practice staying in the moment with books | the bookish athlete

I’ve found that no matter what I’m doing, my “go go go” personality tends to show up and hurry me to imaginary finish lines. I’ll start a workout and immediately think about what I’ll do once it’s over. I’ll start cooking a recipe and want to skip right to the eating part. I’ll even pick up a book with the intention of flipping to the end as fast as possible.

reading for a finish line

Reading for a finish line means I’ve picked up a book so that I can check it off a list and get to the next one. Check, check, check. And as you might imagine (or have experienced for yourself), doing any activity where you’re rushing to just get to the end is really not all that enjoyable. Reading to get to “The End” involves a lot of skimming, not much retention, and quite a bit of mind wandering.

skimming: I rush through pages and gloss over paragraphs. My eyes can’t get to the end of each page fast enough. Maybe some part of the story or piece of information sinks in. But usually, not.

zero retention: Once I’ve finished a book, I have a hard time remembering what it was about. I probably wouldn’t be able to describe it to you or even have a sense of if I liked or enjoyed reading it.

mind wandering: I’m pretty sure that mind wandering while doing anything is unavoidable. But I know I’m reading for an outcome when my mind wanders to the books I think I should be reading instead – like classics or something that’d be considered “brain fuel.”

When I spend time doing things I enjoy, like reading, running, swimming, etc., I don’t want to rush through anything or feel like I’m only trying to get to the end to check off a box. If I do want to rush to the end of something, I want it to be because I was so engaged in the process that I couldn’t wait to see how it all ends up.

how to stay in the moment

If you’re a goal-driven, list-making individual, then you might have a sense of what I’m describing here. And you might also be interested in the idea of staying in the moment….through reading.

Reading is like a mindfulness practice for me. By slowing down and being intentional about how I spend my reading time, I can take in more of what I read and get more out of it.

Here are a few ways I’ve transitioned away from rushing to get to that last page (unless it’s just a really good book!) and practiced staying in the moment with books:

1. read books you really want to read.

The first change I made to get away from reading for an outcome was to find books I wanted to read. It makes sense that you’ll be more engaged with something you’re looking forward to versus something you think you should read. And when I looked back at some of the books I’d read in the past, I saw quite a few titles that I only picked up because I thought I should read them. Choosing books I really wanted to read and looked forward to changed my reading process. It was no longer a race to the finish.

2. take notes as you read.

Once I started tracking the books I read, the next step was to expand beyond recording the title and author to include some notes and quotes. I started to keep track of details, questions, thoughts, etc. What did I think of a book? And why? What did it make me feel or remember? What other books did it remind me of? What different kinds of connections could I make to the text, myself, and the outside world?

3. set time-based reading goals.

When I tell myself that I need to read a certain number of pages each day, then I’ll be sure to blaze right through them and check that task off my to-do list. But I’m more likely to slow down and just enjoy some time with a book when my reading habit is based on time instead. I’m more consistent and mindful of what I’m reading when I read for 20 minutes a day vs. 20 pages a day. Whether I read 10 pages or 100, 20 minutes of reading is going to be 20 minutes.

4. understand why you picked up a book.

Why did you pick up the book you’re currently reading? A lot of times, it’s probably because someone recommended it. But what was it about that recommendation that put the book in your hands? That purpose is more than to hurry up and finish. Understanding why you picked up a book can keep you engaged in the pages and less interested in getting to the end as quickly as possible.

5. try the audio version.

If there’s a book I’d like to read, and I know that I’d probably rush through it, then I try to read the audiobook. Listening to a book forces me to take in every word and pay attention. It’s almost impossible to skim and skip through longer passages. I’ve tried, and I usually have to go back and re-listen after realizing that I missed something important.

6. don’t give the library hold system all the power.

I do get some outside pressure from the library borrowing system to hurry up and read a book. But I’ve also come to terms with putting books “on pause” when they come due. I’ll put an unfinished book back in the queue and wait until it’s my turn again.

beyond books

Finding ways to practice staying in the moment with books has given me a big enough boost of self-awareness to work on staying present in other areas of my life, as well.

When I’m in the middle of a workout, feeling bored and wanting it to be over, I try to use what I’ve learned through reading. Spending that time working out is important enough to get started, so the middle part of a workout matters just as much (if not more) than getting to the end.

Practice staying in the moment and make the mile markers matter more than rushing to get to the next finish line.

Looking for ideas on what you should read next? Follow @thebookishathlete for updates on what I’ve been reading lately or check out my 2021 reading list.