March is National Reading Month, a time to motivate Americans of all ages to read daily. Fiction, memoir, sci-fi, graphic novels – people usually have a genre they like to read the most.
There are many benefits to reading besides personal enjoyment. Reading improves comprehension and analytical abilities, increases imagination, and boosts memory.
Read More Fiction
You don’t need to read only nonfiction for mental benefits. Fiction has its own health advantages and there are also indications that reading fiction may provide far more benefits than nonfiction. Research in neuroscience suggests that reading literary fiction helps people develop empathy, theory of mind, and critical thinking. (HBR) Reading nonfiction is undoubtedly valuable for collecting knowledge, but fiction predicts increased social abilities and empathy by getting absorbed in a story. (Psychology Today)
Reading regularly is essential to mental health. Some research shows reductions in depression symptoms persisting months later in adults. Thirty minutes of reading can lower blood pressure, heart rate, and stress. (Healthline) It can also help prepare you for a good night’s rest.
These benefits are not just for the younger crowd. People over 50 who read regularly had a 20% reduction in mortality and age-related cognitive decline compared to those who didn’t read. (Harvard Health)
While I read a lot of fiction in my 20s and 30s, that slowed down dramatically once I married and had children. The only fiction I was reading for those years was children’s fiction! Once we began homeschooling, I read the classics along with my boys. That was the jolt I needed to start a new love for fiction.
Plan Your Reading
Tracking my reading helps keep my selection more diverse, leading to more reading enjoyment. Using an app such as Goodreads has been an excellent aid in tracking the books I have read and creating a list of what I want to read next.
Is having a reading plan essential to just . . . read? Even for those who read purely for relaxation and enjoyment, keeping track of what you read will help you read more of what you want during the year.
8 Ways to Meet Your Reading Goals
If you had grand expectations for reading this year and are off to a disappointing start, don’t worry! Here are 9 ways you can meet your reading goals this year:
1. Record your reading.
Just like any other goal, you are more likely to meet it when it is written down. You can do this in a couple ways:
- Join the Goodreads Reading Challenge from your Goodreads profile. Scan each book as you begin reading (or use the search bar to find the title), adding it as “currently reading” When you record it as finished, it will automatically be added to your reading goal.
Did you know that over 5 million people are part of the 2023 Goodreads Reading Challenge? If you are a participant in this year’s challenge, share in the comments how many books you pledged to read this year!
- Grab an old-school notebook or journal and list each book and the date completed. Keep it straightforward or detailed as you wish. You could also include the genre, rating, and other notes.
2. Create a designated time.
Setting a time of the day and/or a day of the week to read will help with success. If we only fit in reading when we find time, distractions or that annoying to-do list will inevitably win.
I read for 45 minutes to an hour each morning before the rest of the household starts moving around. I am not disappointed if I miss a morning because of an appointment or other activity because I already have reading time scheduled for the next day.
If you can only schedule your reading once during the week or on the weekend, set that time in stone. Don’t allow anything to creep into that time slot. Consider it your appointment for weekly self-care.
3. Pick a place and setting.
I applaud if you can plop down anywhere with a good read and quickly become absorbed! Unfortunately, some of us can be distracted easily – squirrel! – and having a designated spot away from interruptions is necessary.
If you don’t have a restful, quiet place to read, make that your first mission. Carve out a niche in your home just for you: a spot without family traffic, a reading light, and a comfortable chair. Add an ottoman and a side table to hold a cup of coffee or drink, a snack, and a stack of books. In the winter, have a soft, warm throw nearby. Add a portable speaker or Google Mini to play music – if that works. I have a lightly scented candle, a reading journal, a highlighter, and a back pillow in my space.
3. Select five books.
TBR is a popular acronym for your to-be-read list, those books you already own (physical or digital), or other titles you want to read. Sometimes that list can be long, so don’t let it discourage you!
Start by selecting just five titles. Just five. Spend a couple minutes scanning your bookshelves. What book have you always intended to read, or was your last purchase? Did a friend recommend and gift you a bestseller? Grab these books and set them next to your new reading spot.
4. Switch up genres.
Maybe you have plenty to read but feel you choose the same type of book repeatedly. Try listening to a book talk podcast for ideas, such as What Should I Read Next? with Anne Bogel. With the wide variety of guests on her show, the discussions and book descriptions helped me create a “sublist” of books that usually wouldn’t have even been on my radar.
5. Try a different format.
For the longest time, I was a physical book “traditionalist” and rarely read from my Kindle app. When libraries closed because of COVID-19, I had to rethink how I would get my reading fix! I certainly couldn’t purchase every book I wanted to read, so I turned to the Overdrive/Libby app and Kindle Unlimited/Prime Reading for digital books.
If you are also a book traditionalist like me, you may find it hard to move to digital reading. I encourage you to try it – especially if you can access books that meet your reading goals. Ask your local library how to sign up for their online digital book program. There are also plenty of places online to get free or cheap eBooks.
Audiobooks count! The Libby app offers many audiobooks. You can read while in the car, working out, spending time working outdoors, or just resting your eyes and listen instead of reading.
6. Give yourself permission to quit.
This doesn’t mean quitting your reading goals! If you pick up a book and it becomes tedious and tiresome after a few chapters, stop. It may not be the book for you, or it could be that it just isn’t the right time for that particular book. Shelve it and pick up the next from your stack. Don’t worry. You didn’t fail because you quit a book. You just needed to find a new relationship.
7. Create accountability
It may be easy to grant yourself permission to read and do it well independently. Still, you may also like some accountability to keep it exciting. Here are some ideas:
Join a book club. See if there is a book club in your neighborhood. If not, search for a Facebook group, or reach out to your local library, community center, or literary society for offerings. Having book friends will motivate you to try new genres, and the discussions can be lively and fun!
Find other online challenges. There are two challenges I can recommend. One is Anne Bogel’s reading challenge, accessible on her blog, Modern Mrs. Darcy. Her free, six-page Reading Challenge Kit has guided questions to determine what you want to get from your reading life. Then, you “walk through a simple process to create your personalized list of 12 Reading Challenge prompts, tailor-made to your needs.”
Another recommendation is the annual reading challenge through the Unread Shelf Project with Whitney Conard. Sign up at her website to get her monthly challenge emails and access to other helpful printables for the challenge.
Recently I found a Reading Challenge by Gospel eBooks, a site that posts daily book bargains in the Christian genres. This challenge is to help diversify your reading by giving you monthly challenges and other opportunities to earn points. You can use it as a self-challenge or use it in a book club or other group for fun. There is a free printable to download with directions and the many challenges.
8. Reward yourself.
Of course you can reward yourself for reading! Why not pick out something for yourself as a reward for completing a challenge, concluding that 500-page megabook, or finishing a book in a new genre outside of your comfort zone. A reward could be a new candle or a favorite snack for your next reading time. You could also set aside a monetary reward for each book read, with the prize the purchase of a newly released book by a favorite author.
And reading is a reward! When I become engrossed in a good book, it is difficult to set it down when I need to complete specific daily tasks. Instead, I designate a time to pick up the book again, but only when my to-do list is finished. Nothing is better than reading without guilt!
This article was originally posted on my blog at Muses of a Mom, but has been republished here for the reader, along with more information and updates.