How much do you read? In this digital age, you might need to ask for clarification. “Read what? Books? Magazines? Content on the web? Emails?” As many scholars today will explain, reading is about so much more than sitting in a chair and going through a book, one page at a time. Reading takes many forms, and that is both good and important.
There was a time in history when you were deemed literate if you could sign your name. Then it shifted to a definition of one who can read text on paper. From there it expanded to reading and writing text, typically on paper. Of course, in recent times, we understand reading and literacy in much broader terms. Literacy is shared or negotiated meaning making. There is visual literacy, media literacy, number literacy, civic literacy, information literacy, and a few dozen other ways that we think about reading, writing, listening, speaking, and meaning-making.
Is there anything particularly special or valuable about reading in the traditional sense, as in reading a book? There is plenty of research to indicate that the answer is “yes.” The research on daily or frequent reading reveals am impressive list of benefits:
- increased empathy and emotional intelligence,
- improved writing,
- cultural literacy,
- cognitive flexibility,
- a greater tolerance for ambiguity,
- reduced stress,
- the ability to concentrate on something for a longer period of time,
- actual changes and increased function in the brain,
- improved memory & recall,
- increased vocabulary,
- and an improved mental state similar to meditation that might even help stave off dementia.
If that long list isn’t a compelling enough case, consider the fact that daily or frequent reading is a habit of some of the most brilliant and influential people of the past and present. Check out this list of reading habits of people like Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg.
If you already embrace the habit of daily or frequent reading and enjoy the benefits, then this life experiment might not be for you. If you are someone who always wanted to get in the habit of reading more, or you are open to at least giving it a try, here is your chance.
Many experiments on this site are broken down by days, but this one is a 7 week challenge. Depending upon how much you read, it might be a stretch, but what do you have to lose?
This is a twofold challenge. First, you are going to read every day for 7 weeks. Second, and obviously related, you are going to read 7 books in 7 weeks. Here are the steps to get you started.
- First, take out your calendar and identify a 7-week time period that will work for this experiment. You will need to devote 20-30 minutes a day.
- Next, block of 20-30 minutes in the morning or at the end of each day for reading. Or, you can split it up, 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes at night. Actually put it in your calendar. If you use a calendar on your phone or computer, set a reminder. Some people might want to commit to reading during lunchtime, and that is fine. In my experience, that is a time that is more likely to get disrupted, but if it works for you, go for it.
- Now for the fun part. Pick out your books. I suggest identifying the 7 books in advance. Go with high interest texts, and save the War and Peace length texts for another time. In fact, it is not cheating to choose shorter books. It is more important to enjoy and savor than to find yourself rushing to hit your reading deadlines. Seek suggestions from people and curate this list as if you knew that you were going to be on a deserted island for the next 10 years, and these are the only sources of entertainment that you would have with you.
- Depending upon how quickly you read, you should be able to get through a 200 to 300 page book each week if you stick to this plan.
- As you go through the week, make it a goal of talking to at least a couple people about what you are reading that week, and/or set aside some time to journal about your experience.
- Treat this like an experiment, because it is an experiment. You are reading to enjoy the book, but to also explore how the habit of daily reading impacts your sense of well-being. That is where the reflection and journaling can help you take notice.
- Experiment with place. Some choose to read in bed, leaving the book on the end table as a reminder in the morning or evening. Others might do the same, leaving the book by the morning coffee machine. Grab your book and coffee at the same time. Or, others enjoy finding special places to read outside. Experiment.
- If you miss a time or get behind on your goal, no worries. This is a no-guilt challenge. Consider dropping one book from your list of 7, maybe even two. Or, add a week to the challenge.
- With that said, the regular habit of reading is what you are exploring here, so it is best to read daily, even if you can only read a paragraph or two on some days.
- At the end of weeks 2, 5, and 7; set aside extra time to write some some of your lessons. Do you notice any differences about yourself from the beginning to now? What are you learning? What are you learning about yourself? Do you experience any of the benefits listed above?
- As you finish the experiment, this is a great time to decide whether you want to make daily reading an ongoing habit. It might simply be the commitment to read a paragraph, a few pages, or for a few minutes. The regular time set aside for daily reading is the most important part.