“The habit of reading is the only enjoyment in which there is no alloy; it lasts when all other pleasures fade.”
For most teachers and professors wondering how to read more books, establishing new routines, resolutions, and goal-setting are the answer. But let’s face it: life is changing at a far more rapid pace than ever before. I try to temper the chaos with routines and had to learn how to read more books by developing a reading habit.
Most of you know I use something I call a Super-Nerdy Book Reading Schedule to plan out my reading for the year. This is a grand overview of the books I want to read each year. When it comes to actually reading, I have to get creative just like everyone else.
I also read more because I am a serious audiophile and listen to audiobooks every chance I get. With really difficult books, I listen to the audiobook while I flip through the pages of the physical book. I also follow Joseph Campbell’s lead and plan to read for several hours every day. While those are definitely reading habits, I have a reading routine that accounts for how I attend to most of the pages I read.
In case you are searching for something to help you lock in a reading routine, I want to share one of my reading productivity secrets with you. This is how I tend to read more and more – even in my crazy-busy seasons of life. It’s fresh on my mind and something I use everyday: I call it a reading trigger.
The idea of a reading trigger was first introduced to me in Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit. I read this book in the month of September five years ago. As you might imagine, it was prime reading for the beginning of the school year as a young professor. After finishing the book, I spent the rest of the semester experimenting with different reading triggers until I found the one that works best.
What I learned is that our habits are created, manifested, and solidified based on our choices. The author has this theory on how habits work that he calls the habit loop.
This loop allows you to break down any and every habit to see why and how it manifests in your life.
We often don’t process the particulars of the habit loop, and when we don’t, we allow certain bad behaviors to remain. If we don’t stop to consider why these behaviors are there, then we start to conflate our identities with them. People will use language like, “I’m a smoker” when they smoke.
The habit loop starts with a cue, or what I call a trigger. This trigger prompts the behavior, which is then followed by the reward – the reward keeps us behaving this way.
As you know, not all habits are bad. After reading this book, I wanted to make space for a few regular behaviors in my life. Reading is just one of those behaviors that I wanted to regulate. My super-nerdy book reading schedule gives me a plan for my reading and the reading trigger is one of my many tricks for making it happen.
Some of you are familiar with our reading group that recently decided to tackle In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust. We all realized this 4,215-page novel is not going to read itself and are thriving on the weekly accountability and discussion. Our reading schedule has us slowly digesting 30 pages a week, but if I’m honest, these are often the hardest 30 pages of my week.
I’ve experimented with a few different triggers to get me to the headspace necessary to process deep reading, but one has worked better than others: music. What helps me stay on target is listening to music. Every Friday, I’ll sit down with In Search of Lost Time, put in my headphones, and turn on BrainFM.
This is not just my reading trigger, but my writing trigger as well. I listen to several different stations – one for Proust, another for philosophy, a go-to for fiction, and two different stations for writing. The music for Proust is all instrumental and heavy on the piano.
When I hear the music, it triggers something in my brain that prepares me to absorb Marcel Proust’s prose. Not only that, but I focus on the book instead of the impulsive need to check my email or other social networks. I listen to the music every time I read each week’s 30 pages, which usually takes about an hour. It’s that simple.
The reward for this habit is finishing it and either contributing to or starting the discussion in our Facebook group. There is something about accountability that is reward enough in itself. I’ve established these kinds of triggers in quite a few areas of my life and I’m constantly trying to implement new ones.
Haruki Murakami talks about the importance of repetition in establishing routines. In case you don’t know, Murakami has a regular routine of going to sleep by 9:00pm, waking up at 4:00am, writing for 5-6 hours, working out in the afternoons, and he does this over and over again. His whole routine is habitual, and he explains the importance of this repetition in his memoir,
“I keep to this routine every day without variation. The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind.”
You can create triggers for any positive behavior you want to activate in your life; reading is just one of them. If you decide to give this a try, or you already have a habit you regularly repeat, I’d love to hear about it. What is your trigger? You can comment below and tell me all about it.