In 2016, I committed to themes of focus and persistence and, in the process, I learned and achieved more in one year than in any prior year of my life. I have a lot to be grateful for, in 2016 I:

  • Doubled the size of my coaching business.
  • Launched a new nutrition coaching business, Beyond Macros.
  • Created a ton of content for my blog, Fitness Bullet Friday newsletter, and created my monthly grocery ninja report.
  • Ate well for less than $7.50 per day for a month.
  • Took my first extended international vacation in 4 years to Bali.
  • Competed at the CrossFit Games California Regional.
  • Discovered and pursued my love for rock climbing.
  • Read (or as some point out ‘consumed’) 32 books.

I’m not presenting this list to be braggadocious, I use it to illustrate that I was able to read 32 books without becoming an unproductive recluse. In fact, I managed to achieve far more than I had in years past.

In this post, I am going to break down exactly HOW I managed to read 32 books last year (despite 60+ hour work weeks) and how you can copy the exact script I followed to form a daily reading habit without stressing out.

But first, here’s WHY you should make reading books a part of your daily practice. Skip to the next section if you’re already convinced!

Why Reading Books Is Better than Netflix and the Internet

I promise, nothing I read on the internet even scratches the surface of the information available in books. You can’t deep dive into a topic with a few pages in a blog post.

Few films can capture the depth of a story the way the books can and, often, films based on books fall short of the magical worlds created by the interaction of a book and your mind’s eye.

By reading books, which by nature are a long-form deep dive into a topic, you are tapping into thousands of years of collective human intelligence and storytelling.

The best part is that nobody is telling you what you have to read anymore. Reading boring books that you don’t care about is a surefire way to develop a hatred for reading, and is an even quicker path to forgetting the information.

We don’t remember things that are boring, and we don’t remember things that aren’t significant to our success, survival, or sex. This should tell you that the first place to start with reading is to choose a book on a topic you care about and dive in!

How to Read More Books and Form a Daily Reading Habit

There is an easy-to-follow recipe for forming a habit, as outlined by Charles Duhigg in his best selling book, “The Power of Habit”.

  1. Define and execute the action that will become the habit (“the rotine”).
  2. Set a trigger, or “cue”, to perform the habit.
  3. Create a reward for when you perform the desired action.

Charles Duhigg's habit formation cycle example how to read more

I used each step in this habit formation recipe to make sure that I reached my goal of reading for 30+ minutes per day.

You can copy these three simple steps to read more, too:

  1. Assemble the necessary resources (books, audiobooks, listening equipment) and READ.
  2. Set the trigger for WHEN you will read.
  3. Choose WHAT you will read, and how to reward yourself for doing so.

1)Assemble the necessary resources to complete the action of daily reading.

The most obvious essential resource for forming the daily reading habit is a book. I will get back to that in a second.

Over the last year, I have actually found three things to be even more important in my quest to read daily.

  1. Headphones.
  2. Bluetooth Speakers
  3. Audiobooks

I won’t understate it, audiobooks were 100% the reason that I was able to consume as many books as I did in 2016. I read 8 books in print, and listened to 24.

If you start consuming audiobooks in addition to reading books in print, you will easily double the number of books you read in 2017.

If you set up your environment so its conducive to listening to audiobooks by getting a reliable (and comfortable) pair of earbud headphones and bluetooth speakers in your house, you will read four times as many books this year as last year.

headphones are my secret weapon to reading more audiobooksMy Secret Weapon

Best Places to Get Books

I personally get my audiobooks through my Audible membership. My brother and I split the 24 credits per year annual pre-pay plan (1 credit=1 book) and we buy any additional books that we want to read when they’re on sale (usually $5/book).

You can get your free 30-day trial of Audible HERE. The free trial includes 2 books, and 30% off any additional audiobooks that you purchase. [Note: I will get paid if you sign up for a trial, but you still get a free month and 2 free books. Win-win, so please use THIS link to sign up and support the blog!]

There is also a free option for audiobooks, and you don’t have to download any sketchy software to pirate the books either. I want you to know about this option because cost should not be a barrier to reading. Everyone should have access to books, and your government agrees with me.

This free option for books and audiobooks? Your local public library!

For real. Google your local public library and see if they are as awesome as the LA Public Library is!

The important thing is that you have at least one print or eBook book, and one audiobook in your possession at all times. If you don’t have anything to read, you’re not going to read.

I will tell you later about how to choose a good book, but first, it is important to note which books you should definitely consume via listening, and which you should definitely be reading a print copy.

How to Choose the Best Audiobooks

The types of books that I 100% prefer in audio format are:

  • ALL fiction. I usually look for a full cast performance of fiction books. For example, the full cast performances of Ender’s Game and American Gods by Neil Gaiman. When listening to fiction performances, it really helps you build the movie in your mind.
  • Any books with a lot of dialog. The way an audiobook is performed can really illuminate the dialog between characters which helps with their development.
  • Any book you want to read NOW but you’re too busy to commit to print.

What are the Best Books to Read in Print?

Below are the types of books I can only read in their print form:

  • Highly cerebral or theoretical books that include facts, figures, equations, illustrations, advanced concepts.
    • In audio format, a book like “For the Love of Physics” is very difficult to follow. I found myself rewinding over-and-over to grasp the concepts in the book. In print, you can just immediately re-read the part that didn’t make sense and view illustrations and figures that support the text.
  • (Almost) any book with a financial focus.
  • Physically beautiful books.
  • Books where you will want to highlight, make notes, and continue to reference these notes in the future.
  • Any reference book.

Next up, and most important to the process, is setting the trigger for WHEN to read!

2)Set the trigger by defining WHEN you will read.

A habit “trigger” is most effective when you tie it to another one of your habits. By piggybacking on your existing habits, you can more effectively insert the new habit into your day.

To illustrate what I mean, if you wanted to start flossing, and you already brush your teeth you could use brushing your teeth as the event that triggers you to floss your teeth.

To make a trigger even more effective, you can create an intrusive visual cue.

Going back to the flossing example, you could put a floss pick on top of your toothbrush so that every time you go to brush your teeth you remember to floss, and it is convenient to do so.

I used this “habit piggybacking” method, and visually intrusive cues to craft my daily reading habit despite a busy schedule.

Visual Cues

First, the visual cues.

  • I put a set of bluetooth speakers in my kitchen which serves as a reminder that I can listen to audiobooks while I was dishes or cook.
  • I put print books wherever I am likely to read them.
    • At home, they’re out on a coffee table or next to my bed.
    • When I travel, they’re in my carry on bag for easy access.

Habits To Piggyback On

As for the “piggybacking” technique, I follow one rule, “during any activity that will last 10+ minutes and doesn’t require 100% of my attention, I will listen to my audiobook.”

By following that one simple rule, I was flying through audiobooks. Try it, and watch what happens.

On a daily basis, these “10-minute autopilot activities” during which I listen to audiobooks include:

  • Driving
  • Cleaning dishes
  • Meal prep Sundays
  • Grocery shopping (or any shopping that I do alone)
  • Laundry
  • Cooking

Here’s how the time adds up on a weekly basis:

  • I usually have a minimum 30 minute total commute per day, I am guaranteed to read at least three hours per week in the car.
  • I usually spend another one hour round trip to the grocery store, and up to two hours on food prep for another three hours per week.
  • Add in about 15 minutes per day tidying up the house before I start work (I work from home for at least a portion of every day) and there is another 1.5 hours per week.
  • I take a mid-morning break for a meal and coffee for about 20-30 minutes Monday through Friday which gives me another 1.5-2 hours.

Total=9+hours per week

That’s right. By simply occupying time that would otherwise be wasted on repetitive, mind numbing tasks, you can add over nine hours of education and entertainment to your week.

At 1.25x listening speed, this is the equivalent of a 11.25 hour audiobook.

A note on Listening speed-

Audiobook players will let you speed up or slow down the pace of narration. I personally find that at 1.25x speed you still get the full effect of the narrator’s performance but cut a 10 hour audiobook down to 8 hours. It’s my happy medium for listening speed.

I know other listeners who don’t care if it sounds like Alvin and the chipmunks are narrating, and just want to hammer through books as fast as possible. They listen between 1.5-2x speed.

Some narrators have the speaking pace of Ben Stein, and can be read at 1.5x speed without issue.

ben stein bueller reading slow

1.5x speed is right on the border of tolerable and annoying for me. It all depends on the narrator’s pace. I will never read fiction full cast performances at 1.5x speed because you lose the effect of the performance. I might re-read a book at 1.5x pace, however

3)Reward yourself, and choose great books to read

The reward is an important part of solidifying any habit. If you reward yourself after performing an action, no matter how small the reward, your brain will start to associate the action with reward.

I love to sip a hot, tasty beverage called coffee while I read print books, unless I am reading before bed. The coffee is the reward for choosing to sit down with a book instead of the billion other activities I could choose to do instead.

What is your coffee?

the best reward for reading is coffee

In the case of my audiobook habit, a damn good listen is the reward in itself. Being able to listen to an amazing book while doing the dishes instead of being 100% focused on soapy water is truly a treat.

Listening to an audiobook is the “reward” I use for meal prepping each week. This illustrates that reading can also be the reward that solidifies other healthy habits in your life!

So, how do you ensure that you’re picking a great book?

How to Pick a Good Book

I was a voracious consumer of non-fiction after high school.

My high school years were PACKED with assigned reading, especially English literature. Because I realized that I could digest the lessons of some of the world’s greatest minds via non-fiction, and never had to read a word of Charles Dickens again, I didn’t read a word of fiction from 2009 to 2016 (seriously).

How to Choose a Good Fiction Book

In 2016 I decided it was time to rekindle my love for fictional storytelling, and alternated between fiction and non-fiction books.

Because I didn’t read any fiction for almost a decade, I needed to develop a system for choosing a good fictional tale. It is EXTREMELY overwhelming to choose a fiction book if you don’t know where to start. So here are some starting places:

  1. Draw from your own experience (if you have any). What books did you like growing up? Did those authors write any other books? Check their reviews on Amazon and Audible.
  2. What are some of your favorite movies or TV shows that are based on a book or book series? Check the reviews out for those books on Amazon and Audible.
  3. Ask a friend or family member “if you could read one fiction book again as if it were the first time, what would that book be?”
    • The three most common answers I’ve heard are “Enders Game” (I read it, highly recommend), all of the Harry Potter books, and “Dune”.
  4. Visit the r/audiobook subreddit and find a discussion about fiction books.

I would also recommend reading different genres of fiction to find those that you enjoy. I realized, I like science fiction. You might like fantasy, historical fiction, mysteries, romantic fiction…the possibilities are endless!

How to Choose a Good Non-Fiction Book

I can imagine that, if you have only ever read fiction, diving in to non-fiction can be equally intimidating. There are a TON of mind blowing true tales that authors have told.

This year, I personally decided to take a different approach to choosing non-fiction books. In the past, I would just read anything that looked interesting. This year I focused on reading books on specific topics that I wanted to learn more about, and books that were highly recommended by people who I respect.

Personally, I wanted to read books that would either help me improve my comprehension of human nature, behavior, and psychology. I mostly stuck to books related to those topics.

To get started with non-fiction, I recommend choosing a topic, historical character, period of time, location, etc. that you are very interested in learning more about and asking people of similar interest what book they recommend.

From there, use whatever note-taking app you prefer and keep one note with a list of books you want to read, and one note with a list of people, places, and things that you want to learn more about.

What are the best nutrition books?!

I re-read “The Essentials of Sports and Exercise Nutrition”, the textbook from my Precision Nutrition Certification, every year. This year was no exception.

But you might wonder if I read any new nutrition books in 2016, and the answer is “NO”!!!!!!

Although I am a nutrition coach, most (not all!) nutrition books are written by a charlatan hawking their version of the ideal human diet. It is rare to find a nutrition book written based on a mixture of objective science and clinical experience.

dr oz flexing meme, lose fat without diet or exercise, trust me I'm a doctor

So, instead of reading books about some quack Doctor’s shiny, new revolutionary diet tips, I educate myself about fitness & nutrition in other ways. Alan Aragon’s Research Review is a good start if you’re interested. Best $10 I spend each month.

To improve as a nutrition coach I tend to read books that help me develop a deeper knowledge of human psychology and behavior. This helps me take advantage of clients’ minds to change their habits, and as a result, their bodies.

I also like to read books about leadership, because as a coach, you are a leader and should understand how to lead effectively, and conversely, what to avoid as a leader.

The books I read (or re-read) this year that helped me as a nutrition coach (and could help anybody who works with or leads other humans) were:

  • The Power of Habit
  • A More Beautiful Question
  • Extreme Ownership
  • How to Win Friends and Influence People.

How to Learn From What You Read

Reading is great, but if you don’t reflect and act on the information it will be in one ear, and out the other.

When reading print books, I am holding a pen and underlining, making notes, and actively engaging with the text. You can highlight and make notes with an eReader, too.

This is a little bit harder to do with audiobooks. I haven’t perfected my active reading process, since most of the time I am listening when my hands aren’t free to take notes, but I do have one suggestion for the reflective process.

Give yourself about a one-day buffer before diving in to a new book or audio content (ie. podcasts), and spend the time that you would normally listen to an audiobook reflecting on what you previously read. Here is what I suggest:

  • Let your mind go back to the lessons you learned.
  • Run through the questions the book made you consider.
  • Think about the aspects of the topic the book covered that you would like to investigate further.
  • Recount the most entertaining parts of the book.
  • Consider writing a review of the book, even if just a “mental review”.

Any reflection you undertake will greatly improve your ability to commit the book’s content to memory!

I hope you read dozens of great books this year!

Drop a line in the comments if you want any book recommendations, or if you have any for me! And check out the Post Script below for a full list of the books I read in 2016!

Post Script: My 2016 Book List

Key: I put a “!” after the books I highly recommend, a lowercase “f” for fiction, “nf” for non-fiction, and “fnf” for books that were non-fiction but read like fiction. I also noted any books that I’ve re-read and, implicitly, I highly recommend them!

Note: each of these links is an affiliate link. The price is the same as if you went directly through Amazon/Audible, but if you decide to buy one of these books by clicking through a link below, it will help support the blog!

And if you want to claim that Audible free trial that includes 2-free books and a 30-day membership that you can cancel any time, you can get your trial HERE.

Print Books:

  1. The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing (another yearly re-read) nf!
  2. The War of Art (yearly re-read) nf!
  3. The Essentials of Sports and Exercise Nutrition (I re-read this every year) nf
  4. The Four Hour Workweek (re-read for the first time in 6 years) nf!
  5. The Millionaire Next Door nf
  6. The Power of Habit nf!
  7. The Daily Drucker nf
  8. Thinking Fast and Slow

Audiobooks:

  1. Ender’s Game f!
  2. The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life nf!
  3. Neverwhere f
  4. Extreme Ownership: How US Navy Seals Lead and Win nf!
  5. The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behing Extraordinary Results nf!
  6. Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike nf
  7. Ego is the Enemy nf
  8. Path to Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson nf!
  9. Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right nf
  10. The Stranger f
  11. The Fish that Ate the Whale: The Life and Times of America’s Banana King fnf!
  12. The Obstacle is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph nf
  13. American Gods f
  14. Graveyard Book f!
  15. A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas nf!
  16. And Then There Were None f!
  17. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy f
  18. Emperor Mollusk vs. the Sinister Brain f!
  19. 48 Laws of Power nf
  20. Warrior Within: The Philosophies of Bruce Lee
  21. Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen fnf!
  22. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind nf!
  23. A Man Called Ove f!
  24. How to Win Friends and Influence People nf