Does the idea of reading books exhaust your very soul? Do you proudly boast “reading is not for me” but wish you could read more? Maybe reading seems like a chore instead of a hobby and you’re left wondering what the big deal is because Netflix requires far less brain function. Facebook scrolling is easy.
Trust us, you’re not alone.
Most people would probably claim they prefer mindless television to reading a book, but what if you could learn to love reading again and not see it as a burden? The benefits are huge. For one, reading has enormous health benefits – not only strengthening the mind but new studies now claim a reduction in cognitive decline in dementia patients, a boost in overall memory improvement and a positive effect on our mental health.
Contrary to what people think, the reason we avoid reading is not because of our workload or parenting commitments. Americans aged 35-44 still spend 2.1 hours per day watching television according to Statista. Six hours are spent using smartphones, although one could argue this may be for work-related purposes. The point is we all have time to read.
Once we remove this excuse out of our thinking, we can begin to approach the real issues we have with reading. For most people, their minds are spent reading emails and complex work-related texts that drain their mental energy.
No wonder the idea of reading a book feels painful.
It’s a tragedy worth noting that millions of Americans still cannot read, and literacy levels have dropped dramatically over the last decade. Regardless of this, anyone can learn to become a better reader (even the high school drop-out).
If you’re reading this article, chances are you can read at a proficient level. If you understood the word in bold there’s a high possibility you hold a Bachelor-Degree, work in a white-collar profession or read for leisure. A reader who has not been exposed to these environments is not accustomed to complex vocabulary.
Why is this important?
Your background gives you an advantage in decoding (breaking down the understanding of a text) more than most people, but it doesn’t mean you can’t become a great reader.
Education plays a huge role in reading, but it is not the answer to making you an excellent reader. If we assessed the reading abilities of a school truant who read books daily, chances are, they could read at the same level as their peers. The point being that if you want to become a better reader it’s not a matter of practicing big words or completing mindless exercises, you actually need to read more.
What exactly is text complexity and why does it matter?
Teachers often refer to complexity of texts as the level of challenge a text provides. In other words, how difficult a novel, article, report, any written text is. Schools measure how difficult a text is by looking at certain features of the text: Qualitative features involve the type of language used, clarity, meaning and knowledge in the text. Quantitative features involve the length of the text and grade level equivalent.
To become a better reader, you need to increase your exposure to higher-level texts. If the only reading you ever do is reading your boyfriend’s text messages, reading won’t get easier, it will be difficult. You will eventually succumb to Netflix.
What should I read?
Expose yourself to complex texts. At work during your break, while your mind is still stimulated, read the BBC news or a Forbes article on your phone (of course you already read a lot at work but stay open-minded). Use your work-time to focus on the complex texts – it could also be a scholarly article related to a topic that interests you. Don’t worry if you don’t understand the whole article or story, just attempt to read it from beginning to end. This will expand your vocabulary and develop your critical thinking skills which will exercise your angular gyrus – the part of your brain associated with complex language functions.
You may already know whether you prefer fiction or non-fiction based on your history. Our advice is to try reading both. Reading a blend of self-help books, biographies, memoirs, poetry, prose, fiction will help you to become exposed to different vocabulary, themes, and contexts. It will also help you work out what you loathe.
You may discover along with millions of other readers that Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is not the kind of fiction you enjoy. If you’re not sure what you like, you can start following celebrity book clubs on social media that showcase new books. Find them all on this site:
Avoid reading from phones (at home). The problem with constantly reading on our smartphones is that we are often distracted by multiple things – notifications, calendar reminders, social media, texts, missed calls etc. When you are away from work try and find a quiet place where you can read a book without a screen (kindles are acceptable).
How often should I read?
Research suggests 30 minutes per day can improve life span by two years, according to health studies on longevity at the University of Michigan. Allowing your brain the time to focus, uninterrupted is important when developing good reading habits. Set a time each day to read so you don’t forget. Get creative with your time. If you’re waiting for an appointment don’t instinctively take out your phone, have your book or kindle ready with you.
The aim is to make reading fun. Not tedious. Initially – it will feel burdensome, like a friend has coerced you into running a file mile race and you’re ready to give up on the first training session. You may chuck the book out the window and wish you’d never read this article. That’s normal.
Eventually, like any training, reading will become easier and your tolerance for even the most grueling of books will be bearable. You will learn to appreciate good writing. Books ultimately challenge our worldview and transform our thinking, making us better humans.
“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies . . . The man who never reads lives only one.” – George R.R. Martin