I saw the cartoon, “Things Book Lovers Do”, on Facebook, reposted by a UK company called forReadingAddicts, and for once I thought – Oh, that’s so true! The cartoon has been used all over the Internet, from Facebook to Book Days events, Pinterest and Instagram. It is by talented illustrator Adrienne Hedger. She published the two cartoons on her website, HedgerHumor, on August 9 and 16, 2019, respectively. It’s important to give credit where credit is due, especially when, once the cartoons had become popular, her name was forgotten (despite the copyright sign next to it in the image). So, thank you, Adrienne Hedger, for your clever observations about the habits of book lovers like me. But how do these habits work? How do you make or break the reading habit?
Is this you?
Can you identify with any of these habits? I have most of them, except the last one in part 2 – I do not bring someone along to a bookstore to curb my spending. I lament my lack of self-control every time I get to the till but the shock of the total cost does not change my behaviour. And I have three habits that are not on the list:
- I always try to make out what people are reading when I sit near them on the train or bus.
- I automatically go to the bookshelves of the people whose homes I visit, sit down, and study the spines. I am a terrible guest.
- And I judge people by what they read. Sorry, there, I’ve said it.
A good keystone habit to have
The point is that reading – books or otherwise – is a type of habit. Habits are forms of behaviour that are made and entrenched over years, sometimes lifetimes. Some habits are “keystone habits” and those are the ones that are near impossible to break and replace. These can be good or bad for you – smoking would be a keystone habit that’s bad for you. I suspect in the case of people like the ones in these cartoons, reading is a keystone habit.
Habitual behaviour often goes unnoticed in persons exhibiting it, because a person does not need to engage in self-analysis when undertaking routine tasks. So, people who constantly have a book with them and are reading do not navel-gaze about the fact that they do. They just do. Habits are sometimes really compulsory and research has found that approximately 43% of daily behaviours are performed out of habit. Think about that – waking up, yawning, having a coffee, grabbing your keys and umbrella before you step outside, waiting for the little man to turn white at the intersection before you cross…
Repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat
New behaviours can become automatic through the process of habit formation. Old habits are hard to break and new habits are hard to form because the behavioural patterns which humans repeat become imprinted in neural pathways in the brain, but it is possible to form new habits through repetition. Ha! So there’s the solution, if you repeat, let’s say, doing exercise for a month, as some people would have it, you’ll keep doing it out of habit.
So, the fact that I felt compelled to look up who drew that cartoon and attribute them, is a habit of mine. My parents worked at a university and instilled in us kids the habit of doing proper references and attributions from an early age. Even our junior school projects had bibliographies…I think the teachers must’ve thought us highly peculiar.
The same goes for all sorts of reading habits. Looking at the people going to work on the train every day, I can see in the mornings they are half asleep, and the ones not nodding off or listening to music are reading – books, newspapers, their tablets or their phones. It is quiet on the train, you can see their eyes move as they read. It is a habit, formed for the purposes of minding their own business, avoiding others and passing the time as much as it is for the contents of what they’re reading. And some people just don’t read unless they have to.
Remember the awful wife in the episode of The Twilight Zone, called Enough Time at Last, who wouldn’t let her husband read and ripped up his book of poetry? He had the habit – she didn’t.
Cue – routine – reward = habit
Habit elimination becomes more difficult with age because repetitions reinforce habits cumulatively over the lifespan. According to journalist Charles Duhigg, there is a loop or mental patterns that includes a cue, routine and reward for every habit.
An example of a habit loop is TV program that ends (cue), followed by you going to the fridge (routine), and eating a snack (reward).
The key to changing habits is to identify your cue and modify your routine and reward. (Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, Random House, February 28, 2012)
If you have small children, they will probably copy some of your habits. If they see you reading and enjoying it, they too will read, and once they have that habit, it would be hard to break, and if they don’t, it would be hard to pick up. If you start them young with good picture books, the reading habit will probably stick.
Reading is what you are doing right this very moment, and what you do all the time with all sorts of information in all sorts of media. It’s one of the main ways, other than listening and doing, how we learn and how we get information. It is an essential or keystone habit. And a productive way to spend your time.
Give your kids an advantage – instil the reading habit in them and they’ll be good to go as adults. And if you think you should read more, remember the key: repetition.
Header image: Photo by Lina Kivaka on pexels.com, #1741230,✓ Free to use. ✓ No attribution required. The book the child is looking at is the very popular Fox’s Socks, written by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Axel Scheffler (Pan Macmillan, 2000).