Not gonna lie. I totally used Cliff’s Notes to get through most of my high school English classes (cartoonist John Atkinson sums up the gist of what I recall in his comic: Abridged Classics). It was hard to follow Shakespeare when I would rather follow the boys soccer team. I blame it on hormones (Ms. K, if you’re reading this, it wasn’t you, it was me! You’re the best).
Now, there are much bigger distractions to blame. Family, kids, work, school, the technology boom and, of course, social media. There are many reasons why reading easily hits the back burner of my life, but I needed a different kind of motivation to pick up a book instead of a Netflix show or Facebook.
How do you read that fast?!
I so admire people who can whiz through a novel in no time flat, but I’ve never been one of those people. I would finish a chapter and glance at where my bookmark landed, so far from the end. Honestly, as a B average student, I never really believed I was smart enough to finish a whole book. Grinding my way through school meant hacking away at textbooks that were more mandatory than gratifying. What I needed was a change of perspective.
My first, honest, jump into books that actually brought me joy were in the non-fiction self-help category. While I was single, I read books about the differences between men and women (boys are so different!), then dating / courtship, then books about marriage. When I worked in management, I read about leadership and teaching. When I got pregnant, it was an endless supply of What to Expect literature. Needless to say, my interests have shifted with the seasons of life, but my fascination with people and relationships has stayed the same.
You get out what you put in
“In order to read well, you need to spend lots of time reading. Words need to be savored, laughed at and cried over, wrestled with, and stomped on. They should hit us in the head, knock us off our feet, and spin us around. Words should be the thoughts in our heads that comfort, challenge, sharpen, soften, frighten, and embolden.”
If I was going to change my habits, I had to change my thinking, and find fresh motivation for dropping everything else to disappear into the pages. It was my new goal, so I began to apply some goal-setting strategies to create this new habit. Here are five things I remind myself to do when I’m determined to get through a book.
1. Identify Challenges
A new challenge – put down the phone. Choose a book over the phone. Keep a book in your purse to whip out when you’re in the grocery line. Hey, at least for the shock factor. People won’t know what to think!
What are you distracted by the most? Think about ways you can limit these obstacles. Take initiative to un-clutter your mind & heart.
2. What Inspires You?
When I don’t need to find a place and time to squeeze in, my ideal setting to read is curled up on my couch in a big blanket and hugging big pillows. If I can find a comfy fold-up chair to take outside, it would be under a big tree in a wide open park. Somewhere relatively quiet, where I can breathe and look up or out at nature and imagine myself in the scenarios I’m reading about. For me, right before bed doesn’t help me retain much. My eyelids get heavy the moment I get horizontal. But for others who are night owls, this environment may be best.
Think of the place and time when you are most inspired to read. List them out and create a plan to get to those places and spaces. Set the mood to relax & enjoy.
My preference changes with the tides of life because my needs change. I want to pour into a subject that I can directly and affectively apply the principles I want to learn about. So I have to think about the “why” behind my reading. Sometimes it’s to get lost in a world that is different from my own (fictional novels), or a how-to book when I’m into a hobby, or a leadership book when I need to manage a group of people. Now I’m reading more historical and educational nonfiction to teach the kids.
What do you hope to get out of reading any particular book? Think about how your “why” is more important than your limitations & how the outcome could positively impact your life.
4. Set Small Goals
I like to count the number of chapters and spread out reading over a reasonable period of time. Breaking up the reading into smaller goals makes a thick book not seem as daunting. Sometimes I’ll move through it quicker if I read a chapter in different physical locations (I think next time I’ll put a treat in each of those places, like a treasure hunt incentive).
If you’re starting out as a reader, try setting a timer: how long did it take to get through one chapter? Use that as a template for the next time frame you set aside. For some extra incentive, you could also tell someone else what you’re doing and have them join you, or plan to reward yourself when you finish.
5. Schedule Time with Yourself
Since I began blogging, I’ve read lots of goal-setting articles and curriculum. Every one of them says to make an appointment with yourself and KEEP IT. Block out everything else until it’s done. Reward yourself after each meeting time.
This. Method. Is. Effective. So simple, but what it comes down to is a commitment to yourself. How bad do you want it?
Let’s look at what technology has made available as alternatives to traditional reading. It might even make your life easier and reading a book more appealing.