What I did to finally finish reading my first book in over two years.
a lesson in combating the yearly failure
Last year, I made the nieve pledge to read more books. While everyone was promising to read 52 — the exact equivalent of 1 book per week, I decided to do the sensible thing any only promised myself a nice solid 12 volumes.
12 books in 12 months. It sounded like a good number.
Until 12 months came and passed me by.
There are about an additional 8 books lying around the house right now, partially consumed but mostly collecting dust. At some point, the toddler used one of them as a footstool to get to some crackers.
So why did it all go so wrong?
The issue with paperback books
Despite splashing out on a few good paperback volumes over the past 12 months, I failed to actually make a dent in my attempt to read.
The books would initially keep my interest. But over time, after a few chapters in, the interest would wane and the book would conveniently disappear or I’d misplace it somewhere. Reading gets shifted into the too hard basket until someone likes my nieve pledge and unwittingly guilts me back into gear again.
The cycle kickstarts again and I find myself the proud owner of another paperback that will mysteriously disappear after a few days in.
Systematically looking at the source of the problem
Everyone has their method of unconsciously dealing with a task they’re not used to — or something that goes against their natural habituated routines. Reading was something that interrupted my time. I needed to schedule in space for it, in addition to all the other million things I’m already tasked with.
In December, I decided to actively observe my habits. If I wanted to change for the greater good and gain a new habit, I needed to understand myself first.
The issue that many people face when trying to change something about themselves cold turkey is that they don’t really understand the logistics required to change.
We tend to do what everyone else is doing, rather than doing what we need to be doing.
For me, it turns out that my scheduled time to read always happened around night time. If I read during daylight hours, I’d become so immersed in it that it makes me feel like I’ve been unproductive the entire day.
And before I’d hit the book with my eyes, I’d spend some time scrolling through whatever social network that entertained me at the time.
Removing all barriers and changing habits
After an extended time of observing myself, I found that I’m more physically attached to my phone than any other object. It’s a modern-day addiction, especially now that I’ve got a working one that didn’t run out of battery after 30 minutes of it being turned on.
My phone — it’s responsive, it connects me to the world, it’s my portal for work, social interactions, emails, stats checking, time-telling and grocery shopping. It’s basically everything.
While it’s easy to just tell myself to put it down and trade it for a book, the reality is a bit harder and doesn’t always go to plan.
Yes. The addiction is real. Or rather, the digital extension is much more entrenched than I’d like.
So after many days of consideration and contemplation, I decided to attack the issue of not reading enough with the following solution — if you can’t beat ’em, then you better join them.
The thing with habits that fail is because there’s friction in the routine. Our habits are things that we gravitate towards because they’re easy to do. It’s the programmed default that sets us down the path we’re currently walking.
Picking up a book is the friction that I faced in my inability to properly finish an officially published volume. Keeping track of where that book is inside the house is also another friction. Reading at night is also another friction.
Creating the smallest change possible
The thing with my phone addiction is that it’s easily accessible 100% of the time. I always have it either in my hands or within my line of sight. I can view its contents in the dark and during those pockets of time waiting for something to happen.
Picking up a book takes up. Fliping to the right page takes time.
For our time-starved generation, anything that is not directly in some sort of digital form takes time.
But I still wanted to read.
So after this revelation about my habits and perception towards time, reading and paperback books, I decided to do something drastic — I decided to give ebooks a try.
There’s a misconception that you need a proper e-reader to read ebooks. The other misconception is that reading a book on your phone is bad for your eyes. But if you really think about it, we spend a good majority of our time on our phones anyway, if not watching something, it’s reading something — a tweet, a status update, an email, a message and whatever else you use your phone for.
For me, reading an ebook on my phone merely shifted my usual attention to another thing that’s on my phone.
Within a week of starting, I found myself reading more — even announcing it to anyone that told me to get off my phone. It would often take them by surprise and I would often start a conversation around the book’s contents.
The time left indicator on the ebook also gave me leverage when it came to interruptions and motivation to finish the volume.
Yesterday, I did something I haven’t done in a long time — I finished my first book.
The thing with ebooks is that you can preview the contents and read the first few dozen pages before purchasing.
The first few dozen pages are often the place where I’d actually quit reading.
The thing with paperback volumes is that I don’t actually get to do a proper preview of the book, unless I stand in the book shop for a good hour or two, only to decide that the book isn’t for me. Then it just feels awkward not to buy the book, after you’ve invested so much time reading a book that you haven’t bought.
Sometimes I would do that and buy the book out of obligation.
Being part of the scrolling culture, I do crave for something that isn’t just offering me surface value. A lot of books nowadays do this with authors writing them like extended blog posts with very little substance.
It turns out that finding the right book is like trying to search for the right pair of shoes. You can’t just pick one up and hope that it fits.
After finishing my first book yesterday, I’ve since downloaded at least 15 samples. The current one I’m reading shows the promising trait of keeping my attention long enough until the end of the volume.
That’s what I’m looking for — a book that’s actually interesting enough to be worthy of reading —a process that I can’t exactly do at midnight with a paperback volume.