This past summer, I spent some much needed time visiting family, eating whatever I felt like eating, and generally taking a break from the daily grind. I knew that when I returned home mid-August, it would be time to get back into the swing of things. Diet wise, for Kathleen (my wife) and I, that usually mean spending 2-4 weeks doing Whole 30 (I know Whole 30 is 30 days long, but since we generally eat this way most of the time, we use it as a reason to be especially disciplined when getting back on track after time away from eating well). I was also able to stay regular with my trumpet practice, as I had written a simple, one week repeating program that allowed me to have structure and efficiency in my practice.
One activity that had eluded me for many years was a regular reading habit. I knew I needed to start spending more time learning from experts if I wanted to continue growing. I have the same story many people do, I’m sure. I was an avid reader as a kid, and loved it — until high school. Being forced to read and analyze books that didn’t interest me turned me off the whole process entirely. Fortunately, I’m in a different place now. I need and want new ideas and information. The first book on my list was “The Talent Code” by Daniel Coyle. Kathleen was in the middle of it, and was raving about it . In addition, several of the master teachers I’ve been lucky enough to learn from spoke very highly of the concepts presented in this book.
I knew I wanted to read more, but I didn’t really have a plan of how to make it happen. On numerous occasions I’ve found myself motivated to start a new exercise regimen or a new diet, only to lose the motivation within a few weeks. I stumbled upon James Clear’s website (a friend tagged me in the comment section for a blog post about lifting), and while reading through a few of his posts, I came across one titled “How To Read More: The Simple System I’m Using to Read 30+ Books Per Year”. In summary, he reads for 30 minutes each day — that’s it. Instead of biting off more than he can chew and consequently feeling like he can’t fit reading into his life, he just starts smaller. As I read this post, I figured “I could do that!”. And so I did.
In order to get 30 uninterrupted minutes, I knew I was going to have to get them in early in the day, before unforeseen circumstances and other distractions robbed me of my goals for that day. I settled on waking up at 5:30 AM. Getting up before the rest of the world meant that I would have no distractions and no excuses. While I didn’t get up at 5:30 AM EVERY morning (many mornings it got pushed to 6-6:15 AM), I did get 30 minutes of reading in every day for a month. Here are the books that I was able to read:
- The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle
- One Million Followers by Brenden Kane
- Atomic Habits by James Clear
- The War Of Art by Stephen Pressfield
To many people who are readers, this probably looks normal. But for me, a “non-reader”, the volume of reading I did from August 13-September 9th is more than I had done in the previous 10 years of my life. That’s not an exaggeration. Before I began reading regularly, I was not a reader. But, through sticking with a habit as simple as “read for 30 minutes every day”, I can now call myself a reader. This is a prime example of how we as people aren’t something until we start doing it. You’re not a podcaster until you start podcasting. You aren’t a baker until you bake something. Think about parenting. There is almost nothing that qualifies you to be a parent until you are one. Very few people think to themselves “I would like to have a baby, but I’m not qualified”. You become qualified by having kids, messing up, learning how to be a better parent, and repeating that process.
All that being said, the thing about reading (and having coaches/master teachers/experienced individuals) is that it can speed up the process through which you learn. That seems unbelievably obvious to say, I know. I’ve been saying to Kathleen and others I talk to regularly that I am shocked at how long it took me to figure out that I cannot just think my way into new information. Sure, I could have endless trial and error trying to develop habits around reading that are sustainable. Or I could just listen to James Clear, an expert on understanding how to develop and maintain habits (through his own journey of trial and error), and try what he does, effectively skipping quite a few steps in the process.
Developing A System That Works
The coolest feeling I am now experiencing that avid readers know is the feeling of finishing a book. This month I read 4 books. If I can keep up that pace for a year, that would be 48 books. Accounting for some books being longer than others, my goal is to read 40 books this year. If I continued with this goal for 5 years, that amounts to 200 books! That’s a small personal library, and so much new information. Before I finish this post, I’d like to outline my system, in case anyone is inspired to try it after reading this post:
- Wake up at 5:30 AM
- Get coffee – the most important step
- Set timer for 30 minutes
- Read (I don’t turn on my computer and once I set my timer, I put my phone out of reach so I can’t be distracted by social media.)
- While reading, I underline any important phrases and write notes in the margins. This helps me make a connection to the things I think are important, relate the concepts in the book to ideas I have, and help me find where to come back to if I need to reference it again.
30 minutes of reading is about 20-30 pages a day (depending on the size of the book). So a 200 page book would take roughly 8-10 days to finish. For me, the goal of reading the book is to internalize the information, so finding some way to show my mastery of the material is a key step. Examples of this could include:
- Writing a blog post detailing my thoughts
- Keeping a journal of inspiring quotes and ideas for future reference
- Discuss the material with another person with the goal of seeing whether or not I can clearly communicate the ideas and concepts.
(A note on the last point – my wife Kathleen and I have been reading the same books at the same time to allow ourselves the opportunity to discuss how to apply the materials from the books to our lives and our profession. It’s sort of a book club that we do. We have considered making blog posts or podcast episodes of our discussions so that others can listen in and benefit. If this is something that interests you, definitely send me a message and let me know!)
If you’re someone like I was, a “non-reader”, I hope this story encourages you and gives you a place to start just like the James Clear article I mentioned before did for me. We hear this phrase all the time, but it is especially true in this situation: “If I can do it, so can you”.
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