Create a Reading Habit: Let’s Begin from the Beginning

Any art or skill is possessed by those who have formed the habit of operating according to its rules. This is the way the artist or craftsman in any field differs from those who lack his skill. Now there is no other way of forming a habit of operation than by operating.

This is a passage written by the famous philosopher, educator and author Mortimer J. Adler in his classic guide for intelligent reading How to Read a Book.

It implies that we form our reading habit by reading.

At first this sounds ridiculously obvious. (Thank you, Captain Obvious! Here, take this potato!)

However, considering how people are willing to pay for reading course but reluctant to open their books, this reminder is utterly profound.


A couple of weeks ago, I listened to a podcast that said no children was born with the ‘reading gene’. Also, I also did a quick research to prepare for this article, and found no scientific evident which suggests that reading interest and skills  are by nature, not nurture.

Therefore, my take is that reading is a learnt preference, like flossing for instance. I have to admit that I didn’t like to floss very much. But I knew it was good for me, and liked how my teeth felt after flossing. Therefore, I gradually learnt to like this activity. Now I don’t have to use much willpower to force myself to floss anymore, it has become a part of my day.

Of course flossing teeth and reading books are still two very different activities – which convinces me that forming reading habit is actually easier. The process of reading is actually much more interesting than the process of flossing.

Basically I’m trying to say that: in order to form reading habit, you just have to read.

(You can thank and give me a potato again)

But seriously, reading is a complex skill to master. It is also accumulative, the more you read, the more proficient you get - higher speed, more retention of information, better comprehension, stronger capability to compare, connect, analyze various reading materials on the same subject, and so on.

There will be no fat reading fairy sprinkling reading dust on you. Most reading courses, if done well, can raise your level from from a bad reader to an average reader, not more. And fast reading courses? Excuse me when I throw up a little.

Again, you just have to read.


Though the knowledge about how habit is formed can be useful. In The Power of Habits – a rare gem on personal transformation, please read it, for your own good -  Charles Duhigg put human habit under microscope and dissect it into three stages: a cue, a routine, a reward. Behind all that, there is a craving – which is satisfied by the reward.

I think it’s important to understand what is our craving behind reading, and if we have any craving at all. Besides, the fact that you are reading this article suggests the significance of understanding why you find the idea of reading appealing in the first place.

  • Is it because all successful persons seem to do plenty of reading?
  • Is it because of the “knowledgeable air” a person emanates when he holds up a book?
  • Is it because you are afraid to be outdated, ignorant, and left behind without devouring books like popping vitamins?
  • Is it because you ache for a distraction from the tedium of your daily life?
  • Is it because you are looking for a kind of validation for your deep-rooted belief system?  

It’s okay if one or more of those reasons is yours. I can write them down because they used to be mine. Here I want to cite a passage from Think on These Things by the revolutionary philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti, when being asked why one must read:

You must understand the whole of life, not just one little part of it. That is why you must read, that is why you must look at the skies, that is why you must sing, and dance, and write poems, and suffer, and understand; for all that is life.

How simple. How profound. So now I read, not because I want to look good, not because I feel insecure or inadequate, neither to get away from life nor to validate my own perceptions.

My education only prepares me for an employment, while its function should be to give me tools to grasp the whole process of life. Because of that, I read because I want to understand what life is all about.

I want to understand life not because I’m fearful of its magnitude, impermanence, and uncertainty; but because I love it, admire it, adore it, with its one thousand joys and sorrows.


What do I crave?

I crave the mental stimulation of getting into someone’s head, and dabbling in his world.

I crave the fulfilled curiosity, the Aha! moments, the rush of realization, the  shift in paradigm, the revelation of my limited understanding.

I crave the liberating sensation of stirring the wheel of my learning, like a ship sailing in the  vast ocean of knowledge – an entirely different notion to classroom learning when one is  stuffed with information like a turkey on Christmas dinner, and now the turkey protests that he is more useful. 

I crave the sense of independence for I’ve found the way to claim my own education, once and for all, for the rest of my life.

And above all practical reasons, I crave the ‘impractical’ beauty of a crisp sentence, a witty remark, an elegant phrase, a sharp metaphor. For me, and for all demanding readers, to witness and marvel at artful style, in fiction or nonfiction, is among life greatest pleasures.

Those are the craving. But of course, to earn the rewards through the reading process itself takes practices. Again, reading is a complex skill to master.A revolutionary book for a good reader can put an average reader to sleep. This we will talk about in upcoming articles of BookWorm Wednesday.

But first, take sometime to understand your reasons 

Why reading?

Come back next Wednesday for more wisdoms and instructions on the art of reading

Want more? Couple this read with last week’s BookWorm Wednesday article: What Makes a Good Reader? and What Makes a Good Read? - my personal favorite 

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