Damn, it tears me up. There are so many books. And so little time. Abysmal oceans of literary gems are all around us at our disposal. And yet, we can’t take full advantage because we either dismiss the importance of reading or hold bad reading habits.
I got some secrets I forgot to mention. In my post on good reading habits. I’ve listed best practices on how to improve your relationship with books and the act of reading. Thus, digest more bricks of knowledge so you can gradually go beyond the current range of your limits.
But as smart folks tend to say, “Expect the best, prepare for the worst.”
Besides holding a list of good habits when it comes to reading books – and in general. It helps to understand what are some common bad reading habits.
Though I read quite a lot. I often fall victim to poor reading habits myself.
So don’t worry if you diagnose yourself as a bad reader. A slow reader. Or a reader who is not quite sure how he ever manages to finish a book.
We all do badly sometimes.
The point is to not let perfection reign over progress.
You might not understand every concept mentioned in the book. You might not read every book you want to read. You might even fall asleep while you read – we all do it from time to time.
But the main things that lead to poor reading habits are quite different.
I explore my observation below:
9 Bad Reading Habits and How To Overcome Them:
Saying Yes to More Books
If you are saying yes to yet another book. Even though you are already at capacity. Or, if you find the current book – or books – boring. This leads to a number of complications.
Firstly, you never really finish anything. You accumulate a backlog of books that eventually fully evaporate from your memory – i.e., the forgetting curve.
Secondly – which is kind of more important – you further reinforce the evil force residing inside us. Pulling us towards temptations and quick wins. The so-called immediate gratification.
Sure, probably this new book that was just announced looks better than the ones you’re currently reading. But it’s way better to complete the book and then start a new one. And by the way, completing a book doesn’t always mean reading it from cover to cover. You can skim it and quit it if you don’t think that there’s something worthwhile for you inside. (You can read more about this in my how to read more books post).
Inability to decide which book to read might lead to not reading anything at all.
It’s complicated, I know.
As noted, there are thousands of books out there and only one you. It’s hard to sift through all of them and decide which one is the best one.
But look at it from another perspective. Are you reading to finish a book, or are you reading to learn?
Even bad books have good things inside. And even a bad book is something relative.
Some people find Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance tedious. Others, like me, find it amazingly colorful. A read that serves as a great introduction to philosophy and highlights the importance of producing quality work.
When thinking about which book to read. Don’t focus so much on the individual title. Think more about the topic you want to master. This will never happen by reading just one title. But multiple. So, it’s better to start from somewhere instead of over-thinking which one is the best.
Not Scheduling Time to Read
Deciding when to read is a major part of reading books.
You can’t read books if you don’t plan to read books.
It’s so obvious.
But we often neglect this part of the reading process.
We focus more on buying books than on reading them.
Well, the act of buying feels better. It reinforces the person you want to become.
For example, say you want to start a business. The first thing you’ll probably do is to purchase the titles considered as best for starting a business. Once you have them delivered. You feel good. It feels like you are making progress. After all, you just got a handful of knowledge delivered to your doorstep. But is this enough to become an online store owner? Surely not.
Schedule enough time for reading. And be realistic about it. Few people have the luxury to read 2 or 3 hours per day. But almost anyone can read for at least 30 minutes per day.
Daydreaming. Mind-wandering. Call it whatever you like.
When you are thinking about a subject other than that on the page before you. You are not making any progress with the book itself.
Daydreaming refers to our inability to fully concentrate on the meaning the author aims to convey. Sure, your eyes might be following the printed words. But your mind might be doing something else entirely. You move through the text, but you are not fully consuming the text. You are thinking about a different subject – not related to the book.
And yes, it’s important to let your mind wander around based on what you’ve just read. But daydreaming as a bad reading habit refers to thinking about topics unrelated to the book – something related to your job, or to your next travel, for example.
How to battle this?
Keep a journal beside you and write down the emerging thoughts that are different from the topic of the book. This will allow you to tackle them after you’re done with your reading session.
Another simple trick is to do a pomodoro – the famous pomodoro technique. Simply put, you schedule to read for 25 minutes and reward yourself with 5 minutes of rest.
I’m sure that you’ve experienced the following:
You are in the process of reading a book. Suddenly, you find yourself at the end of the page. To your surprise, though, you don’t recall anything from the last 4 paragraphs. Either because you’re daydreaming – the point above – or because of careless reading. So, you go back to reread the 4 paragraphs, thinking that this second time will be somehow different.
What usually happens is that the second reading shares the faults of the first.
As you can imagine. This is quite an inefficient way to read.
You are basically spinning your wheels.
Here, don’t confuse rereading a phrase simply because you want to think about it more – this is a worthwhile practice. Rereading here means lack of concentration and carelessness.
The solution is similar to the one mentioned about daydreaming. In addition, it’s also good to consider blocking all external distractions.
Clue Blindness is our tendency to bravely ignore the author’s hints.
For instance, not fully reading titles, subtitles, or captions related to extra components on the page – illustrations, charts, etc.
We either do this because we focus more on finishing the book or because we are not fully concentrated on the text.
A simple practice to consider as aid is finger following.
Basically, you use your finger to guide your eyes over the print.
Our eyes can move quite fast through the page. And while this can be a good thing, it can also lead to being all over the place. Your finger will give your eyes a direction.
Monotonous plodding means that we tend to read at the same speed regardless of the current text.
However, not everything in the books carries the same level of importance.
We should move faster during easy sections and slow down to fully grasp the hard-to-understand concepts.
For instance, if you happen to love reading psychology books. You will surely find a lot of books mentioning the marshmallow experiment. When you’ve read it 2, 3 times. You can probably speed up when you stumble upon the same experiment another time.1 However, slow down for new concepts.
Whispering the words while you read them slows you down when you read. This happens because you start reading at the speed you talk, not the speed you think.
Vocalizing happens also when you hear the words in your mind and you focus on the words themselves – on the sound. Not on the meaning they are supposed to represent.
Something I use personally to battle this is listening to classical music while I read. You can try with other tunes, but it’s important to play music without vocals because you’ll try to concentrate both on the song and on the material in the book.
This means poor vocabulary. You pause every time you encounter an unfamiliar word.
These slight pauses may seem negligible loss of time. However, if such delays are repeated on every page. They add up and slow you down.
Another variation of word blocking is work analysis.
This concept is slightly different. You pause on passages to figure out the deep meaning of the text. And while this is necessary to understand what is written. It can become a bad reading habit if you stop to analyze every bit of information.
For instance, even rewarded professors have a hard time understanding famous philosophy books. There is not often a clear definition of the term given from the outset. But should you sit and battle with the current definition for hours? Not at all.
A suggestion for difficult text is skimming through the page first – the entire chapter if needed. And then, practice focused reading.
An initial walkthrough gives you a sense of the shape of what the author is trying to say. Once you skim, you can go back through the text in greater detail.2
Some Closing Thoughts
What else besides these 9 bad reading habits?
Not taking the time to self-evaluate.
To improve your reading life, is helpful to stop and ask yourself: “What are the probable poor reading habits that slow me down, and which habits predominate?”
Only when you understand what prevents you from finishing books. You can take steps to correct your bad reading habits.
Personally, what prevented me from finishing books in the past was not blocking time to read. I assumed that I’ll find time but this rarely happened.
As I wrote in my post on How Many Days Does It Take to Form a Habit. We usually don’t specify time for certain activities because we don’t think that these activities are important enough.
When you start valuing reading and learning more than, say, social media and watching shows. Only then you’ll embrace books and spent more time with them.
If you want to further improve your relationship with books. Check out my post about before, during, and after reading activities.
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- If you’re unfamiliar with the marshmallow experiment. You can check the gist in my post on what is delayed gratification.
- Portions of the bad reading habits were based on the following research paper: Purcell, J. W. (1963). Poor Reading Habits: Their Rank Order. The Reading Teacher, 16(5), 353–358. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20197653