I hear a lot of people say they would like to read more but they get too easily distracted or frustrated. Especially students at all levels often complain that when reading is required, they find themselves either procrastinating or spending inordinate amounts of time reading the same few paragraphs over and over while their minds wander, trying and failing to connect with the subject matter. We are going to discuss a few ideas that will be useful to you if you feel you fit the description above.
The first idea might sound kind of obvious but when you consider it deeply you’ll recognize it’s really at the center of all human growth and needs to be given proper attention. You’ve got to feel passionately engaged and drawn forward by your object of inquiry. This will ring especially true for you if you are a student in some capacity right now. When you have the opportunity to read on your own time and choose a book that matches your interests you will most likely crush it out without thinking twice. Then all of a sudden reading is assigned and it feels like a huge chore. There’s a disconnect here that many do not fully grasp because of the demands of society and their families. If you are not passionately drawn forward by what you are studying why are you studying it?
The very first step is to take an overview of your reading habits and decide whether a lack of concentration occurs all the time or only in cases where you feel obligated to read or where the subject matter doesn’t really appeal to you. If there are books where you feel easily engaged, even if they are series books like ‘Harry Potter’ or romance novels, it proves that when you feel involved you have no problem concentrating. If you are pursuing a degree where the reading material doesn’t blow your hair back you owe it to yourself to seriously consider whether to continue on your current path. The path is long and you’ve got to listen to your gut along with your logic to make a decision with your whole being. Professionals in any discipline go far because they are deeply and passionately engaged in what they are doing.
Regardless there will be times where you have to get through subject matter even though you aren’t blown away by it. This is true for all professionals in all disciplines. We will talk about a specific strategy to increase concentration while reading whether you are fascinated or couldn’t care less. The strategy is specifically useful for Westerners. We are multitaskers. Many of us take great pride in being able to do many things at the same time, successfully navigating busy schedules and busy lives with apparent grace and aplomb. Having multiple things going at the same time also shields us from uncomfortable anxiety because we are spared having to be alone with ourselves, honestly facing the existential aspects of our lives. When people are reading they have a tendency to turn the radio or television on. Others constantly surf the web or look out for incoming texts the whole time. Some even wear headphones. Reading is a highly focused, active exercise that takes all of your attention to be done successfully. Don’t be fooled by the fact that your body is still, because you are working very hard if you are doing it right. It’s intense exercise for your mind, and intense exercise always makes you want to find an excuse to stop or dampen it down.
You are making things a lot harder on yourself by splitting your attention amongst multiple variables in your environment. Part of the joy of reading is giving yourself the open space to struggle with the material you are reading and tease out personal meaning from it. Like I said before I think this process takes the full of your being.
Deciding to read in a quiet, meditative space with no noise and no distractions is a way to give reading the undivided focus and attention that it deserves and gives you a chance to practice mindfulness. As is the case in all meditations, your goal is really to stay focused in the here and now. In this case the object of your meditation is your book, and you want to focus 100% of your being on the subject matter in the moment without letting your thoughts drift to other times or places. It’s okay to think about the past or the future but you always know you are doing so from the present. When your thoughts do drift without you wanting them to, which happens to all of us when we are reading, just gently remind yourself to come back to the present moment, take a few in-breaths and out-breaths, and then go back to your reading.
Set an alarm to go off after an hour and then try to read mindfully until you hear the bell. This way you can give yourself fully to the experience since you know it won’t go on indefinitely and you also know you won’t need to worry about time since an hour will have elapsed when it goes off. Your concentration will increase dramatically if you practice reading meditation and you will probably also notice yourself more calm and at ease. The exercise serves the dual purpose of helping you to live mindfully and helping you concentrate more on your reading to get much more out of the experience.