I had the pleasure of coaching fellow coach, Cari Silver last week. And this is what she wanted to work on. She wanted to read more. Seems a simple thing to achieve, right?
But there is something going on with reading.
I’ve experienced it a lot over the last year and I’ve heard friend and clients about it a lot.
“I wish I could read more but I just can’t”
“I’ve lost my reading mojo”
“There’s nothing I’d like more than curling up with a good book, but I just can’t seem to do it”
Like Cari, I also want to read more, not just for pleasure but because it would be useful for my career. Expanding my mind through texts on wellbeing, psychology, neuroscience, human behaviour, creativity and so on will actually improve my ability as a coach and as a producer which will result, indirectly, in a more successful career. I’ve been doing better in recent months to make time for it, but it still feels like one of those things that is first to fall off the list.
I find reading really enjoyable, though so why, then, does it feel so damn hard to carve out time for it?
Our current state of affairs seems at odds with this particular activity. Our distracted minds seem to be struggling to carve out the peace and quiet to just simply read. Do nothing else, just read.
Maybe, like some of the more morally outraged Edwardians in the past, it feels an indulgent or lazy activity. Or maybe, and this is the one I think is the issue for me, that we can’t switch off when our phones are shouting at us from across the room. “Check me!” they scream. “Check me or miss out!”. I so often give in and spend wasted hours doom scrolling or switching off whilst looking at different memes of Bernie’s Mittens.
Not that Bernie’s Mitten memes is doom scrolling. No, that’s a joyful thing which lifts my heart. But other than that… you get the point…
In The Art of Rest by Claudia Hammond, Reading comes out as the top restful activity in her Rest Test. Which is curious as reading does demand quite a bit from our brain:
“We read the letters. We form words with them. We take meaning from those words. We relate that meaning to what we’ve read before. We reach into our memories. We create images in our minds. We mentally simulate the action, the sights and the sounds of the scenes. Meanwhile we use what psychologists refer to as ‘theory of mind’ to inhabit the characters’ minds in order to understand their motivations, to imagine their thoughts, to feel their feelings”
So it requires a bit of work.
But, unlike watching Netflix or scrolling along, “we can read a book at our pace and in our own way. This means we can take control of the emotions we’re experiencing”
In our world where we are bombarded with an onslaught of emotional baggage, this feels so amazingly appealing. Taking back control. That’s a tricky phrase in world politics right now, but actually, internally taking back control of how we chose to process emotions feels like a very good thing to do indeed.
So how? How can we read more?
Back in the coaching session with Cari, she was exploring just that. Through some careful thought, she decided that to cultivate a daily reading practice it should be approached just like exercise or something else that we need to make time for as it’s important for our health and wellbeing. She recognised that it might be hard, so her solution was to define just 20 minutes a day when she would set a timer and read. Planning would be important, to reduce the indecision of what to read when the time came.
After our coaching call, I was reflecting on this. I found the content of our coaching journey really inspiring, like so many I’ve been privileged to experience. But I also found myself inventing the story that a timer would kill all the joy out of it. That it wasn’t for me. Before that story started to set in my mind, I caught it, like a snowflake floating to the earth… I grabbed it in my hand before it settled. And I questioned it.
I knew that trying to read more would be hard. So why not approach it with the same discipline and willpower that gets me on the yoga mat most mornings, or stops me from eating all the crisps? With that frame, the timer seems like a prudent course of action.
That very evening, having just received a recommended book in the post, I did it. I set that timer and I read. The next morning I did it again. And then part way through the afternoon, I carved out another 20 minutes.
I loved it.
Something I had instinctively dismissed as “not for me” worked. What else might be on that list? What else might I have struck off as not my thing which might actually serve me well? A whole heap of stuff, I’m sure.
By the end of the weekend I was ¾ of the way through that book. Not a great book, but an interesting one. One that was giving me pause for thought, expansion of ideas and yes, definitely one which will help me both in life and work. So I was doing it!
As simply as that, I’ve brought reading back up my list of priorities and it feels great. Now the real work begins in making it a habit.
Without other avenues of inspiration currently available to me, for example, I always feel so inspired wandering through an art gallery, reading is a readily available way to feel that fizz of ideas sparking and daydreams forming. As Claudia Hammond says, “reading allows us to rest by changing the nature of our mind wandering. It seems to take us away from rumination, from the repeated thought patterns about what’s wrong. And even if we do daydream while we read at least it helps us to daydream afresh”.
Oh yes. I’ll have a slice of that daydream cake please! Twenty minutes at a time.