Re-Learning How To Read

We live in the age of distraction. It seems like it takes a Hurculean effort to get through a project or conversation without the distraction of YouTube, Google or Instagram.  It is pretty cool, but it also comes with its hazards. 

It hit me like a freight train not long ago that my attention span seemed to be getting shorter and I honestly couldn’t remember the last time time I attempted to read an actual book cover-to-cover. I have also found that iPads & Kindles, while I love them for traveling, allow for too many distraction opportunities. As soon as I have the first “I wonder” thought, the book is long gone and I am 12 blog posts or news articles in – thanks to “You may also like” and brilliantly placed click-through links.  I mean, I am distracting you from reading a book right now. 

Between my insatiable curiosity leading me to always look up whatever question pops into my head – don’t put it past me to look up something like “How many buffalo are in Yellowstone National Park (what?!) – and my current role working in the digital marketing / E-commerce space, I spend a lot of time “logged-on.” While I chalk it up to trying to learn or teach myself something new, I have really experienced an exceptional shift in my attention span recently. There are many articles that tout the negative affects of social media out there and plenty that believe in the power of social media. I think both opinions have some truth, but I just started to notice that I was getting less able to complete bigger tasks without becoming easily sidetracked. It isn’t just social media, but also the wealth of information we have at our finger tips thanks to a little thing called Google. At this point, I have become so accustomed to it that I couldn’t imagine living without it.

Over the past few months I noticed that my reading list was growing, but nothing was being read. This left me wondering: Have I retrained my brain to only be able to focus on reading something for 10 minutes or less or have I just not come across a good enough book lately due to the market saturation and excellent marketing making every book seem like it has the potential to be great? With my growing list, I thought about turning to audio books for afternoon dog walks. You know, kill two birds. While I could multi-task, I also know I am probably getting 1/4 of the info in the book while my puppy gets 1/4 of my attention and the other 1/2 is probably just lost by trying to do too many things at once. Not really a win on any front.

So I decided to set a goal to read a paperback book a month for the next three months. (Note: I started this back in August so it was not a New Year’s Resolution. I also felt like I couldn’t share my experience if I hadn’t really done anything yet :). I picked paperback because it automatically requires a moment of pause before I can go look something up and I would have to be aware that I am physically putting the book down and picking up my phone. I thought I would take a full-on social media, online content break, but honestly it is a touch too important for me to completely step away from right in this moment running an E-commerce business (think what you want). I also believe that we are going to have to figure out how to normalize this influx of information and social pressure while continuing living our lives and getting our work done.

Before I committed to the idea, I first had to admit that I had a problem. Hi, my name is Kristin and I have forgotten how to read. This coming from a girl that at 12 years old could ride her bike and read a book at the same time, also a girl that read almost every summer reading ever assigned to her. I think I was one of very few in my school. 

The end of August rolled around I headed straight to my mom’s house for a book recommendation that she swore I would be able to read cover to cover without getting too sidetracked. Every amazing book I have read came at her recommendation. Either she is good at picking books, we are two peas in a pod or she has read every book under the sun so she is easily able to rattle off a few recommendations. I decided to start with fiction, even-though my preferred reading is non-fiction, because it was less likely to send me off on additional research. It is easier to get into a fiction story and stay there. The two books that were recommended to me where a “A Man Called Ove” by Fredrik Backman and “The Japanese Lover” by Isabel Allende. I started with a “A Man Called Ove.” 

I then decided to set aside an hour every evening to read. That was it. To be honest, I failed at setting aside an hour every night to read. I was lucky if I set aside an hour two days week, but hey, it was better than nothing. I successfully completed “A Man Called Ove” within my first month of reading – September. October was all about Isabel Allende and that was a little less successful because I didn’t finish it until the middle of November, but I recovered. I proceeded to read “Good Citizens” by Thich Nhat Hahn before November ended (it was pretty short!). I then read “We Need to Talk: How to Have Conversations that Matter” by Celeste Headlee and started “Big Magic” by Elizabeth Gilbert for the second time in December. I am just 50 pages shy of finishing it in the middle of January.

Overall I am pretty excited about my little experiment and very happy to be reading again. I am still practicing being a good citizen and having conversations that matter, but I successfully broke through my reader’s block. Honestly, there just isn’t anything quite as relaxing as sitting in my hammock on sunny day reading. It also means I spend a little less time browsing online and social media, but I will take that as a win. 

All of that being said, I still can’t help but wonder what all this technology is doing to our brains over the long run. Let me know your thoughts on this below! 

Sustainable Living Tip: Take books out from the library rather than buy them brand new. Second best, order or buy secondhand or used books. Even better, host a book swap with some friends. Little changes can make a big difference. Over 4 billion trees are cut down around the world for paper products every year. 

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