How I Retrained My Attention Span and Rediscovered My Love For Reading Books

As a kid, Scholastic book fairs were my personal all-you-can-eat buffet. Nancy Drew. A Series of Unfortunate Events. Goosebumps. The Adventures of Mary-Kate & Ashley. Harry Potter. Junie B. Jones. Beezus and Ramona. I devoured books the way Bunnicula devoured carrot juice, drinking stories down to the last drop to sustain myself until I came across a new shelf lined with tales waiting to be told.

I was the kid who read during recess, who frequented the public library on weekends and stayed up way past my bed time just to squeeze in one more chapter of my newest treasure. I like to think Matilda Wormwood and I would have been great friends. But when I went away to college, I hardly had time to read the required textbooks, let alone indulge in my favorite pastime. As much as I longed to get lost in mysteries and fairy tales, I had to prioritize school. Classes soon turned into work, and before I knew it, reading had been written off my to-do list altogether.

While I still don't have the time to devour story after story in a single day, reading for pleasure has become a regular part of my adult life in a way that my younger self would be happy to see.

Despite my lack of free time, I still visited book shops and requested books as gifts on every holiday and birthday, surrounding myself with the thing I loved in the hopes that I would finally rediscover that hunger for literature that once consumed me. But even when I did have free time at the end of a long day, I would find myself reaching for the remote or my phone instead of a book, ready to turn my brain off and let myself fall into a zombie-like trance in front of a screen. When I did find the energy to pick up a book again, I couldn't concentrate and had to force myself to reread paragraph after paragraph because nothing would stick. When I couldn't even make it through a full page without getting distracted, I knew I had a problem.

Desperate to dive back into the world of magic and adventure, I set a list of goals for myself to achieve. After just a few days, I was on the path towards retraining my attention span and getting myself back on track to reading the books I longed to get lost in. Here's what I changed to get myself started:

Read the First Chapter

If you haven't read through an entire book in a while, tasking yourself with getting from beginning to end can seem pretty daunting. That's why I made it my goal to start with one of the many books I'd promised myself I'd get through someday and just read the first chapter. As simple as it might sound, getting through the first chapter of a book without setting it down to check my phone was a major struggle. It took nearly twice as long as I'd expected, but with each new chapter that I read, my focus became clearer and I became more and more invested in the plot. Before I knew it, I was halfway through my first book and my new goal was to reach the end.

Schedule 20-Minute Windows For Reading

Given that I was no longer accustomed to staring at words on a page for more than a minute at a time, I knew I would have to immerse myself in the world of reading in a way that trained my brain to refocus. To do this, I set time goals for myself. For 15 then 20 then 30 (and so on) minutes at a time, I would sit down with a book and no screens to distract me. While I didn't have a page number to reach within the time I'd designated for myself, I found that having the structure of a time window for reading meant I was more focused, and my attention span quickly began to increase.

Read on the Go

While getting through the first chapter of a book was a journey, motivating myself to keep going after a couple chapters was even more difficult. No matter how invested in the story I was, I found countless ways to distract myself from returning to the book I was reading. As someone who loves being organized and having a plan, the solution was obvious: I made a schedule. Every morning and every afternoon on my bus commute to and from the city, I would stuff my phone into my pocket and pull out my latest novel, forcing myself to read through (and take in) as many pages as I could before I arrived at my stop. It took a little bit of getting used to, but after a week I was set in a routine that had me feeling like the kid with a book in her hands on the playground all over again.

Make Your Books Your Newest Accessory

I've made novels of all sizes and page lengths my newest accessory. The best part? They never go out of style. Just having a book on hand makes me more likely to pull it out when I have five minutes to spare, leaving me more fulfilled than if I'd played a game on my phone or scrolled through Instagram during my breaks throughout the day.

Join a Book Club

Since the start of my reading-related journey, I've joined two book clubs and created an ongoing two-person book club with my best friend. Even if I don't particularly like what we're reading that week or month, I've found that having conversations about the books brings them to life and encourages me to think more deeply about the words on the page. So whether the book is fiction, nonfiction, autobiography, or a book of poems, having that community of people around me who also love to read motivates me to dig up a new bookmark and delve into another world.

It's been over a year and a half since I started out on my quest to rediscover my love for reading, and I'm proud to say that I've made my way through dozens of new books. While I still don't have the time to devour story after story in a single day, reading for pleasure has become a regular part of my adult life in a way that my younger self would be happy to see.

At the end of a long day, I can curl up with a good book and feel more fulfilled than I would while taking in my latest Netflix obsession. I can order books without feeling guilty about letting them sit on a shelf for years on end before I get to them, and I can look forward to cracking open the spine of a hardback and letting myself be teleported to another universe over the weekend. A quick peek into my apartment will show stacks of books piled in the corners of almost every room, and I plan to make my way through all of them one page at a time.