Do you admire avid readers and want to know how to read more books? Do you wish you had the patience and motivation to read for hours and actually enjoy it? Reading is an intricate cognitive process and understanding how your brain works can help you find the joy in reading. Employing science-backed strategies and a specific nutrient can help build a reading habit that brings brain benefits.
Why is reading essential?
It is common knowledge that reading is good for you. It is a habit that is encouraged since childhood. It's an important life skill that you use every day, in all areas of life. Going to school and university is accompanied by heavy reading. Reading is a part of almost every job. It translates into mundane life activities too. Want to pick the healthier of two food options? You need to read the label to find out. Want to pick a holiday destination that you will enjoy? You need to read the itinerary. Did you know that reading is good for your brain? It has the power to change the structure of your brain. Reading for leisure has a more powerful effect on a child’s brain development than their parent’s education or socio-economic status . Read more about the numerous benefits of reading every day here.
Finding the motivation to read
Everyone who finds themselves facing a book does so for different reasons. Some people read because they are required to do so, while others read because they love being engrossed in a book. As with most things in life, you need to find the right motivation to read. This is important because even bookworms may stop reading if they lack motivation, which will impact their reading skills. In fact, students who had higher motivation, read 3 times more often than those with low motivation . Reading motivations are of two types: internal (intrinsic) and external (extrinsic) .
- Intrinsic motivation is when you read because reading is considered pleasurable. It could be related to personal interest in the topic. If you are particularly interested in dolphins, you will naturally want to read all about their life cycle, habitat, and interesting facts. If you enjoy romance novels, you can easily get through a 300-pager in an afternoon. This is when reading is intrinsically motivated, and you pursue it for the joy it gives you.
- Extrinsic motivation is when you read because it is a way to achieve a certain outcome. An example is reading to pass exams. Perhaps literature might be your less favourite subject, but you persevere in reading classics because you want to get good grades/pass the class. It could be reading to gain additional skills at work so you can score that promotion. This is when reading is extrinsically motivated and you pursue it because it helps you achieve your goals, even when it is less enjoyable.
These motivations can change over time. Perhaps you enjoyed reading science fiction books as a teenager, but as an adult, if you spend less time reading them, your motivation and consequently time spent reading might be affected. Motivation and action are inter-dependent.
How does your brain motivate you?
Your brain has a specialised network for motivation and the main brain chemical involved is dopamine. It is also your reward and pleasure brain chemical. Your brain undergoes many effort-consuming activities all day. It has to be smart about the actions that must be allocated effort. Reading is an effort-consuming cognitive activity. Dopamine plays a major role in allocating effort towards a particular activity, hence motivating you to perform it . This motivation is influenced by the rewarding feeling achieved after you perform that action. Your brain understands that getting good grades is rewarding, and this influences dopamine to motivate you to spend hours reading chapters of a subject, regardless of how much you enjoy that subject.
Dopamine’s role in building a reading habit.
Dopamine’s influence on motivation helps in habit formation. Medications that increase dopamine help convert goal-directed actions into habits by motivating repeated performance of that action . Damage to dopamine cells has shown to prevent habit formation . How much motivation and mental effort do you need to brush your teeth each morning? Barely any. This is because it has the status of a habit and habits require low cognitive effort. Your brain expends less effort on habitual actions, making them easy to do. This explains why avid readers can easily read 100s of books each year since it is a habit and comes naturally owing to repeated practice. Having a steady supply of dopamine can help form a reading habit.
The nutrient that naturally increases dopamine
The building block of dopamine is called tyrosine and is found in protein rich foods such as dairy, tofu, beef, and eggs. It is also found in supplemental form, like the world’s 1st natural 800mg tyrosine capsule from fermented corn. You can read more and buy it here for £29.99.
Upon intake, tyrosine enters the brain, is converted to L-dopa which is then converted to dopamine. Tyrosine has shown to be effective in stocking up dopamine when it is depleted in cognitively demanding tasks. It helps replenish dopamine levels to prevent affecting cognitive performance, even in soldiers under extreme mental load . Among young and old adults, tyrosine supplementation helped improve focus on task by avoidance of response to distractions . This can effectively translate into helping you read for longer, without distractions, thus building a reading habit.
Reading strategies to develop a reading habit.
The Department of Education, UK has developed a report  on reading for pleasure owing to the multifaceted benefits it can bring about. The report highlights the following strategies to promote reading for fun as part of daily life:
- Choosing what you read: 80% of children enjoyed reading books that they chose themselves. Explore different genres and formats to discover what you would enjoy reading. If you get pleasure from it, your dopamine will help you read it more often.
- Incentives/rewards of reading: Part of being motivated is to have clarity of why you are reading the content you are reading. Is it to learn more about a topic you enjoy or is it to help you relax before bed? For youngsters, having a glory board where they can keep a score of what they read, and celebrating their achievements can serve as a good incentive.
- Home environment: Having a home environment that is conducive to reading can help make it a habit. If you have a home gym, you will be more inclined to work out. Similarly, having a home library with a dedicated space to read, can help foster a reading habit.
James Clear, best selling author of Atomic Habits, which sold 10 million copies worldwide, reads over 30 books a year. He lists top 3 tips that helped him read more books :
- Read 20 pages a day: James reads a minimum of 20 pages a day, which he estimates takes most people 30 mins. He states this to be a good starting point.
- Start your day reading: He encourages reading during the first hour of your day. This helps to inculcate this as a habit and regardless of whatever you do for the rest of the day, you have achieved your reading goal first thing in the morning.
- Create a reading list: James has a public reading list that helps him decide what he will read next to offer a continuation of his habit, where he will always have something to read.
Reading is an effort-consuming cognitive activity. Employing the right strategy will help maximise the brain benefit and fun of reading, making it an enjoyable activity. Remember, if you find reading boring, you are just yet to find the right book! Take the occasion of World Book Day on March 2nd to widen your reading horizons.
- Wang, X. et al. (2020). Reading Amount and Reading Strategy as Mediators of the Effects of Intrinsic and Extrinsic Reading Motivation on Reading Achievement. Frontiers in psychology, 11, 586346.
- Westbrook, A., & Braver, T. S. (2016). Dopamine Does Double Duty in Motivating Cognitive Effort. Neuron, 89(4), 695–710.
- de Wit, S. et al. (2012). Reliance on habits at the expense of goal-directed control following dopamine precursor depletion. Psychopharmacology, 219(2), 621–631.
- The Reading Agency. (n.d.). Reading facts. [online]
- Hase, A. et al. (2015). Behavioral and cognitive effects of tyrosine intake in healthy human adults. Pharmacology, Biochemistry, and Behavior, [online] 133, pp.1–6.
- Bloemendaal, M. et al. (2018). Neuro-Cognitive Effects of Acute Tyrosine Administration on Reactive and Proactive Response Inhibition in Healthy Older Adults. eNeuro, 5(2), ENEURO.0035-17.2018.
- Department for Education (2012). Research Evidence on Reading for Pleasure Education Standards Research Team. [online]
- Clear, J. (2019). How to Read More: The Simple System I’m Using to Read 30+ Books Per Year. James Clear.