Reading has been shown to have many positive effects on the brain, and it’s no mistake that the most successful people we know make time to read a lot. Reading every day can provide us with the same benefits, and making time every day to read is a great way to put yourself on the road to success and better mental health.
In this article, we aim to show you why you should set reading goals, what goals to place depending on your lifestyle, and what benefits setting these goals can have for you.
Why Set Reading Goals?
Why should you set reading goals? With how much exposure we have to social media, the internet, and anything technological, we end up reading a lot by the end of the day. However, this isn’t necessarily the type of reading that should be a reading goal. While reading about your friends’ lives on social media is fine as a guilty pleasure, it’s not really the type of reading that stimulates your brain in the ways we’re looking at.
However, there’s a measurable trend with people who read books a lot: they’re successful. Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Barack Obama are all household names who are extensive readers. Making time to read every day keeps our minds sharp, and learning a continuous stream of new things gives us a leg up on others who do not.
However, just committing to reading more often doesn’t cut it. As wonderful as reading is, it can be time-consuming, difficult to get into, and hard to fit into a cramped schedule. That’s why setting specific reading goals for yourself can be so helpful. When you take the time to set a well-defined goal for yourself, you’re already more likely to achieve it.
Sometimes, a little creativity is required to reach your reading goals. Try keeping a book on your person at all times, for example. If you have a busy schedule, it might feel next to impossible to find time to read, but there will inevitably be times when you end up waiting on someone or when free time comes up unexpectedly. If you’re prepared with a book, you can take advantage of those times!
Our constant exposure to technology also allows us access to more books than ever before. If you can’t afford to bring a book with you, or you just don’t like physical books in general, almost every modern book is available as an e-book nowadays.
You can purchase the book you want online (often for cheaper than the cost of a physical copy), download and read it right away, and not have to worry about carrying or misplacing physical books. Audiobooks can also be downloaded this way, and they’re an excellent option for people with tight schedules since audiobooks are ideal for listening to while doing other things.
Some people argue that the lack of the physical, page-turning process makes e-books less appealing, but it’s mostly up to personal preference. You should take your schedule, your needs, and your wants into account to pick which methods are best for you.
Benefits of Reading
Consistent reading has many well-documented benefits, most of which are mental or emotional. Some are more obvious, such as better writing skills, faster ability to read and comprehend information, and expanded vocabulary, but some are less obvious, like reduced stress and improved memory. We’ve included a more thorough exploration of these benefits below.
Stimulate Your Mind
Reading has always been one of the best ways to stimulate the brain. Different genres can awaken your imagination and creativity, too. Fiction is particularly suitable for this, while non-fiction is excellent for amassing knowledge and facts.
Many people don’t realize that the brain acts a lot like a muscle. If you don’t exercise is on a regular basis, it can atrophy, just like the rest of your body. Reading for just a few minutes a day is a great way to keep your mind razor-sharp. Keeping your mind sharp and stimulated has even been shown to help slow the onset of mental deterioration from diseases such as Alzheimer’s, although it can’t prevent them entirely.
Things like puzzles, chess, games, and crosswords can have the same mental benefits as reading can. Reading and these other stimulating activities actually increase the connections in your brain, making it happier, healthier, and better at doing its job.
Losing yourself in a good book is an excellent way to de-stress. The beauty of reading a book is that it can be done anywhere, anytime. If you’re waiting on a late client at work and have nothing else to do, why not pick up the book you’ve been reading and let the stress melt away?
Studies have shown that a less-stressed mind at work is a more productive one. Stressed workers get less work done in the same amount of time as unstressed workers, and the quality of their work is better, too. Although the perks to your working life are nice, having the chance to de-stress when needed is indispensable for everyday life, too.
Stress has a number of negative impacts on the human body, including the following:
- Social withdrawal
- Weight gain or loss
- Increased risk for certain diseases
Some studies have suggested that a small amount of stress is actually beneficial to the human body. It inspires us to do better or work faster to meet deadlines. However, excess pressure is never good. Don’t indulge in reading to the point that you’re neglecting your other work, but definitely use it as a resource to improve your mood and take your mind off unpleasant things.
One of the most basic benefits provided by reading is the ability to amass knowledge. When you read something, your brain is always working on recording new facts and ideas, no matter what the topic’s about. If you’re eager to learn about a new subject or idea, pick up a book about it!
Unfortunately, books that are designed to teach can be dry. We’ve all been exposed to school textbooks at some point in our lives that made us want to cry or fall asleep when we read them. However, today, there are a lot more creative options for learning through books than we knew back then. Keep an eye out for books that teach in creative, enjoyable ways, or purchase an audiobook to listen to instead.
Even when you’re not reading a nonfiction book, you can learn new things from what you read. Our brains learn new social and dialectical cues from the people we read about in books, too. No matter what the knowledge is about, no matter how humorous, sad or boring the book, your brain is always learning something.
Try some of the following types of books to help you amass new, exciting knowledge through reading:
- Historical writings on certain events or periods in history
- Biographies about a famous person you admire
- Different ways of life, like farming versus urban living
- New thoughts and ideas from radical minds
- Bestselling fiction books and stories
- Guide books on how to learn a new skill or language
Expand Your Vocabulary
Of course, not just the actual content of the story stimulates your mind. The words on the page work to educate you, too. When you read a book, not only do you learn new words and phrases that you might not have known before, but you learn and remember how to spell things better, too.
Those who have larger vocabularies tend to be better-spoken and more articulate. These skills can help you both at work and in your day-to-day life. Tact and clarity will get you far and may be able to carry you through more situations than you’d think.
Reading also directly improves your writing skills. If you’re in a profession where sending emails or writing letters to important people happens with any regularity, reading more can be a great boon for you. Being able to write and speak with confidence is something that’s often recognized in formal organizations as an in-demand skill.
Reading a book in a foreign language is also a great way to expand your understanding of it. It may feel slow going compared to reading a book in your native language, but the extra exertion is good for your brain and great for learning conversational rules. Reading in a foreign language provides the same exposure to contextual clues and learning that people get by visiting a foreign country.
Reading a story exposes you to characters, backstories, theories, emotions, names, and histories that your brain needs to keep track of. In this way, reading ends up like something akin to memory training in a lot of ways. People who read consistently have a much better memory than people who do not.
When your brain creates new memories, it also creates new synapses and connections, which increases the overall health and ability of your brain. These connections boost your short-term memory and also help to stabilize your moods.
Reading through fictional or nonfictional situations has another surprising benefit for the human mind: the increased ability to think analytically. When you’re presented with a situation in a book, but your brain figures it out before the mystery is revealed, it’s because your mind was hard at work trying to analyze contextual cues and foreshadowing.
This unexpected benefit can be useful in many different areas of your life that require critical thought, from school to work to everyday leisure. Accumulating your thoughts this way can also be helpful for dictation and making statements, as you’ll have an easier time gathering your own thoughts later on.
When you get into a book that you really can’t put down, your brain has trouble thinking about anything other than the book because it’s so exciting! This type of single-minded focus is easy to achieve when you’re reading something that you genuinely enjoy, but when you’re trying to power through something dry or unpleasant, it may not come as easily.
The way consistent reading cultivates this focus is another benefit that will work in your favor with time. As you learn how to turn that focus on and off, you’ll be able to apply it to situations that aren’t super-interesting books, too. This comes in handy when you need the extra productivity that single-minded focus provides.
Besides increasing your productivity, improving your focus this way provides a few other benefits:
- Increased ability to tune out distractions
- Better recollection and understanding of what you’re reading and digesting
- Increased attention span
- Increased ability to tune-in to work and assignments as needed
When you read well-written books and articles consistently, your own writing changes to match the quality of the writing that you’ve been consuming. Often, with the advent of shorthand and text messaging, this has worked to our disadvantage in the 21st century, but in reading books, it can still work to your advantage.
As long as you’re reading something that’s grammatically correct and well-written, you’ll pick up grammar and punctuation skills along the way, gradually improving your own writing. You’ll also be better at picking out the mistakes in others’ writing, whether in a published novel or not.
If you’re interested in writing as a hobby or career, read various works by many authors across multiple genres. With each book you read, you’ll pick up new words, flows, and cadences that you’ll be able to incorporate into your own work.
Common Reading Goals
Now that we’ve talked about some of the foremost benefits of regular reading, we’re going to show you some common reading goals that frequent readers like to set for themselves. We’ll also explain the benefits and drawbacks of each approach, why it’s popular, and the reasons why you might want to pick up these reading goals for yourself.
It’s important to remember that in setting your reading goals, you should never compromise on the type of books you’ll be reading. If it’s not something that interests or benefits you, there’s no reason to read it. Additionally, if you start something, but reading it is more like a chore than enjoyment, you shouldn’t push yourself to read that book, either.
Books Per Year
Yearly reading goals are often shared online to help readers consume a decent number of books per year. A year of time is forgiving enough that if you need to miss a few days, your progress won’t be significantly impacted. However, one might argue that because one year is so long, it’s easy to procrastinate or lose steam when you don’t feel like making progress.
Some people need the deadline of a per-year schedule in order to kick themselves into gear. If this is what you decide you need, great! Working towards your strengths is always a good thing. However, setting a books-per-year deadline can also compromise the quality of the books you read. Picking short or uninteresting books just for the sake of saying you read a certain number this year is never a good thing.
If you’d like to read a certain number of books this year, we recommend setting up a list for yourself first. You don’t necessarily have to include specific books on the list. Include genres, themes, authors, specifics, series, educational categories, or anything that interests you on the list, and make a schedule of sorts to guide your efforts.
Let’s say you want to read twelve books this year. That means one book every month. For someone who has a busy schedule or isn’t used to reading consistently, this is a great starting point. Your list might look like the following:
- Month 1: something about sewing
- Month 2: mystery/horror
- Month 3: something by Jane Austen
- Month 4: A 300-page book
- Month 5: something apocalyptic
- Month 6: Something from the New York Times bestseller’s list
- And so on
If you’re a free spirit who doesn’t like the idea of a list, that’s fine. In any case, it’s possible to change the entries on your list as you discover books you want to read. Keeping a list of titles you want to read as you discover them is an excellent idea, too. If you already have a backlist of books you need to tackle, you may want to add those to your year-long schedule!
Hours Per Day
Setting a goal of spending a few hours per day reading is excellent for people who have unpredictable or busy schedules. To start, try setting a goal for the average amount of hours or minutes you’d like to spend reading your books each day. Even if you don’t hit that number on a given day, you might be able to even your average out by the end of the week if you find free time elsewhere.
Setting an hours-per-day goal is intrinsically different than a books-per-year goal. While one is more about meeting a deadline, the other is more about reaching a goal. Both have their merits and are appropriate for different people; you should choose and pursue whichever one feels best for you.
For people that don’t know what their year will hold, committing to a certain amount of enrichment per day is a more reliable approach. And who knows, maybe you’ll end up reading more than the other guy in the end!
Alternatively, instead of hours per day, you can try to commit to a certain number of pages per day. This can be a bit tricky depending on the number of pages that your books have and the number of words they have on each page. However, committing to a certain amount of pages eliminates the tendency to watch the clock that comes with a set time limit.
There are hundreds of genres of books out there for you to explore! Although every one of us will have a particular genre or type of book that we like best, if you confine yourself to only one kind, you may end up with slim pickings after a while. To broaden your own understanding, we suggest picking from different genres or qualifications, like the examples on the list in the Books Per Year section.
If you need some ideas of fun, different genres to pick from, try the crazy book genres that we list below:
- Cli-Fi: climate change fiction
- Nordic Noir: dark thrillers set in Scandinavia
- Spoetry: poetry composed from spam email messages
- Cashier Memoir: tales from behind the register
- Bizarro Fiction: stories aiming to be both fun and strange
The aforementioned categories are just a few of the craziest genres we could find. There are hundreds more out there for you to explore!
Try New Things
Just like you can try new genres of fiction when the mood strikes, don’t be afraid to pick up different types of books, too. Even if you’re a fan of fantasy, all of your picks for the year don’t need to be that type of book. In fact, you can get a lot more enrichment just by choosing a few other categories.
Try a how-to book of some kind, for example. Have you always wanted to learn carpentry? Maybe you’ve always dreamed of being a pilot? Perhaps arts and crafts are on your list of things to learn? Books can cater to all of these dreams and desires, whether they be through fictional tales, real stories, or how-to books.
We recommend taking a look through your memories and dreams to pick out the things you’ve wanted to learn about or try since your childhood. Look for these sources of inspiration and run with them! Did you dream about living on a farm as a child? Look into books on farming, especially things you might be able to do in your own backyard.
If you can pinpoint things that inspire you or even caught your interest long ago, reading them will be far less of a chore. Chase your interests and dreams as far as you can, and you might be surprised where they lead!
Quality vs. Quantity
When striving to meet a specific goal of books-per-year or pages-per-day, readers can sometimes run into the issue of quality versus quantity. If you’re reading fifty books each year just to say that you did it, that’s your prerogative, but you’ll have gotten less out of it than someone who took the time to select books that interested and inspired them, but only read twenty-five books.
Additionally, if you only read sixty-page books for the entirety of your timeframe, you end up in the same situation. While the number of pages in a book varies widely depending on genre and subject matter, as long as you pick out a wide variety to meet your goals, the numbers should come to a rough middling average.
For those reasons, it might be more accurate to record “words per year” instead of books, but that would be far too difficult to keep up with. Another equalizer is time spent reading; no matter how short or long the book is, if you read for two hours each day, you’ll always have read for seven-hundred and thirty hours by the end of the year.
If you want to satisfactorily meet your reading goals while enriching your brain in the process, pick your books for quality. Your goals don’t need to be superior to be anyone else’s to be right for you.
As long as you gave your year-long challenge your all, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be satisfied with reading two, twelve, or twenty books this year. As long as you’re devoting some of your time to reading and what you’re reading impassions you, you’re doing right by readers everywhere.
There are many different reading challenges available for readers to take on each year. In fact, we’ve referenced year-long challenges a few times already in this article. However, these challenges can also become more or less specific, be confined to only one genre, or involve different rules and regulations. We’ve listed a few examples of 2019’s reading challenges below.
- Audio Books Challenge: listen to as many audiobooks as you can over the course of the year
- Back to the Classics: encourages revisiting the classics, or picking up some of the ones you never got around to reading
- Beat the Backlist: read as many books on your to-do list as possible
- Birth Year Reading Challenge: discover and read several books written in the year you were born
- Learn Something New Challenge: read three books on topics you’d like to learn more about
New challenges come out every year that are designed to get people to read more. There are hundreds available, but if you can’t find one that suits you, you can always make your own! With all the inspiration available out there for your reading pleasure, you’re sure to never run out of things to read as long as you’re not afraid to set a goal or two.