How to Get Yourself to Start Reading in the Midst of a Pandemic

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If you’re like me, you’ve found yourself with a lot of extra time and may be wondering what to do with it. Reading is a great way to pass the time as it has been found to improve your ability to think, reduce stress, and even helps stave off Alzheimer's disease.

It can be easy to be absorbed into the headlines and fall into a rabbit hole of scary information. Alternatively, use that free time to improve yourself and pick up a book. But, if you’re not in the habit of reading, or if you haven’t read a book in a really long time, it may be difficult to start. Don’t fret, this happens to many of us (including me) and it’s not something you should be ashamed of (the coronavirus can be quite distracting).

In fact, there was a time in which I didn’t read a single book for years. Now, I’m reading about 2 books a month. Here’s how I did it — in 7 steps.

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You may feel somewhat pressured to pick a book that you think you should read; something which you may feel obligated to learn. Instead, pick a book that you genuinely want to read. Pick something that’s easy for you that doesn’t require googling every other word. Let your curiosity spiral out from there. Once you’ve gotten yourself into the habit of reading, then you should start choosing books that may be a bit more dense or difficult.

Think of your reading brain like a muscle. If you go straight for the heavier weight then you will most likely fail. You may even quit altogether because of the negative experience you had. In the gym, as in with reading, you have to gradually ease yourself into strength. Start with the easier, fun, stuff then move onto the harder stuff as you go.

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Assuming that you’re reading for pleasure, you don’t want to read in a setting that is that’s not for pleasure. For example, if you’ve been inside your home office all day, take a step outside of that office and into a place that you’ve designated for relaxation. This doesn’t necessarily have to be somewhere else inside your home. In fact, experts encourage you to go read outside — under a tree near your apartment building, the backyard of your house, or the front porch — as long as you maintain a safe distance from others.

Most importantly, you want to make sure you do not expose yourself or your loved ones to the Sars-cov-2 virus. Maintain at least 6 feet distance from others and try to avoid places that are heavily visited (the virus can live on surfaces for a long time). But also, you want to go to a place where others won’t interrupt you from your reading, where there’s no sound emanating from televisions about distressing events, and where you won’t feel the temptation to indulge in anything else (the stress relief from reading could help you manage your weight). You want to be somewhere that you can be by yourself, uninterrupted, and where you can focus all of your attention on your reading.

Picture of Buddha by Helena Cuerva

As always, but now more than ever, there are potential distractions in our minds. This may be the biggest obstacle for us to overcome, especially now when we’re being flooded by news of pandemic. Reading will require you to set aside those distractions for a short while and concentrate. If not, you will find yourself subconsciously reading what’s on the page but not actually absorbing any of it.

Start by closing your eyes, taking deep breaths, and focusing all of your attention on those breaths. Breath in deep, then out, slowly and steadily, 10 times. Next, take stock of everything that you hear around you while your eyes are closed. If outside, notice the sounds of the birds, pay attention to the way the wind blows around you rustling the leaves on trees, anything that is currently happening around you. Next, pay attention to how you are feeling, your thoughts, and how your body is feeling. Are you noticing yourself being anxious, worried, worried, scared? Allow yourself to feel these things; don’t fight them, but also don’t linger on them more than you have to. Lastly, make the decision to move on and focus on the task ahead. Open up your book.

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After you’ve reached the present moment, away from all the things which worry you but are not currently affecting you, set aside the time for you to stay there. It may be hard for you to concentrate not knowing how much time has passed. You may find yourself noticing how long it’s taking you to get through a few pages of your book or wondering how long you’ve been reading. These thoughts may be distracting you from your actual reading. Frustration may start setting in.

Instead of wondering, pull out your phone and set a timer for the time you want to dedicate to reading. Choose a small amount of time at first (30 minutes, for example). Remember, you want to ease yourself into reading, not go straight for the heavier weight. During this time, put away your phone and focus your attention entirely on the book. Reading and multitasking don’t mix. You will know when it’s time to stop reading when your phone’s timer starts ringing.

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During this time, you will surely start experiencing thoughts that will lead you away from your reading. This is a certainty. Paradoxically, the more you become frustrated by your distracted mind, and the more you try to get yourself to stop being distracted, the more you will become distracted. Instead, accept that it will happen. Be conscious of it when it happens, notice it happening, then move on and shift your focus back to the book.

These are pressing times for all of us. It’s completely natural for us to start thinking about all the things that could go wrong. But, without being aware of your thoughts, and what they do, you will never have control of them. If you place close attention, you will notice that you don’t get to choose which thoughts pop into your brain (they come about on their own), but you get to choose which ones you listen to. Do not allow yourself to be lead into a spiral of negative thoughts and worries. Notice the thoughts when they come up, then actively decide to stop listening, and shift your focus back onto your book.

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Science has shown that being aware of your progress helps you reach your goals. In this case, your goal is to finish reading the book you’ve started. For this, you want to be aware of your progress within this book by keeping track of percentages and pages. Think of reading as a marathon, not a sprint. Remind and reward yourself for reaching key milestones within your book. For example, every 10 percent should be considered an achievement. Remember, 10 percent means you’ve made it a tenth of the way to the end. 20 percent means you’ve made it a fifth of the way through ( only 4 more fifths to go). And 50 percent, of course, means you’ve achieved the halfway point.

Many digital readers will keep track of this for you. But, for those of you who, like me, often prefer to handle a physical book, you can keep track of these percentages easily. All you have to do is go to the last page in the book and note the last page number. Say, the last page of the book is exactly page 200. Next, take the page you’re currently on and divide it by the last page in the book. Let’s say you’ve made it to page 40. Divide 40 by 200, take your result and multiply it by 100, and voila, you have your percent of the way through! Remember, if you read just 10 percent of a book per day, you will finish reading that book in 10 days (less than two weeks).

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Image by Gerd Altmann

Lastly, set a goal for how many books you want to read over a longer period of time. For example, 12 books a year. Keep track of how many books you’ve read and how many books you have to read per month in order to meet your goal. In this case, we know that if we’re reading at least one book per month then you’re on track to finish reading 12 books a year. Remember, don’t set goals which will require too much effort for you to read. It can quickly become discouraging if you start falling behind on the progress required to meet your yearly goal. And, don’t be hard on yourself if you find yourself not meeting these goals; keep trying. Start small and then work your way up.

There are websites that will do this for you. For example, will allow you to input the books you’ve read, how many books you hope to read in the year, which books you want to read, as well as how many books your friends have read. If you’re a competitive person, use this to motivate yourself. Read more books than your friends. Compete with yourself and keep yourself accountable with your deadlines.

Lastly, remember to have fun. If reading is becoming a chore for you, then you’re doing it wrong. Reading should be something you enjoy doing. If done right, reading can be a much-needed escape from the real world; It can be your sanctuary, a place for you to interact with the creativity and genius of others (alive or dead). Or, it can be a time for you to improve yourself. Whatever the reason you’re choosing to read, make sure that you don’t lose track of why you’re reading. As always, knowing why you do something will allow you to naturally figure out how you’ll do it. Enjoy!

Sociology and Demography guy with hobbies in the finance world. Fatherhood and family structure research.

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