So as promised from his previous post, Stephen Angbulu shares practical steps on how to develop a consistent reading habit below:
- Set Reading Goals
This is obvious, right? Well, take a closer look. When your mind has no reference point to aim for, it gives up more easily. Just as context gives meaning, clear goals also aid consistency. Know what and where you need to improve, be it financial, spiritual, relational, leadership, business, career wise or more. Set SMART goals in these areas. “I want to read more books” is not a goal. It’s a statement of intention, and a vague one at that. It’s not quantifiable in any way, and so it’s almost impossible to follow through. Be specific. In your relationships, do you sense the need to grow in empathy and to understand yourself, other people or that special person in your life? Get books on relationships, psychology, temperaments and emotional intelligence. Your reading goals must be specific. List books by their titles. Determine them at the beginning of the year/month and maintain focus. Other books may catch your attention later, acquire them, but stick to your goal. Remember, a goal isn’t complete if it’s not measurable. How else do you know you’ve arrived? What gets tracked and measured gets accomplished. I’ll recommend you start with 2. If 2 books a month sounds like a burden, start with 1. Your reading goals must be achievable and realistic. 1 book a month totals 12 books/year, which is a fair start, but don’t settle there forever. Yearly and monthly reading goals are important, but as we all know, yearlong and even monthly goals usually fall apart unless we arrange them into days and weeks. Which leads to my next point.
- Set Page/Chapter Goals
If you’ve settled your reading goals for the short or medium term, you’re well ahead of the pack. Nevertheless, you can’t stop here. Those goals must be powered by DAILY actions. Set goals ranging from 10-25 pages per day, especially when you have a tight schedule. Another way to do this is to allocate 1 or 2 chapters per day. But this is not so reliable because books vary. For some, a chapter could be merely 10 pages while for others, it could be 30 pages long. Kindly pick whichever works for you. As great as it sounds, I’m not a fan of crushing a 300-page book in one sitting. Gulping down too much at a time actually stymies our capacity to assimilate on a deeper level. Like drinking water, short, intermittent pauses are required to let the fluids flow down. If your goal, like mine, is to read an average of 1-2 books per week, then you must brace for the extra mile. The average word count for most books is about 64,000 words. The average reader absorbs about 200 words per minute, with an attention span of 10 minutes. If you do the math, you’re left with about 320 minutes to get through a book. Divide that by 7 and you have 45 minutes per day; 15 minutes more than the average 30- minutes-a-day reader. So, 45-60 minutes of reading a day gets you through 1 book per week. But that’s not all, you must schedule time.
- Schedule Time Blocks
As a matter of principle, allocate a specific time of the day where all you do is read. I’ll recommend 15-20 minutes per day, for a start. Remember, ‘baby steps’ is key to habit development. Like Lao Tzu rightly puts it, “a journey of a thousand miles (always) begins with a step”. Set a timer, exercise full concentration in those precious minutes. It could be those early hours after waking up, perhaps after your sacred time or an hour before bedtime. Time and experience proves the morning hours to be the best; when all is still fresh, and your mind has very few reasons to wander. Besides, it’s easier to minimize distractions in the wee hours than at daybreak. Within this time, keep all devices away and just focus. Except for looking up new words on your phone’s dictionary, KEEP DEVICES OFFLINE OR TURN-OFF NOTIFICATION SOUNDS. Find a specific place where you’re sure of minimal distractions. It could be your office, class, a serene forest, bathroom (if all else fails) or your room but avoid lying in bed. Posture also plays a role in all these; we read best when seated. Make this place your normal reading spot. When forming a new habit, you need everything to be easy and highly repetitive. A habit sticks faster when the process is consistent, simple and identical. Another trick is to play clam music or tunes in the background as you study. This raises your concentration levels and helps you maximize the moment. The benefits of caring for your mind and soul will far outweigh your expectations. However, if all these still doesn’t suit you, please read on.
- Leverage Idle/Down Time
Down time; the long queues and waiting time at the ATM, banks and other public places; those long cab drives around town. An occasion could be for 9:00 am, but you arrived early enough to settle down? Use every idle time you have, depending on how long it is. You may spend hours at the waiting room to see the doctor or that ‘big’ man/woman. Rather than surf the web aimlessly, pull out that book and read, it’s the best use of your time. You can study two whole chapters while waiting to see the doctor or when seated in a boring traffic. Idle time is learning time. If you live like this, you’re truly “…redeeming the time”. However, this won’t be possible without my next point.
- Keep it Handy
Except you’re visiting a place of worship or attending an event that’ll demand your entire time and attention, take a book along with you. A viable alternative is to have an electronic format of the same book on your device. If you’re an auditory learner, audio books will be of immense help. You can listen to an entire chapter in minutes. The internet is replete with resources today; almost every good book has an audio format waiting for your click. Take advantage of technology, listen as you work, jog, and drive. Like reading, listening just once doesn’t get the job done. If an audio must profit you, it must be listened to at least thrice; 7 times for optimum benefit. Repetition is key to persuasion. As the ancient texts rightly puts it, “…faith cometh by hearing”. Asides being a reader, be a listener too. As great as it all sounds, there’s a caveat to it; nothing feels better than the scent of a real book in your hands. Apart from the physical contact, the sense of progress you get each time you flip through those pages and the improved comprehension, print media also spares you the risk of staring into a device for too long, and the health implications that come with it. So, no matter how digital it gets, hard copies are still the real deal. Plus, while there’s a lot YouTube and online video courses have to offer, books compress years of useful knowledge in a way 5-minute clips can never do. Besides, in a world of simplistic narratives, you don’t want to live on crumbs. Do you?
- Make it Fun; Use Reward Systems
The benefit of reading and learning something new every day should be enough motivation. However, as studies have shown, without rewards and incentives, your own mind may sabotage your efforts and slump you into depression. Like clouds, motivation wanes. There will be days when you get tired of the whole process and the urge to continue wouldn’t just be there. In those times, I remember the nice meal (my reward) I may not get to enjoy if I give up. Sometimes, a meal treat won’t cut it. If I have a nice documentary or movie in mind, I set it as the prize for finishing a certain number of pages or chapters. The ideas are not exhaustive, variety is key. Find what interests you and make it a
reward for finishing that book. If you’re reading a novel that’s been adapted into a movie, make the movie your reward. conclude the book and watch how well your imagination tallies with the movie director’s or script writer’s. Remember, always use what interests you.
- Cutback on Time Spent with TV and the Internet
Do I need to say this? Developing a consistent reading habit will mean cutting down on what Stephen R. Covey describes as “quadrant 4 activities”—not urgent and not important. Activities that add no traceable value to you. Now, watching TV and surfing the net is not a bad idea if done within the supposed boundaries. However, maintaining balance is where the challenge lies. Do you still struggle to create time? Consider cutting down on idle time spent on TV, internet and random content. While the internet offers you a vast pool of information and quick self-helps, it’s not always the go-to for strategic learning, books still are. It’s not as easy as it sounds. I know. But if your goals mean anything to you, delaying gratification won’t be too much of a sacrifice. A lot of us hinder our own development by consistently choosing indulgence over discipline. Resolves are sometimes hard to keep. However, the long and short-term benefits of discipline make it worthwhile. If your personal resolve still dwindles from time to time, the next point could be your bailout.
- Set-up Accountability Structures: Leverage on the Power of a Community
Although your decision to cultivate a reading habit is first personal and private, it doesn’t have to remain that way, if you must see it blossom. It will require some degree of openness; the willingness to be answerable to someone or a group of people you deem worthy of your trust. It’s great to set reading goals, but they must be backed by accountability to help put you in check and encourage you
when your motivation wanes. Nothing feels righter than being in a community of people who share similar goals and are willing to help you grow. It could be a reading partner or a book/reading club. Through interactive and engaging sessions, reading clubs offer you the needed exposure and books to aid your growth, sustainable. The lone-ranger-method can only take you so far. My advice? Find a “good and serious” friend and venture into your growth journey together. “Good and serious” would mean, “anyone who is diligently and honestly growing their relationships, finances, spirituality and career/academics, so as to improve the quality of their lives and others”. Take it a step further, join a reading club or an online community that encourages reading. If you’re at crossroads, I have one in mind for you. Look it up at the Resources section. Now, let’s address what differentiates mere READERS from LEARNERS. Shall
Remember: Like any journey, so is cultivating a reading habit. It starts by knowing where you are, where you want to be, how to get there and how much it will cost you. First, know your current reading habits. Do you even read at all? Do you take-off and crash intermittently? Do you often read books halfway? What’s your current book-intake per month; 2, 3, 4 or even more? Do you wish to improve? For you, is reading a planned or random activity? Is it a pastime or a core part of your life? To develop a consistent reading habit and achieve your goals progressively, you’ll need to create simple systems, use the right reading tools—like habit-tracking apps, schedule reminders, eBook readers, etc.— and find the right online/offline community.
PS: Incase you missed the first part of this article, you can still read How to develop a consistent reading habit here.