If I Can Exercise, You Can Read More Books — Here Is How
Reading doesn’t have to be a chore. Make it attractive.
Some people enjoy exercising. They love to put on their work out clothes and invest two hours at the gym every day, or running or doing Pilates or CrossFit. I’m not one of those people. Not at all.
But I know that exercise is good for my body. I can’t deny that my sedentary lifestyle is extremely harmful in the long run. I must be intentional and get up from my desk once in a while. I must exercise even if I don’t want to.
Maybe you’re the opposite of me. You are happy to go out and move and burn a few calories. You are generally good at keeping up with your exercise routine. You enjoy the whole process.
Or perhaps not. But you are probably good at something else. You might like eating healthy food, crafts, keeping things organized, playing an instrument or doing volunteer work. But reading? You know you should. You know it’s good for your brain. You know your mind needs to be filled with quality information, not just with Internet memes.
The point is this: What is easy for me might not be easy for you. What is easy for you might not be easy for me. That doesn’t mean I don’t have to exercise. And that doesn’t mean you don’t have to read.
Now, nor I have to become a CrossFit guru nor you have to read 70 books a year. Let’s be realistic, each of us has their talents. But both you and I have to make an effort to practice the things that help ups develop physically and mentally.
A little adjustment
Two years ago, my husband and I bought an elliptical machine for Christmas. Nor he or I like to exercise, but we know it’s important. So we decided to invest in a piece of equipment that would make exercising regularly the easiest thing in the world.
You guessed it. A few weeks went by and the elliptical lost its new shine. We started using it to dry our sheets. Fortunately, that was not the end of the story.
I did something really simple: I combined a bad habit with a lost habit to create a good habit.
You see, at the time I realized I was spending too much time on YouTube. Too much. So I decided to limit my time on the platform for when I was using the elliptical: I could only watch YouTube videos if I was exercising on the machine.
And who would have known: nobody can stop me now.
In the book Atomic Habits, James Clear presents his version of the habit loop. (In The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg presents a similar loop, but with three components instead of four.)
The loop explains that when we get a cue (a phone notification, for example), a craving is triggered in us (a desire to pick up the phone). This brings about a certain response (checking the notification) that provides a reward that reinforces the habit (somebody liked your photo!).
Clear uses the four components of the loop to formulate four laws of habit change: If you want to develop a good habit, (1) make it obvious, (2) make it attractive, (3) make it simple, and (4) make it satisfactory.
By joining my love for YouTube with my dread of climbing on the elliptical, I was without realizing it implementing the second law: make it attractive. I wasn’t exercising as much as relaxing while watching videos. Burning calories was an extra benefit.
Funnily enough, in his book, Clear tells the story of a guy that programmed his computer to play Netflix only when he was pedaling at a certain speed on his stationary bike.
Now it’s your turn to get creative: How can you make reading something attractive for you?
It might mean to set apart an hour now and then and make it a really special time. Brew your favorite coffee, play some relaxing music, light a scented candle, and turn off your phone.
Or perhaps you enjoy nature. Try downloading an audiobook and take a walk at the park, or bring your book and sit on an outdoor bench.
If you enjoy having the company of people, why don’t you invite someone to join you and read together once a week?
Take some time and think about what changes you can make to transform your reading time in something exciting, instead of having it feel like a chore. It doesn’t have to big a huge change; a few tweaks can transform the experience and help you develop the habit of reading.
Trust me, if I can climb on that elliptical every day, you can read more books.
A version of this article was originally published in Spanish on Medium.