How to be a Better Reader

[I] often get asked about my thoughts on reading. So for the benefits of disciplining myself to write this out, and to have as a resource to direct others to in the future, here is my advice if you’d like to improve your reading habits.

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Understand that successful reading, like much of life, is about creating and sustaining momentum. It all boils down to this in my opinion. In his book titled Rework, Jason Fried puts it this way: “Momentum fuels motivations. It keeps you going. It drives you. Without it, you can’t go anywhere.” So how do you create and maintain momentum in reading? Here are 5 ideas that have made all the difference for me:

  1. Focus Focus Focus – As a general rule I try to only read one book at a time (excluding the fact that I’m always reading through the Bible). When you start 3 different books because they all interest you, you quickly lose momentum when you don’t make much progress in any of them. The quickest way to establish reading momentum is finishing a book, not starting a book. Tackle one of the three first, and you’ll have speed going into number 2 and then number 3. (Coincidentally, this is also the best way to tackle debt).
  2. Pick the right books – Buy a book called The Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership and start by reading chapter 4. It will completely change the way you pick what you read. The author lays out something called the 50 year rule that has totally changed how I pick my next books, and I’ve seen this advice pay dividends upon itself over the last few years of practicing it. This is probably the single most profound chapter of any book I can remember reading.
  3. Don’t let books become bullies – We’ve all experienced the feeling of adrenaline that comes from tackling that difficult book, and then the subsequent shame of defeat when it derails us and stops us from reading for months at a time. There are three solutions to this: 1) don’t read any difficult books; 2) discipline yourself more and push through it; or 3) find a way to keep your momentum. That’s the problem with books like this, they halt your reading speed. When I feel myself slowing down because of the difficulty of a book, I break rule number 1 (focus) and add a second book that I know will be an easy read. By supplementing this book, I get my momentum back and it gives me the confidence to push through the difficult book without relying on superhuman discipline.
  4. Baby steps – Make a goal of reading at least a chapter of a book a day. I aim to do this right before I go to sleep for the night, but it may be a different time for you. If you do this when you are motivated to read, and especially when you are not motivated to read, you’ll never lose momentum. Unless of course, you stop doing this. For some reason, we usually try to take out big chunks of a book at once, and this can be overwhelming and ultimately momentum-draining.
  5. Finish what you start – Like I said in #1, the quickest way to establish reading momentum is finishing a book, not starting a book. Conversely, the quickest way to lose momentum is to give up on a book. Yet I’m amazed how many people do not finish books. Every one of those failed books sits on your shelf, mocking you the next time you consider which book to read. Shut them up by finishing them, even if they are bad. If they are so bad that they are slowing you down, practice rule #3. If the book is a complete waste of time, then, and only then, abandon it. The last time I did this with a book was in 2005.

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Jeremy Jernigan

This is the personal blog of Jeremy Jernigan. Husband to Michelle, father to Gavin, Madsen, Adelyn, and Aiden. Author of Redeeming Pleasure and Executive Pastor at Central Christian Church AZ.

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