New Year, New Reading Goals

by Grace Mattsen

It is the time of year when I find myself hungry for reinvention. Each January I firmly resolve to go on walks everyday, or start listening to political podcasts, or learn to play the guitar, because this is finally the time when, like the changing of the year, I too can be irrevocably altered. The same thought occurred to me in 2022 after committing to Emerson College as a Writing, Literature, and Publishing major that would soon become swept away by a world of intellect and literature. While admittedly in high school I rarely read for fun, I decided that would change in the second half of senior year. Thirty books in a year, I reasoned, was a healthy amount  without being overwhelming for a very casual reader. After setting my Goodreads goal and committing to it, by the end of the year I read forty books. To some this may not seem like many—child’s play for the one-hundred plus club—but to me, it was proof of passion. Now two years and ninety-eight books into my reading journey, I encourage others to undertake the challenge of reading more frequently. Reading opens minds to new experiences and introduces readers to characters who will live with them for a lifetime. The prospect of reading more, reading a lot even, may seem daunting, but there are ways to make it an enjoyable experience. 

Perhaps the most common question I receive from people who do not read often is: “how do you have time to read?”. Though it is more likely I hear a defensive rebuttal to my recommendations: “I just never have the time to read”. For many people the lack of time is an entirely valid reason; they simply may not have time for reading, however that was the thinking that I fostered before I decided to put genuine effort into reading. It is comforting to know that you can change your thinking, and that changed thinking can then change actions to create habits. For people who are embracing the challenge of reading more there are ways to incorporate reading into everyday life without it feeling like a burden. The three methods I recommend to help interested readers read more frequently include setting goals, habit stacking, and romanticizing the act of reading. I have used a combination of these methods to increase the volume that I read and to ensure that this hobby has positive effects. 

Setting a reasonable goal can get readers started on a path to finishing more books. On the first day of January I set my goal on my Goodreads account which tracks my progress throughout the year so I can see all the books I have read and the percent of my challenge I have completed. For me, this goal and the enjoyment I get from reading is enough to keep me reading, but that is not always the case. Sometimes external reminders make all the difference. Asking your roommate to remind you to read, setting up sticky notes around your dorm, implementing screen limits on your phone can help create a lasting habit that allows you to meet your goal. Having a goal and imagining the gratification of completing this goal inspires me to put down my phone and pick up a book, but perhaps I am just competitive with myself. 

Finding time to read for fun can be incredibly challenging! After a long day of classes, homework, work, and extracurriculars all anyone wants to do is lay in bed and turn off their brain, and that is ok. Though to get in the habit of reading, I recommend the method of habit stacking. Habit stacking refers to adding onto pre-existing habits rather than trying to create a new one. For example if you brush your teeth and wash your face every night, try reading for ten minutes before doing these tasks. Then you can get in the habit of reading for ten minutes, brushing your teeth, and washing your face. By adding on to existing habits you are not disrupting the flow of your routine, but lengthening it. Stacking habits helps to develop new behaviors that can be difficult to stick to on their own; as the additional habit becomes normal and expected, you can spend more time doing it and the habit becomes easier to incorporate into different parts of the day. 

Lastly, to embrace this new habit, I recommend leaning into the romanticization of reading. Attaching an idealized image to the concept of reader and the act of reading can be seen as superficial or false, but it can also create a desire to read more. That is not to say that owning a thousand books all with gorgeous covers on a fancy mahogany built-in bookshelf makes you more of a reader than owning zero books; rather the proliferation of books as an aesthetic might make reading more appealing because it appears trendy. The images on Pinterest and Instagram and videos on TikTok set to whimsical music connote a romanticized message that tells viewers that if they too read, then one day they could own as many books or find as much pleasure in reading as the content creator does. Engaging with online book communities on Instagram and through podcast listening has made me a more passionate reader because I feel more connected to other readers and inspired by their successes. Surrounding yourself with other readers and people who are passionate about literature will likely help you become more interested. 

This is all to say that if you are wanting to read more this year, it is possible! Whether you want to read two books or two hundred, there are habits you can make and new ideas you can embrace to help you achieve your goals. Maybe you aren’t even interested in quantifying your reading, and instead you want to be more intentional about the authors and topic you read, which is also a great way to find the books and content that interests you the most. In the new year, I hope you can find the books and communities that allow you to find comfort and joy in reading!

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