8 Strategies For Fitness Professionals (or Anyone) To Get More From Reading Books

We can’t deny the aggregate influence of reading books on career and life success. Whether success is directly caused by absorbing the lessons and knowledge found in literature, or if the consistent behaviour of reading highly correlates with other success building behaviours, there’s a strong relationship.

We shouldn’t be explicitly focused on reading more, but seeking to gain the most value and knowledge from our reading activity. 

Whether you’re intimidated by the thought of starting to read, believe you’re “not a person who reads”, or struggling to be consistent, here are 8 helpful strategies to help you read more and get more out of your books.

 

1) Focus On Just 10 Pages a Day

Lie- A book is a daunting task and huge project that will take forever.

Feeling overwhelmed at the prospect of completing a book. This process is no different than getting our clients to tip toe into an active lifestyle without feeling overwhelmed by the enormity of all of our entrenched habits. We ease them in with a few workouts a week before layering on other healthy behaviours. Approach reading the same way, in bite sized portions. 

Jeff Olson’s lifestyle change classic The Slight Edge uses just 10 pages a day as both a direct way to read more and as a metaphor for getting started on a new habit with an approach that won’t overwhelm you. If an average book is 250 pages, you would complete 1 new book every 25 days. This adds up to 14 books over a year, 14 more books than most people finish. This is all without going beyond the 10 page daily effort. 

We can also borrow from Chip and Dan Health’s concept, ‘shrinking the change” from their book Switch. Often people remain stuck in comfortable and familiar habits because the change feels overwhelming. When we employ tactics to make the change seem small and manageable, those incremental behaviours add up. We can all find a little time to knock down 10 pages. 10 pages is both a literal prescription and a placeholder for any manageable amount whether 5 or 25 pages. The act of getting started by lowering the barrier to begin often leads to bursts of effort far exceeding the minimum allotment. 10 pages can easily turn into 30 of an engaging read. 

I will grant you, if you’re a sucker for fantasy fiction epics like Steve Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen or Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series, expect 800-1000+ pages and 10+ books in a series. So buckle in, you’re in for the long haul. 

2) Develop and Nurture the Reader Identity 

Lie – I’m not someone who reads, I don’t enjoy reading.

For many, the struggle to pickup a book is rooted in willpower(as if we don’t already feel like we have enough willpower battles in our lives). Later in the evening we feel physically and mentally spent. It’s why we’re prone to skipping workouts in favour of TV and junk food. We default to behaviours involving the least effort. We also more easily default to habits we see as essential parts of ourselves. If a behaviour aligns with our core identity we’re more likely to do it. Habitual runners think of themselves as runners. Prolific writers introduce themselves as writers. Want to read more? Adopt the identity of a reader. Often the difference between reaching for a book or the remote is which one aligns more closely with our identity and default setting. 

Those with fixed mindsets see identity as inalterable. Who they are is who they will always be. If instead you embrace growth mindset, you’re able to learn new skills and evolve as a person. We all wish we could be more like the people we admire. Do you automatically think “I could never be like that” or “I’m going to work toward being more like that”. 

Maybe you read when you were young and got away from it, just like athletic kids who often drift into being sedentary adults. But the identity already exists, perhaps locked away deep, and needs digging out and dusting off. 

If you aren’t yet reading consistently, begin by aspiring to read more, to be a reader. Even focusing on an aspirational identity can go a long way toward making the aspiration become reality and our default setting. 

Focus on reading topics you enjoy more, even if it starts out as reading fiction(which is still valuable for many reasons including helping to improve your writing). Many children develop a love of reading, not with the latest self help best seller, but through fiction. Harry Potter single handedly reversed the year over year decline trend in voluntary children’s reading upon it’s release.

 

3) Prioritize Time to Read

Lie- I don’t have time.

Your free time will fill up with social media scrolling or whatever mindless distractions feel easier than purposeful work. Sometimes we need quiet downtime as a break from hours of coaching and writing programs. We also can’t neglect the ongoing education and skill acquisition needed to advance our careers. If we’re serious about learning, like anything else we need to block it off in our schedule.

Blocking off time only works if we’re disciplined enough to stick to it. Again no different than a client setting times for their own workouts and being accountable to themselves, we know it’s not automatic or easy. It comes from practicing the discipline to do it. Having your books ready on hand is essential, as is not allowing this discipline to steal away your enjoyment of reading. 

Social media notifications are death to your focus. Put your devices away or set them on silent for the time you blocked off. If you find this emotionally uncomfortable, it’s a serious sign you should do this more often. Consider just how much social media addiction permeates our lives and wastes our time. Immerse yourself in your reading to make the most progress and best retain the ideas. 

 

4) Read Broadly But Go Deep When Needed

Lie – You should read fewer books, and explore them more thoroughly.

I consume on average 80 books a year. We need no further proof that people will get offended by anything now than when people are bothered by how many books someone else reads. It makes them acutely aware of their own lack of reading. Very much like the office worker who brings donuts to sabotage the colleague who’s started a diet or fitness regimen, they set out to make the behaviour that makes them uncomfortable go away. This shows up in statements like “You shouldn’t read so many books. You should focus on a few and master their concepts” It’s really just code for “I don’t like being reminded of how little effort I’ve put into reading so I’m going to discourage you and make it socially unwelcome to post about it. Ignore these people as they, like the donut wielding accountant, don’t have your best interests at heart. 

Blasting through a lot of books can easily become its own vanity metric. While we don’t just want to pile up finished books for the sake of numbers, if such vanity metrics encourage more reading and you’re benefiting from the ideas within, it’s of little consequence. I’ll share more strategies to get the most out of working through a larger number of books in the next few sections. 

You’d benefit from reading more books, a lot more. Start more books, work through them quickly, and find the best work to dive deeper into. When I listen to audio books I listen on 2x or more speed. Not only can your mind process this pace when you work up to it, you work through more books to expose yourself to more ideas and philosophies. 

 

5) Absorb the Core Philosophies Don’t Worry About Memorizing the Book

Lie – I need to learn and memorize everything from a book.

Half the point of owning a book is to serve as a reference guide. With a computer in our pockets more powerful than the one that guided the moon landing, and the entirety of recorded human knowledge an internet search away, we are long past the need to memorize everything in detail. We only need to grasp key ideas and philosophies, and know where to go to reference those ideas when called upon. 

I read for enjoyment and to gain knowledge. I also read to upgrade my attitudes and philosophies about success and life. I continually seek to be a more knowledgeable, versatile, non-judgemental, kind, and wise person. Most books have a few fundamental ideas you’ll benefit from. Few books are detailed step by step blueprints to a goal, and the rare few that are become easily referenced guides when needed. If we’re able to swiftly absorb the philosophy of a book and assimilate it into our thinking and attitudes, we don’t need to study every little detail. 

A good book is so influential it should make you feel like its ideas were always a part of you. We also gravitate to books that already align with our existing ideas and philosophies. This can build upon our current skills and attitudes. This risks entrenching faulty philosophies that aren’t serving us, so we would be wise expose ourselves to a broad array of ideas to challenge pre-existing belief systems and to not live within an echo chamber of confirmation bias. A growth mindset means being open to new ideas and books are one of the best paths to such ideas. 

 

6) Keep Books Handy

Lie – Reading is inconvenient.

If you keep cookies on the counter you’re more likely to snack on cookies, If the cookies are in the pantry but apples are on the counter, you’ll eat more apples. The more effort needed to begin any activity, the less likely we are to do it. This is why marketers pay premiums to have their snacks displayed at store checkouts. 

Having a book within reach increases the likelihood of you actually reading it. This means keeping a book next to your favourite chair or spot on the couch. If you read before bed, keep a book on your nightstand. Having a book in your backpack when you’re waiting for appointments, on public transit or travelling serves as an accessible reminder. Maybe you prefer e-books and have them on your tablet or laptop. 

Create a ritual around reading. I aim to take the hour before bed away from devices and reading to wind down. I take 1 or 2 books on trips and read for part of my flight. For a long time I struggled to add more cardio into my weight training biased workouts. One day I saw one of my closest friends perched on a spin bike reading a book. The spin bike wasn’t as natural for me but I found a sit down recumbent bike perfect. I crank up the resistance to ensure it’s a good cardio workout and zone out in my book. Now I feel physically healthier from adding 1-2 hours of zone 2 cardio each week and feel more productive (though it’s wise to not always think about life through the lens of productivity). And I’ve found I really enjoy the combination of reading and cardio. 

 

7) Use Audiobooks and Increase Speed

Lie – We don’t gain as much from audiobooks as we do reading physical books.

Perhaps the single greatest tool to magnify your ability to consume more books is the growing popularity of audiobooks. I say “consume” as some purists complain when you say you’ve “read an audiobook”. Semantics aside we all have limited time to sit and read physical books. Layering in audio books allows you to get through and enjoy a larger volume and variety of books and their ideas. 

Naysayers tend to point out how we retain physical reading better. Even if true, arguing which is better out of reading or listening is a false dichotomy. Instead add audiobooks in addition to your physical reading time. Everyone learns differently. If you struggle to pay attention to audiobooks, this may not work for you, or you might play with different genres to find something that holds your interest better. I binged and loved the Harry Potter series on audio and felt the characters come to life in my mind. 

Make audiobooks ritual parts of other tasks. Driving and cooking are my 2 major times for stacking the habit of listening to a book. I will also on occasion listen to an audiobook while lifting if the subject is urgent and interesting. 

If you add up your commute hours, the sheer time could equal a university level education in a few years. Your drive time feels less wasted. I have found my patience with driving and the varied annoyances and incompetences rolling along in front of you noticeably improved since I’ve adopted the habit of learning through podcasts, which morphed into books. 

We all struggle to find time to cook. In our seemingly ever more hectic lives filled with convenient if poor quality meal options, getting back to home cooked meals is one of the highest leverage behaviours for good health. We can make that effort a little more fulfilling if we simultaneously deepen our learning. 

Audiobooks work well with routine tasks that don’t take intense focus. Anything more intense is distracting and anything more mundane fails to hold my attention. 

Increase your listening speed as you go. Start on 1x speed and gradually increase by 0.1 until you get to 1.5x – 2x where you comfortably absorb the concepts. Our brains are capable of processing on even faster speeds, but I find I begin to lose focus beyond 2.3-2.5x speed depending on the narrator. I now find 1x speed intolerably slow. 

If you find an especially interesting audiobook, grab a physical copy. Re-read it to gain a more thorough grasp of its ideas. Conversely when you want to refresh a favourite book, you can often revisit it efficiently by cruising the audio version. When I need to break through resistance to my creative writing efforts, I reboot Stephen Pressfield’s short creative classic, The War of Art. 

By knocking down books focused on ideas and philosophies, you save your physical reading time for books that would be otherwise difficult to consume on audio. In particular books on strength and conditioning tend to require physical copies.

Note an important exception. Always read physical books about writing. You better absorb writing concepts by seeing words on a page. William Zinsser’s writing bible On Writing Well and Anne Handley’s Everybody Writes are essential physical reads for any aspiring writer. 

 

8) Be Willing To Abandon Books

Lie- I need to finish a book before starting new ones I’m more interested in.

You may believe you need to finish every book you start. Experienced readers know when to bail on a book once they’ve realized it’s either mediocre, not the right concept for your current needs, or when you’ve gained the premise and the author has shown talent for extending an idea that could have been explained in one paragraph into an opus of repetitive stories(a surprisingly number of modern books). 

David Epstein’s Range was a popular in fitness circles back in 2019. The book provides a lot of long dragged out examples of why early skill and sport specialization is far more myth than reality for elite athletes. Kids should be exposed to a wider array of sports and interests to where they have the greatest potential when they later specialize in their early to mid teens. I’ve pretty much saved you the need to even read it. At worst the book would have thoroughly covered its premise in one quarter the length and at best would have gotten it’s message across in an article. 

If you’re compelled to finish a book before moving onto the next but you’re bored or disinterested in the current one, you risk putting it down and losing the reading habit altogether.  Dispense with any guilt for wasting the purchase and move on to something more valuable and interesting. You can refund the audio credit or donate the book to a worthy cause.

To get to more of the great books you’ll find value within, you need the discipline to walk away from the books you start but realize don’t serve your needs. There may come a time when you’re ready for the message or it now applies. This could mean filing away entrepreneurial startup books like The Lean Startup by Eric Reis and The E-Myth Revisited by Michael E. Gerber until you’re reading to begin your business. 

Reading can be aspirational. Reading is one of the most powerful levers to upgrade every corner of your life. And much like working out regularly and eating healthy, it isn’t all or nothing. We can recover from false starts along the way and gradually work reading into a normal and fulfilling part of our lives. 

If you’re looking for recommendations for specific books to your career or life needs, please message me on Instagram @andrewcoatesfitness or email me at andrewcoatesfitness@gmail.com. If you haven’t already read my free pdf guide: My 90 Favorite Books To Supercharge Your Life, message me and I’ll send it to you personally for joining my email list(if you’re not already on it). 

Menu