Want to Become a Voracious Reader? Stop Self-Judgement and Start Enjoying Growth!

image of Sarah readingPeriodically, I am asked, “how do you manage to find the time to read so much? ” I do read a lot and share what is tickling my inner nerd’s fancy on my IG story, blog reading lists, and shout-outs on LinkedIn. Before I get to this question, let me just do a quick check-in: is it a question about book-reading habits, and could it also be about something deeper about perceptions of greatness?

Could there be negative self-talk: “If you’re so busy, and I’m busy, how do you manage to read so much and I don’t read ‘enough’?”

Or perhaps shorter versions like:

  • “What’s wrong with me? “
  • “Why am I not as good as…? “
  • “How can I get better at…?”

These questions are from the “not good enough” school of hard knocks. We’ve all been a student there. If you were going to Forever Recognize Others’ Greatness, however, it starts with you being able to recognize your OWN greatness first. If you’ve come down with a nasty case of ‘comparititus’, greatness visibility is compromised. There is a haze of “lack.”

Okay, soapbox over, back to the original question about reading and making time for growth. After all, we’re all busy, attention compromised, and hungry for insight. So if you are genuinely curious about how to read more, assimilate more deeply, and leverage cool ideas to reach a specific goal or desire, here is my best advice, courtesy of my inner nerd.

5 Tips to Read More, Faster, Deeper

Good habits often track back to good role models. My environment as a kid primed me to love reading. When we watched cartoons on Saturday mornings, mom read her novel with cups of strong tea. As soon as we were old enough, we skipped down to the library for their craft and reading program (they let me stay two years beyond the cutoff on “good behaviour” as my mom couldn’t bear to force me to stay home when my sister still got to go). My mom’s first job was in a library, and she always told us to learn each librarian’s name, so they kept us in mind when new titles came in. I would stop on my way home from school and pick up the latest copy of Sweet Valley High and read it so hungrily I’d be back the next day for another.

In other words, you may not be starting from a 45-year indoctrination of books and libraries, and that’s cool. That’s why we don’t want to compare ourselves. As Jon Acuff suggests:

“Don’t compare your beginning to someone else’s middle.”

Here are my best tips on how to find (or refind) the deliciousness of books and all they have to offer your emotional, mental and spiritual soul.

1. Read What You Love

image of Sarah reading taken from behindI love all kinds of books. Novels, psychology books, business books, and even sometimes self-help. Within each of those genres, I enjoy different subgenres. Sometimes I will binge on one author until I’ve read every single thing that they have ever written. Other times, I get exactly what I want or need in a single book. The key is to read what you were vibing with at that point in your life.

At the beginning of COVID, I read lots of business books, trying to figure out how to pivot my business when every speaking engagement fell away within a matter of days. Then, I started a Brene Brown binge until I found myself emotionally flooded in a deep burnout. I had to switch to novels as part of my healing. (Frankly, I went to the extreme of the most mindless and racy novels that I really don’t post on Goodreads in case clients think, OMG!) These days, I’m not as interested in novels as much and am back to devouring psych books like I am a starving woman at the buffet.

The Lesson: Read what you love…at the moment. Whenever I tell myself what I “should” read, my motivation plummets, as does how much I read. When I read what I’m interested in and it is relevant to the context, books end up feeding my soul as literary soul candy.

2. Make Reading a Zero Shame Zone

If we see people reading, we are more likely to read. If we talk about reading, we are more likely to read more. If we are around people who value reading, we will appreciate it more. Reading was seen as important in my house, and in my husband’s, it was a source of criticism that “laying around” with a book was laziness. I bet it wouldn’t surprise you that he rarely reads, that is until we find ourselves on summer evenings on our sunporch, and he inevitably remarks, “wow, I really love this; we should do this more often.” He has a “season” for reading when there was no shame in sitting and chilling and reading.

Do you have a reading shame trigger? “It’s a waste of time.” “It’s too fluffy.” “It’s too boring and academic” “It’s not practical.” “It’s too much of the same.” “It’s taking you away from other things you should be doing that are more important.”

Life imitates art; whatever you’re judging yourself about with reading, you might be judging yourself as a whole. For me, “never waste time” is a mantra, so to this day, I have to remind myself I’m allowed to read a “chick-lit” book by my fav author. It’s just as worthy enough use of my time as cooking dinner.

The lesson
Our attitude about books can mirror what is happening inside. Let yourself release the shame when it comes to reading because it may release something even more important.

3. Read One Chapter at a Time

image of hands holding a book and reading with another book open and a cup of tea on a tableIf you are a #PsychNerd like me, you will know you need dopamine hits by achieving goals to fuel more motivation to keep going. If you tell yourself, “I need to read this book,” and you don’t break it down, and let’s say that book is 200 pages, you’ve now set a goal for yourself of a few days to the week-long task. Is that fair? What if instead, you said, “l think I’d like to read a chapter of the book,” and then you read it, and at the end, you say, “wow, I already finished a chapter of that book!” This is less important for fiction, but for non-fiction reading, this next part is essential.

If, like me, you think, “oh, I have an extra half an hour before I have to start making dinner…why don’t I just keep reading.” Don’t! You’ve achieved your goal; feel satisfied that not only you achieved it, but it has also fuelled a desire to keep reading again soon. Rather than continuing to the next chapter, pull out a piece of paper and write one thing you got from that chapter, or sit quietly and be present in that feeling of achievement. Hey, start on dinner early and then get that dopamine hit that comes from succeeding on or before schedule!

The lesson: Less is more when it comes to grow-focused reading. Break your reading goals down, and celebrate progress, so you keep coming back for more.

4. Stop When The Going’s Good

Let’s say that the whole one-chapter thing doesn’t work for you. Well, how about this. According to Dr. Robert Caldini, in his book “Pre-Suasion,” if you want to feel super motivated to get back to something, take a pause when it is still interesting. If you finish a task when you’re still motivated and curious, you’ll be more likely to get back into it.

For example, right before you find out if your favourite character in that novel actually got that amazing job that they wanted, put your book down. Be thinking with excitement and curiosity, “I wonder what happened”, and you’ll shoehorn time for that book back into your busy life. Why do you think they write TV shows to have a cliffhanger, compelling you to binge-watch the next episode (or tolerate sitting through commercials if you’re watching TV old school).

This is a huge tip for me when it comes to business books. I’m usually picking it up because I’m looking for a particular answer or solution. As soon as I find a strategy to get started, that book suddenly gets a lot less interesting (after all, there’s no juicy plotline and funny comic exchanges to entertain me; I am reading in my “off-work” time). I need to still feel curious to keep going. Trust me on this. I have about three dozen business books in my “to read” pile that I haven’t finished yet.

The Lesson: End your reading time while you are still enjoying it and curious so you want to come back to it. Keep curious, so you keep reading.

5. As Elsa Says, Let It Go

image of a stack of books on a table beside a cup of tea and another open bookLet’s say you have three dozen books (hypothetically), and you are finding it hard to get back into any. Is there a rule about being a “bad student” if you never finish them? Who’s asking you to write a book report on them? Who’s going to collect overdue fines? Who threatening to fail you from the class of life?

A recent self-compassion strategy I’ve been experimenting with is giving myself permission to “be a quitter” and not finish a book. We McVanels persevere through anything; however, as soon as “books” (plural) is something I “have to finish”, then there creates a tension: my inner judger nag asks me, “are you sure you want to start that? Are you actually going to finish it?”

Right now, I like having a half dozen books on the go, reading bits and pieces of books versus cover-to-cover. It turns out I love being a quitter!

  • I love the freedom of giving a book a good “skim” to spend time on the good parts and then bidding it an early adieu.
  • I sometimes get more of what I need by jumping many chapters in and then going back to earlier parts as they compel me.
  • It turns out I enjoy listening to a podcast episode or two to “warm-up” to an author before diving in.
  • It feels good to abandon a book if I am totally bored, it’s not what I thought it would be, is not helpful at that moment in my life, and even, heaven forbid, “I just don’t feel like it.”

Yep, I’m allowed to be “willy nilly” with my private time and not finish what I started. Imagine that?!

The Lesson: Success is not only defined by finishing something; success can also be discontinuing things that aren’t working, interesting, and improving. I can safely say that in 2021, I stopped reading as many books as I finished reading. Part of successful reading is being willing to let go of the books not serving you.

Here’s one last closing thought:

What is your “WHY” of reading right now?

I realize, in retrospect, that I’ve read so many books in my life because an inner author was dying to come out. Reading was a way of learning how to write – picking my genre, style, topics, and ideal reader.

In other words, I had absolutely no idea that I was becoming a writer by being a voracious reader.

It was a “safe” way to transition into authorship. I believed that I wasn’t good at writing and that authors had to take English or creative writing classes. I was not smart enough for people to read what I had to say. That books only got published by Publishers or that you needed to be famous to get a book deal, etc.

When I finally couldn’t hold my inner writer off any longer, I had consumed enough literary deliciousness that I knew exactly what made a book enjoyable for me, and it made it so much easier to write. Maybe you too, have a book in you; you have an important message the world needs, a story to share, a business idea that could save people kazillions! I totally get it (not the saving a kazillion, still working on that). If you have a book in you, and that’s the big why of your reading, here is a course you may want to check out. I’ll see you in the course as I have two more books that are in the queue (one coming out in 2023 and another in 2024 that are already promised to clients). Let’s write together.

No matter what your “why” of reading is – to relax, to grow, to heal your pain, to feel more in control, to travel to new places in your mind, to have a love affair in your heart, to reduce your carbon footprint, to be a great parent – remember, reading is such a gift. About 15% of the world isn’t literate, and many areas don’t have such open access to books, so lean into the good fortune of being a reader and embrace it.

Looking for some delicious books to snack on? Here are some great options that cover many genres from our summer reading lists:

“There is more hunger for love and appreciation in this world than for bread.”

– Mother Teresa

Judy Kucharuk

Director, Marketing and Special Events, Encana Events Centre

"Funny, full of energy and incredibly motivating – all words to use when describing Sarah and her passionate stage presence. We were fortunate to have Sarah join us as a speaker for Spark Women’s Leadership Conferences and her presentations about leveraging greatness hit the core of our objective at SPARK: “A rising tide lifts all boats”. I would not hesitate to recommend Sarah to other organizations that are searching for a well-prepared, well-organized, thoughtful and passionate storyteller."
Shelley VanVeen

Learning & Development Manager, Libro Credit Union

"Sarah brought so much energy and enthusiasm to our International Women’s Day event at Libro! Her message was uplifting, thought-provoking and truly appreciated by our team. Dealing with Sarah was wonderful – she was open, professional and willing to work with us to customize her message to incorporate our culture and connect to our topic and participants. During the session, she was a pro with a powerful message and a fantastic delivery. We had wonderful feedback from all that attended and can’t wait to have Sarah back for another session in the future!"
Sylvia D’Intino

Executive Director, Community Living Hamilton

"THANK YOU so very much for leading the engagement activities today! You’re a constant professional, with an amazing attitude and always seeing the great in everyone. I am grateful for how you have helped us this year to transform our in-person staff recognition events into virtual and on-location events. Our staff feel more inspired, appreciated and motivated after they hear you speak, and I know our amazing in-house team here looks forward to designing engaging appreciation events with your support."
Melissa Chaulk

Manager of Professional Development

Canadian Dental Hygienists Association

"We work hard at CDHA to give our members a wonderful conference experience, so we were thrilled to have received resoundingly positive feedback on Sarah's opening plenary keynote. It was the highest attended of the entire conference for both dates!"
Jamie Campbell

Director, The Center for People in Organizational Development, Sheridan College

"Smart, challenging, innovative, committed, dependable, and reliable, I highly recommend her for all your recognition needs. I have brought Sarah into my last two organizations to help build a culture of recognition and celebration. The focus on appreciation is more important now than ever."

Some of the Great Organizations We Serve