t hurt to start with what I had lying on my bookshelf at the time which happened to be this mesmerizing book titled 1984 by George Orwell. I read a few pages of the book when I first bought it but for some reasons, I never managed to get past the first chapter. I brought the book to work and read a few pages on public transport every day of the month and that’s basically how I picked up a reading habit. How did I keep it up?

Discipline to keep it up

In the beginning, I was worried that I would not be able to focus on the book due to motion sickness I usually get from reading or focusing while on a moving vehicle, but they all came to pass overtime. I had another mounting fear that I would lose interest and stop reading after a month or two. So, I had to mentally convince myself to read even if I don’t feel like it on some days. Over time it became second nature and I’d just open up a book the moment I’m settled in on my seat on a train.

“Self-control requires attention and effort.” – Thinking, Fast and Slow Daniel Kahneman

Some of you might be wondering that what I did to myself was not entirely nice since I basically coerced my inner self to do something I wasn’t really into. Well, I do believe that we all have to dig deep and win over our inside voice to pursue what we really believe is the right thing to do regardless of how cruel it might seem.

As a matter of fact, I used to pull a similar trick on myself when I was in high school. I would convince myself to memorize another line of class note or solve another Math problem before I treat myself to a sweet snack. The real kicker is that I would tell myself to push a little further before I get to open up that sweet, sweet snack! That little psychological trick I played on myself actually paid off and got me through the last year of high school with a distinction in Math. Winning!

In short, you have to train your mind to resist the temptation of instant gratification. Just try to keep in mind the potential benefits of reading consistently, which includes exposing your brain to vivid imagination with intriguing fiction stories and growing your mind to become a better person with informative non-fiction novels.

For those of you that need a little push with self-discipline, I highly recommend checking out Jocko Willink’s video on Discipline = Freedom on YouTube.

Keep it fresh!

One of the best ways to maintain a habit is to expose yourself to it more often. It’s as simple as that. The more you read, the more you will want to read!

It goes without saying that you got to be interested in what you’re reading. Otherwise, you will lose interest before you make it past the introduction. Start with a genre that you really love, for me it was a “dystopian sci-fi”. I started with what I had the most interest in, which allowed me to stay hooked on reading for over six months, before I started considering reading non-fiction for a change.

It does take time to make such a transition and it might take you longer based on your preferences. So, go easy on yourself and pick up the book that you have been thinking about reading for the past couple of months and start from there. No pressure!

After sticking to a specific genre for a while, you will naturally get an itch to explore other intriguing topics out of either boredom or curiosity. I dipped my toes into a slew of non-fiction topics such as investment, behavioral psychology and historical autobiography. Topics that I wouldn’t have imagined touching with a ten-foot pole a few years back. Some of the non-fiction books I have read have given me a new outlook and various perspectives on life and I’m glad I took that leap.

However, I found a good balance to keep at the start of this year. I started switching genres after every book I read. I would start the month with a mind-blowing science fiction novel and follow it up with a book on probability and randomness. I think it’s one of the great ways to keep things interesting. So, if you feel like you’re trudging through the book that you’re currently reading, you will have something potentially more fun and exciting to look forward to, which will allow you to swiftly get through the pages of your current read.

How do you make sure you pick the right book? Well, I don’t have a solid, unbiased answer for that, but I have written a separate blog post on that so you can give it a read if you want to know how I select my next read.

Keep it challenging!

Last but not least, I have to bring up the natural tendency for how things can get stale after a while. So, it really comes down to you to make it entertaining and the best way is to start by giving yourself an attainable challenge. Start small! Give yourself a challenge to finish one single book this month. See if you can hit the target and make adjustments as you go.

Another way to keep reading fun is by joining Goodreads and making new friends over on the platform. It’s also a great place to browse for your next golden read. If you’re old school, you can look up and join local reading groups although you might want to keep that idea on hold for the next couple of months due to “you-know-what”.

Well, I do hope you get something out of reading this long post and if there’s any tips that you personally find useful and think that could be useful for everyone, you can leave it in the comment and I will look right into it.

Stay safe and happy reading.

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