According to Charles Duhigg, who literally wrote the book on the subject, all habits work fundamentally the same way, whether they're good or bad: You experience some cue or trigger that brings the habit to mind, you perform your usual routine, and then you receive a reward of some kind.
There's good news and bad news about this underlying similarity between all habits. The bad bit is that this psychological loop is incredibly hard for humans to escape entirely. The good news is that while breaking a habit is difficult, replacing one with another is generally doable, as all habits follow a similar pattern. That's why smokers, for instance, often end up compulsively chewing gum after they quit. They've swapped the routine of grabbing a cigarette when they feel the urge to smoke with the routine of reaching for a stick of gum.
What does all this have to do with Facebook and reading? In an exceedingly clever recent Medium post, Design for Hackers author David Kadavy suggested those looking to read more hijack their Facebook habit to achieve this goal. Just like a smoker reaching for a cigarette, many of us regularly feel a tingle of anxiety and mindlessly open up Facebook. Kadavy asks, what if you arranged things so that you opened up a book instead?
Here's his exact prescription, in his own words:
- Reduce friction. For this particular habit, there's something that blocks you from enjoying books the way you read Facebook. Opening a book feels like a big commitment. You can talk yourself out of it if you only have a few minutes to spare. So, you need to give yourself permission to read tiny chunks of books.
- Hijack your trigger. Every time you feel your "Facebook Trigger," instead of reaching for your mobile device, grab a book. It's best if it's a physical book at first, because a mobile device is too tempting. If you have to use a mobile, rearrange your icons so Facebook is hidden and Kindle is prominent.
- Replace your action. Now, read the book! To start, just pick a page in the book and start reading. Remember, you have to eliminate any friction that makes you think a book is too big of an investment. Daily Rituals is a good book to start with, because it has lots of small sections; or try Dangerous Liaisons if you prefer fiction.
In just a couple of weeks, you'll find yourself not only reading more, Kadavy promises, but also starting to feel more invested in your identity as a reader, which should only reinforce your new good habit. Sounds plausible, so why not give it a try?
Or, if you're happy with your social media status quo, there is other advice on offer about how to squeeze much more reading into your days.