Getting Past Book Hangover with “Atomic Habits” and More

I know it’s not just me, but it seems I’ve stumbled upon something that a lot of people don’t talk about. It’s no taboo. It’s nothing to embarrassed about. But few people discuss the feeling you get after reading a great book and the space you sometimes need before diving into the next one. Sometimes books are so luscious, so delightful to the mind that they make you want to linger in the author’s world long after the story is over. You want to think about the book and its characters just a little more. Maybe even imagine new scenarios where the characters live on and have more adventures.

After a bit of research, I discovered that the feeling you get is called a book hangover, but there is little advice about how to get to the next book. There blog posts about how get over the hangover, but this is different from getting yourself to pick up another book. Of the millions of pages on the Internet, I found only one thread on Reddit that attempted to tackle the topic. The funny thing is that no one really responded to the question. No one submitted comments with strategies about how to get to the next book after reading a great one. So, this blog post will give you a few ideas, first picking up where the Reddit thread left off.

Responses on the Reddit thread focused on what book to read next. People responded by saying that they switch genres to help them transition. This is good advice, but it does not get you over the hurdle that is the inspiration that leads you to pick up another book. I have had for myself the experience of saying that I will give myself one day, then two days, then a week to get to another book, then I find that months have passed. It’s not about what to read next, it’s about how to bring yourself to pick up the next book.

What I have found works for me are two things, book clubs and a reading journal, but I will include even more possible solutions below.

Book Clubs

Accountability can be a great driver toward getting yourself in gear. When you know your next book club chat is coming up and you haven’t read the book, guess what becomes your next priority? You’ll pick up that book regardless of whether you’ve just finished or are in the middle of another one.

It helps if you enjoy the book club you’re in. Otherwise, you have no incentive to read the book. You want to read the book so you can spend time talking about the book with people you enjoy being around or people whose ideas and cultures you want to be exposed to. If you’re in a book club and you don’t enjoy it, you’ll need to find a new one. You have to want to be in a club for this method to work.

Fortunately, book clubs come in every variety. There are online clubs, in-person clubs, library clubs, student group clubs, church clubs. If you can dream a book club type, it probably exists. And if it doesn’t, it’s easy to start one. Sites like Eventbrite and Meetup.com are excellent sources for starting a book club with strangers. Book clubs with people in circles where you frequent, like your neighborhood, beauty salon, or your favorite bar, are good places to look for people you may already know to start a book club with.

Reading Journals

A reading journal can take numerous forms, so the right journal type is the one that works for you. How you set up your journal is less important than what you do with it after. My journal includes the title of the last book I read, the author and/or narrator, a summary, my impressions of the book, and a rating system for how much I’d recommend the book to someone else. You might make a journal like this one or include different categories like the date the book was published, the genre, how you found the book, or what your favorite quotes are.

The trick to using the reading journal to help you is making it part of a habit. In the wildly famous book Atomic Habits, author James Clear talks about habit stacking. This is when you take something you already do, something that’s already a habit for you, and you add another habit on top. For example, many people have a habit of drinking coffee with breakfast, but maybe they also want to add meditation to their daily routine. If you apply habit stacking, you might say that every morning when you put your coffee on, you will meditate during the 10 minutes it takes to brew. Whereas before, you might have looked out the window or started making breakfast, you replace your next to-do with the habit you want to cultivate. Your ingrained habit, having coffee in the morning, becomes your trigger for the new habit you want, meditating for 10 minutes.

When you finish a book, let that be your trigger to write in your reading journal. That’s stacked habit #1. Then when you finish writing in your journal, pick up your next book. That’s stacked habit #2. Your writing journal becomes the trigger that gets you to your next book. I like this solution because it let’s you linger on the last book you read for a while. You can write and reflect to your heart’s content. When you’re done, when you’ve exhausted all the feelings you have and splashed them on the journal page, you can move to the next story comfortably.

The only flaw to this method is that it generally requires you to finish a book. If you don’t get to the second trigger, you may not pick up your next book. But you can get around this by writing in your journal about every book you read, not just the ones you finish.

Reading Challenges

A new favorite is reading challenges. These work by playing into your sense of accomplishment. However, it is best for people who are intrinsically motivated because you have to be in control yourself of maintaining your commitment to the challenge.

A reading challenge is a set of mini goals for reading books over a specified period. There are summer reading challenges that last 3 months and affinity reading challenges that can last a year. They may challenge you to read a certain number of books in a time period or to read a certain type of book, like books by female authors or biographies, by the end of the challenge. Personally, I am taking part in a short story reading challenge this year.

Reading challenges work a lot like book clubs in that they force you to move on to the next book. If you find a book you really like and want to indulge in a book hangover, you can’t. You have to move on to the next book to keep up.

Read a Short Story

Speaking of short stories, one person commented on social media that she will read a short story when she experiences book hangover, because it requires less commitment. Her strategy and more are part of a Goodreads article on the topic. The woman’s strategy isn’t quite the same as diving into the next book, but it does get you reading again. Reading even a short story can prime you for getting to the next big thing.

Similarly, reading a magazine, newspaper articles, your junk mail might help you transition from reading a book you got lost in to a new one.

What is promising about this strategy is that you can repeat it as long as you need to. Keep reading short stories until you’re ready to read something longer.

Color

Yes, that’s right. In the same Goodreads article referenced above, a commenter suggested coloring to help get over a book hangover. This doesn’t get you to the next book, but it could work for you otherwise in two ways. First, you can let your thoughts pour onto the page through your creativity. Coloring can be a great outlet to relieve stress, even that good stress that keeps you living in an author’s dream world. Second, you can use your coloring pages as triggers or treats, depending on what works better for you. We talked about habit stacking already, so now let’s talk about treats or rewards.

A reward is what you can give yourself for accomplishing a goal. There’s a whole science to it that James Clear talks about in Atomic Habits and in this blog post. If your goal is to read a book, and you love to color, then you can reward yourself with coloring when you accomplish your goal. It doesn’t matter if the author’s dream world is great. Eventually, you’ll also want to color again. So you’ll pick up a new book so you can get to your next reward.

Of course, you can substitute coloring for anything that rouses you: a movie, a manicure, a slice of pizza, intimacy. The main thing is that the reward is significant enough to motivate you toward your next book.

Fear of Missing Out

This last one builds on psychology as well. Sometimes not being in the know can be a great motivator. What’s that last book that everyone around the water cooler was talking about? Just how far down the waitlist are you at the library? If you’re the type of person who always wants to be in the know and must always be on top of pop culture, then fear of missing out could be what helps you. You’ll always have a new book in your hand because you’ll always want to read what everyone else is. And as every reader knows, there’s never enough time to read all the books! So you couldn’t take a break from reading even if you wanted to.

You’ll need to use whatever method(s) here work best for, but I’d say this last one has to be my least favorite. Unless your circle of friends happens to have broad taste in literature, you may never get to any of the classics, nonfiction, science, history, or any of the genres you might like but your friends aren’t into. FOMO isn’t the best way to approach anything, but if it’s the only thing that will keep you reading after a long stretch following a good book, then so be it.

What other ideas can you come up with not only to combat book hangover, but to get you reading your next book as well?

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