In May 2020, I made a commitment to read for at least 10 minutes every day, and this challenge has had a big impact on my life. I have gained self-worth and perspective, I sleep better, and I feel overall happier and more productive.
I wanted to share this journey, and who knows, maybe inspire you to take a 🔥 challenge 🔥 of your own.
🔖 I created this Table of Contents using BitDownToc (GitLab preset, anchor prefix set to
<sub>heading-</sub>). If you are curious, read my article: Finally a clean and easy way to add Table of Contents to dev.to articles 🤩
I used to love reading when I was a kid and even started writing as a teenager. As I got interested in programming and spent more time on my computer, I found it increasingly difficult to pick up a book, until I stopped trying completely. I missed the feeling of being completely immersed in a story though and wanted to start reading again. But How? How can you (re)create a long-lost habit?
My 5 tips to create long-lasting habits
Based on my research, here is a summary of the most useful tips I found to challenge yourself the right way:
Set a specific and achievable goal (aka. start small). Avoid generic, new-year-resolution-like challenges such as "I will work out regularly". Instead, give yourself a very specific goal that is doable and easy to measure, for example, "I will go to the gym twice a week for an hour." This will help you stay focused and motivated.
Make it fun. To avoid burnout, try to make the habit enjoyable and varied. For example, go to the gym with friends or try different classes or locations to mix things up.
Keep things flexible. Don't be too rigid with your routine. If something comes up that hinders your progress, try to adapt and make adjustments rather than giving up entirely.
Monitor your progress. Being able to prove your achievements (or to be reminded of your failures 😉) is the best way to stay motivated. May it be a full-featured habit tracker app or simply an
Xmark on a calendar, as long as you have a way to "officialize" your progress.
Allow yourself some "get-out-of-jail" free cards. It's okay to miss your goal a few times. Don't beat yourself up over every small setback; you are human, it won't be perfect!
The terms of my reading challenge
I set myself the goal to read for at least 10 minutes every day. To keep it light, I only choose materials that I think I will enjoy, and don't perceive as work: literature, strange books, soft science fiction, ... No self-help and programming books! I try to vary as much as possible the genres, languages (French/English), authors, and lengths.
I have specific times in the day reserved for reading: before bed, in the loo, and during public transport - those weren't very productive times anyhow. Instead of watching videos, spending time on Reddit, or working on my computer, I now use that time to escape through imagination!
I track my reading habits thoroughly using different tools:
I start a timer every time I read using the Boosted app (one book = one task). Knowing that a clock is ticking helps me focus on the reading, and ignore distractions
I keep a list of books read (along with some notes) using a custom-made Android app called MyBooks, which saves the data as a JSON file in DropBox (I wouldn't remember half of the books I read without it 😆)
I maintain two lists on GoodReads: want-to-read and read
I publish all my stats online: https://derlin.github.io/reading-stats/. For the curious, I use Python to merge data from Boosted, MyBooks, and GoodReads, react to create the interface, and GitHub Pages for hosting. (The update is not fully automated yet, so there is a slight lag in the data)
I allow myself to skip a day once in a while, but keeping my stats out in the open helps me stay motivated: I don't want too many missing data points on my graphs 😏.
How is it going so far? Some statistics
I started the challenge on Monday, May 18th, 2020. By the end of 2022, I read about 39,359 pages (121 books) in 52,691 minutes, which is equivalent to 1 month, 5 days, 14 hours, and 11 minutes of non-stop reading.
My reading time has remained consistent over the years 😊, but I tend to use more and more get-out-of-jail-free cards 😬:
I read an average of 20 hours per month, with high peaks during the summer break:
Against all odds, I tend to read more consistently during the week, as I have my routine in place (I go to bed early and use more public transport):
See more at https://derlin.github.io/reading-stats/
How this challenge changed my life
In 2020, I struggled with sleeping and often felt unproductive and frustrated at the end of the day. My mind was constantly racing, and I couldn't seem to shut it off. I needed something to be proud of at the end of the day.
This challenge helped me on many levels. Reading before bed instead of watching a screen helped me fall asleep and eventually get rid of insomnia. Completing my challenge each day gave me something tangible to be proud of and helped me feel more confident. Keeping up with the habit showed me that I was capable of achieving something when I had the right tools and motivation. This really boosted my self-worth. Against all odds, I also became more productive: I largely compensate for the time I "lose" reading by being overall sharper, more focused, and happier.
Putting the whole "challenge" aside, reading by itself has many benefits. It improves my vocabulary, increases my knowledge, and boosts my critical thinking, analytical skills, concentration, and memory. It is an amazing stress reliever, as it allows me to escape, at least for a short while, from all my everyday worries. Reading has improved my empathy and social skills, allowing me to experience the world from other perspectives and forge new, more nuanced opinions. It also gives me something to talk about, especially when amongst regular (non-tech!) people 😉.
Reading is becoming even more important now that I spend more and more time on my computer (work, blog, personal projects, fitness in VR, ...). I believe having a few hobbies and habits outside of the tech bubble helps me keep my mind sharp and my motivation high. It is like a breath of fresh air that suddenly wakes me up and reminds me there is more than this nasty bug I can't stop thinking about!
I hope you also found something playing the role reading does in my life, and if not, I encourage you to start looking. It may change your life, as reading changed mine!