You know the riddle: How does a mouse eat an elephant? One small bite at a time. The same is true for making changes in life or assuming a new hobby in four seemingly simple steps: set small goals, focus on one new thing at a time, remove obvious barriers, and build the new routines onto old ones.
So our first excited reaction is to go for it – to willy-nilly conquer something: to read more, exercise more, and learn to speak Spanish without changing any of our routines.
But then we find ourselves a month later having read only one new book (barely), somehow working out even less, and giving up at the Bilingual Online registration screen. So we must acknowledge that there actually is a fifth step: follow the directions!
So if we want to read more books, we must take a more realistic and modest shot at this, this time focusing on a realistic change (one small bite…) of reading, say, 15 pages a day. The trick will work. 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.
So as we gaze upon a platter of delicious books, here are a few other habit-forming tricks. These tips will help make reading feel like a reward rather than a chore.
1. Place books where you like to relax
The simplest way to make something a habit is to remove any barriers. After a long day at work, you likely won’t be motivated to dig through a box of dusty books in your garage, or kick around under the bed for where that last paperback slid away. Choose your book ahead of time, as you would with that tantalizing recipe, and set it out visibly where you will sit comfortably and relax.
2. Read what you want to read, not what others read
Go for a book that appeals to you – and avoid getting sucked into trends! Don’t worry about what your friends are reading, or that book club around the corner. Don’t worry about the New York Times best-selling list, or what sleek covered new book featured at your local library. In all cases, it’s better to read four books that sincerely interest you (even if nobody else), than waste a month muscling through one book that you might be asked to comment on at a dinner party. Explore what you like – not what anyone else likes.
3. Repurpose your time
Don’t try to give up all the other things you love to create time to read a book – simply work it into your life seamlessly. When you find yourself bored with a television show, sitting at the doctor’s office, or waiting on a child or spouse, determine that this could be time for a book. You will be surprised how much time there is in your week if you are more aware of how you spend each half hour.
4. Set and setting
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 draw our attention, distract our concentration, and interrupt the flow of our thoughts. Notifications aren’t notifications; they’re their own hobby wearing the costume of ‘a necessary activity’. So when you read, silence your phone; turn off the radio or TV, prepare a coffee or tea. Reduce potential distractions by eliminating the ‘notifications’. Don’t let your old habits drown out this new one.
5. And don’t forget to read every day
For real: read every single day. Even if it’s just a couple of pages, a daily dose of reading (like your morning vitamin) will become habit-forming. It’s mental exercise, and with time, it becomes more and more enjoyable. And you will crave more and more delicious books to eat!