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It’s the strangest thing. Whenever I come across a cute little bookshop or visit a beautiful old library, I’m filled with wonder about the world and excitement to find out more. Perhaps this is accountable to a deep-rooted desire for purpose and meaning; these shelves upon shelves of collected human thought representing the possibility of answers. With the help of minds across the globe and across time, surely one of them can shed some light on the best action that I can take next? On the other hand, perhaps I am in part just falling victim to consumerist hoarding; working my way through books that do not move me just to add them to my shelves (both physical and electronic) for others to marvel at. Am I merely expanding my knowledge for the mere appearance of intellect? Perhaps in preparation for a chance conversation with someone well read? A possible friend, or partner? Perhaps it’s a combination of all of these things.
Regardless of the source of this excitement or my attempts to isolate a neatly packaged explanation of its origin, the excitement is genuine and undeniable. Yet, as quickly as these butterflies appear around me, just as quickly do they abandon my orbit the further away from their source I travel. Drizzly weather and sickly train lighting tend not to help either. By the time I get home, the maelstrom of inspiration to read has calmed to a gentle lapping wave. But what has changed in my environment to rearrange my priorities in this way and sap my desire to search for meaning? Well, that’s a big question, but I have found that one of the main contributors has been an abundance of passive entertainment and electronic social connection.
I realise that it is not novel to say that Netflix, YouTube and Facebook are addictive and time consuming. I am also not suggesting that the book format is inherently superior to these modern platforms, as there are valuable things to be found on all three of the platforms mentioned. I’m just pointing out that, left to its own devices, my brain appears capable of binging the shallowest forms of passive entertainment available on these platforms for hours at a time (otherwise known as procrastination).
Why is it So Difficult to Find Motivation to Read?
I suppose an obvious answer is that our brains tend to seek out the easiest and most comfortable option available in the circumstances. When faced with the decision of watching a television series or reading a difficult novel, the television option tends to have the upper hand from the outset as watching a television series is passive, while reading a book requires active effort.
We also tend to prefer new things; new Instagram posts, new Netflix content or Elon Musk’s newest controversial tweet. There’s a sense of community involved in consuming the latest video from a YouTube influencer alongside your fellow subscribers within the first few hours of posting. There’s also a limbic resonance in knowing that they have filmed, edited and uploaded said video that very day, enabling a proximity between you and the subject despite them being half way across the globe. Wikipedia refers to limbic resonance as:
“the capacity for empathy and non-verbal connection that is present in mammals, and that forms the basis of our social connections as well as the foundation for various modes of therapy and healing.“
YouTube and Twitch take this a step further even, providing the facility for live streamed content, enabling viewers to resonate instantaneously. Although some may protest this point, perhaps there would be far more Dostoyevsky followers if one was able to follow his day to day antics on Instagram and find out his favourite spot to get brunch or his favourite colour of Crocs. There certainly seem to be a sufficient number of high brow writers making good use of the marketing potential of social media, even if this is just a condition of their publishing contract.
The time commitment involved in reading is also off-putting in this realm of abundant passive entertainment,. With the capability of watching YouTube clips at twice their regular speed, the pace at which content can be consumed on the platform leaves the average reading pace in the dust.
So, Why Bother Reading?
Well, for the most part, I would argue that passive entertainment can only offer a swimming-pool’s depth of experience, while books can offer vast, novel ocean trenches for exploration. You broaden your outlook when you realise the extent of the forest’s mycelium, the iceberg submerged and the karst’s tunnel system.
Of course, there are many different mediums to books which can offer just as powerful an impact (i.e. film and television), but I would likely not classify these within the passive entertainment category just discussed. Such works would require just as much active concentration as that involved in reading for their proper comprehension.
However, on the whole, I would venture that the sheer extent of content within a well written book provides far more of an opportunity for learning and discovery than the equivalent film which has, by necessity, been confined to a duration of around two hours and which will be restricted in how much content can be crammed therein to remain commercially viable. Bar certain specialist films (i.e. documentaries), people watching a film will generally not expect to be overwhelmed by dialogue or narration.
My 5 Tips For Finding Motivation to Read
So, returning to the title of this article, what is the best way to get motivated to read? I have set out below my five tips for improving your chances of developing and sticking to a reading habit.
1. Only Read Books That Interest You
Does this seem obvious? Well, sure, but consider how many books you have bought or borrowed from the library which you only picked up due to their reputation or due to what others have said about it (whether friends, family or Goodreads users).
Acquiring books solely because of someone else’s view is a recipe for that book becoming a dust-gathering paperweight. You may well enjoy a recommended book, but it is still a gamble.
Remember, the purpose here is to develop your desire to read. The opinions of others can be useful in guiding your hand, but should not be substituted for your own personal taste. Even if you are concerned that the books you would choose right at this moment are not high brow enough, just go for it if the book appeals to you. If you ultimately find that the book was below par and that you were right in wanting more of a challenge or greater exploration of your topic of interest, your next decision should be far better informed.
2. Get Through Your Current Backlog Before Acquiring More Books
Getting carried away in the book store, the library or even on the Kindle/Audible store can be hard to resist on certain occasions where you spot several books that catch your eye. However, I would caution against hoarding books.
I always find that there is something about having an imposing backlog of books that works as a deterrent to reading. Even if I am really keen to read each of the seven books I have just obtained individually, I find myself viewing the collective whole of this stack as a single impassible whole. A monolith of literature, smaller but equally as imposing as that in 2001: A Space Odyssey (a film reference when I am promoting good reading habits, not helpful).
The Japanese even have a term for this behaviour, “積ん読” or “tsundoku”, which Wikipedia defines as:
“acquiring reading materials but letting them pile up in one’s home without reading them“.
3. If You Have a Lot of Dead Time (i.e. Commuters), Try Audible
It’s a little depressing to think that I will spend a considerable part of my life on commuter trains and trams to my place of work, but, for most people, spending 2+ hours in transit each workday is inevitable. Rather than writing this time off as dead time (and staring into space for the duration which some people tend to), why not use this as a productive opportunity to get some reading done?
For those who take the car, walk, or use unpleasantly crowded modes of transport, taking a physical book or e-reader is not possible. However, audiobooks are the solution to this. Having someone reading to you through your car stereo or headphones is a great way to make use of what would otherwise be an unproductive couple of hours. It should also assist in passing the time spent pressed up against other commuters who have failed to brush their teeth or shower in the last 24 hours.
Services like Audible offer a vast library of audiobooks, so the chances are you will be able to find the next book you’re after available in audiobook format. Another nice feature of Audible is the ability to listen at higher or lower rates of speech, depending on how complicated the title you are listening to is. For instance, it may be preferable to listen to an audiobook on a foreign language at 75% speed, while a novel of intermediate difficulty may be acceptably sped up to 125% speed. There’s also a nice bookmarking feature allowing you to keep your place and drop multiple markers in places you wish to come back to later.
My local library (in the UK) is actually part of a library app network which enables me to borrow both ebook and audiobook titles on my phone through the app for free as part of my library membership. If you are trying to save money and do not want to sign up for a subscription service such as Audible, have a look on your local library’s website to see if they are offering a similar service. It may be that you are unknowingly passing up on free access to audiobooks.
If you are interested in Audible, I have dropped my affiliate link for a trial below on the US and UK stores:
Audible US:Try Audible and Get Two Free Audiobooks
4. Give Yourself A Reading Target (Goodreads is Useful For This)
Setting a target number of books to read each year may seem a little arbitrary (it’s quality over quantity, surely?), but I have found it generally quite useful to maintaining my reading habit.
In the past, I have often overestimated how much I have managed to read by the end of the year. For instance, on one occasion of reconciliation of the past year’s endeavours (perhaps the build up to New Years), I noted down each of the books I’d read and been deflated to find I had only managed to read 12 books. Granted, a lot of the books I read that year were longer in length, but it still felt disappointing. I thought I had got through more than I really had.
It’s not just that I want to plough through as many books as possible for bragging rights (as, to be honest, I probably talk about books with others maybe one or twice per year). It’s that there is so much I am yet to read and wish to read. Returning once again to the magical library feeling discussed at the beginning of this article, if I maintain this sluggish pace I just feel as though I will certainly not be reaching my potential in broadening my outlook on life if I will only get through three or four shelves of this great building’s contents in my entire lifetime.
So what can you do to help with monitoring your pace and ensuring you are not falling behind? Although I think that certain audiobooks can benefit from being sped up slightly, I am not too convinced that speed-reading is the best idea if you are to maintain comprehension. So although reading in a spirited fashion as quickly, but as comfortably as you can manage is recommended, I also think that journaling your reading progress throughout the year can be very useful.
If you prefer to put pen to paper, it is definitely a good shout to invest in a quality notebook and fountain pen. By keeping these together with the book you have on the go, you can quickly note down any passages which you found particularly resonant in addition to keeping track of the books you are completing as you go along.
If you would prefer not to have the clutter of a journal and pen on your nightstand, Goodreads is a great site for quickly and easily keeping track of the books you have read. The site also has a nice feature of allowing you to set a target number of books to read this year. You can therefore efficiently keep track of your progress as the year progresses (and Goodreads also lets you know how behind or ahead of schedule you are!). I only really use Goodreads for keeping track of all the books I read/listen to in various formats, so there are probably many more features of the site I have not touched upon here. Click here to have a look around the website yourself.
5. Make Reading a Fixed Part of Your Daily Routine
I have found that it is very useful to set a particular time each day when you will ignore all distractions and settle down to some focused reading (or listening if you’ve chosen an audiobook).
As I have touched upon, time spent commuting is ideal during the work week. Alternatively, starting a routine where you complete your pre-bed nighttime routine a good hour ahead of the time when you actually turn out the light to sleep is a good way to make time for reading. I tend to find that this quiet hour before bed is ideal for productive reading and seems to be a time where your brain is less vulnerable to seeking out one of the aforementioned passive forms of entertainment.
Reading at the weekend can be tricky, despite the larger amount of reading opportunity time. Whether I have a lot of things planned or not, I often find it can be more difficult to be disciplined and make time for reading when you hold the reins on how your time is managed. During workdays, the structure established by the majority of the day being accounted for can actually be of benefit in forcing you to be far more selective with the few waking hours which are yours. However, when the whole weekend is laid out before you, it can be very easy to procrastinate even the things you have been looking forward to all week. Yet again, it’s these shallower, passive forms of entertainment which have a pernicious way of rinsing away your precious free time.
So what can you do? Much in the same way as you might schedule to work out in your diary, schedule to read at a certain time for just one hour. If you find that your mind is drifting before the hour’s even up, perhaps revisit point one in this list and consider whether you actually want to read the book you’re holding. If not, find a book you are actually excited to read.
If you are particularly prone to getting distracted, I have also found that a certain category of music can be very beneficial in establishing a better mood for concentration. In another article, I have written about what I believe is some of the best music for concentration – click through to read more if you’re interested. An artist I am particularly enjoying to aid focus and concentration at the moment is Jon Hopkins; take a listen to Scene Suspended below:
I hope my tips prove to be of some use to you. I think, overall, if you also share that feeling of wonder when you go to the library or a cosy book shop, use your best endeavours to keep the butterflies alive.
Let me know in the comments what you think is the best way to get motivated to read!