Habits and Goals
Today, we are going to learn how to form long-lasting reading habits and talk about goals.
Charles Duhigg in his famous book, The Power of Habit, frames habits in terms of cue, routine, and reward. Typically, this means there is a stimulus (the cue), you perform an action (the routine), and then you feel good (the reward, at least temporarily).
Duhigg offers a lot of great information on habit change, but we are going to focus on habit creation.
To start a new habit, you need each component. We know the routine is reading, and the reward will be the enjoyment and satisfaction of reading, but we need a cue. This is where goals come in.
“Read more” is a great ambition, but it’s not a very good goal. When it comes to reading, I advocate two types of goals:
1. Read X books per year.
2. Read Y pages or minutes per day.
For habit creation, the second type of goal is more important (and will lead to the accomplishment of the first type). So, we need to create a habit loop for the second type of goal.
Step 1: Pick Your Goal
We’ve already learned that reading ten minutes per day can turn into 17 books over the course of a year, so you might want to start with a goal of reading an extra ten minutes per day. Tweak this to suit your lifestyle, but don’t go too hard in the beginning. The goal of the goal is to make the habit easy for you to accomplish, and then build on it over time. Don’t jump all in and pick a goal like “read an hour a day”—that’s too much from a cold start.
And if you want to set a longer-term goal too (although not necessary for habit formation), I recommend Goodreads’ yearly reading challenge. Create an account, and keep track of how many books you read each year.
Step 2: Set Your Cue
Now that you have your goal, you need to set triggers (cues) to help remind you to read. You can get creative here, but here are a few ideas to get started.
• Set an alarm: Grab your phone, pick a time when you are often free, and set a daily alarm. When that alarm goes off, that’s your cue.
• Use activity cues: Before I walk out the door for work, I grab a book and read a passage or two. Before bed, I’ll read a chapter. While I’m waiting for my morning coffee, I pull out my phone and read saved articles on Pocket.
• Use visual reminders: If your books are buried away on your bookcase, you are adding an unnecessary barrier to reading. Keep your book visible; put it on the table or somewhere where you will see it every day. Read on your phone? Put your reading app on your homepage. Bonus tip: Create barriers for your distractions (e.g. put the TV remote some inconvenient, and put its batteries somewhere even more inconvenient).
“I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.” ―Groucho Marx
Step 3: Read
When your cue is triggered, read. Every time. Do it frequently. Build the habit loop. You might like to track each day you meet your goal with a habit-tracking app, or check out stickK if you want financial incentives to keep at it.
And if life gets in the way and you do miss a day, don’t stress; just get back on the horse, and make sure to read the next day.
You can experiment with habit change too. For example, you might endure a habit loop that goes boredom (cue), Facebook (routine), and distraction (reward). If you want to change a habit, you need to keep the cue and reward but change the routine. Play with changing the routine to reading a real book instead Facebook. It will take conscious effort at first, but persist.
Tomorrow, we wrap up the first half of the course with reading speed and typography!
Habit loops (cue, routine, reward) can help you achieve your reading goals.
Set long- and short-term reading goals, and then establish a habit loop for your short-term goal.
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