In February, I read Belle Beth Cooper’s Fast Company piece “How I became a morning person, read more books, and learned a language in a year,” which listed the four steps to assuming a new hobby: set small goals, focus on one new thing at a time, remove obvious barriers, and build the new routines onto old ones. It’s a powerful piece, and if you haven’t already made the time to read it, you should.
Terrible at following even the most simple rules, my immediate response to Cooper’s advice was to read more, exercise more, and learn to speak Spanish without changing any of my routines. A month later, I’d read one new book (barely), somehow worked out less, and stalled at the Duolingo registration screen. I learned there is an unwritten fifth step: follow the directions.
In April, I took a second and more modest shot, this time focusing on reading 15 pages a day. The trick worked. Now whether or not 15 pages sounds like a lot or a little is irrelevant; the real power of the method is in how it shifts reading from an occasional activity to a daily habit. Cooper’s technique whetted my appetite, but as I swim through a stream of books, I’ve picked up a few other tricks. I think for anyone who wishes to make reading feel like a reward and not a chore, these tips will help.
The easiest way to make something a habit is to remove any friction. After you come home from work, you shouldn’t lose time deciding on something to read or digging through your room looking for a paperback you started on your last flight. Choose what you want to read, and keep it where you spend your relaxation time.
I mentioned in a recent piece how easily I fall into reading ruts when I feel pressured to read what’s trendy, either by friends or some omniscient embodiment of the literary community. For some people, trendy may mean New York Times best-selling mysteries written to become movies, or it may mean the latest novel from a brilliant, but unquenchably angry white dude. In either case, it’s better to read four books that sincerely interest you and nobody else, than waste a month muscling through one book that you might be asked about at a work luncheon or a dinner party.
I love video games, reality television, and classic horror movies. I’m not ashamed of my hobbies, but I do recognize that I sometimes gorge when a modest media meal would suffice. For example, I enjoy The Bachelor and The Bachelorette, but occasionally I watch lesser reality TV shows to chase that high. This is time I could use for books — or anything else, really, that I actually enjoy and find rewarding.
Don’t nix your other hobbies, but when you find yourself bored with a television show, movie, game, or any other entertainment, consider swapping in a book. I didn’t realize how much time I could make in my week, until I asked myself if I really valued how I was spending each hour.
We have inundated ourselves with distractions under the illusion of productivity. Notifications should help us look away from our phones, notifying us when something is important enough to merit our attention. But instead, they’ve been perverted with updates on sports scores and alerts that a high school friend commented on a photo your mother uploaded to Facebook four years ago. Notifications aren’t notifications; they’re their own hobby wearing the costumes of a necessary activity.
When you read, put your phone on airplane mode. Turn off the TV. Prepare yourself a snack in advance. Reduce the number of potential distractions as best you can. Because if you don’t already read regularly, your old habits won’t want to make room for a new one.
Do not follow Moby Dick with Don Quixote. Please, just don’t. Mix up what you read. Follow a non-fiction true crime story with some literary fiction with a graphic novel written for teenagers. There are so many different types of books, not just what’s on best-seller lists or an English Lit syllabus. When you read for fun all of the obligation and pressure about what to read should disappear, leaving you with an almost overwhelming choice. Go exploring!