James Clear is an author and speaker focused on habits, decision-making, and continuous improvement. His bestseller, Atomic Habits, focuses on reshaping the way you think about progress and success and gives you the tools and strategies you need to transform your habits. For more from James in his own words, read our interview with James Clear or start reading an excerpt of Atomic Habits here.
Charlie Munger, the business partner of Warren Buffett and a billionaire himself, once noted, “In my whole life, I have known no wise people (over a broad subject matter area) who didn’t read all the time—none. Zero. You’d be amazed at how much Warren reads—and how much I read. My children laugh at me. They think I’m a book with a couple of legs sticking out.”
For anyone interested in earning more money or accumulating wisdom, developing a reading habit is a crucial task. In my latest book, Atomic Habits, I lay out a simple four-step framework for building better habits. I refer to these steps as The Four Laws of Behavior Change, and in this article, I’ll share ten simple and easy ways to use these laws to get in the habit of reading more books.
The 1st Law: Make Reading Obvious
Many of our habits and behaviors are simply reactions to the cues and prompts that fill our external environment. You eat a cookie because you see a plate of them sitting on the counter. You play video games because the controller is sitting in the middle of the living room floor. The goods news is you can use this tendency to your advantage by making more obvious the cues that spark your reading habits.
1. When you make your bed each morning, place a book on your pillow. Add this little step to your morning routine: Wake up—make bed—place book on pillow. This is an easy way to prime your environment for future reading. When you crawl in bed at night, there will be a book waiting for you in an obvious location, reminding you to read a few pages.
2. Move reading apps like Audible, Kindle, or Pocket to the home screen on your phone. It’s not just the physical environment that prompts your habits, but also the digital spaces you inhabit. Try this for a few weeks: move all the social media, games, and other distractions off your home screen and put them in a folder a few swipes away. Then, move any reading apps to the most obvious location on the screen. Now you’ll be prompted to read more whenever you open your phone.
3. Create a sacred place to read. Habits are all about associations. In many cases, your behavior is tied to a particular context or situation. For example, in your brain, the couch might be associated with the habit of watching Netflix. If you try to read while sitting on the couch, you might naturally feel yourself gravitating toward the remote control. It’s what you naturally do in that location.
You can help curtail these distractions by creating a sacred space or location that’s only for reading. Maybe you designate a reading chair in the corner of the room, or select a coffee shop near work where you turn off your phone before you walk in and only read a book while you’re there. The more you repeat the habit of reading (and nothing else) in a single location, the more you’re conditioned to act a certain way in that particular place.
The 2nd Law: Make Reading Attractive
Habits are more likely to occur when they seem attractive and desirable. Here are a few ways to increase the desirability of reading books:
4) Talk about books with your friends. It sounds simple, but if you have friends who like to read, it becomes more attractive to read more yourself. One of the greatest human desires is to belong to the tribe. If reading books helps you fit in with your friends, then building a reading habit is very attractive.
5) Start a book club. Here’s a key line from Atomic Habits: “Join a group where your desired behavior is the normal behavior.” The habits of the people around you will seem normal to you. Thankfully, you can influence who you’re surrounded by based on what groups you choose to create or join.
If you join a book club (or start your own), you’ll naturally be around people who spend time reading books. When you spend time around folks who are regular readers, the habit of reading becomes more attractive to you as well.
The 3rd Law: Make Reading Easy
One of the key parts of my philosophy on building new habits is to make your habits as easy as possible. You want new habits to be convenient and frictionless.
6) Read one page per day. The fastest way to make reading easy is to set an easy target. Many people get wrapped up in big goals like “read one book each week” or “finish 30 books per year,” but it’s more effective to focus on the beginning of the habit rather than the ultimate outcome. You want to optimize for the starting line and make it easy to get going each day. As a result, I suggest developing the habit of reading one page per day. Many days, you’ll read more. But on the crazy days, just focus on getting your one page completed.
7) Read at the beginning of your day. Timing can be a crucial factor for making habits easy. Different times of the day tend to carry different responsibilities, and you want to be sure you’re asking yourself to stick to a reading habit at a time when you have the time and energy to do so.
For many people, reading in the morning is an ideal approach. The longer the day goes on, the more likely it becomes that other responsibilities creep into your day. Read before your inbox starts overflowing. Read before you’re asked to help with someone else’s agenda.
8) Try audiobooks. It can be hard to stick with a reading habit if you feel like you’re always lugging a book around with you. Additionally, there are many times when you aren’t really in a position to read. Audiobooks solve both issues. By listening to audiobooks, you keep your hands free and find a way to fit reading into other parts of your day: cooking dinner, walking around the park, commuting to work, and more. Suddenly, reading becomes something that’s easier to fit in during small chunks of time throughout the day.
The 4th Law: Make Reading Satisfying
So far, we’ve discussed a variety of ways to make it easier to start a reading habit. But we also need to discuss how to stick with a reading habit over the long run. To do that, you need to find reading enjoyable and satisfying.
9) Read what excites you. Don’t worry about reading what other people say you should read. Instead, read whatever excites you. If that’s trashy romance novels, so be it. If it’s Harry Potter all day on repeat, more power to you. If you’re enjoying a book—no matter the topic—you’ll find the experience satisfying and have a reason to read again in the future.
10) Read what is useful for you. Another option is to focus on reading books that have an immediate impact on your life. Everyone is facing problems and challenges throughout life. If a book can help you solve those problems or enable you to achieve your goals, you’ll naturally be more satisfied with it.
With these ten tips, you should be well equipped to build better reading habits. And if you’re interested in actionable strategies for making it easier to build any habit, check out Atomic Habits.