How to Read 50 Books in a Year (From 4 Books a Year)

Kamal Nayan
Feb 24, 2018 · 5 min read
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In 2016, I had read four books. In 2017, I read around sixty.

Here’s a breakdown of how I hacked my way around reading more. BUT before we get into that, let’s talk about — very briefly — the need to read.

Why reading is important

“The reading of all good books is like conversation with the finest minds of the past century.” — Rene Descartes, French philosopher from 17th Century.

One habit ultra-successful people have in common is that they read a lot. By a lot, I mean A LOT! Warren Buffet reads between 600 and 1000 pages a day. Bill Gates reads about 50 books per year. And the list goes on and on.

The thing about knowledge is that it builds up like compound interest. And books are the most efficient way to build up that knowledge. Someone has already compiled down the most important things about an interest. Why not leverage it?

Reading also has significant number of benefits including reducing stress, improving memory and analytical thinking skills.

“The reality is very few people actually read and actually finish books … I think that alone accounts for any material success that I’ve had in my life and any intelligence that I might have.” — Naval Ravikant

Making reading a habit

New habits are things that we do but old habits are things that we are. Making a habit is not easy and it takes from a three weeks to twelve months but it’s worth it. It doesn’t matter what we know but what we do everyday matters.

The first step towards building any habit is to start small and continue doing it EVERYDAY no matter what. In case of reading, start with 15 minutes a day and continue it even if you find the act of reading or lack focus. Success is in taking that goddamn book in your hands spending 15 minutes of the day with it. Every. Single. Day.

“Remember that the power of a habit isn’t actually in the individual execution, but in the consistency. It is far far worse to skip doing something than to just do a horrible job of it.“ — Superhuman by Habit

At the core of the formation of any habit, there are three things at play: Motivation, Trigger and Ability. If we can tame these crucial factors in our advantage, building new habits won’t be hard. Let’s explore how.

Behavior = Motivation + Ability + Trigger

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The first piece of puzzle is building enough motivation to read. Initially, excitement is more than enough to get through the first few days; and then it starts wearing off. That’s when work on motivation will come into play.

There are many ways we can build the motivation to read (or to form any habit). One that I followed was by Tynan in the book Superhuman by habit.

On a piece of paper, write down the answer to these four questions:

  1. What good things will happen if I implement this habit (reading)?
  2. What bad things will happen if I implement this habit?
  3. What good things will happen if I don’t implement this habit?
  4. What bad things will happen if I don’t implement this habit?
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Important thing is to keep this in easy reach and return to this whenever there’s a lack of motivation.

Another way is to determine life philosophy and somehow connect the habits to it. Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll philosophy is: Do things better than they have ever been done before. Warren Buffet believes in Going to bed smarter than you woke up. In order to stay sincere to these philosophies we need to have a connecting mid level and low level goals. When you see how these simple habits connect to the goals that are larger than your own life, you’ll be more likely to do. We are going to read every day once we believe in going to bed smarter than you woke up.

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Building Triggers

In order for any behavior to form we need triggers. Telling yourself that you would drink tea every morning is not as effective as telling yourself — as soon as I wake up, I will drink tea. Waking up is the trigger for your new habit (drinking tea).

For the last year, I’ve created few triggers for reading:

  1. Every morning, as soon as I make a cup of coffee, I will sit down to read
  2. As soon as I am done with the dinner, I will get a book to read
  3. Whenever I’m seated comfortable on a bus/taxi/plane I’ll take out my Kindle to read

Building Ability

The last piece of puzzle is working on improving the ability to read. For starters, make it easy to just start reading. Here’re few tips that I have implied myself:

  1. Keeping books within reach — I’ve a side table near my bed that has physical copy of books and it makes it incredibly easy to just pick up something and start reading.
  2. Install apps like Kindle and iBooks on your smartphone and keep them on the first screen or within easy reach of your fingers.
  3. Get a Kindle and carry it everywhere. Kindle Paperwhite is one of the best value for money devices that I’ve owned.
  4. Share the progress of reading in the social circle. It creates a psychological bias to keep up with the consistency so you end up reading regularly.
  5. Talk about the books that you’re currently reading with your friends in person or on social media.

Go after your interests and not something because it’s hot right now

Reading something that genuinely interests you is a more viable long-term strategy than just picking up the bestsellers or whatever is “hot” right now. Take a moment to figure out your interests first and then dive deeper. Initially it doesn’t matter what you read. Eventually you will read enough things and your interests will lead you there which is dramatically going to improve your life.

If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.—Haruki Murakami

So how much reading are you going to get done this year?

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