How to Build a Reading Habit
“Everyone should read”, they say, “It’s a great habit to develop.” And it’s true. Reading is awesome.
But if you haven’t been reading all your life, it can be hard to start all of a sudden. It’s a learned skill, after all; and an acquired taste. Not everyone loves to read from the first book they pick up. Probably not even from the second book…
Nonetheless, it’s a good habit to have.
There are lots of benefits to having a reading habit. Your vocabulary (in the language you read) improves, you gain a fun new hobby, you end up knowing random stuff other people don’t…not to mention your reading speed is bound to increase at least a little bit, which is a useful skill to have!
Anyway, on to my tips on how to build a reading habit!
But first, something to keep in mind: reading is not for everyone and that’s okay. If you’ve tried and tried to read a book but it’s just not possible for you, that’s okay! Watch documentaries or listen to audiobooks instead. They’ll give you just as much value!
Also, a disclaimer: I read English books, so all my examples will be English. But you don’t have to restrict yourself. If your goal isn’t to improve your English and it’s not a language you’re comfortable with, read books in your own language! I wish I was comfortable reading books in Hindi and Marathi and Tamil…
Here are the steps you can take to build a regular reading habit, even if you've never read anything but textbooks all your life:
1. Reflect on your ‘why’
By that, I mean why you want to build a reading habit in the first place. It might seem like a useless thing to do. After all, what matters is that you’re reading. Right?
Your reason matters more than you think. It will keep you motivated to continue when your habit breaks (and it will, sometimes. Even I don’t read every day). It’ll make you say, “Never mind”, and pick up another book when the one you read disappoints you. It’ll make you continue reading when nothing else would.
So…ask yourself why you want to read in the first place, and why you’re starting now.
Is it because you want to improve your vocabulary? Or because your job involves reading stuff and you feel you need to increase your reading speed? Or is it just because you want an escape and are bored of movies?
They’re all good reasons.
Mine is simple: I love travelling and books allow me to travel without spending as much time or money or energy or…you get the drift!
So…find your why and hold on to it.
2. Find a genre (or genres) you love
You don’t like reading. Not yet. So putting yourself through a crappy experience just because you need to form a habit is not a great start. You’ll never succeed at building a sustainable reading habit if you start with something you don’t like.
There are millions of books out there, so the perfect book for you definitely exists! You just have to find what interests you.
To make it easy, narrow it down. What do you like? A ghost story? A good dose of humour? Cheesy romance? Or maybe you want guidance to improve as a person? Perhaps none of these resonate with you and you simply want to be transported to another place and time.
Don’t worry, there’s a book for every one of these preferences and more.
And don’t worry if your tastes are completely different from all your friends’. People will recommend books to you that you may not like. They’ll tell you that you “must” read this or that. Feel free to ignore them except when it suits you. I do it all the time!
Once you choose a genre…
3. Find good books in your genre
Every genre has great books and horrible books.
And every person has their own preferences. You might hate the most popular books in your genre and prefer the lesser-known books instead. You might love the books your friends love, or you might find them horrible.
You’ll develop your own preferences in time, but first, you’ve got to find the books.
There are several places you can go to, to find the perfect book for you, and I list some of them here.
Just remember, if you’re not used to reading, it’s better if you:
4. Start with shorter, easier reads
When you’re trying to start anything from scratch, it’s always, always better to start with a low-commitment option (if it exists). It’s easier to convince yourself to read a 200-page book or a short story than a monstrous 1000-page award winner (I’m looking at you, The Handmaid’s Tale!).
If you’re interested in literary fiction, pick up an abridged version of a classic. If it’s fantasy that you love, read a bunch of short stories before jumping to Lord of the Rings or even the Harry Potter series.
And don’t just go for short reads. Start with easy reads as well.
Don’t jump to classics or Shakespeare before you have the patience to sit with a dictionary or you know enough that you wouldn’t struggle with those books. And there’s no harm reading children’s books either. Even I revisit my childhood favourites sometimes because they’re so fun and easy to read.
5. Set aside a time for reading
Believe me, it works.
Make time in your schedule just for reading. Keep a reminder, mark it in your calendar…whatever. But it should be the same time every day.
It isn’t necessary that you’ll follow it all the time. There will be slip-ups. But that’s okay. Accept it and continue where you left off the next day.
This kind of discipline is needed if you’re new to reading because you need to overcome that natural resistance you’ll feel and setting aside a time eliminates the classic, “I don’t have time” excuse.
This will, of course, not work if the time you set aside could be a “busy” time for you. Take out some of the time when you always Netflix and chill, or play video games or whatever.
If you really want to make reading a habit, don’t give yourself the chance to regularly get out of doing the work.
6. Find someone to discuss your books with
This is not that important. More like a bonus step because it’s fun.
Discussing something you’ve recently read helps you remember it better (especially useful if you read inspiring stuff). It’s also just plain fun.
Not to mention if you read a book with someone, you can keep each other accountable and that’ll help you maintain your habit too.
It’s not easy to build a habit. Any habit. There will be ups, downs, and slip-ups (unless, of course, you fall in love with reading, which is a different matter).
If you want to build a reading habit that lasts, you need to persist through the times that you don’t feel like reading. You need to have the guts to pick up a new book and read it even if you hated the one you just finished. You must trust that you’ll find a good book that fits your interest.
Hold on to your ‘why’ and keep at it until it becomes a habit. (Fun fact: it won’t magically become automatic in 21 days. It actually takes anywhere between 18 to 264 days to form a new habit. But don’t get intimidated! The average is 66 days…)
That’s all for the reading habit! I have never really had to work hard at this because I’ve been reading since I was a kid, but I did go through a major reader’s block at a point, so some of these steps helped me overcome it.
I hope it helps you as well…
One more thing before I end this: make sure you enjoy it! If reading does not end up interesting you, find another good habit. There are plenty.