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Creating a Daily Reading Habit in 4 Steps (A How-To For People With No Time)

Creating a Daily Reading Habit in 4 Steps (A How-To For People With No Time)

Back in July, I asked my newsletter subscribers what their biggest struggle with reading was.

Over 50% of the 163 responses I got were related to finding TIME. It doesn’t get much clearer than that.

It never occurred to me that addressing a problem and solving it are two different things. People don’t want you to help adjust to their problems. They want you to solve them.

Yes, many people over-complicate reading. But it’s also not black and white. There are things you can do to make regular reading easier.

Over the past two years, I’ve worked with over 300 people to help them improve their habits. I’ve also read my fair share of books (and book summaries, of course!) during that time. When I saw the results of my survey, I knew I had to bring those two things together to help you solve this problem.

1. Slowly turn your attention towards books.

Spending 30 minutes immersed in a book seems like an eternity to a non-reader. In today’s fast-paced, technology-laden world, it’s easy to fall off the reading wagon, even for a voracious reader . I should know; it happened to me too.

Once you’re off, you’re off for a while and the time issue soon goes from cause to cover-up. It becomes a welcome excuse for something that runs deeper:

You don’t think you can read. At least not for long stretches at a time.

That’s why the first thing you need to know is that your attention span isn’t as bad as you think. It still helps to start slow. So just start by re-introducing books back into your environment.

Wherever you spend most of your day, make sure there’s a book with you. If you read primarily on a Kindle or ebook reader, the same principle applies. Keep it around to expose your attention to it on a constant basis.

Notice I’m not talking about reading yet. I don’t care if you open the book or turn on the reader at all. This is about making room in your life for something that’s important to you, nothing more.

2. Prove yourself wrong about your limiting belief.

As long as you think you don’t have time to read, it’ll be really hard to actually make time for it, let alone do it.

This is where the media diet comes in. Try going on one for 24 hours. Here are four different levels to choose from:

Level 1: No news. Don’t consume any kind of news today. No newspapers, no seven o’clock news on TV, no opening the CNN app, no staring at the stock market reporter while waiting at the DMV and definitely no flipping through tweets about politics.

Level 2: No news, no TV. This includes everything from level 1, but removes TV completely. No movies, whether on Netflix, cable, or DVD, no documentaries and no TV shows (yes, you can watch Game of Thrones tomorrow and the world will keep on turning).

Level 3: No news, no TV, no video in any form. Level 2, but now the entire medium of video is removed. If you now think “Where’s the difference?” that’s a good sign. Youtube junkies, you know what I’m talking about. No music clips, no funny cat videos, no dancing GIFs and no vlogs.

Level 4: No news, no TV, no video, no audio. This is the ultimate media meltdown. Level 3, plus eliminating all sources of audio other than mother nature. No radio, no listening to CDs, no audiobooks, no Spotify, no podcasts, and no calling in on a teleshopping show to listen to the jingle when placed on hold (bored minds get creative).

Whatever level most reflects your daily life, pick the one above that.

The only way to show yourself there’s still time to read in your day, and that missing out on something else for it won’t kill you, is to make this a challenge.

3. Randomize your starting point, so you can start fast and keep adjusting.

What’s the hardest part of creating a new habit? Doing it for the first time. Whatever friction you can take out of actually reading again, remove it.

In this case, let me remove some for you. With habits that can hardly cause physical damage, like reading, where you start matters much less than how well you keep adjusting afterwards.

So why not pick a random reading time and try to spend that amount reading your book?

Just click one of the three gifts below and give yourself the gift of reading. You’ll be randomly assigned one of the following numbers of reading minutes: 5, 15, 25.

t2r-gift-box-small

    t2r-gift-box-small

      t2r-gift-box-small

        Since the risk of picking a reading time that’s too ambitious is essentially zero, just go for it. Based on whether you manage to read this long or not, you can then adjust to the next higher or lower level tomorrow.

        4. Anchor your reading habit to an existing one, so you don’t have to remember it.

        Setting up a trigger, habit anchoring, implementation intentions; there are several names for this, but the goal is the same:

        Putting your new habit on autopilot.

        Doing this only takes two steps:

        1. Pick a habit you’re already doing every day (good or bad).

        For example, if you know you have a Snickers bar every day after lunch, always check your email before you go to bed, or pick up your kids from school every day, these are routines you can use.

        These can be bad routines just as much as good ones, like running on the treadmill, shutting off your electronics or brushing your teeth.

        2. Anchor your reading habit to that habit.

        Now all you have to do is anchor your reading habit to that existing habit. Place your book on the candy shelf, keep your reading app next to your mail app or drop off your Kindle next to the key tray in the lobby.

        To make this more powerful, write it down.

        Use this simple recipe: After I [existing habit], I will read for X minutes.

        (X is the number you got above)

        Since it’s better to be safe than sorry, setting up an additional, external trigger can be helpful. This could be a simple alert on your phone’s calendar saying, “It’s Time 2 Read!” at the same time each day.

        Pro tip: Many phones now even have location-based reminder functionality, which allows you to be reminded every time you enter your home, for instance.

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        Niklas Goeke

        Student, Technical University of Munich

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        Published on July 7, 2020

        Brain Training: 12 Fast, Fun Mental Workouts

        Brain Training: 12 Fast, Fun Mental Workouts

        Exercise isn’t just for your body. Just as important is keeping your mind strong by training your brain with fun mental workouts.

        Think of your mental and physical fitness the same way: you don’t need to be an Olympian, but you do need to stay in shape if you want to live well. A few cognitive workouts per week can make a major difference in your life.

        The Skinny on Mental Workouts

        Physical fitness boosts your stamina and increases your muscular strength. The benefits of working up a mental sweat and brain training, however, might not be so obvious.

        Research suggests that cognitive training has short- and long-term benefits, including:

        1. Improved Memory

        After eight weeks of cognitive training, 19 arithmetic students showed a larger and more active hippocampus than their peers.[1] The hippocampus is associated with learning and memory.

        2. Reduced Stress Levels

        Mastering new tasks more quickly makes the work of learning less stressful. A stronger memory can call information to mind with less effort.

        3. Improved Work Performance

        Learning quickly and remembering key details can lead to a better career. Employers are increasingly hiring for soft skills, such as trainability and attention to detail.

        4. Delayed Cognitive Decline

        As we age, we experience cognitive decline. A study published by the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that 10 one-hour sessions of cognitive training boosted reasoning and information processing speed in adults between the ages of 65 and 94.[2]

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        Just like in physical exercise, what’s important isn’t the specific workout. To be sustainable, cognitive workouts need to be easy and fun. Otherwise, it’s too easy to throw in the towel.

        Fun Brain Training Exercises for Everyone

        The best about fun mental workouts? There’s no need to head to a gym. Feel free to mix and match the following activities for daily brain training:

        1. Brainstorming

        One of the simplest, easiest ways to engage your brain? Coming up with solutions to a challenge you’re facing.

        If you aren’t good at solo ideation, ask a partner to join you. When I’m struggling to come up with topics to write about, I call up my editors to bat ideas around. Friends or co-workers are usually happy to help.

        2. Dancing

        Isn’t dancing a physical workout? Yes, but the coordination it requires is also great for training your brain. Plus, it’s a lot of fun.

        Studies suggest that dance boosts multiple cognitive skills.[3] Planning, memorizing, organizing, and creativity all seem to benefit from a few fancy steps.

        3. Learning a New Language

        Learning a new language takes time. But if you split it up into small, daily lessons, it’s easier than you might think.

        With language learning, every lesson builds on the last. When I was learning Spanish, I used a tool called Guru for knowledge management.[4] Every time I’d learn a verb tense, I’d create a new card to give me a quick refresh before moving on.

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        4. Developing a Hobby

        Like languages, hobbies take time to develop. But that’s the fun of them: you get a little better—both at the hobby and in terms of brain function—each time you do them.

        If you’re trying to train your brain and improve a certain cognitive skill, choose a hobby that aligns with it.

        For example:

        • Attention to detail: Pick a hobby that requires you to work patiently with small features. Woodworking, model-building, sketching, and painting are all good choices.
        • Learning and memory: Choose an activity that requires you to remember lots of details. Your best bets are hobbies that require lots of categorization, such as collecting stamps or coins.
        • Motor function: For this brain function, physical activities can double as fun mental workouts. Sports like soccer and basketball build gross motor functions. Fine motor functions are better trained through activities like table tennis or even playing video games.
        • Problem-solving: Most hobbies require you to problem-solve in one way or another. The ones that test your problem-solving skills the most, however, take some investigation.

        Geocaching is a good example: Using a combination of clues and GPS readings, geocaching involves finding and re-hiding containers. Typically done in a wooded area, geocaching is a fun way to put your problem-solving skills to the test.

        5. Board Games

        Playing a board game might not be much of a physical workout, but it does make for a fun mental workout. With that said, not all board games work equally well for cognitive training.

        Avoid “no brainer” board games, like Candy Land. Opt for strategy-focused ones, such as Risk or Settlers of Catan. Remember to ask other players for their input.

        6. Card Games

        Card games build cognitive skills in much the same way board games do. They have a few extra advantages, though, that make them worthy of special attention.

        A deck of cards is inexpensive and can be played anywhere, from a kitchen to an airplane. More importantly, a deck of cards opens the door to dozens of different games. Challenge yourself to learn a few in an afternoon.

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        7. Puzzles

        Puzzles are great tools for building a specific cognitive skill: visuospatial function. Visuospatial function is important to train because it’s one of the first abilities to slip in people struggling with cognitive diseases like Alzheimer’s.[5]

        Choose a puzzle you’ll stick with. There’s no shame in starting with a 500-piece puzzle or choosing one that makes a childish image.

        8. Playing Music

        Listening to music is a great way to unwind. But playing music goes one step further. On top of entertaining you, it makes for a fun mental workout.

        Again, choose an instrument you know you’ll stick with. If you’ve always wanted to learn the violin, don’t get a guitar because it’s less expensive or easier to pick up.

        What if you can’t afford an instrument? Sing. Learning to control your voice is every bit as challenging as making a set of keys or strings sound good.

        9. Meditating

        Not all cognitive exercises are loud, in-your-face activities. Some of the most fun mental workouts, in fact, are quiet, solo activities. Meditating can help you focus, especially if you have pre-existing attention issues.

        Don’t be intimidated if you’ve never meditated before. It’s easy:

        • Find a quiet, comfortable place to sit or lie down.
        • Set a timer for 10 minutes, or for however long you have to meditate.
        • Close your eyes or turn off the lights.
        • Focus on your breathing. Do not try to control it.
        • If your thoughts wander, gently bring them back to your breath.
        • When the timer goes off, wiggle your fingers and toes for a minute. Slowly bring yourself back to reality. Remember the sense of serenity you found.

        10. Deep Conversation

        There’s nothing more mentally stimulating than a good, long conversation. The key is depth: surface-level chatter doesn’t get the mind’s wheels spinning like a thoughtful, authentic conversation. This type of conversation helps in training your brain to think more deeply and reflect.

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        Choose your partner carefully. You’re looking for someone who’ll challenge your ideas without being confrontational. Stress isn’t good for brain health, but there’s value in coming up with creative arguments.

        11. Cooking

        When you think about it, cooking requires an impressive array of cognitive skills. Developing a cook’s intuition requires a good memory. Making sure flavors are balanced takes attention to detail. When something goes wrong in the kitchen, problem-solving skills come into play. Motor control is required to stir, flip, and whisk.

        If you’re going to cook, you might as well make enough for everyone. Invite them into the kitchen as well: coordinating with other chefs adds an extra layer of challenge to this fun mental workout.

        12. Mentorship

        Whether you’re the mentee or the mentor, mentorship is an incredible mental workout. Learning from someone you look up to combines the benefits of deep conversation with skill-building. Teaching someone else forces you to put yourself in their shoes, which requires empathy and problem-solving skills.

        Put yourself in both situations. Being a student makes you a better teacher, and teaching others gives you insight into how you, yourself, learn.

        Final Thoughts

        Your mind is your most important possession, and training your brain is needed to maintain its health. Don’t let it get soft.

        To keep those neurons firing at full speed, add a few fun mental workouts to your schedule. And if you’re still struggling to get your brain in gear, remember: there’s an app for that.

        More Tips for Training Your Brain

        Featured photo credit: Kelly Sikkema via unsplash.com

        Reference

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