One common goal I've seen people set almost every time around New Year's is reading more books. Setting this goal is an admirable goal to set for improving yourself. Many extremely-successful people such as Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and former United States President George W. Bush, are known to be avid readers and credit their reading habits into helping them reach the success they've achieved in their lifetimes.
I've been able to keep a consistent habit of reading every evening before going to bed for the past couple of years, and it's unquestionably stimulated me to reach my personal goals. Perhaps you want to begin the habit of reading more books as well. Personally, I think it's one of the better goals you can set for yourself, regardless of what your dreams and inspirations for the future are.
The benefits of reading
There have been lots of studies done on the benefits of reading, and almost all of them have yielded many positive benefits for people who read on a consistent basis:
- The University of California, Berkeley published a paper on a study demonstrating how reading can make your smarter.
- The Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland, Ohio found that those who engage their brains through activities including reading are 2.5 times less likely to get Alzheimer’s disease.
- A 2009 study by the University of Sussex in England found that reading for just six minutes can reduce stress levels by up to 68%.
- The Mayo Clinic medical practice and research group say that reading helps you sleep.
To sum it up, you will boost your mental health in many positive ways by taking the time to read more books. Just as going to the gym and lifting weights or running on a treadmill will exercise your body, reading will strengthen your brain. You'll find more and better ways to accomplish the things you want to work on.
Reading consistently adds up
Consistent reading is proven to be essential for personal growth, as mentioned in the previous studies as well as the biographies of many successful people. However, many lose out on adding this powerful tool to their arsenal by not reading nearly as much as they could. A 2015 study points out that the average American reads 12 books in a year.
One book a month is a decent amount of reading to do, especially if you're currently not reading anything at all. This is a small amount of reading compared to many successful people. Bill Gates says he reads an average of 50 books per year. George W. Bush read almost 200 books in two years during his presidency. Warren Buffett takes it to the extreme by taking 5-6 hours every day to read.
It's easy to see those stats and immediately get discouraged, especially if you don't read consistently now. I'm not necessarily advocating that you should quickly pick up the habit of reading as many books as Gates, Bush and Buffett do. Reading as much as they do surely is beneficial, but only if you have the time and energy to do so. But if you don't have the reading habits that they've built throughout their lives, it's unwise to start off as big as they do. You'll most likely get burned out quickly and read less.
As for me, I currently read an average of 2-3 books a month. While that's little compared to the leaders mentioned above, it still puts me at twice the amount for the average reader. I've built up to that amount by reading 25-30 pages of any given book every night. It takes me less than two weeks to complete an average 250-page book.
In the past, I would think that I needed to sit down for an hour or two every day and read books in less than a week. There's no reason for that. The point here is to complete the book you're reading - or decide to ditch it, as I'll explain later. As long as you read a couple of pages every single day, you'll be going through more books than you've ever expected.
Tips for establishing your reading habit
Throughout the years I've spent reading every night, I've picked up a couple of pointers that have helped me keep growing and keeping the habit for as long as it has. Here are a few tips that might help you establish this routine for yourself:
Set your intentions about the next book you want to read.
There are lots of different reasons to read. Some people read to be motivated and inspired. Some people read to learn about a specific topic. Some people read because it relaxes them and gives them pleasure. Depending on what your reason is, make sure that you choose your next book depending on what you want to accomplish so you don't get discouraged by reading something that won't serve you at this time. For example, if you intend to start your own business this year and you've never done it before, find books that will help you begin. It sounds logical, but it's simple to start reading something that won't help your intentions. You'll end up in the same spot as you were before.
When you're deciding on the next book, you want to read, ask yourself "Why do I want to read this book? Will it serve my purposes for what I want to do?" If you can't answer those questions clearly, I'd suggest finding another book that will.
Be deliberate with your reading and ditch what's not serving you
We all would like to read as many books as we possibly can. I would argue that it would better to be more deliberate about what you choose to read instead of grabbing any book and trying to power your way through them for the sake of keeping score. Reading is not a race where the person with the most finished books under their belt wins. Reading should help you achieve your personal goals, so you should be as intentional as possible when reading any book.
In the past, I've forced myself to finish reading books where early on I had a strong feeling that I would not be getting anything out of that book, just to say that I read that book. It resulted in mostly wasted time. Since then, I've learned to stop reading a book if I strongly felt it would not add anything to my life. I recommend you do that as much as you need if you're just not feeling any connection with a particular book. Despite spending money, it's often better to have wasted a few dollars as opposed to wasting your valuable time that you can use in reading something that will serve you.
Choose a good time to read and stick with it
One of the best ways that I've been able to read consistently is to find a time that works for me and try to keep at it every single day. In the past, I attempted to read in the morning after waking up, but I often found myself rushing to finish reading because I had to get ready for work. I also tried during my lunch break, but again I found myself with little time to get as much reading as I wanted to complete. Eventually, I found that taking at least 30 minutes before I fall asleep in bed worked perfectly for me. I don't have anything or anyone to rush me.
I encourage you to figure out what time works best for you and try it for a week to see if the reading habit sticks. You might be the same as me and the end of your day works well. Maybe mornings work best for you because you often feel exhausted at night. If you have a daily commute to and from work, those are great times to use for reading. I'm sure you have a spot somewhere in your day to do this consistently if you look for it.
Set a daily standard for yourself
Having in mind the amount you want to read every day helps keep the habit and add up to your total at a rapid pace. This tip applies to just about everything you wish to do on a consistent basis, not just reading. But let's focus on the concept of reading for this article's purpose.
For example, I've set a goal to read about 25 or 30 pages every day. When I begin reading, I check ahead and find a stopping point around that number of pages, like a new chapter. Once I locate my stopping point, I can start reading knowing where I'll wrap up for the night. Having a stopping point helps me by knowing how close I am to reading my goal for the day and makes it easier to finish.
I used to think that listening to audiobooks was kind of like cheating. But the more I listened to them, the more I've found them to be useful alternatives. There are some places where you just can't have a book in your hand. For example, if you have to drive often, you can listen to an audiobook in your car's stereo. If you go to a gym or exercise outdoors, you can put on a pair of headphones and listen while on the go. There are plenty of services like Audible and Playster that make it easy to get books in audio format.
The only caveat here is that audiobooks are better suited for some topics. Fiction and biographies are great in audiobook format since these types of books just require passive listening. For learning material, I've found audiobooks only to be useful if I'm sitting down somewhere so I can take notes or mark down a specific section I want to listen to again. At this point, I would much rather have the book in my hand instead.
Use online services to have a reading list ready and decide what to read next
There are so many books out there that it's overwhelming not just to know what to read now, but also what to read next. And as I've mentioned before, most books are fluff and not worth your time, making it difficult to choose. I've used a few tools to help me decide what books to read next.
My favorite site to look for book recommendations is Goodreads. The site contains reviews, lists, suggestions, and more. While I typically don't rely on other people's opinions since everyone has their likes and dislikes, I've found that the reviews on the site are more reliable for myself compared to Amazon. Also, the "Readers also enjoyed..." book suggestions that show up have helped me find gems that I wouldn't have discovered on my own.
If you're willing to pay some money for a service, one I've used in the past that served me well is Blinkist. Blinkist contains high-quality book summaries so that you can get the essential takeaways for lots of books in just a few minutes. They also have audio versions of the summaries. I like this approach since I'd argue that most books are written just to fill the number of pages the publisher required the author to do. I used Blinkist to go through a lot of different book summaries, and if one summary interested me a lot, I would get the full book, and it was always a good call.
Enjoy the ride!
Reading doesn't have to be a chore, nor do you have to feel tortured by it. Reading is one of the most rewarding habits you can implement in your life if you strive to read a little bit every day. It can transform your life by teaching you new things to perform in your life, or inspiring you to move your life in the direction it wants to go. But the most important thing to remember, as with every new endeavor your take, is to have fun with it!
Small steps for your Practical Good
If you're ready to take on more reading, take a few minutes to do the following small steps to get you started as soon as possible:
- Acquire one book that you've been interested in reading. You can buy it online, ask someone you know who has it to loan it to you or borrow it from your local library.
- Set a goal of how much you're willing to read each day. It doesn't have to be a lot. If all you can read is five pages a day, that's five more pages than you would have typically done. The amount doesn't matter, as long as you do it every day.
- Pick a time today and read the number of pages you've set for yourself. Pick the next available time that you'll have enough space to sit down mostly uninterrupted and just start reading.