Habits Take Time
Almost every morning of the workweek, I read for about 30 minutes to an hour. That’s after getting up, showering, hopefully making my bed, making and/or eating breakfast with Nick, and packing lunch for the day. (I do this all in my light pink terry cloth robe that I’ve had since high school. Just thought you needed to know just how much of an old lady I truly am.)
I do love a good morning routine, but reading used to not be a part of it. Actually, I took a long break from reading for a while, so incorporating a book into my breakfast time was difficult at first. But I’m so glad I did.
[Getting real: I read almost every morning of the workweek. This morning I wasn’t in the mood, so I decided to write about it instead.]
1. Reading replaces screen time
and thus filters your mind’s starting point each day.
The thing I know about habits (from reading The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg) is that to start a good one or to stop a bad one, replacement must be involved. I didn’t love that I used to spend an hour on social media (mindlessly) or watching TV (Saved by the Bell) every morning before work when I could’ve been doing X.
But to stop doing that, I had to find something else to do for that hour. Tangentially, I wanted to start reading more but felt like I didn’t have time for it. How silly is that? I also felt like I didn’t have “energy” for it. Mental energy, I suppose. I had taken such a break from reading that I felt like it required too much of my attention when I wanted my morning coffee-sipping time to be mindless and almost meditative.
What I didn’t realize is that reading brings me to that same place, too. It also is a deliberate focus of attention. With social media and TV (especially the news), your mind is at the whim of whatever natural disaster struck or executive order the president signed that day. This can sometimes set the tone for your mood the entire day. I truly believe our minds and hearts are more sensitive after waking up and before falling asleep, and this is when it pays the most to know what fuel, so to speak, on which your mind thrives the best.
Once I felt the difference in my mental state after an hour of reading versus an hour of screen time, the swap was easy (positive reinforcement).
2. Reading is to the mind
what exercise is to the body.
I wrote a whole post about this! And I’ve already touched on this concept above. Reading keeps the mind slick in ways that I can’t quite qualify or quantify here. But I’ll try.
It requires presence, focus, and thought: three things we usually actively avoid, like I had been doing under an erroneous assumption (that it required too much energy or effort). When you are aware that I just said that a giraffe walked into a bar, are you ruminating on the underhanded comment your boss said to you yesterday? No. You can’t focus on two things at once. When reading, you chose to give your reality-obsessed mind a break and to, instead, imagine an awkwardly lanky animal somehow entering an establishment with a liquor license. Well done!
So many people scoff at positive thinking or selective thought. But in my opinion, that’s what reading does. It’s a guided meditation, of sorts, away from the default and routine thoughts that hypnotize our identity every day and instead introduces if not new thoughts then at the very least a healthy distraction from them. Distraction allows spaces between you and your thoughts, the essential mantra of meditation.
3. Reading makes you a better person
in a host of ways that would take a lifetime to explain.
Well that escalated quickly. But I mean it. Think about this already: You’re replacing a less-than-desirable habit with reading. If you’re reading in the morning, then you’re limiting the randomness entering your attention for each start of the day. You’re giving yourself a dose of distraction from your default (and statistically mostly negative) thoughts. Those are all reasons to read that I’ve mentioned already.
What I haven’t mentioned is that each book is written by at least one person. Whether it’s fiction, nonfiction, or even a children’s picture book, you are now glimpsing into the mind of another human being. You’re seeing what that person worked to share, what they deemed important enough to publish. This is as close as you can get to stepping into someone else’s shoes, or perspective.
Even if you’re reading Mein Kampf (an autobiographical work by Adolf Hitler), you’re understanding someone who is inevitably quite different from you (hopefully so, in this very strange example). If you live in an area with a population of homogeneous socio-economic status, race, education level, and political views, then reading might be the closest thing you have to diversity. Exposure to diversity breeds empathy, and empathy is the antidote to fear; fear leads to hate, and hate leads to suffering. I am yoda. Just read, people. It helps you become less addicted to yourself. It’s a movie you get to direct in your mind. It gives you that integral pause to your automatic assumptions about the world. It teaches you things you didn’t know. It helps you know the difference between your and you’re. (I should’ve led with this.) It opens up your whole world.
Anyway. It’s time for me to go to work!
And just for fun, here’s that pink terry cloth robe: