This article was last updated on April 18, 2022
Reading should be simple. The act of reading is easy enough…pick up a book, look at the pages, then read the words. But if reading is easy, why doesn’t everyone do it?
As it turns out, most people don’t know how to develop the habit of reading books.
How to Get Into Reading: The Definitive Guide
What are the benefits of reading?
The benefits of reading are hard to ignore. Reading can chill you out, it sparks creativity and ideas, it helps you sleep better, it makes you smarter, and most importantly – it makes you more interesting.
While reading may seem easy on paper, physically reading takes work. It takes time. It takes mental energy, and it means incorporating something into your life that you don’t usually do.
That’s good habits in a nutshell, and forming good habits is rarely easy.
How to Develop the Habit of Reading: My Story.
Two years ago, I read 2 books the entire year. Last year, I read about 5 or 6.
This year? I’ve read 16.
I never really considered myself much of a reader. Last year, even reading 5 or 6 books, I didn’t feel like one. But this year feels different.
I got into reading because I made a major career shift. I left my previous job and had more time. I started learning about good habits and how to make them my own. Reading seemed like a no-brainer for all the benefits listed above.
Could I use being smarter and having more ideas? Hell yes I could.
Reading 16 books sounds downright scary to someone who’s not much of a reader, but it’s actually less daunting than it seems. The past couple of years, I would only read when I found a good book. I never made any time for it, I just read when I felt like it, or when I was on an airplane.
This year, I made reading a habit. Forming the habit wasn’t easy, but now it’s automatic.
And automatic is easy.
Would you like to go from reading 0 books per year to 10, 15, 20, or even 30? Perhaps you’d like to become the most interesting person in the world?
Just kidding, sort of.
In this article, I’ll show you how to do just that.
How to Develop the Habit of Reading: 8 Steps to Your Success.
Luckily for you, you don’t need to try a bunch of different tactics to develop your reading habit. I’ve already done that and found what works.
I compiled my reading habit experiments into 8 easy steps for you to follow. Follow these and I promise you’ll be reading at least 12 books a year – 1 book a month – or your money back.
Wait. This is free. Never mind. No money back, but you will get there. I promise.
What does it take to read 12 books in a year?
Let’s break this down. On average, a book has roughly 300 pages. If you read just 10 pages a day, every day for 1 year – 365 days (or 366 on a leap year) – that comes out to 3,650 pages per year. Divide that by 300 pages per book = 12.167, or just over 12 books.
10 pages a day. That’s less than a chapter, and probably not any more than 15-20 minutes of your time. I’m not saying we’ll start off reading 10 pages a day, but that’s all we have to work up to.
Contrary to popular belief, developing a lasting reading habit takes more than just picking up a book and reading. You’ve tried that before and failed. This time, we’re going to think first, read second.
Part 1: Planning your new reading habit
Step 1. Set a goal and make it small.
In 1979, new grads from Harvard’s MBA program were asked a simple question: “Have you set clear, written goals for your future and made plans to accomplish them?”
When the answers were analyzed:
- 84% of graduates had no specific goals
- 13% had goals, but were never written down
- 3% had clear written goals with plans to achieve them
Those 3% went on to make 10x as much as the other 97%. Combined.
Not enough of a motivator for you? It’s also one of the 7 Habits of Highly Successful People.
Right now, we’re going to set a goal for you and write it down. For the purpose of this post, we’re going to pretend you’re starting with almost no reading habit.
When deciding on a goal, you have two options: a time-based goal, or a page-based goal. Whichever you choose, start small. In fact, start so small that it seems ridiculous.
When I started reading, I set a goal for 2 pages a day. If I hit that mark, I considered the day a success, and I marked my habit as “completed”.
I recommend setting your goal somewhere between 2 and 5 pages OR 5-10 minutes. I do not recommend starting any higher than that. I started with 2 pages because it was stupid easy for me. Doing my reading habit would be a no-brainer.
When you want to form a habit, consistency is FAR more important than performance, so I made sure to pick a target that I could do every day without fail. Later on we can always scale up.
Action: Write down your goal and put it somewhere you’ll see it as a reminder. Use this MotivationGrid article to help you set a rock-solid goal.
Bonus action: Create a new habit in HabitBull and track your reading habit there. I’ve been using HabitBull to build my habits. It’s pretty awesome and available on both IOS and Android systems. I highly recommend it. Below is a walkthrough for those who want to go that route. Skip to the next step if you want to stay old school J.
First, download, install, and sign-in to HabitBull.
When you open the app, click on the Add button to create a new habit:
Reading should already be on the list of Most Popular, so just tap on that.
Now we get to choose how you’d like to track your habit. With brand new habits, I prefer starting with the simple “Yes or No each day” option. More advanced habit hackers or nerdy folks who like numbers should choose the “With a Number” option.
Choose your favorite color and then type a name for your new habit. This is where I’ll enter my specific goal. Skip the description for now. Press “NEXT”
We might be beginners, but that doesn’t mean we’re not champions. For the “On which days do you want to do this?” option, select “Every Day”.
Then set a target date for building your new habit.
At this point, the app should default to 66 dates and suggest that this is how long it takes to create a new habit.
This is based on research done that showed forming habits takes anywhere from 18 to 254 days. This actually varies wildly depending on the behavior (e.g. reading) and the person forming the habit. HabitBull chose to use the average, or 66 days.
Keep in mind that this is not true for every habit. If you were trying to drink an extra glass of water each day, for example, it might take you closer to 18 days. If you wanted to make weight training a habit, it might take 254.
Oddly enough, at least for me, it took somewhere around 2 months to form my consistent reading habit, so you win this time, HabitBull.
Note – You may be different. Actually, you probably will. It might take you less time, or it might take much longer. Habits aren’t a one-size-fits-all, so the only way to truly know is to test.
For now, I’d leave it at 66 days to success and just plan on using that as a good target to check in with your progress. Then tap “CREATE”.
Voila! Your new habit goal is now set and ready to be tracked with your phone.
Step 2. Make a list of 5 books that interest you.
The most common issue I hear when someone tells me they failed at making reading a habit is:
“Jason, I’ve tried to read more, but I just hate this stupid book I’m reading.”
DUH. Don’t read it then.
You’ll never make reading a habit unless you start reading books that actually interest you. Reading should be enjoyable, not work. If you’re trying to make reading a habit because you have to for school or something, I’m sorry but you may have to change majors.
Anyways, open up Evernote, a Word document, or grab a pen and a piece of paper. Right now, I want you to list out at least 5 books that interest you. If you’re struggling to find specific books, start with topics that interest you and go from there. Use the tips below to help:
- Go to Amazon and type in “[topic I’m interested in] best sellers”
- Go to your favorite blogs and see if they have a reading list.
- They don’t have one? Try googling their name + favorite books.
- Ask family and friends. I’ve gotten some of the best recommendations this way.
The second most common issue I hear – and one I used to have myself – is that after a book is finished, you don’t have another one lined up (or a list to pull from). Instead of jumping right into your next book, a few months go by before you pick up another one.
This step solves that dilemma. Just make sure that you don’t exhaust your list before finishing the last book. Always have one in the chamber.
Often times, most notably in non-fiction books, there will be references to other books! Just add them to your list as you go. Two birds with one stone J.
Action: Make your list of at least 5 books.
Step 3. Pick 1 book.
If you did the last step, then this one is easy. Pick just 1 book from your list that you plan to read and buy it.
Kindle is instant, so if you went that route, you’re good to go. Prefer hard copies? Wait a day or two (Amazon is fast as hell these days), bookmark this page and then come back.
Got it? Good, let’s move on.
Action: Choose the book you’re going to read.
Step 4. Schedule your reading habit
OK, we know what book(s) you’re going to read. Now we’re going to give your reading habit a time to live.
If you’ve learned the science behind how habits work, you know that a new habit needs a trigger to spark the desired behavior. When starting out, it’s hard to do something every single day, but it’s easy to set a trigger for yourself to do it. Over time, this trigger will become attached to your behavior of reading, and it will become autonomous.
The easiest thing you can do for yourself is use your calendar to schedule your reading habit. This does a couple of things for you:
- You can use your calendar’s features to set multiple reminders to read. This creates a trigger for your new habit.
- It makes your actions intentional. Take a lesson from habits expert James Clear…
“A study in the British Journal of Health Psychology found that 91% people who planned their intention to exercise by writing down when and where they would exercise each week ended up following through.”
This means that by simply scheduling your reading habit, you are 91% more likely to follow through.
I know, scheduling these kinds of things sounds a little silly, considering most people just use their calendars for meetings and appointments. In my opinion, that’s a huge mistake.
I use my calendar for literally everything. If during the middle of the day I remember that tonight is trash night, I’ll schedule a task in my calendar for later that evening “Take Trash Out”. The faster I put something down on paper and out of my head, the less I have to worry about it, and it actually ends up getting done.
So, the last step in planning your reading habit is to physically schedule it into your calendar. I typically enjoy reading at night before bed. Find a time that works best for you and lock it in.
Note: If you absolutely hate scheduling a specific time to read, that’s OK. We can still make it work. Sometimes I just like to set a soft deadline for myself. Remember, that we’re forming a habit here. You only need to read 2 pages per day, every day, to continue building your habit. If it’s 10:30 at night and you realize “Oh shit, I haven’t read at all today,” then no problem. Just grab your book and read for a few minutes until you’ve reached your goal. Boom, you stuck with your habit.
Don’t forget that you’ll still want to schedule this soft deadline on your calendar. Just because it doesn’t have a specific time that it needs to get done, it still needs a place to live in your calendar.
Action: Schedule your reading time into your calendar. Don’t have a specific time? Schedule a reminder at the end of the day to act as a soft deadline.
Part 2: Reading, reading, reading
Step 5. Environment design
OK, so we’ve nailed down a time in your calendar when you plan to read. It’s now Sunday night at that time, and you should be reading.
Instead, you reach for your phone and start doing anything but reading.
- You check Facebook
- You check your email
- You browse Reddit
- You start playing a video game on your phone, check the time again and it’s been 45 minutes. Shit.
- You start watching YouTube videos
We are much more influenced by our environment than we know. If left to fate and self-control, environment wins almost every time.
I don’t usually crave a piece of gum, but when I see the package on the counter, I’ll usually reach for one.
I also consider myself a fairly healthy eater, but when I see a bag of Jalapeno kettle-cooked chips of goodness, I’m probably going to have a few. Or the entire bag.
How can I resist thy tasty goodness?
So if I want to start reading more, I need to start designing my environment to enable that habit, rather than random distractions.
In this step, we want to make the act of reading as simple as possible. We’ve already set a stupid small goal in Step 1, but our job here is to make things EVEN EASIER. Listed below are a couple suggestions for how you could design your environment for success:
Always have your book or Kindle within close reach. If you prefer reading at night, this means setting it on your nightstand. If you have a long commute and aren’t driving, carry your book with you. That’s what I do. When it’s time to read and your trigger goes off, grabbing your book should exert as little energy as possible.
Turn notifications off on your phone or put it somewhere far away. Even after I start reading, I still get the urge to check my phone. If I’m in bed and it’s in a different room, that’s going to be difficult. I usually turn notifications off on my phone (sorry I missed your call, Mom) and set it somewhere out of sight. If you’re commuting to work, at least turn off notifications and stuff it in your bag to prevent unwanted distractions.
That’s it. Do those 2 things and you’ll have a much easier time following through with your new habit.
Also, don’t be afraid to experiment a little bit in this step. What other creative ways can you think of to make reading that much easier?
Action: Design your environment to make your reading habit even easier.
Step 6: Read!
Ladies and gentlemen. The moment you’ve all been waiting for. You’ve devised your plan, know which book you’re going to read, and you’ve made time for it in your life.
Now is your time for glory.
Read 2 pages. Or whatever goal you set for yourself.
The first day you successfully do this, you’re probably going to blow away your goal. You might set out to read 2 pages but end up at 5, 10, or dare I say an entire chapter!
Regardless of the situation, just make sure to read your bare minimum.
If you crush it for the next few days or even a week, I want you to promise me not to change your goal. I repeat, DO NOT CHANGE YOUR GOAL.
I’ve been at the point where I start thinking, “Wow, I’m much more awesome than I thought. I should probably set my goal a little higher.”
Nope. No. Nein!
This is something I see happen far too often. You will inevitably face a situation where you’re not going to be able to hit your new, impressive goal. But you can always read 2 pages.
So when it’s time to start absorbing those words on the pages of your new book, just make sure you read until you get bored, run out of time, or hit your goal.
It’s always going to vary wildly depending on what kind of day you’re having.
Tip: If you’re determined to increase your goal, and I can’t convince you otherwise, do so gradually. For the first week, stick with 2 pages. The following week you can bump it up to 3. After your habit is formed (somewhere in that 18 to 254-day window), then we can scale up even further. Don’t worry too much about this until that point. My goal remains at 2 pages per day still, even though I typically read much more.
Action: Read. Self-explanatory.
Step 7: Reward yourself
Remember earlier when I mentioned the science of habits and how triggers were an integral part? Well, habits are a 3-part loop, and REWARDS are the final piece.
This is another simple step. It’s also fun and integral to your success. All you have to do is reward yourself for working on your new reading habit.
A simple pat on the back or “hell yeah, Jason!” can be effective. Personally, I prefer things that are more enjoyable. Things like:
- Tasty snacks
- 30 minutes of relaxation (TV, Reddit, etc.)
- A cup of hot tea
- A brief walk outside
Those are just a few ideas. It really doesn’t matter what the reward is, as long as it positively affects your brain.
Ideally, you want some consistency in the reward, but that’s not always essential.
Reward yourself after every time you read, and you will be well on your way to a steady, ever-lasting behavior.
Action: Experiment with a reward after you read. If it clicks with you, stick with it. If it doesn’t, try another one.
Step 8: Don’t Break The Chain
At this point, you also know exactly how you can develop your new reading habit. All the pieces are in place and you just have to read.
So now the question becomes, how to keep it going?
If you followed my HabitBull tutorial in Step 1, we picked a target for how many days we plan to read in a row. If you remember, I chose to leave it at the HabitBull recommended 66 days.
In order to make your new reading habit stick – and last forever – you have just one job: “don’t break the chain”.
The quote I’m referring to is one by arguably the most successful comedian of all time, Jerry Seinfeld.
Whether you’re a fan of him or not, you can’t deny the man’s consistency. If you’re interested in the full story, James Clear wrote a piece for Entrepreneur back in 2014. In it, he goes into full detail.
For you guys, I just wanted to touch on the important principle: “don’t break the chain”. Your only job to make your reading habit stick is to show up. Every. Single. Day.
That’s why we made your goal so small. Consistency is far more important than performance when building a new habit.
If you chose to create a HabitBull habit with me, the app makes it super easy for you to do this.
You just tap on today’s date under your habit, and it automatically keeps track of things for you. Eventually, your calendar will look something like this:
That’s an image of my writing habit, which I formed not too long ago.
If you prefer the traditional method and chose to write your goal on a piece of paper, no sweat. This is the Seinfeld Strategy is action, baby! Grab an old school wall calendar and start lighting it up with red X’s. Every day you perform your habit, put an X.
The concept remains the same.
“After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job is to not break the chain.” – Jerry Seinfeld
If you slip up, no problem, but be pissed about it and get back on the wagon the next day. In a month’s time, if you’ve succeeded, you’ll look at your calendar and see mostly red X’s. That’s what really counts.
Action: Track your habit daily using HabitBull or a wall calendar.
Let’s get your daily reading habit started, RIGHT NOW!
Let’s say you enjoyed reading this article and didn’t want to take action right away. No more excuses. Now’s the time to get started.
Part 1: Planning your new reading habit
- Define and set your goal. Walk through the HabitBull example with me or just use pen and paper.
- Take less than 20 minutes and come up with a list of 5 books you’d like to read.
- Pick just one book and make it your focus.
- Schedule your reading habit. Make your intentions clear and provide yourself a trigger by scheduling the behavior into your calendar.
Part 2: Reading, reading, reading
- Design your environment. Make reading even easier by setting yourself up for success.
- When your trigger prompts you, read.
- Reward yourself. Complete the habit loop and give yourself incentive to perform the behavior every time.
- Don’t break the chain. Keep track of your progress in HabitBull or on a wall calendar with red X’s.
Really struggling with your reading habit?
Come join the growing community of fellow habit engineers at The Monk Life. I provide weekly tips and strategies for making better habits stick. You also have access to me and, I will do my best to make sure you get unstuck.