Insight: Build the Habit of Reading

People overcomplicate reading. We make it work and then we hate it and we neglect it. And somehow we know it has the power to change our life. So then we try again. We grab a book, read for a few minutes, get bored, put it down, check social media, feel guilty, make excuses, rinse, repeat.

The problem is that we have made it painful. You have made it painful. If you had the privilege of being read-to as a child, you will remember it fondly. The stories were engaging and you loved them. My own children demanded story time. They loved it. And I loved reading to them.

So what made reading fun when you were a child and how could we leverage those same principles? Think about it. You had two things happening as a child that are missing in the drudgery of reading as an adult.

Step 1: Read what you like

The first thing missing is that you actually liked the content you were reading. The problem with most reading you ‘should’ do is that it does not interest you enough to hold your attention.

For example, you may believe that you should read that book about meditation a friend recommended. Or that you should read that book about time management you heard about in a podcast. Or that you should read a book about running effective meetings your boss told you about.

Ugh. So many ‘should’s. Stop it. No more ‘should’ reads. In fact, if you have a list of ‘should’ reads, go ahead and destroy it. Delete it, tear it up, burn it or put it inside a model rocket you built and send it into space. Destroy it in whatever way feels best to you.

Now make a new list. This list is just categories of things you actually want to read. Not specific book titles, just types of things you want to read. Fiction. Novels. Stories about love or history or food or dogs. True stories. Not true stories. Stories people wrote from their own experiences. Or maybe it is not stories for you. Maybe it is about how to play the guitar better. Or how to coach youth football. Or how to improve your golf swing. Or how to understand the language of your toddler. What actually interests you enough that you would search up a youtube video in your free time? Put that stuff on your list.

And that is step 1. Read what you like. Now on to step 2.

Step 2: Read how you like

I have a small collection of very old hard cover books. They are fragile. They have a certain smell about them. The pages feel a certain way. I love those books. Sometimes I read them just because I want to be inside an old book.

I have a ton of paperbacks. They have pages folded over, sticky notes, highlighter and pen marks everywhere. I read those books differently than the old hardcovers.

I have some picture books. Like the kind you would see on a coffee table. A graphic walk through the entire bible. Portraits of Canada. Cars of the 60’s. Sometimes I just want to look at the pictures and read about stuff that captures my attention in that moment. Like how the Mustang came to be. I have football coaching books that are full of pictures. Others on paperback.

I have a collection of Kindle books, and another collection of e-books in Apple’s book app. There are times when I am sitting around in a doctor’s office waiting for an appointment and I will just grab a book and read through pieces of it. I’ll grab my iPad and head out onto my front porch in the evening and read for a while.

I also have a huge collection of audiobooks. Anytime I am driving, or flying, or exercising, I will grab an audiobook and let someone else read to me. And I do not always listen carefully through every word. But I do trust that my brain is catching more than I am consciously aware of. Sometimes I just want to get lost in a good story that someone else is reading.

I have plenty of books in multiple formats. I might get the audiobook first and then realize I want to slow it down and mark it up. So I will order a paperback or download a Kindle version. I might have a nice hardcover I do not want to mark up so I will have another version I can scribble in.

There is no single best type of book. They all have pros and cons. Consider the context. Consider the intent. Consider the time you have available. Consider the mental bandwidth you have at your disposal. And then just grab the type of medium you like.

Go slowly through one book at a time. Or listen at 2X speed and crush a book every week during your commute.

How reading evolves

I typically have anywhere from 3 -12 books in my current reading list in a variety of the formats I have listed. Multiple categories. Multiple topics. Then, from time to time, I will take a couple of weeks and just live inside one book. 7-Habits is like that for me. Once every year, I make an effort to just work my way thoughtfully through that book.

If any of this sounds like work, you missed step one. If you are genuinely interested in a topic, you will be drawn to it. If you are still hearing a voice saying “yeah but, I should be reading more business stuff instead of all these Vince Flynn novels“, you are still missing the point.

Build the habit by reading what you actually want to read. That is the most important factor. You will find that you cannot put the book down (in whatever format that is).

And then an amazing thing happens.

You will fall in love with a format and/or a style and/or an author and/or context and then you stumble into something that connects to the thing you started with but in a way you would have never guessed and you only found it because you were just doing something you loved doing.

That is intentionally a run-on sentence. And a metaphor for life. Read it again slowly.

Read what you like.

Read how you like.

Reading will never be work again.