Making a Start
I’m not an avid reader, although I’d like to be. I’m also not an avid writer, although I’d like to be. Creating a habit around these two things is part of a recent self-improvement strategy that I’ve (so far) successful put in place. I’ve been using the app Streaks to track my progress and haven’t missed a day of reading in weeks. This is also my 4th article on my blog this month. I owe part of this current success to a chance visit to a bookshop.
Finding a Bookshop
On a recent shopping trip to a local mall I made a stop at this bookshop with only curiosity as my goal. Most of the books I do read are online recommendations which I buy on Amazon, so a bookshop visit was a rarity (something I’m determined to change). The immediate serenity you feel walking into a bookshop is meditative, especially when juxtaposed against the hustle of a shopping centre.
My usual reading categories are self-help, lifestyle and almost always non-fiction. I’m very active on ‘Tech’ and ‘Productivity’ Twitter, and naturally come across most of my reads there.
This bookshop is split down the middle with fiction and non-fiction on opposite sides. I’ll admit now that I didn’t spend any time on the non-fiction side – the joy of fiction is mostly lost on me. What I did do, was spend close to an hour walking through categories like ‘history’, ‘biographies’ and ‘local interest’ – sections I would not be visiting online.
Bookshops are very good at drawing your eye to the books they want you to see, either by stacking up tables or facing a cover towards you among a sea of spines. It feels acceptable to stand with book in hand for as long as you need. Like choosing a goldfish in a pet shop, you must become well acquainted before making the leap of taking them home.
The Joy of Small Things
You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, as the saying goes – but you can judge the cadence of a book from its first few pages. Yes you can download samples to your kindle, but the feeling of previewing a physical book in a real brick & mortar shop cannot be replicated online. After skimming through four or five books I had never heard of, I picked up ‘The Joy of Small Things‘ by Hannah Jane Parkinson – which is where this journey begins.
‘The Joy of Small Things’ is a collection of short-stories selected from Parkinson’s Guardian column. Each story is between 400 and 500 words. This isn’t a review of the book other than, “it’s great, read it” – this is how I found the perfect book to create a habit.
At the end of August I was re-reading ‘Atomic Habits‘ by James Clear and was also preparing for a month long sobriety in September. As I mentioned at the top of this article, I started using the app Streaks to track my progress. There is a chapter in ‘Atomic Habits’ that talks about the act of habits and how once you begin, you will never regret starting. For example, the hardest part of exercising is putting on your workout clothes. The most profound idea that came out of this book was – the one minute rule. If I can’t do something for one minute a day, then I’m never going to be able to do it.
One Minute Rule
With the one minute rule in mind, I applied this to my new daily habits:
- Exercise for 1 minute
- Read 1 page
- Journal for 1 minute
Breaking these good habits into bitesized chunks has made them accessible and less daunting. My exercise routine is to do a 12 minute HIIT workout as soon as I get out of bed in the morning. I’ve managed to do this most mornings but when I didn’t (especially on Weekends), I had the one minute workout to fallback on. Even doing a minute of squats whilst brushing my teeth before bed counts.
I appreciate that 60 seconds of exercise is going to do little for my body, but the act of keeping that daily routine does wonders for me mentally. The gamification of habits also means the more days I complete, the less likely I am to want to break my streak.
So where does this fit in with my new book? The one minute rule can be translated into the one ‘something’ rule, in this case the one page rule. Exercising for a minute is easier than reading one page because exercise has an ending, reading the first page of a new chapter leaves you in a limbo state. You’ll more than likely find yourself starting the same chapter over again the next day – read, repeat, read, repeat (limbo).
With ‘The Joy of Small Things’ I had found a book where every chapter is readable in ~1 minute. Like my analogy of putting on your workout clothes, picking up a book is the hardest part of reading. In the 70 chapters I’ve read so far, I’ve never read just a single story, it has always been multiple chapters. I don’t always reach for ‘The Joy of Small Things’; this book is my backup book for when I don’t feel like reading. Like my brushing teeth squats, Hannah Jane Parkinson’s book is there to get my habit ticked off. Safe for another day.
The Future of Good Habits
Will I need a one page per chapter book forever, just to keep me on track? Maybe!
On average, it takes more than 2 months before a new behavior becomes automatic — 66 days to be exact. And how long it takes a new habit to form can vary widely depending on the behavior, the person, and the circumstances. In Lally’s study, it took anywhere from 18 days to 254 days for people to form a new habit.Atomic Habits – James Clear
For now I’m sticking with what works. After I’ve finished ‘The Joy of Small Things’, I’ve got JB Priestley’s ‘Delight‘ lined up – another one minute chapter read. After that, who knows.
James Clear also teaches about habit stacking in his book. The idea that one habit can lead to another. These small exercise and reading habits are almost insignificant by themselves but combined with other habits can create a lasting lifestyle shift.
On that mention of journalling for one minute – I can’t be perfect just yet! 👀
My Current Reading List
I prefer a paperback to a Kindle, but I have both. They each have their place. Kindle’s are great for nighttime reading when others are trying to sleep. Paperbacks work for almost every other scenario. Hardbacks live up to their name, hard to read. This is the list of books I currently have on the go:
- The Joy of Small Things – Hannah Jane Parkinson (Paperback)
- The Obstacle is the Way – Ryan Holiday (Kindle)
- Company of One – Paul Jarvis (Paperback)
- Delight – JB Priestley (Hardback)
- Maybe another Bookshop find
- Recommendations welcome