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Zero to Reader: 6-Steps to Develop a Reading Habit

reading habit

We all know we should read more. Yet so few of us develop a reading habit that allows us to do it.

Warren Buffet, one of the greatest investor of the 20th century, spends 80% of his working day reading and thinking.

When asked how to get smarter, he held a stack of papers and said:

“Read 500 pages like this every day. That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will do it.”

To get better results in life you need to learn constantly. And the best way to learn is to read effectively and a lot.

Books are the best technology of the 21st century. Reading books is the real-life version of collecting mushrooms in Super Mario.

In the last two years, I’ve read more than 100 books. Before that, I probably read 50 books in my entire lifetime.

What changed?

I’m not a speed-reader. I didn’t magically carve an extra hour per day to read. All I did was follow a simple system to help me read every day. 

And now you can copy it and develop a reading habit as well…

Why You Should Develop a Reading Habit

“Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.” — Richard Steele

Before explaining my reading habit system it’s important to understand the “why”. Knowing why you are doing something motivates you to keep going.

If you’re reading this, you probably don’t need a lot of convincing of the power of reading so I’ll make this part brief.

Below are the top 5 reasons you must develop a reading habit.

#1 Reading Upgrades Your Brain

Books upgrade the “software” in your brain. A new idea, outlook on life, mental model, is all it takes for something to click inside your brain.

A good book gives you a new way to interpret past experiences. In the words of Patrick O’Shaughnessy:

“Reading changes the past. This is important. The past isn’t fixed. A new book often makes you realize something essential about an old book.”

And the knowledge that you get from books compounds: the more you read the more you’ll connect the dots from different books

I like Elon Musk’s description of knowledge:

“It is important to view knowledge as sort of a semantic tree — make sure you understand the fundamental principles, ie the trunk and big branches, before you get into the leaves/details or there is nothing for them to hang on to.”

Eventually, your brain will start making connections between books that seemed to be on wildly different topics. The more you read, the more links you form and the richer your understanding becomes.

And as far as upgrading your brain goes, reading provides the best asymmetry of time-reward. You only need a couple of dollars and some time but a book can potentially change your life.

#2 Reading Makes You More Interesting

Most of what we do in life has one common goal: to become more empathetic with other people.

Books give you conversational fodder — in the form of knowledge, stories, and experiences — that you use effectively to become more empathetic, amusing, and attractive to other people.

Moreover, people who read increase their ability to accommodate and reflect on any opinion, even ones that seem ridiculous.

Reading will also improve your communication skills, namely vocabulary and writing. The more you read, the better you communicate. And better communication means better relationships.

#3 Reading Opens Windows into Other Worlds

Truly great books are someone’s life work. In a few hours, you can learn the top 1% of a given topic by just reading the right book. There’s no other form with that kind of signal vs noise ratio.

A truly great book changes your life. I changed my outlook on work after reading Deep Work or ReWork.

 In the words of Dr. Seuss:

“The more you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

Books give you the ability to learn to look through other’s eyes. It’s like having a conversation with the brightest minds from any given field.

#4 Reading Improves Memory and Concentration

Perhaps today — more than ever — one of the biggest benefits of reading is improving our memory and concentration.

As the world becomes more tech-centric, our ability to concentrate decreases. A new study shows that American adults spend more than 11 hours per day on their tech, watching, reading, listening, and interacting with media. That’s up from nine hours and a half just four years ago. We’ve let all this tech into our lives without ever questioning if we wanted or needed it.

Books are the medicine to it all.

To read, you need to be focused for long periods of time. Your mind is forced to focus again and again from page to page on new information.

Read every day to train your attention muscle and improve your focus.

#5 Reading Is the Best Tool to Fight Stress

Books are an escape to your mind, transporting you into another reality. They help you take a break from the real world.

A study found that reading for as little as 6 minutes is sufficient to reduce stress levels by 60%, slowing heartbeat, easing muscle tension and altering the state of mind. In the words of Dr. Lewis:

“This is more than merely a distraction but an active engaging of the imagination, as the words on the printed page stimulate your creativity and cause you to enter what is essentially an altered state of consciousness.”

Furthermore, incorporating reading in your nighttime routine can help you sleep better. It calms your mind and cues your body up for shut-eye, improving the quality of your sleep.

How to Develop a Reading Habit

“Reading is essential for those who seek to rise above the ordinary.” — Jim Rohn

Now that you know why you should read more, it’s time to move into the nitty-gritty of it all: how to read more.

This is the part the most people fail to accomplish. We all know the benefits, but few know how to get started and keep going.

Below are 6 easy strategies you can put in place right now that will help you read more. Each stand on its own, but use them all for best results.

#1 Just 25 Pages a Day

The first step to develop a reading habit it to read every single day. Sounds simple, yet few do it. To read more books, reading books must become a priority.

Most of us get paid to use our brain, our knowledge. Reading books provides the best ROI of your time to upgrade your brain.

A simple hack to kickstart the habit of reading is to read just 25 pages per day (about 1 hour for the average reader). This is the minimum amount, not the maximum. After 25 pages you can either continue reading or do something else. 

Sounds simple?

It is. Just 25 pages a day, every day. That’s it.

It’s simple enough to get started and easy to track. The goal of this hack it to make reading a deeply held habit.

With time, reading won’t feel like something you do but rather something you are.

Takeaway: read at least 25 pages every day; continue reading only if you want

#2 Read at the Same Time Every Day

To make it easier for a new habit to stick, you should do it at the same time every day. Reading is no different.

Go ahead and choose a time to read every day. I’ll wait.

My recommendation is that you do it immediately after waking up. That’s what I did when I started developing a reading habit. Why?

First, you get a win early in the day. Trust me, it feels good to start off the day with a win.

Second, you replace bad habits with good ones. Instead of browsing your phone, you read a book. Kill two birds with one stone.

And finally, this is the moment where you have the most willpower thus making it easier to develop a new habit.

If you can’t read after waking up, the other best options are to read early in the morning or just before going to sleep.

Make your life easier by placing books on your bedside table. They become the first thing you see when you wake up and the last before sleeping.

Takeaway: read every day at the same time; the best timings are after waking up, early in the morning, and before going to sleep (in that order)

#3 Use the Habit Sandwich

In “The Power of Habit”, Charles Duhigg tells the story of how “Hey Ya!” by OutKast became a hit song.

Even though all research pointed that this was going to be a monster hit, listeners kept switching the station when the song played. Why?

Even a sure-fire monster hit, when new, has to be sandwiched between two “familiar” songs. The record executives got radios to play “Hey Ya” between already established hits until the song became familiar itself. When that happened, “Hey Ya” turned into the hit that everyone expected it would be.

Use the “sandwich technique” to make reading a habit easier to develop. Pick two already familiar habits and add reading in between.

Every morning after taking a shower I had breakfast. All I did was snuck reading in between. That made it easier since I had the other two routines established.

Takeaway: start reading in between two already established habits

#4 Introduce Reading into an Already Established Routine

Another great way to develop a reading habit is to make reading your default in already established routines. All you have to do is switch one habit for the habit of reading.

For example:

I go to the toilet every morning. Before, I used my phone to play games or browse social media. One day I put my Kindle in the bathroom and stop bringing my phone when I had to go. I could either read or do nothing instead.

Slowly, I began to read every time I went to the toilet. I made it a new default: if I go to the toilet, I will read.

Other ways you can use this strategy:

Takeaway: make reading your default in already established routines, such as going to the toilet or commuting to work

#5 Adopt Reading as Your Default to Boredom

You’re waiting for the metro and it’s going to arrive in 5 minutes. What do you do? If you’re like most people, you take out your phone and start scrolling and playing games.

To develop the habit of reading faster, make it your new default to boredom. Waiting in line at the post office? Read. Need to wait for the bus? Read. Waiting for a doctor’s appointment? Read. Every chance you get. 

Always carry a book, wherever you go.

If you have to wait for something, you just pick up the book and start reading. And if carrying a book is too much of a hassle for you, get the Kindle app on your phone. 

Takeaway: read when you’re bored; always carry a book with you and if that’s not an option use the Kindle app

#6 Choose the Right Medium for You

A few years ago I tried to read on an iPad using the Kindle app and disliked it so much that it took me years to give the Kindle a try. I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. But I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Books were meant to be read on paper and that’s how I liked them. Why bother?

Two years later, I’m convinced the Kindle is the major reason I started reading voraciously.

It took me a few days to adjust but after that, I was hooked. What a beautiful device. In the last two years, I read two paper books. They were both fiction, and I read them while on holidays.

Nowadays, there are multiple ways that you can experience “books”: read them — physical or digital copies — or even listen to them!

If you have a hard time reading, perhaps you’re not using the right medium for you. Try switching around and see what works best for you.

For example:

If you like listening to podcasts, audiobooks might be the best medium for you. Use Audible 1-month trial to see if you like it.

And because the world is digital, most people prefer using technology to read books. Start by installing the Kindle app on your phone and tablet and see if you like it. And also get a Kindle and see if you prefer reading on it.

Takeaway: find the best reading medium for you: physical, digital, or audio

How to Choose What to Read

“Go to bed smarter than when you woke up.” — Charlie Munger

Knowing how to read is just half the battle. With some many books available nowadays, it’s even harder to figure out what to read.

That’s why the final piece of the puzzle of a reading habit is the “what”. Once you get a system up, it’s all about feeding it with the right input or, in this case, the right books.

Here are 3 tips on becoming better at choosing what to read.

#1 Read Better Books

One book can change your life. So how do you consistently find those types of books?

There are two simple hacks: the “test of time” and asking around.

The first one — the “test of time” — is a simple heuristic to find great books: if a book has been around for a long time and people still talk about it, it’s probably good. As Naval Ravikant put it in a Tim Ferriss podcast episode:

“The older the problem, the older the solution. If you’re talking about an old problem like how to keep your body healthy, how to stay calm and peaceful of mind, what kinds of value systems are good, how should you raise your family…these kinds of things, the older solutions are probably better because they’ve withstood the test of time. Any book that has been around for 2,000 years has been filtered by a lot of people.”

The second is to ask close friends or mentors for one book recommendation. From everything they read, what’s the one book they would recommend? Compile a list from different people and start there.

There’s only a handful of books you can read per year. Why waste your opportunity cost on books that are not the best?

#2 Be Quicker to Stop and Skip

Reading should be fun. If you’re not having fun, you’re reading the wrong books. It’s time to quit.

Here’s a pro tip: read the first chapter without the obligation to continue. If you’re not having fun, it’s time move on. In order to read more great books, you need to abandon the merely good ones.

You can use this rule in many other things. I quit movies or shows a few minutes in if I’m not having fun. I quit all the time

The second pro tip is to skip more often.

If you find a section of a book repetitive, move on to the next. As long as you capture the point the author is trying to convey, feel free to skip ahead. You can skip most citations too. Read less of the stuff you don’t need to.

#3 Read It When You Need It

Reading for the sake of saying you read a lot is a vanity metric. The power of learning from books comes from applying what you read.

That’s why you should choose your books based on what you need to learn right now, so you can use the information you consume.

And the more specific you can be, the better. Don’t just read a book on marketing, but rather a book specifically about writing business plans.

Read a couple of books on the same topic and connect the best ideas. You’ll develop a unique vision of a particular topic, your own.

Recap

The system to develop a reading habit:

  1. Just 25 Pages a Day: read at least 25 pages every day; continue reading only if you want
  2. Choose a Time: read every day at the same time; the best timings are after waking up, early in the morning, and before going to sleep (in that order)
  3. The Habit Sandwich: start reading in between two already established habits
  4. Use Already Established Routines: make reading your default in already established routines, such as going to the toilet or commuting to work
  5. Your Default to Boredom: read when you’re bored; always carry a book with you and if that’s not an option use the Kindle app
  6. Choose the Right Medium: find the best reading medium for you: physical, digital, or audio

While knowing how to read is important, you must also know what to read. Make sure you:

  1. Read Better Books: use the “test of time” and ask friends for recommendations
  2. Be Quicker to Stop and Skip: read the first chapter and continue only if you want. Skip more often. Read less of the stuff you don’t need to
  3. Read It When You Need It: choose books based on what you need to learn right now so you can use the information you consume.

I just gave you all the tools you need to develop a reading habit. The “why”, the “how”, and the “what”.

Now, grab a book and start reading.

Ignorance is more expensive than a book.

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