How much do you read?
I don’t know about you but for most of my adult life I’ve read maybe five books a year. If I was lucky. A couple on vacation and a few slow burners hanging around the bedside table for months.
And then last year I suddenly read 50 books. And this year I’m on pace for 100. I’ve never felt more creatively alive and am using new learnings to enrich all areas of my life. I feel more interesting, I feel like a better husband and dad — and my writing output has dramatically increased. I feel like dramatically increasing my reading rate has been the lead domino to tipping over a slew of other positive outcomes.
I’m disappointed I didn’t do it sooner. So why did I wait 20 years?
Well, our world today is designed for shallow skimming rather than deep diving. So it took me time to understand three specific changes that skyrocketed my reading rate. None of them have to do with how fast I read. I didn’t take a speed reading course and am actually pretty slow.
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Here are three things that helped me:
Centralize it in your home
Back in 1998, psychologist Richard Baumeister and his colleagues performed his famous “chocolate chip cookie and radish” experiment. He split test subjects into three groups and asked them not to eat anything for three hours before the experiment. Group 1 was then given chocolate chip cookies and radishes, but told they could only eat the radishes. Group 2 was given chocolate chip cookies and radishes and told they could eat anything they liked. And Group 3 was given no food at all. Afterwards, he had all three groups attempt an impossible puzzle to see how long they lasted. No big surprise? Group 1, who had spent all its willpower staying away from the cookies, caved the soonest.
I share this experiment because TV in the main room is as tempting as a plate of chocolate chip cookies. So many delicious shows await. If you’re walking by your TV all day you reduce your willpower to tackle books, which take more effort.
So last year my wife and I moved our sole TV into our dark unfinished basement and got a bookshelf installed in the wall beside our front door. Now we see it, walk by it and touch it dozens of times a day. And because the TV is 20 steps away, it sits dormant unless the Blue Jays are in the playoffs.
As Roald Dahl wrote: “So oh, we please, we beg, we pray, go throw your TV set away, and in its place, you can install, a lovely bookshelf on the wall.”
Make a public commitment
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In his seminal book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Robert Cialdini shares a psychology study showing that once people place their bets on the racetrack, they are much more confident of their horse’s chances than they are just before laying down the bet. He goes on to explain how commitment is one of the big six weapons of social influence. So what if we think of ourselves as the racehorses? Make the bet by opening a GoodReads or Reco account, connecting with a few co-workers or friends, and then update it every time you read a book. Or develop a mailing list at the same time by emailing out the books you read each month with a short review. I send out Neil Pasricha’s Monthly Book Club Email each month and deviously stole the idea from bestselling author Ryan Holiday, who has a great reading list.
Reapply the “10,000 steps rule”
A good friend once told me a story that really stuck with me. He said Stephen King had advised people to read five hours a day. My friend said “You know, that’s baloney. Who can do that?” But then, years later, he found himself in Maine on vacation. He was waiting in line outside a movie theatre with his girlfriend and who should be waiting in front of him? Stephen King! He said his nose was in a book the whole time in line. He said they got into the theatre and Stephen King was still reading as the lights dimmed. And he said when the lights came up he noticed he pulled the book open right away. He read as he was leaving. Now, there may be some broken telephone in this story, but I think the message is really good. Basically, you can read more. A lot more. There are minutes hidden in all the corners of the day and they add up to a lot of minutes.
In a way, it’s like the “10,000 steps rule.” Walk around the grocery store, park at the back of the lot, chase your kids around the house? Bam. 10,000 steps.
It’s the same with reading.
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When did I read those five books a year for most of my life? On holidays or long flights. “A lot of down time coming,” I’d think. “Better grab a book.”
But now when do I read? All the time. A few pages here. A few pages there. I have a book in my bag at all times. In general, I read non-fiction in the mornings when my brain is in learning mode, and fiction at night before bed when I need an escape. Slipping pages into all the cricks and corners of the day adds up.
This post originally appeared on thestar.com, the digital home of The Toronto Star.