In 2019, I read a total of ten books, which was almost double the year before. I considered myself to love reading, and yet I was barely doing it. The list of books that I wanted to read grew longer and longer, but I always had an excuse on hand. I was too tired, too busy, too distracted. The truth is that I didn’t want to read despite loving it feverishly throughout my childhood and adolescence. Life had gotten in the way of that.
But I set myself an ambitious goal for 2020, and I implemented five changes that helped me to achieve it. I didn’t cheat and go for smaller books, as the books’ average length was 366 pages. Starting these habits required effort and constant reminders, but now they come so easily that I barely consider them.
When friends ask me how I manage to read so much whilst also working, writing in my own time and staying active, I have the following five reading habits to thank.
Anyone aiming to read more needs to make a Goodreads account. It is entirely free, and I would describe it best as a social media platform for reading. On Goodreads, you can add friends, and get inspiration or motivation from what they’re reading. You can set yourself a goal (mine was 35 books in a year) and update each book you’ve read. It recommends books based on the ones you’ve read, and you can keep a ‘to read’ list.
This site really helped me keep track of my reading and keep motivated, and I’d recommend checking it out. If you don’t like the virtual aspect, keep your own list and note down each book you read. Also, try to give it a little review, so you can remember each book and consider what you learned/ gained from it.
I often mention this habit, such as in my list of micro habits, but that’s because this has completely changed my outlook. It is such a simple habit to pick up and reaps so many rewards, far more than just increasing your reading time.
Have a book on your bedside table, and end each day by reading for a minimum of ten minutes—every single day. You have to build this up until it feels so natural that you don’t even consider skipping it. Whether you’re tired, tipsy or not in the mood, read for ten minutes.
You’ll find that you often end up reading far longer, but even just that ten minutes is enough to power you through books.
Aside from reading more, there are multiple benefits to this habit. You avoid screens close to going to sleep, which will help you to sleep better. You calm yourself before going to bed and empty your mind, providing a moment of peace. It helps you to get tired before going to sleep to ensure you enter your sleep cycle naturally.
I just came up with this little abbreviation, and I’m quite pleased with it! You need to start carrying a book with you at all times. Whether it is to a doctor’s appointment, a bus ride or to meet someone for coffee, this allows you to steal time from moments that you didn’t know existed.
Ten minutes in a waiting room could be spent mindlessly on your phone or getting another chapter in. That twenty-minute train ride could be spent on Instagram or learning from a book on productivity or writing. The choice is yours.
I do this by keeping my fiction book by my bed for evenings and having a non-fiction book in my bag at all times. A Kindle can also work well for this. Breaking your reading down into increments can be difficult for some, but I find it perfect for non-fiction as you can just pick up where you left off. The worst-case scenario is that you end up rereading a page and grasping its contents better!
Fight the urge to pull out your phone and instead bring out your book and catch a few pages whilst you wait.
This is the biggest issue I see in people wanting to read more. They barely read, yet they’ve set themselves the mountain-high task of reading a classic Jane Austen novel or War and Peace. Reading is a skill to be built up, a muscle that you need to train. To start reading more, read something that you enjoy! For me, reading the Percy Jackson books helped me to get into my reading stride truly. I devoured those books, reading all ten over 2.5 months. And they’re pretty big books!
Whatever your guilty pleasure is, indulge in it completely! Reading fiction can do as much for you as reading non-fiction. It’s relaxing and helps you to destress; it works wonders for your vocabulary and imagination. And it is fun! Reading fiction is a gift I give myself over and over, as it lets me escape and explore new possibilities. I’m also a bit biased as a fiction writer! If non-fiction is what sets your gears in motion, then find the ones that genuinely interest you and indulge in them.
But even when you’re back in the swing of reading, give yourself those guilty pleasures. I aim to read one non-fiction for every three fiction books I read, as I find those more challenging to get into. But I’m currently reading and loving “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft” by Stephen King.
This not only helped me to read more in 2020, but also to stay sane! I organised an online book club with close friends, held over Zoom on Sundays with a wine glass. Each session, we would discuss three chapters in depth. I would take notes and prepare some topics to discuss, but we also let the conversation flow naturally. It was fascinating to see how people interpreted things differently and held varying insights regarding the same book.
It can be a great way to motivate yourself through a book and get more out of it. You can do this alongside a book for your personal reading. My book club started with “Queenie” by Candice Carty-Williams, and we couldn’t put it down - the largest struggle was not reading ahead!
Reading is a pleasurable activity, so don’t let your tactics deter from that. Try to ignite the child that could never put a book down and remember what you loved so much about it. Use micro habits to reintroduce reading to your life and make it as natural to you as swiping on Instagram or turning on Netflix. But no matter what; always keep it fun! Choose books you want to read. The easiest way to finish a book is to be engrossed in what it has to say, so find the right books.
What was the best book you read in 2020?
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Welcome to Symptoms of Living! A place where I like to relieve myself of the barrage of thoughts and ideas filling my mind. Here I'll take a look at various topics, from books to BPD, series to self-harm, there's nothing that we can't, and shouldn't, talk about.
Having struggled with mental illness since the age of 15, one of the hardest parts was how alone I felt in it. While mental illness is beginning to be discussed more openly, and featured in the media, I still think there is room for improvement. So whether it is mental illness or merely mental health, a bad day or a bad year, let's make this a place to approach it and strip it back. Everyone has their own symptoms of living, and you certainly won't be the only one with it.
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