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Prioritize Reading

Updated: Jan 16

In the previous Your Brain of Tomorrow, we discussed the importance of reading for the neurobiology and mental health of any individual. However, as we noted it is also very difficult to find time and space to read. Today we are going to delve into the click bait title which is…


I lied. Today we are only going to talk about 5, because I want to give each of these some details and the time they deserve.

TLDR Version: (Has there ever been a worse phrase?)

1)      Set Specific Reading Goals: Define clear and achievable reading goals. Whether it's a certain number of pages, chapters, or books per day, having specific targets can motivate you to make time for reading.

2)      Create a Reading Schedule: Allocate dedicated time slots for reading in your daily schedule. Treat it like any other important appointment to ensure you prioritize it.

3)      Eliminate Time-wasting Activities: Identify activities that consume your time unnecessarily and consider cutting back on them. This could include reducing time spent on social media, TV, or other non-essential activities.

4)      Carry a Book Everywhere: Keep a book or an e-reader with you at all times. This way, you can take advantage of unexpected free moments like waiting in line, commuting, or during breaks.

5)      Establish a Reading Ritual: Create a pre-reading routine that signals to your brain that it's time to focus on a book. This could be making a cup of tea, finding a comfortable spot, or listening to calming music.


Now with some meat…

1)      Set Specific Reading Goals: “I am going to read more,” gets us no further down the road than “I am going to exercise more.” If we don’t know why we are going to do a thing, it is fairly hard to do it.

Mark SMART goas

With this in mind I strongly recommend asking yourself the question why do I want to read more? Every one of the below are very good reasons and all of them can be considered valid on heir own, more so in combinations.

-          I have things I want to learn.

-          I want to change the world by the content I consume, and support the kinds of people I love to see succeed.

-          I want to expand my horizons, and just be generally more knowledgeable.

-          I want to learn XYZ to help my son/daughter learn about XYZ.

-          I want to know more about my partner's hobby of ABC so we can talk about it more.

-          I just always wanted to read more.

-          Stories are just fun. (Yes, they are…)

There is no bad reason to want to read more. Now that you have some specific reasons why you want to read you can set goals that match them. For example, if you are choosing from the “partner's hobby,” but you read a book that has nothing to do with that hobby, your goals and your actions may not match. You may have to change the goal, or change the topic matter. Similarly, if you say “I want to learn more about XYZ,” and instead you read about ABC you might have missed the mark

Why is this important? Because if you have a goal in mind, and you work toward it, or think you are, but you get no closer you might become frustrated with your lack of progress. Goals and actions need to match.

Goals also help us to know if we made progress. Ephemeral “Read more,” or “Exercise more,” or “Give mor to loved ones of my time…” are all good intentions but will lead in general to no predefined actions.

Your goal should be concrete and measurable.

“I want to read more,” becomes, “I want to learn about XYZ,” becomes, “I will read 1 book and 3 articles about XYZ,” becomes “I will read 1 book and 3 articles about XYZ in the next ABC weeks.” Did you hit your goal? Did you learn enough about the topic? You can decide after the fact. But it is a specific thing you can say you did or did not achieve and then re-evaluate.


2)      Create a Reading Schedule: “I will read 1 book and 3 articles about XYZ in the next ABC weeks,” will get nowhere fast if you have no time set aside to do the task. Everyone who has a busy life knows you only do a few things with your time:

-          Address whatever issue which is screaming for attention.

-          Spend time on the habits which are unconscious

-          Spend time on the things which are necessary for biological survival.

This means our goal with item 2, is to make reading into something which is unconscious. “At 9:30 each night I read for 20 minutes.” Or “On the train on the way to work, I put in a headset, block out the world with white noise, and read for 40 minutes.”

If reading is not prioritized the book we bought will sit on the shelf unread. Remember that it takes time to build habits, and it takes time for something to become normal. That means we will need to engage in this new habit for up to three weeks before it starts to feel normal. That is ok.

“I don’t have time to work in reading.”

See the next item.

3)      Eliminate Time-wasting Activities: We waste a remarkable amount of our lives on things we didn’t mean to do, didn’t want to do, or forget we did. Did you derive more un from listening to YouTube shorts for that 20 minutes, or would you derive more long term fulfillment by reading and moving toward your goal?

All the science says you will be happier in total with the second, but it is hard, which is why we need to make habits of it. But that also means we need to move the other item out of the way. Did the video game for 5 hours beat the video game for 4 hours and 1 hour of reading? Did you need to binge watch the entire season, or can you stretch it out over the course of a week, and add 20 minutes of reading a day?

Do you really need 8.5 hours of sleep? Science says that the odds are ridiculously close to zero. Shave off thirty and fit in a novel.

There is more time in a day than you can imagine, but we need to move the clutter out of the way first. Be specific and find the things in your day you think are not adding value, and are taking up your time. Make a list and then slowly start to remove them. Fill that time with something intentionally, so that it remains your and reserved for what you want to read.


4)      Carry a Book Everywhere: We must enable our habits. Smokers need to carry cigarettes to smoke, readers need to carry a book to read. This has never been easier than it is today. Digital books enable us to have books on our phone all the time.

I am old fashioned. I almost always still have a pocket-sized book on me when we travel or I have any reason to believe I might have a spare ten minutes where I am going. My wife reads 90 percent of her books digitally. But we both have the book on hand. Enable your new habit.


5)      Establish a Reading Ritual: Create a pre-reading routine that signals to your brain that it's time to focus on a book. This could be making a cup of tea, finding a comfortable spot, or listening to calming music.

All habits need a trigger. “I smoke after dinner.” Dinner is the trigger. “I exercise after I wake up.” Maybe morning coffee is the trigger. “I watch TV after I get home from work.” Sitting on the couch might be the trigger. If you don’t step outside after the meal you don’t smoke. If you don’t drink coffee, you don’t work out. If you don’t sit on the couch, you don’t watch TV. Remove the trigger and you can remove the habit.

Similarly, if you want to start a habit you need to build in a trigger that you like. One reward triggers the other.

I like tea, and I like my pajamas. I am going to put those on, sip away while I sit in location XYZ and read. Not only do you build the trigger for you, it sends a signal to everyone else in your life too. You are reading now, when you are in spot ABC. Everyone knows to let you read, or at least knows what they are interrupting. Establish your ritual, your reading safe zone, and let the world know about it.


Next time, five more tips on how to make time for more reading. Until then, go build your habits, pick your goals, head to a library and grab those books, and lets all get reading.


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