Your Mind’s Drift Is Your Best Next Read

How I’ve read +1 book per month for +4 years

Reading consistently is hard. I could hardly finish a book, now I finish at least one every month. Here’s what I’ve learned.

The most underestimated factor in sustaining a reading habit is choosing the right book.

Every new book is a gamble with your long term reading potential. The wrong book destroys your motivation for reading while the right one increases it. The results go from getting bored while reading and never finding time to read to reading nonstop and finishing books in days.

Note I am using right & wrong instead of good & bad, the risk is not in choosing a “bad” book, but in choosing a wrong book for you at this time in your life.

There is a personal and a temporal dimension to the right book.

Luckily, your mind always knows which book you should read next and it yells it at you every time it can.

By listening to that voice and reading about what’s in my mind, I was able to go from not reading anything at all to reading at least 1 book every month for over 4 years. Sixty-seven books later, I am certain these tips are effective and transferable — many of my friends have used my experience to integrate a reading habit into their lives.

Over time, I’ve developed a system for sustainable reading that consists of:

  • The Right Book — Read What’s In Your Mind
  • Availability — Be Ready, Anytime, Anywhere
  • Dedication — No Pain No Gain

I’ll explain this system in detail in the hope that more people find joy in this wonderful habit. But before, let me share some context.

Granted, I always saw the value in reading books, the access to knowledge from the world greatest minds, learning subjects directly from the experts of a field, the submersion into new worlds and adventures and the introspection that comes with it. A reading habit was something I tried to develop for years, but somehow never achieved. I would fall asleep reading, or worse I would think of something else mid-sentence only to then finish the sentence and not know what I just read. I failed reading assignments in high school because reading was a dread for me at that time. It was bad.

I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit, a deep desire to create something new. Four years ago I was living in Stockholm, Sweden when my friend Rodrigo gave me a call and pitched me his latest startup idea. The startup bug bit me hard right then and there. We were going to launch our app and it’ll be a huge overnight success, we’d be rich — easy.

What changed my life though was not the app (really?), but the book that Rodrigo gave me at that time. It was Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future by Peter Thiel, the famous founder & investor. The book that changed everything.

Photo by Dries De Schepper on Unsplash

See, in hindsight it is easy to notice that at that time my mind was hungry for knowledge on startups, technology, apps, and business strategy. I needed to learn those topics quickly so I could apply them to our startup, and this book was a treasure trove of them. I couldn’t stop reading. The guy that couldn’t read now couldn’t stop reading. I was enjoying myself. Roughly 30% through the book I told myself:

“Well, this is unusual. Maybe this is the kick you needed to develop that reading habit. Whatever this is, take advantage of it, finish this book by the end of the month and next month grab a similar one.”

I finished Zero to One a few days later. I was so excited. I could feel something had clicked.

After some reflection it hit me, it was so easy to read because I wanted to learn about the subject of the book, because life was demanding that knowledge from me, not because the book is great, or a classic, or it was recommended to me, or I wanted to develop a reading habit. I was interested in the content of the book before I grabbed the book. This may seem like common sense, but in practice it is rather unusual. Few people identify what knowledge their mind seeks and use it to choose their next book to read.

It was easy to read because my mind was hungry for that knowledge

I went on to read one book every month throughout 2017 and published this article where I did 3 things I will retake in 2021:

  1. Shared thoughtful reviews on books I’ve read
  2. Helped others foster and grow their reading habit
  3. Connected with the online community on reading, self-improvement, and many other topics.

Since then I’ve been reading at least 1 book per month for the last +4 years. Here is my reading log. I’ve developed a few other guidelines which combined make the system I mentioned above and will describe below.

A System for Sustainable Reading

The first part of the system is finding the right book to read. I believe this is the single most important factor for a consistent reading habit and it is harder than it seems. The question is:

Which book should I read next?

This is a very personal question so you can’t copy what others are doing, and the right answer is frequently changing so you must ask yourself this questions every time you are to pick a new book. A 6 month old reading list is worthless. The right book to read is indeed a moving target. So how do you hit bullseye on every shot?

Read What’s In Your Mind

The best indicator of which is the best book for you to read next is the topic to which your mind is naturally drifting to. Pay attention to what you unconsciously start thinking about in dead time — the time you didn’t account for, the time you spend waiting around, in transit, waiting for someone else, waiting for food. In those moments our minds go to interests, worries, ideas, and problems that intrigue us, that we are genuinely curious about.

Photo by kevin turcios on Unsplash

These topics tend to bounce around our heads for weeks at a time and are always relevant to what is currently going on in our lives. THIS is what you should read about. Identify the most urgent topic and write the query

“best books on {topic that has been invading my mind for weeks}”

Hit Search and you should start getting excited. There are books on everything. Don’t think that you are the first person to have that problem, worry, interest, or idea. A lot of people have been in your position and some of them have written about it.

The advantages of this approach are:

  • You already have the motivation to read this book. You want to know more about that interest, calm that worry, take action on that idea, or fix that problem. The key to all of that exists in books, hopefully in the one you chose. It won’t be a dread to carve out time to read, in fact you’ll look forward to it.
  • As you read, you’ll draw parallels with what is going on in your life. You’ll be able to think deeper, stop worrying, get started, or act differently. This will in turn motivate you to keep reading.

Be Ready, Anytime, Anywhere

Scheduling a time of the day to read is a good practice. At nighttime, right before bed seems to be the most popular, I do it and I recommend it. But, the real game changer for me was when I started reading whenever and wherever I got a chance.

Mid-2017 I started carrying a book with me everywhere I went, and reading on every opportunity I got. The concept of dead time is important here again. No matter how meticulous you are with your scheduling, unexpected delays will happen, someone will be late, traffic jams form out of nowhere, and you will be stuck with a chunk of time that you didn’t account for, and the need to improvise and do something during that time. The default for most people is to grab their smartphones and start scrolling, but I argue the best use of that time is in the productive and enriching practice of book-reading.

Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

Think of your book as a better distraction than your smartphone. Instead of numb, cheap-dopamine social media scrolling, take out your book and enjoy a rewarding learning experience with valuable long term benefits. Moreover, you can make really good progress on a book in just one or two 10–15 minutes sessions spread throughout the day.

As you continue on your reading journey you’ll realize that books are more relaxing than your smartphone, and if you found the right book, reading is more fun than scrolling.

No Pain No Gain

Ok, it’s not always smooth sailing, sometimes you’ll choose the wrong topic or the wrong book and you’ll loose motivation. When that happens, and if I am already +30% through the book, I encourage myself to just push through, finish the book, and maintain the streak. So far it’s been 52 months, woo hoo!

Reading has so many positive effects on one’s life that it’s worth putting in a little effort. Like exercise strengthens the body, reading strengthens the mind. Both are great habits to have, and as somedays I have to push myself to workout, sometimes I push myself through a book.

However, as Daniel Vassallo said, “Only Intrinsic Motivation Lasts”. If you lost the motivation to read a book, you are better off dropping it and grabbing a new one. Continuing with something you are completely disconnected from is not good for reading, nor for life.

Use your judgement to determine when to push through and when to drop it. You can consider the length of the book and the progress you’ve made on it, the days left in the month, and the quality of the book in regards to the topic of your life it is addressing.

I agree, the 1 book per month timeframe was set rather arbitrarily one random day 4 years ago. However, throughout the years I’ve found it to be a local optimal, at least for my reading pace (which is not great) and my reading goals (being a better human). I once tried bumping it to 2 books per month, but found it hard to keep up and adding unnecessary stress. After all, I don’t read for a living, and life happens, some months are busier than others.

If I am behind one month, I try to choose a shorter book. When I am reading a long one (+400 pages) I try to start a week ahead. Some months I read 2 books, on others I struggle with 1. I just keep reading. Overall, I’ve found that a month to finish a book is a comfortable and flexible timeframe that allows you to read with pleasure regardless of what is going on in your life.

This reading habit has been life-changing. Through reading I’ve educated myself on nutrition, fasting, coding, history, economics, investing, habit-building, decision-making, negotiation, sales, relationships and love. That knowledge changed my perception and therefore changed my actions. It is the one habit that enables them all, a time-tested method for becoming wiser and better human.

Reading is the gift that keeps on giving

I’ll continue writing about reading and other non-conventional truths for a better life, you can follow me here to come along the journey, book by book, habit by habit.

Been reading +1 book/month for +4 years. Self-improvement through self-education. Documenting it all in Twitter @alanarvelo.