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How often have you heard somebody say, “Gosh, I just have so much extra time on my hands that I have no idea what to do with it”?
Pretty much never, right? These days, it seems like we’re so busy with the things we have to do, we can’t find time for the things we want to do – like read.
That’s a shame. Reading adds so much to life. And, especially for those of us in the years beyond 50, reading is important.
Reading helps keep our minds sharp but also elastic. Reading exposes us to new ideas and keeps us informed about changes in culture. Also, reading is an important form of relaxation, giving us a mental break when life becomes too chaotic.
WHY READ (APART FROM IT BEING AWESOME)? BECAUSE SCIENCE.
Lest you think I am pounding the drum about the benefits of reading because books are my business, it’s not just me. Scientific studies have backed me up – lots of them!
- A 2009 study at the University of Sussex in England showed that reading was a more effective means of combating stress than listening to music, taking a walk, or even that oh-so-British stressbuster, having a cup of tea. After just 6 minutes of reading, study participants experienced calmer heart rates and decreased muscle tension.
- A lifetime study of 294 participants whose average age at death was 89, published in the journal Neurology, found that people who engaged in mentally stimulating activities, like reading, experienced slower memory decline than people who didn’t.
- Can’t sleep? Many sleep experts recommend reading as a good way to settle your busy brain and let your body know that it’s time to sleep. However, it’s better to do your bedtime reading under a somewhat dim light. Bright lights – including those from electronic devices – tell your brain that it’s time to wake up.
- Research in the Netherlands has shown that people who read fiction actually experience greater empathy. It’s true! Reading novels makes you nicer! (But I always knew that, didn’t you?)
With a few adjustments to our mindset and habits, even busy, overwhelmed, overscheduled people can find time to read. Believe it or not, you do have time to read.
YOU DESERVE THIS
The first step in finding time to read more books is to declare to the universe that you deserve time for things you want to do, not just things you have to do. If you really want to do it, I’m convinced you can find at least a little for reading every day. Ten or fifteen minutes is probably enough time to read half to a whole chapter in most books. Over the course of a month, it’s enough time to read at least one book. Think about how great it would feel to end the year having read a dozen books. Think about all the characters you could meet and things you could learn from twelve really good books. You really do deserve this!
FINDING TIME IN THE CHINKS
A few years back, I saw a demonstration that helped me realize I was sitting on an untapped reservoir of time. Imagine a large, clear tube sitting on a table, like a big glass flower vase. Now imagine a bucket of wooden blocks – those ABC blocks we all played with as kids. Each block represents something big on your to do list – your commute, a project for work, a lunch meeting, a doctor appointment, etc. If you put one block into the tube for each activity, it looks pretty full. But is it? Now imagine you’ve got another bucket filled with gravel. The gravel represents all that little stuff you have to do – phone calls, errands, paying bills. Mentally pour that gravel into the tube. You can fit in quite a lot of gravel into the spaces between those big, chunky blocks. The tube is definitely full now, right? Nope. If you poured an imaginary pitcher of water into that tube, almost all of it would fit even though the tube looked like it was full. Water fills all the air pockets and empty space, the places I call chinks. Just as our imaginary tube of blocks and rocks has empty chinks, so our day has small but potentially useful chinks of time. That time can be used for all kinds of things, including reading.
FROM MINDLESS TO MEANINGFUL
I’m not saying you should never have time to just sit and do nothing. Believe me, I am a huge proponent of down time. In fact, I excel at it. But if you take a look at the chinks in your day, chances are you’ll realize that some of them are filled with mindless activity – the mental equivalent of junk food. How much more enjoyable and satisfying would it be to fill the chinks with something meaningful? Like reading? Answer: Hugely enjoyable and extremely satisfying. Here are a few tips to help transform the chinks in your day from mindless to meaningful by finding time to read more books.
SPEND LESS TIME WITH YOUR PHONE. OR MORE.
As an author, do you know who my biggest competitor is? It’s not other writers; it’s your phone. Just about everybody, including me, spends a lot of time staring into their phones these days. Though I haven’t done any scientific study on this, I bet about fifty percent of the chinks in our day are filled with phone time. I’d also bet that about fifty percent of that phone time is utterly meaningless. Ask yourself how many times a day do you really need to check into your Facebook feed? How much time do you really want to spend playing online games? Instead of investing another two hours getting to the next level of Candy Crush or watching videos of your cousin’s cat playing with a dust bunny, try turning off the phone (or at least the notification sounds) and pulling out a book. Or, if you really and truly love spending time with your phone, download a reading app and a couple of e-books. Most of us carry our phones with us everywhere, it’ll be easy to grab a few minutes of reading time while you’re waiting for someone else, on your lunch hour, etc. Reading on your phone is a great way to fill those chinks with meaning!
READ BEFORE BED
Much of my reading is done just before lights out, generally reading a single chapter from one of several books piled on my nightstand. It helps me settle my brain, relax my body, and get ready for sleep. Many people tell me they can’t read in bed because they fall asleep. But what’s bad about ten or fifteen minutes of reading followed by a good night’s sleep? Remember, those ten and fifteen minute chinks of time can add up to a whole book by month’s end. If you’re a TV watcher, ask yourself if that going to bed half an hour earlier might not be a better use of your time than a program you usually watch but don’t enjoy that much. (This, of course, does not include watching Victoria on PBS. Because it is fabulous. I’m just talking about the mediocre shows.)
MAKE A GOAL
If you love checking things off a list or reaching a goal, set a goal for the number of books you’d like to read this month or year. I’ve done this for years and it works. My minimum reading goal per month is one fiction and one non-fiction. Since instituting my reading goals, I am finding even more time for reading. Now I read about 50 books a year. To motivate you, here’s a few reading accessories that can take your book reading to the next level!
One of the most effective ways of making reading a priority is to start or join a book club. I’ll be talking more about that in a future post but participating in a book club can give a huge boost to your reading time and enjoyment. One of the great pleasures of a great book is sharing it with others. There’s no better place to do that than in a book club. Considering the many mental and physical benefits of reading, especially in the years beyond fifty, we really should make reading a priority. But the best reason to find time for reading is for the sheer pleasure of it. With all that you do for everyone else, you really deserve some time for the things you want to do – including reading. Not sure what to read next? Here’s a sweepstakes for a chance to win 25 perfect books for your next book club (including my latest!), a new e-reader, and ebooks just for entering! Enter to win here or click on image below!