For most of my life, I was never an avid reader. I tolerated reading, yes. But when it came to fun, books? Well, they’d always been a last resort.
I never saw reading as a form of entertainment or a key to self-improvement. Instead, reading had always felt more like a chore than anything else. It always felt like work.
My early disinterest in reading is an awkward fact to admit. After all, I spent the start of my career in news media. Conventional wisdom would lead most people to assume all journalists are voracious readers. But from my experience, that belief isn’t always the case.
As I neared my 30s, my perspective started to change. Traveling had a lot to do with that. When I went on my first long-term trip, seven-and-a-half months backpacking Europe, I realized how little I knew about the world. Each new country I visited offered me a graduate-level course in the school of life.
My experiences on the road sparked my curiosity for new knowledge. I developed a genuine interest to learn. By becoming a better reader, I thought I could satisfy this thirst for new information.
So in the spring of 2017, I started to read more than I ever did before. In the last seven months of that year, I read more than two dozen books. I read more books that year than I read the previous seven years of my life.
The point I’m trying to make here is this: it’s never too late to become a better reader. A love for reading isn’t something with which we’re born. It’s something we can develop over time – at any age, no less. Look no further than me for living proof.
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Why Become a Better Reader?
At a young age, we learn that there’s a connection between reading and success. Take a quick glance at some of the wealthiest people in the world today. What’s the common denominator among them? Many are insatiable readers.
While that’s true, it’s also important to remember that this correlation doesn’t equal causation. Too much reading and too little action isn’t the precursor to success. In fact, it’s likely the opposite. Sooner than later, you’ll have to do the work.
In my mind, what reading does is set the stage for success to occur. It’s the foundation on which positive behaviors can flourish. The sum of those actions is what enables successful people to thrive.
If you can improve your reading capacity, here are a few benefits to expect.
Falling in Love With Learning
These days, information is abundant, and it’s never been easier to access. What used to take hours and days to research takes only seconds and minutes to find thanks to technology. What a crazy time to be alive, right?
By the same token, this wealth of knowledge levels the playing field for everyone. If you’re not taking advantage of this, there’s no question that someone else is. Today’s world moves fast, and it’ll pass you by if you’re not paying attention.
To have a chance to thrive, it’s never been more important to commit to lifelong learning. Reading is one core component for developing your intellect. When you read, you can cultivate an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. If you can read well, you will no doubt learn well.
You Can Decrease Your Cognitive Decline
Aging is inevitable and unavoidable. Whether we like or not, we all must accept that we’ll grow old someday. We can ensure that we age gracefully by taking active care of our minds throughout our lives. Reading is one way to achieve that.
Consider these results from a study published by Rush Medical University in 2013. Researchers wanted to determine if mental activities, like reading, affected future memory capacity. To find out, they studied 294 people on an annual basis for about six years.
After participants passed away, researchers analyzed their brains for physical signs of dementia. What they discovered was likely what you suspected. People who engaged in stimulating activities, like reading, experienced slower cognitive decline.
So if you want to age well, make sure you give your brain a good workout. Your future self will be glad you did.
Improve Your Focus
Focus, like learning, is crucial to productivity these days. There’s an economy for our attention. Bits and pieces of content we consume chip away at our concentration without us even noticing it. Over time, this adds up, and what we’re left with is an attention span that’s splintered.
The overabundance of content challenges us to become better managers of attention. This isn’t easy to figure out, but dedicating a little time to read can help. After all, reading is an activity that demands our full engagement. Accordingly, the activity allows us to practice channeling our focus.
Think about the last time you read a great book. Chances are it captivated you in ways that no other medium has. A great book thrusts you into the heart of the action. It places you right at the center of a story. Reading may not allow for multitasking, but that’s OK. You know why? Because you when you become a better reader, you won’t have interest in doing anything else.
You Can Diversify Your Perspective
Reading can transport you into another time and place. When buried in a good book, it can often feel like you’re breaking bread with the writer who’s telling the story. It’s as if he or she has chosen you, and only you, as his or her close and trusted confidant.
One of the best books I’ve read this year was When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. It’s a memoir written by a young man who had a promising career in medicine and neuroscience. Sadly, his bright future was cut short in his mid-thirties after learning he had Stage IV lung cancer.
“I began to realize that coming in such close contact with my own mortality had changed both nothing and everything,” Kalanithi wrote. “Before my cancer was diagnosed, I knew that someday I would die, but I didn’t know when. After the diagnosis, I knew that someday I would die, but I didn’t know when. But now I knew it acutely. The problem wasn’t really a scientific one. The fact of death is unsettling. Yet there is no other way to live.”
It’s impossible to read this book without feeling moved by Kalanithi’s reflections on life and death. A book like this changes you. It leaves a mark. It’s an example of how reading can teach you empathy and make you reconsider your perspective.
Become a Better Writer
Want to improve as a writer? Then, without question, you need to become a better reader. As a writer, reading gives you role models to follow. At first, you’ll imitate the scribes who inspire you. But over time, their example will help you discover your own voice.
My writing style has gone through a slow, yet subtle evolution since becoming a better reader. Reading has taught me how to pinpoint the qualities of good writing. And as a result, I’ve earned a deeper understanding of the craft itself.
Reading expands your vocabulary, too – another useful quality to have as a writer. Like a painter with a wide palette of colors at his disposal, a broad vocabulary can add more depth to your work. Whenever you read, keep a digital (or physical) dictionary handy and look up new words you don’t know.
5 Tips for Becoming a Better Reader
Now that you know the why, let’s move on to the how. Here are a few tips that have helped me become a better reader. Give them a try. They might do the same for you.
Read What Fascinates You
To become a better reader, you need to fall in love with reading. To fall in love with reading, you need to follow your curiosity. By seeking what fascinates you, reading transforms into play.
For most people, reading is tedious work. But following what intrigues you will change your attitude. Instead of seeing reading as something you should do, you’ll start to see it as something you want to do.
Naval Ravikant, founder of AngelList, is a voracious reader. Here’s what he had to say on his podcast about chasing your curiosity as a way to improve as a reader:
“Everybody I know who reads a lot loves to read, and they love to read because they read books that they loved. It’s a little bit of a catch-22, but you basically want to start off just reading wherever you are and then keep building up from there until reading becomes a habit. And then eventually, you will just get bored of the simple stuff.
So you may start off reading fiction, then you might graduate to science fiction, then you may graduate to nonfiction, then you may graduate to science, or philosophy, or mathematics or whatever it is, but take your natural path and just read the things that interest you until you kind of understand them. And then you’ll naturally move to the next thing and the next thing and the next thing.”
I read a ton of nonfiction. Memoirs like Kitchen Confidential to books on writing like The War of Art are two of the many books I’ve read this year. I don’t consume much fiction now. But as Ravikant says above, that doesn’t mean I won’t change.
Build a Ritual Around Reading
To develop any kind of skill, including reading, you need consistent, deliberate practice. You must create conditions for yourself that encourage you to read with regularity. Make reading a habit.
One way to do that is by building a ritual around it. To create one for yourself takes experimentation. Do you enjoy waking up early and getting things done before work? If so, then you should try to read in the morning. Or, do you prefer some evening entertainment before calling it a day? If yes, then try reading before you go to bed.
I’m one of the latter types of people. I read here and there throughout the day, but evenings are usually best for me to catch up on most of my reading. I crack open a book or fire up my Kindle oftentimes an hour before I go to bed. I’ve found that reading helps me fall asleep easier.
Use a Pacer
Every time we open a book, we’re greeted by blocks and blocks of never-ending text. Reading, even if only for a few minutes, can put a strain on our vision. And when it’s hard on our eyes, we often read slower than we’d like. This can leave us frustrated. Why read if it’s going to take so much effort?
Using a pacer, though, can solve this problem. A pacer can help you narrow your vision while you read. Instead of seeing blocks of text, your attention centers on words and sentences. As a result, reading can become a much smoother activity.
At some point in our lives, we’ve all used pacers to read – likely when we were younger. But for whatever reason, we abandon them as we get older. Pacers can seem like training wheels for our reading. But there’s no shame in putting them back on. I did, and I haven’t looked back since.
Besides, it’s a common tool used by speed readers. Ever wonder how some people read a book in a matter of hours or days rather than weeks? By using a pacer like a pen, pencil or even their fingers – that’s how. If it’s good enough for the world’s best readers, it should be good enough for the rest of us.
If you’re someone who didn’t like school very much, taking notes while you read might not sound too appealing. As is, reading is already a tedious activity for you. Why make it more challenging?
But hear me out on this. By taking notes, you’ll gain greater clarity of what you read. Concepts and ideas will become stickier as a result. When you take notes, you’re giving your brain extra help to absorb what you learn.
Since I started reading more, I’ve taken notes in a variety of ways. I’ve written them in physical notebooks, and I’ve compiled them in digital ones. There’s no formal method to my process other than to collect quotes and passages that stand out to me. Try whatever works out for you, and observe how it makes a difference.
Carry a Book With You at All Times
Books have always been easy to carry, but they’re even easier to haul today. Chances are you have a smartphone, which has apps you can download for reading. There are no shortage of e-readers, too. I have a Kindle, which is lightweight and fits right in my pocket. My public library even offers free titles for it that I can borrow online.
A lack of time is one of the most common reasons why we don’t become better readers. But consider how much time we spend mindlessly checking social media (I know I’m guilty). A few minutes here and there of browsing Instagram or Facebook may not seem like much. But over the course of a day, those minutes add up. Replace those stolen moments with an activity that’s more productive like reading.
Wired for Stories
Who doesn’t love a good story? As humans, it’s in our nature to gravitate to narrative. Stories are what help us find common ground. They help us to relate.
In short, stories are what bind us in our humanity.
Luckily for us, the world has no shortage of stories. You can find a good one anywhere you look. But one of the best ways to discover new stories is by becoming a better reader.
Remember, it’s never too late to start.