Researchers at the University of California San Diego determined that the average American consumes approximately 105,000 words per day.
Those words come from a variety of sources, but a fair portion of them are things that you’re reading. This may come as a surprise, but Americans aren’t reading less, we’re just reading differently.
Many of us are nearly reading a novel’s worth of content every day, except we’re ingesting it 50 words at a time as Facebook posts and Tweets.
One of the biggest advantages of reading fiction and long-form narratives is the development of empathy. It’s been scientifically proven that reading books helps us to see the world through someone else’s eyes.
What we’re reading, however, particularly social media, has been proven to breed the exact opposite: envy and comparison. Those values play out in a bona fide link between social media consumption and anxiety, depression, suicidal tendencies, and a host of other issues.
Rather than seeing the world through someone else’s eyes as we do with a narrative story, social media reinforces the gulf between us—the things my world is lacking compared to yours.
All of that time consuming words—what if we could use that time to better our hearts and brains, rather than corrupting ourselves?
Some time ago, I determined that I wanted to use a portion of my mindless social media time for reading books, even if the books were just fun. This has made my life better.
Aside from the simple discipline of picking up a book instead of staring at Facebook, over time I found three easy strategies that have greatly increased my reading:
Dog-ear the pages.
That’s right, I fold down the corner of the page to mark my spot.
I know, how many times have you been told not to do that? But you know what? I’m an adult, it’s my book, I bought it, I’ll do whatever I want with it.
I know it sounds too simple to be true, but part of my problem is that my reading routine is often irregular. Between reading sessions, it’s easy to lose the bookmark and forget where I am, and I end up searching and re-reading the same sections over and over. The whole process just seems frustrating and futile.
Dog-earing the pages is virtually foolproof for marking your spot.
Books are consumable commodities. If you bought it, use it however suits you best.
Believe it or not, this one simple change has dramatically increased my total reading in the past year.
Ditch books that you’re not enjoying.
There are millions of books in the world, why waste your time on the ones that aren’t accomplishing what you’d hoped?
For most of my life, I had to finish books that I started. It was a compulsion. Growing up, my mother made me read a lot of laborious books (I’m looking at you Stephen Crane). I developed a pride in finishing things that were difficult to read.
Why? I guess just to have done it. But that’s not a very good reason. As an adult, it’s kept me from a lot of good reading.
For years, I would get bogged down in books that I didn’t enjoy, picking my way through them at a snail’s pace. Often these were books that were recommended to me or so-called classics.
This compulsion prevented me from moving onto other books, and prevented me from establishing healthy reading routines.
Your time is limited, you read for a purpose—entertainment, information, personal growth. As soon as what you’re reading stops accomplishing that purpose, drop it and switch to something else.
You don’t get any points for suffering through books. There’s no death bed test.
And for real, a lot of non-fiction books I read should be 40 pages long. There’s no shame in skimming, either.
Here’s what I realized: all of this time staring at my phone is rotting my brain. Mindlessly scrolling through social media, watching YouTube videos, and reading the news.
But I always have an electronic device with me, it’s just so darn convenient.
Why not convert that time into something healthy and life-giving?
You can purchase a Kindle for less than $100, and the Kindle is genuinely a really nice reading experience that rivals the physical page. Even though it’s a separate device to keep with you, it is far lighter and easier to carry around than a book.
But you can also install a Kindle app on your phone and begin reading e-books right away. In fact, your phone and your Kindle will sync, so if you find yourself with a few minutes and just your phone in your pocket, you can pick up right where you left off with your Kindle at home rather than plugging into Facebook.
I still purchase print copies of some books, especially for heavy reading. I like to be able to mark them up, and I like to be able to give them away.
But I also just want to read some fun novels. It’s a way better and healthier use of my time than Facebook. I don’t care if these end up on my bookshelf, I’m probably never going to tell anyone I even read them, let alone give them away. Why not switch to a digital format and make my life more convenient?
And the Kindle never ever loses my spot. And did I mention that there are a lot of e-books that you can get for free, especially if you just want a dumb, fun novel?
I was over-valuing books.
It’s true. I was holding books in too high of regard. Everything had to be perfect, I didn’t want to ruin them, they deserved my complete attention even if they were rubbish.
Books had rules and decorum. Of course reading was a chore.
Ironically, this over-valuing was ruining my relationship with books. Because of my high regard, I was consuming far too few of them!
Books were made for you, not you for books.
Use them and lose them however is most convenient and most fun for you.
You can’t go wrong. However you do it, I’m certain that time spent with a book will be healthier and more edifying than the time you’re spending on social media.
What strategies do you use to find great books or to keep yourself reading? Please share in the comments below or on Facebook here.
” Though Sejal is a fictional character, she and her village are vividly imagined and intimately described. As with all excellent fiction, the reader identifies with Sejal’s humanity and shares her experience, and you cannot come to the end without caring deeply about the life-changing significance of a single well. ” -Amazon Reviewer
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