I remember the day I truly fell in love with and created an everlasting love with reading.
I was in the airport at 9 years old, getting ready to take off on a flight with no parents, just my younger brother and I, to visit our grandparents in Alabama. I needed something to read, but choices in reading material for children in an airport are slim (or at least they were 20+ years ago). I was left with one choice that seemed remotely enjoyable, and I’m forever thankful for that serendipitous moment.
By pure chance and a stroke of good luck, I stumbled upon the Harry Potter series, book number two, The Chamber of Secrets. Despite it being the second book in the series, I was enthralled and couldn’t put it down. In the short plane ride down and back I had finished the book and wanted more. Like an animal having its first meal after starving for weeks, I was ravenously hungry for more. This began my love and passion for reading, which has not only given me an escape and way to relax, but has also helped me expand my mind, improve my thinking, and become a better person.
Reading is a beautiful thing. Whether it’s a magical adventure through castle laced lands on the backs of dragons, a riveting historical tale of love and survival during a humanitarian struggle, or a self-help book designed to shake you out of your rut and get you back on track, reading holds a value that is hard to describe. It helps relax and de-stress, improves creativity and mental flexibility, and expands your vocabulary and language skills, but I think all of those pale in comparison to the effect it has on the way you think and view world.
It gives you a chance to dive into the minds of the authors, the lives of the characters, and the time and place in which the story takes place. Today you could be traveling the Underground Railroad with a group of runaway slaves in search of freedom, while tomorrow you could be zooming through outer space 300 years in the future, fighting an alien enemy trying to capture your home planet. There are few things that give you the ability to be anyone in any place at your choosing but reading offers this willingly.
It’s this ability to “be” and “meet” different people, experience new places and immerse yourself in different time periods that offers such a powerful benefit. The experiences that you encounter through reading expand your mind, expose you to new environments, people and ways of thinking and help to create a better perspective toward the people and world around you. If you want to improve the way you see the world and grow your knowledge and intelligence as rapidly as possible, starting to read on a consistent basis should be priority number one.
How to Get Started
A lot of people struggle to read consistently, or don’t enjoy reading. I can relate to inconsistencies in reading, as I go through periods where I read 6-8 books per month and periods where I may not even finish a book in a month. I’ve always enjoyed reading, but I attribute that in large part to reading early and often. Much like children who are exposed to sports or vegetables early, those who are exposed to reading early (and thus get more proficient at reading, furthering their love for it by feeling good about it rather than struggling) tend to enjoy reading more than those who were exposed to reading later or more sporadically. If you want to discover the power and joy in reading and improve your ability to read, follow the 3 guidelines below.
Change the Narrative
As much as it may feel like you’re “just not a reader”, or “don’t like reading”, these are usually just thoughts you tell yourself to find peace with not enjoying reading or struggling with it. But these thoughts and statements, stories if you will, solidify that fact and are self-fulfilling prophecies. If you tell yourself you’re not a reader, don’t like reading, or will never be a reader, than that fact will hold true… until you change it.
Step number one is to realize that everyone is a reader, some people just don’t know it yet. Those who aren’t just haven’t exposed themselves to the right books, authors, and genres of reading. Start by telling yourself that you may not be a reader yet, but that you have the desire to read and the capability to develop the habit and skill. After that it’s about experimentation and repetition. Experiment with different genres, authors, and books, and create a habit through daily repetition.
Experiment and Test
There’s an endless amount of books out there spanning across every genre from classics like To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, to fantastical masterpieces like The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson and that only covers the fictional side of reading. There’s an entire other half of the reading world that includes biographies, historical accounts, science driven writings and more. No matter who you are, or what you’re interested in, there’s a book out there for you (and more than one, for that matter).
Start by opening yourself up to the childish curiosity that you closed yourself off to when the world started to tell you it was weird, wrong, or childish to try new things and dabble in new adventures. Enter the world of reading with an open mind and reap the benefits that a good book can provide.
Be patient and give books of all types, a chance. This means not only do you need to be patient in working through the various types and kinds of books to find your unique preference and style, but you also need to be patient within each book, as some books start slow and you may give up on something that you could end up loving. Fantasy sagas are notorious for this. They’re typically 3-15 books long, span many years and engross a plethora of characters which requires 100 pages, at the least, to get into the “thick” of the story and really get a taste for what it’s like.
My favorite series of all time, A Song of Fire and Ice (aka Game of Thrones, the books) was like this. It took me what felt like forever to get through the initial stages of the book where the author laid the groundwork for all that was to come on the adventurous journey. I could’ve easily given up then, but I’m glad that I continued picking that book up day after day because the story that unfolded is one that has engrossed my mind and awed me endlessly. Give the books you try a chance to develop and age, much like a fine wine or nice cheese, and once you’ve finished the book (or at least half of it) decide if it’s something you like or not. Continue experimenting with different genres, books, and authors until you find something that matches your unique preferences.
Improve Through Repetition
Much like golf, where the goal isn’t so much to be good, but rather to be good enough to get around the course and enjoy it, art of enjoying reading is being good at it, or at least proficient enough to feel like it’s not work to do. Reading is a skill you must practice and improve if you want to do it more consistently. The best thing you can do to improve how much you enjoy reading, once you’ve figured out what it is that you like to read, is to do more of it. Build it into your day to day, make it a habit, and focus on being consistent rather than perfect in that habit.
If you’re unsure of how to make reading into a habit, here’s a foolproof method for getting you started:
- Leave your book out in the open in the place that you plan to do all or the bulk of your reading. If you have a chair you like to read in, the book should be sitting in the chair or on the coffee table next to it.
- Pick a time that you can commit to each day to read. Common times are first thing in the morning (my favorite), at lunch, or before bed (this can be difficult if you find yourself tired at the end of the day). You can always add in extra times, like during a wait at the doctor’s office, on airplanes (my favorite place), or on the toilet (another personal favorite). Just make sure that every day you can set a specific time to do your reading and read for the minimum time you’ve chosen.
- Set a minimum time that you want to spend reading every day. Start with some small and easily attainable, so much so that it feels impossible to fail. I started with 5 minutes each morning and have slowly stretched that out into 30 but figure out what feels doable to you, do it daily and then build from there.
- Find a healthy way to make the process rewarding either during or after. Have a cup of coffee while you read, read in the bathtub, or treat yourself to a food you love (in moderation). Making the process enjoyable during will make it more likely that you get started, while rewarding yourself after the fact will make it more likely that you continue it.
It doesn’t take much to get started reading, just the desire to do so and the willingness to push through some struggles and stay consistent. Whether you want to read to become more learned, to find some relaxation in your daily life, or because you want to expand your mind and the view you have on the world and the people in it, there’s a book out there for you. Get started, don’t stop and I promise the journey will be worth it.
P.S. If you’re still struggling to start reading, or stay consistent with it, how about a bit of friendly pressure and group accountability?
The Strong Minds Book Club is a monthly book club I run designed to help people read more often, expand outside their reading comfort zones and chat about the books we read each month in a fun, friendly and relaxed way. It’s been a great opportunity for everyone involved to get and stay more consistent with their reading, and we’ve explored a wide variety of books including: Educated by Tara Westover, The New Kid by Jerry Craft, The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware and more! We are currently reading Guards! Guards! a fantasy novel by Terry Pritchett and you have plenty of time to join. If you’re interested, click here to head over the Facebook group page where all the details are discussed!