5 Ways to Become a Better Reader

5 Ways to Become a Better Reader

Most Americans struggle with regular reading. Harry Truman once said, “Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.” Ideas like these remind us that we should probably work at it no matter how much we falter in it. But for many people, it ranks right up there with losing weight or getting out of debt. Thankfully, it doesn’t need to be this way.

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 five ideas that have made all the difference for me:

So how do you create and maintain momentum in reading? Here are five ideas that have made all the difference for me:

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). The caveat to this is that I always have one book on my kindle (or print) and one going on Audible. I don’t double up on either of them at one time though.

Pick the right books – Buy a book called The Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership and start by reading chapter four. 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 his advice pay dividends over the last few years of practicing it. This is probably the single most profound chapter of any book I can remember reading.

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. The problem with books like this is how they halt your reading speed. When I feel myself slowing down because of the difficulty of a book, I modify idea number one on this list (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.

Take 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. If a chapter seems like too much, try giving yourself a time goal of 15 or 20 minutes a day.

Finish what you start – Like I said in the first idea, 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 then practice idea number three. If the book is a complete waste of time, then, and only then, abandon it. I only do this with a book every few years or so. I’ve heard other solid readers argue against this, that we should be quick to abandon bad books. Yet consider two challenges against this: 1) how do you know whether you’ve given the book a fair reading by the time you quit? And 2) what happens to your momentum when you start having as many or more books you’ve stopped reading than ones you’ve actually finished? Finish them and enjoy the momentum in the tank to propel you forward.

Want to become a better reader? Start by building a bit of momentum today and see what happens. Click here to see my current reading list for this year or click here to see my lists from previous years.

*Post updated September 2016

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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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