5 strategies I use to read more
Reading is one of the best habits I have built in my life (the best?). But I haven’t always read a lot.
How did I learn to love reading and make it a regular practice?
Looking back I can see at least 5 strategies that I applied, more or less unconsciously, and that helped me reading more.
- Reading must be easy
- Learning to abandon books
- Read what you love until you love reading
- Make reading a rotuine
- The > 0 mantra
Reading must be easy
In my natural state I am extremely lazy. I don’t want to do things. I simply don’t. I want to laze all day going from doing nothing to nothing more and back to nothing again.
To get myself out of this state of inertia I have to spend willpower which, as I have learned, is a really scarce resource. Every day I wake up with a limited amount of willpower and I must try to use as carefully as possible in order not to exhaust myself and fall back into complete idleness.
One of the best ways to save willpower is to make what I need or want to do very easy. The easier an activity is, the less willpower I need to convince myself to do it.
Applying this idea to reading means having the book always at hand: next to the desk, next to the bed, next to the toilet. 👀
This advice becomes a bit difficult to apply if you insist on using physical books. A physical book can only be in one place. How many copies do you have to buy to have one wherever you need it? But it gets worse: physical books are uncomfortable by nature, in contrast to the ease we aspire to. You have to hold them with your hands, they are bulky, they are heavy, you have to turn the pages, if you put them down the pages come alive, when you want to lie down there’s no comfortable way to hold them.
Physical books are a disgrace. Here, I said it.
And I know I will encounter opposition because I am well aware of the existence of the reading aristocrats. I know they want to hold them, caress them, they want to turn the pages, they want to smell the words printed on dead trees.
Please, enough with these macabre retro trends.
The solution is called Kindle.
The Kindle is one of the best purchases I’ve made in my life. I say this every time reading comes up and I will say it forever as long as we talk about it. It weighs nothing, is very comfortable to use, and contains an infinite number of books. (Ok, not really infinite but certainly more than those contained in… drum roll… a book!)
In addition, the device is synchronized with my Amazon account, which means that I can find all these infinite books on my phone (where I have the Kindle app), on the iPad (where I have the Kindle app), and on the computer (that’s right: where I have the Kindle app). And it’s not just synchronizing the books, but also my highlights, notes, and reading progress. So if I was in bed last night reading on the Kindle and now I’m on the toilet, at the dentist, on the train, or hanging from the bungee jumping cord, I can pick up my phone and continue reading from exactly where I left off.
As of now the hedonic adaptation got me used to the convenience of reading. I have learned that reading is comfortable. But that’s not really the case. It is not because those reading aristocrats are still there persevering with paper books. I had to read one a while ago and I suffered.
The time has come to say enough is enough. Join the resistance to the reading aristocracy. ⚔️
Learning to abandon books
This is a point that I have yet to fully internalize myself, but which I am better at with respect to how I was long ago.
We have this odd preconception that when we start a book we must finish it even if we don’t like it. We do not give ourselves permission to abandon it and start another one. I have no idea where this behaviour comes from. Maybe it’s a kind of awe we feel about reading. Perhaps it is a precept that was instilled in us at school. Perhaps it is just the umpteenth instance of our desire for completion. 🤷♂️
This behavior may even appear positive at first glance. It might seem like a push to read the book to finish it, but in reality it becomes an obstacle that kills the desire to read (and perhaps even to live). On the one hand we do not want to abandon the book, but on the other hand we do not read it or we read it reluctantly. So that, if anything, it generates a repulsion for reading.
There is nothing mystical about books. No one will come to arrest us if we haven’t finished Crime and Punishment. Don’t you like the book? Take it and throw it out the window. (Calm down. It’s just a metaphor. Don’t do that or you’ll kill someone and you’ll have bigger issues than learning to read more.)
If you just can’t manage to give it up for good, you can trick your brain by starting another one in parallel. So that when you want to read you have two options:
- if you feel motivated, full of willpower, in the mood for self-flagellation, or if you are simply going through a masochistic period you can choose to read the book you don’t like and that “deserves to be finished” (no one knows why)
- or, if you don’t really want to hurt yourself, you can choose the book you started in parallel
Obviously I’m supposing you chose the other book so as not to be an instrument of torture, otherwise I guess it’s starting to be your fault too.
Read what you love until you love reading
Some time ago I read a book called The Almanack of Naval Ravikant. It’s a collection of fragments of interviews, quotes, tweets from this Naval guy that I didn’t know very well before reading this book (to be honest I still don’t know him very well even after reading it).
The book contains some interesting ideas, but particularly one that fits perfectly the situation and which is nothing more than the title of this section.
Read what you love until you love to read
It’s smart advice and one that I realized I spontaneously applied about 9 years ago when I started reading regularly for the first time in my life.
Why is it important?
Let’s pretend that you are not used to reading. What you might think about doing is wandering around the magical interweb to find lists of the best books to read. And you will find as many lists as you want: Top great classics, Top 10 books to read before you die, Best authors in history, Top 10 books in the universe, and so on.
The issue with these compilations is that, usually, they are not suitable for those who are new to reading because they are written by people who already read a lot and who therefore have had the opportunity to develop their sensitivity to the medium. I am sure that in these lists you will find important books, masterpieces, works of art, and truly unique writings, but I am also sure that in large part they will not be suitable for a true novice.
The right strategy is to start by reading what you already like (what you love). If you like love stories read romance. If you like fantasy read fantasy sagas. If you like videogames read books about videogames. I really like time travel stories and in fact some of the books that have kept me glued to the Kindle the most are on this topic.
Starting from what you love you will be encouraged to read not because you already appreciate reading itself, but because you are interested in that genre/subject/book. Then, over time, you’ll begin to develop your sensitivity to reading and you’ll learn to love it. It is a bit like coffee: the first time you taste it you hate it because it’s very bitter and therefore you need to pour the whole bag of sugar in it. Then, little by little, you begin to notice a whole world of aromas and features of each type of coffee and you learn to appreciate it as it is: your sensitivity is developing.
I loved Thinking Fast and Slow. It is one of the most interesting books I have read. However, I would never recommend it to those who are not used to reading or are not already interested in the subject, because looking at it objectively I realize that it might appear rather dry. Had I tried to read it before I developed adequate sensitivity and interest, I probably would not have completed it or would have done it reluctantly.
Make reading a rotuine
I read more every single time reading is among my routines.
When I was working in Turin I had to take the bus every morning to go to the office. Same thing, in reverse, when heading back home. Instead of wasting all those commuting hours, I included reading into my routine:
- get on the bus
- pick up the phone and read
It became automatic. When I got on the bus I didn’t ask myself “what can I do today?”. I get on the bus → I read. I get on the bus → I read. I get on the bus → I read.
Now that I work from home and no longer need to take the bus, my routine has shifted to lunch:
- go back to my room and read
Again, there is no doubt, I don’t ask myself what to do on lunch break. I eat → I read. Same thing when I go to sleep at night (albeit less consistently): I go to bed → I read.
So, what daily routine will you put reading into?
The > 0 mantra
Sometimes we think that it makes no sense to start doing something unless we devote a certain amount of time and energy to it.
We may think that there is no point in studying if it is only for 20 minutes, exercise if it is just for a walk, start meditating if it is only for 5 minutes. We may think that it makes no sense to take the book (cough cough, the Kindle) and read if it is only for 2 pages. “What’s the point of starting to read if not for at least one chapter?”
This odd idea is an excuse that we tell ourselves and that hinder us since:
- it imposes a minimum requirement of time and energy below which it is not worth reading (why? who made this rule?)
- it imposes a minimum requirement of willpower which, as we have learned, is a scarce and valuable resource
Instead, something is better than nothing.
If I have a meeting early after lunch and I have only 5 minutes before going back to work I could make excuses by telling myself that “today there is no time to read”. But no. There is enough time. Something is better than nothing. Even if it is only for 2–3 pages. 2 > 0. (And, in any case, 2–3 pages a day means 2–3 books a year, which is no small achievement.)
This is another one of those tips that works well beyond reading as it helps to decrease the amount of willpower that’s required to do an activity. I have nicknamed it The > 0 mantra, because when I put it into practice I repeat to myself “> 0”. I wrote an article about it.
Reading changed my way of thinking and heavily influenced who I became over time. It is one of the most stimulating and enriching entertainment mediums and is one of the cheapest and most profound ways to access knowledge.
That said, despite the title of this article and the reading challenge I set every year on GoodReads, the number of books you read isn’t really important and I don’t see why it would be.
Let’s pause a moment to reflect on the goals of reading:
- if you read fiction you do it to entertain yourself, have fun, appreciate a story well told, teleport to another universe
- if you read nonfiction you do it to learn something, to stimulate thoughts, to look at things from new perspectives
In the first case, why should you care if you read 10 books in 10 hours or only 1 book? What matters is that you spent those 10 hours enjoying what you were reading.
And even in the second case, what is the use of reading 200 books in a year if you won’t even remember the titles, let alone the content? Better to dive deep into each book, reflect, take notes, re-elaborate (like how I try to do with the Zettelkasten method) rather than reading an endless amount of books that you remember little or nothing about.