Until 2016, my reading habit was practically non-existent.
I have written in previous blog posts about how the ever-growing number of distractions, online and offline, affected my focus. It has been a constant challenge to cut these out and I hacked a few methods that actually worked. For instance, I wrote here about how we stopped reading newspapers and watching news channels. Both of them are, in my opinion, are absolute emotional drains. I still consume news but I control the how and what I read. I now only read local news, with an occasional scroll through a global news site or aggregator, couple of times a day. It has greatly improved my mood and I also thankfully find myself woefully ill-informed, which, in turn, means I am out of vitriolic debates in Whatsapp groups.
But, there is an another habit that has had a higher impact – reading long-form books. Growing up, my summer holidays were filled with mom supplying me with an infinite supply of comic books and Enid Blyton-isque novels. She used to pick these up at a bargain, those days, from booksellers near the bus stops. Even when school started, I hardly recollect a time when I was without a library subscription. My favourite memory of reading goes something like this – go to library, pick up the latest Archie comic book , hit the new, fancy popcorn shop, carry it all back and consume it all in one sitting; the book and the popcorn. As I grew up and grew out, starting some time in early 2000s, I think I essentially stopped reading any books, save for a few books every year, that came highly recommended.
I began reading in 2016 again because of a few things. Firstly, I think I was finally bored of instant gratification media. Gaming, Reddit, TV, Social Media all vied to keep my attention by bombarding me every second with some brand new content that had to be consumed. This got stale and exhausting fairly quickly.
Secondly, I switched to public transport to avoid the stressful traffic in Bengaluru. On the ultra-local trains that ran from Cantonment to Whitefield, I began reading War and Peace , looking as odd, yet strangely fitting, among the assortment of objects the train used to transport – vegetable bags, toolkits, real estate agents, farmers, software workers, working women, government workers, excited kids, folks who could (and did) sleep wherever they could. It is surprising how effective the setting influenced this so much. Vainly enough, I considered myself immune to things around me but the act of sitting in a moving, rocking train served as the ideal accelerator for this habit. Over time, buses and Metro trains replaced this as commutes changed.
Finally, though, as is true for most habits, I stuck with it because I wholeheartedly enjoyed reading. It helped that I resumed this habit with what has to be one of the greatest works of literature but even so, there is so much joy on discovering narratives that slowly unfold. Black characters over a white space that suddenly transform to provide an unexpected chuckle, a moment of introspection or even, profundity. There is no instant payout here, though. But, that makes it worths its while even further.
A newer hack that has worked me has been the idea of “gamifying” my reading habit. To break a recent bout of phone-aided distraction, I set myself a challenge of reading a meagre 20 pages a day, for at least 200 days this year (2019). I can report that in a period of 4 months, I have now completed 9 books, over a reading period of 135 days. It has absolutely worked wonders for me. Like with all my habit-(breaking or making)- initiatives, I use the nifty HabitBull app to keep me honest. It has now got to a stage that I have rediscovered the pleasure of reading, solely for reading’s sake. It is brilliant.