The Surprisingly Short Journey to Becoming A Great Reader
My journey from starting out as an infrequent, casual reader who never knew what book to read to becoming my definition of ‘a great reader’ – someone who reads often, on purpose, and gets a ton of value out of it – was much shorter than I ever thought it would be. Why is this so important?
In this post I’ll tell you how it happened, the obstacles I overcame along the way, and share some specific steps on how to get started on your own lifelong learning journey.
Why a sudden interest in reading books?
Last year was a rough year in my life. Suffice it to say, it was not an easy one, and I was pretty much broken. Personally, professionally and spiritually, I was completely spent.
I was unwell and unhappy. I wanted, quite simply, to get happy.
There were complicated issues swirling around me that led me to realize that despite being a smart, resourceful, well-educated person, I had no idea how to solve any of them. It seemed like I had reached the end of my knowledge base. I was stumped, worried all the time, and frustrated.
I knew I had to do something… and life was comin’ at me hard.
3 truths became apparent at once:
#1 The only way out of a serious funk is to do a little growing up (or a lot). FYI: if you’re into personal growth, you’ve come to the right place.
#2 Our education does not end when we finish school. I was shocked to discover:
42% of college students will never read another book after they graduate! Source.
Thus began my obsession with lifelong learning.
#3 My brain was starving.
Here’s what I mean by #3: I demanded top-level performance from my tightly-wound brain all day at work, and expected to a positive and patient brain at home, but then fed it a steady diet of junk-data to keep it numb (in the form of “entertainment” I often didn’t even enjoy that much + a side dish of mindless social media scrolling). Sound familiar?
I pretty much gave the opposite of what the brain actually needs to thrive, including but not limited to:
lots of sleep
lots of water
time to meander/daydream/not perform/be quiet
And all the while I wondered why the heck it wasn’t coming up with good solutions to all my problems! It was like locking up a plant in a dark cupboard with no water or sunlight, and then yelling at it for not growing.
Meanwhile, life kept throwing me food-for-thought that got me right in the feels, like this:
In other words — I needed to step up my abilities to deal with things. Learn some new skills to get myself out of this rut of “feeling stuck”.
And what is the absolute easiest, surest, best way to do that?
Read. More. Books.
(Other options I considered included taking night classes, getting another university degree, joining various groups, and other ideas that would cost me money and/or take me away from parenting my small kids and/or weren’t right for me in other ways.)
Then it hit me:
I have a wealth of knowledge at my fingertips in the form of unread books on my bookshelves… and it was time to get cracking.
Note: When I say “books” it can mean different things for different people — some prefer listening to audiobooks or using e-readers — but the message here is the same.
Here are the 4 main obstacles to reading more deliberately:
“I’m not a good reader”
– Things We Tell Ourselves
Let me digress for a moment and say that whenever I talk about my love of reading, I typically hear this. Let it be said here and now that I’ve never been a great reader. Certainly not a consistent one. And not one with a clear intent to feed my mind quality stuff.
Nevertheless, here I was, very motivated to improve.
"I'm not a good reader" is just a story we tell ourselves. And not a very good one, at that. So why hang onto a story that doesn't do us any good? I thought this for a long time too, then decided to choose a better story.
I didn’t read much as a kid (I watched a ton of TV and always panicked when I had to actually read a book to write a report on it. I left it to the last second and somehow always got my hands on Coles Notes (aka CliffsNotes) so I could cut corners…) I guess reading wasn’t perceived as very cool back then.
The only person I was cheating was myself. Before I started reading on purpose, I didn’t get it.
FUN FACT: The first time I ever read a book from cover to cover — on my own, not sitting in my mom’s lap as a kid — was called Island of the Blue Dolphins. I was about 12 years-old and it was the first time I was ever fully transported to another place and time. I remember lying on my stomach on by bedroom floor; I opened the book right after lunch and by the time I looked up again it was after dark. I thought, what the heck just happened?! How did all those hours just disappear? And also… I want more of that feeling!
(It’s called flow, by the way.)
I had to dig deep and determine which topics I wished to become more knowledgeable about. What could help me RIGHT NOW?
I wanted to understand human behaviour better, which led me toward #psychology. I wanted to understand how to be successful, which steered me toward #mindset work. These types of books inadvertently brought me to question some of my beliefs about my #spirituality, which I had sorely ignored for decades. And so on it goes -- these are things that interested me, but for you the topics (things you wish you knew more about) will be unique to you and your life.
“I don’t know where to even begin”
– Things We Tell Ourselves
If I was going become a better reader on purpose, I was going to need some help. Here's what I worked at figuring out:
How do I choose precisely which books to read for more success in life and a more positive #mindset?
When and how do I read to make it a consistent habit? (I, like you, don’t have much spare time — I wanted to learn exactly how some people manage to read a lot of books). Also, with two small children my evenings / pre-bedtime can easily get hijacked and find me crashing into bed in an exhausted heap
How do I make the most of it (maximize the takeaways I can use right now)?
How can I read faster?
How do I keep track of what I’ve read and what’s next on my reading list?
In another post I'll share some details about a course I took that really helped me find my way.
“But I don’t have any good books” and “Books are expensive”
– Things We Tell Ourselves
You’re not alone on this.
80% of U.S. families did not buy a book this year (!!), and 70% of adults have not been in a book store in the past 5 years. (Source).
If you don’t care to keep any books you read, the absolute cheapest way to read more books is to borrow from your local library. I rediscovered the joys of going to the library when the kids were little. I hadn't been to a library in decades! 5/5 recommend!
Here are 6 ideas for you if you like to read (and keep) physical books:
Ask around and see if your friends or family are willing to lend/give you some. Is anyone you know moving or downsizing? This always frees up some books.
Ask for specific books or bookstore gift cards for your birthdays, holiday gifts, etc.
Get a’ thriftin’: (this my favorite method; it’s the most fun and I’ve found TONS of good books this way) Check out church sales, garage sales, thrift shops, used bookstores, library sales, etc.
Check out the bargain books and clearance sections at bookstores
Visit books sections at discount retailers like HomeSense (in Canada) and TJMaxx (in the US), and Walmart
The cheaper alternatives for books on Amazon (most book listings on Amazon will have additional entries that say something like “see this book new and used from these sellers”.) However, do pay special attention to any extra shipping costs you might need to pay for items not fulfilled by Amazon.
Be resourceful and have fun with it! It quickly becomes your personal and never-ending treasure hunt 🙂
Always follow your curiosity.
That said — yes it’s true, books do cost something, and bear in mind that you can’t expect to make major leaps in your education for 100% free… forever.
You are worth investing in.
“But I don’t have any time to read"
– Things We Tell Ourselves
If this is the case, then audiobooks are the solution for you. You can check out Audible and other audiobook services.
Here’s the best part - Reading Begets More Reading
What I have experienced is that reading creates an unstoppable momentum of wanting to learn more. If you read good books or articles, you’ll find that other books are often referenced in them, and then those might land on your reading list.
It’s a snowball effect.
You might find, like I did, that you become curious about the authors themselves — and then dig around to discover that they host a cool podcast, or they’re regular contributors to big magazines, or will be in town at an event near you sometime soon.
This is not a world I knew anything about until I let my curiosity take the lead, and it all started to magically unfold in front of me in so many interesting and fascinating ways.
Why do I say the journey so far has been short? Because if I’m being honest,
I believed it would take me years to consider myself even a half-decent reader. It didn't.
All it took was a degree of focus and a degree of interest, and within a few months I looked up and found myself on a completely different path. A way more interesting one. One where I developed a genuine passion for lifelong learning, where I feel a responsibility to keep feeding my mind, one that I am very motivated to continue to share with you.
Now over to you —
Do you love to read for personal growth? If so, can you share the ways you make time to read? Can you recommend some of your favorite books?
Do you consider yourself a terrible reader? Why is that? And has this post inspired you at all to try a different approach?
Do you share the belief that we are entirely responsible for what we feed our minds and that we should not quit learning after school ends?