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This might sound vague, but I think the question is pretty simple:

If I have never had a habit of reading books in my life (as some people grew up with) and I am now in my twenties, how can I start to develop a book reading habit? I'm smart, I love ideas, and I was an outstanding student in school. But even in school I didn't do much reading.

To be more specific just as an example, let's say I would like to read books on Chinese philosophy, environmentalism, and communitarian architecture (a la Christopher Alexander)...

How can I avoid all the distractions that take me away from reading start to finish? The most successful strategy I've found thus far is to: read the text out loud to myself.

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I'am having the same problem and currently in the middle of creating a mobile app that will make people read. Since it is a novel idea I cannot share it with you yet but once it is finished I will post a link or the name here. I'm excited to see if it will have the intended result and will actually force one to read. – Marcin Dec 11 '14 at 22:30

11 Answers 11

1) The technique is to force yourself to read say for 20 to 25 minutes. even after that you find yourself distracted then i believe that you have to find something more interesting to read :).

2) Lack of goals associated with anything will never ever get you motivated to finish something. try to associate some goals with your reading.

3) Why not after reading a chapter in the book publish a small summary on your blog, that will definitively help you to be more precise and will get more interesting. Visualizing the end result in the form of say 12 blog post summary will help you get more motivated and you will have something concrete to show for your reading

4) Also why not find the basic book of the subject you mentioned. finding the book easier to understand will help you to avoid distractions.

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I would suggest don't read "any" book just because you want to develop a reading habit. Take up a book on a topic which excites you and read it. Go at your own pace but be consistent. Also, try to immerse yourself in the book. I don't believe that you need to remove all the distractions for reading a book. Afterall, people read books while travelling also. If you really want to read nothing can stop you. Just make a start.

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Something to consider is whether you're better off reading the text or hearing the text. There is a difference as some people may do better reading the text off a screen or in a physical book and others may prefer to hear someone else reading the book. Thus, audio books may be something to consider as a better way of assimilating the information from within the books. Something to consider as I'm pretty sure you want this habit to be used in some way rather than simply boasting that you read 1,000,000 pages in your life.

Another point is to consider what priority are you placing this in your life? Is it something you value highly or is it something that easily gets pushed aside?

Have you considered looking for a book club? That may be another way to motivate some reading as if you have a community of others depending on you to read something, you may just do it. "Change or Die" would be a book about how hard it can be for people to make a change. In this case, I'd recommend finding someone with a similar interest to you that has read various books on the subject that may provide motivation similar to the book club. Thus, if you enjoy discussing Chinese philosophy then if you know someone that really enjoyed Sun Tzu's "The Art of War," you could schedule discussions about various pieces as you read them.

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Try to give yourself a goal beyond just reading.

Why do you want to read?

  • Maybe you could set yourself the goal to blog about what you learn?
  • Or maybe you could try to learn speed readign while reading this book?
  • Or maybe use this book as a support to practice mind-mapping?

Sometimes when I find a task not interesting enough in itself, I look at it in a different angle, more focused on personal development. It usually does the trick :)

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Setting might be key here. If you're not a natural reader, then you might need to be in a place where you are accustomed to reading, and only reading. You won't sit on your couch and think "reading a book is what I should do right now" because you're accstomed to sitting there watching TV (for eg). Likewise with sitting in front of the computer.

So... go to the library. I'm fortunate to work very close to an awesome library, so everyday I go to the library after work and read for an hour. I'm a developer, so it's exclusively development books or something career related along those lines... because at home, it's family and relaxation time and I just can't get into serious reading time.

Similarly, this is why gym memberships are often very effective for people starting to get into shape. You just have to keep going.

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I would go for high reward value. Just read book after book of something that really interests you. Whether this is mangas, romance novels, detective stories, horror or anything else, you want to get lots and lots of exposure and reward to build a habit.

Leave very accessible books in your bathroom, couch, bed etc. Basically everything us reading addicts avoid in order to remain productive, you could implement to start reading books :-)

Good luck!

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Another idea for the heap, in some blog they described a pattern that I found useful: 8 minutes reading, 2 minutes pause, repeat. I don't know if it's your case, but I find difficult to stick to the same task for long because of the habit of multitasking, so creating a pattern, a rhythm, and programming the pauses, really helps.

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Schedule your day in generalized blocks of productivity, where 1 hour could just as easily be assigned to reading a number of pages as to watching a movie or cooking a meal. The key is to keep things dynamic, especially if you have trouble sitting still or focusing on one thing for very long. A strong, static schedule makes me think of a dominated lifestyle, even if the only one dominating it is me in some mental archetype. Another key is to know the difference between an hour of productivity and an hour of sloth. These aspects should be rock-solid, so you can look forward to them. So it is a healthy mix of both statics and dynamics. If you have no reading schedule, or any schedule at all, you won't enjoy your work, and you won't enjoy your sloth. Your day will be uneven, unsavory, and unlived.

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Can you read at all? Is there any sort of written material that you can effortlessly concentrate on for half an hour or more, such as textbooks, class notes, newspaper articles, tabloids, blogs, facebook posts, or forum threads? If the answer is no, you may have some cognitive disorder and should seek professional help.

If the answer is yes, evaluate how you motivate yourself to read the things that you do read. For me, it's a matter of being bored and wanting to kill time by hearing something interesting and thought stimulating. Then the only thing that remains is to make a decision to read War and Peace instead of Stack Overflow. Keeping the book on your desk where you can reach it to reduce transaction costs helps.

One thing I've noticed, as someone who oscillates between avid reading and complete apathy, is the illusion of non-commitment. It is easy to think that (e.g.) Stack Overflow is a better use of time than a book, because you would like to spend very little time (like 5 minutes) on your leisure reading, and you obviously cannot achieve much by reading a book for 5 minutes but the opposite is apparently true for more bite-sized material.

This is, of course, nonsense. If there are people who have the discipline to decide to "check out my newsfeed for a few minutes" and actually not have it grow into at least half an hour, I haven't met them. The true solution to your problem is to let go of this fallacy and start being realistic about what sort of commitment the different activities entail.

It is a bit less challenging to remedy the problem superficially, without addressing the root issue: In times like long train journeys, or waiting in line at some government office, you know you are wasting your time anyway, so it's not hard to convince yourself that you might as well read a book, since what else are you going to do instead? This is quite effective, and I have finished many books during long commutes by always keeping a book on me. So, in essence, force yourself into a situation where you are bored for extended periods of time, and have nothing to do except read a book (and make sure you have a book with you at such situations).

Unfortunately, nowadays this is harder - chances are that you have a smartphone, which will allow you to surf the web or browse facebook, and thereby compete with reading time. If you can't effectively pre-empt this competition, you will not want to read (because of the greater perceived -but not actual!- commitment for reading) instead of browsing on your phone. I do not know of an effective solution in that case.

Lastly, a point on reading material: You should be careful how you choose your books; there is a difference between books that you want to read and books that you want to have read. Some classics are just hopelessly boring to some people, and some people just like reading trashy fiction. Of course, it's best to try not to read nothing but garbage, but that is up to a point: You can only force yourself to read boring books that you think every intellectual such as yourself ought to have read so many times before the whole act of reading becomes insipid to you. Good luck getting a habit of reading then!

In practice, I find that the most effortless reading is from spontaneous decisions - just walk down a random part of your library or bookstore, and pick up books at random (maybe the title sounded clever, or the cover picture struck your fancy). Read a page or two, just enough to figure out what the book is about. You may discover that such an exercise often ends with you on page 50 and not wanting to stop, at which point you check the book out and finish it.

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You should try reading small articles,short novels. After some time reading short stories it will be easier for you to read something like novels and big books.

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Start getting in the habit by reading books that:

  1. Interest you--if you like sci-fi movies, find sci-fi books to read, if you like romance movies find romance books to read, etc.
  2. Are at your reading level or slightly lower--you're more likely to get discouraged/bored and stop when you are beginning this habit if you are reading books that are way above your reading level. It's ok to read YA/New Adult books that are simply mind-candy to help you start building the habit. Once you are in the habit of reading then switch over to the philosophy and environmentalism books.
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Can you back this up with facts instead of just giving an opinion? Especially your reading level or slightly lower. One could argue that slightly lower gets boring, so slightly higher might be better. – Jan Doggen Jun 2 at 9:55

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