What Happened When I Put Down My Phone and Picked up a Book

Go somewhere new, try something new, and read something new. Those were the monthly commitments I made to myself at the start of the year. While I’ve managed success so far in all three goals, reading something new each month has, by far, had the greatest impact on me.

When I decided on these New Year’s resolutions, I was tempted to set the bar low — maybe just a couple of books this year. I’ve always loved to read, but in recent years had begun thinking of leisure reading as a luxury and told myself that I just didn’t have the time. However, when I started to honestly assess how I was spending my days, I finally admitted to myself that if I stopped scrolling through social media each night, I would have plenty of time to dust off the books I had been waiting to be read.

To encourage myself to stay on track, I signed up for a Goodreads account and set up a challenge to read 12 new books throughout the year. I posted on Facebook asking for recommendations from friends and quizzed colleagues on what they’d been reading. A few months in, not only have I reduced my screen time, but more importantly, I feel like my life has improved in other ways as well.

I’m happier

When I spent my evenings scrolling through Instagram, I constantly compared my life to others’ vacation photos and major life announcements. In those moments, nothing I had felt like enough. I allowed the same phone that held a calendar full of events and photos from my own recent trips to make me feel trapped and less than.

Intentionally putting down my phone and picking up a book truly changed my feelings about my own life. Instead of focusing on other people’s highlight reels, I remembered all the things I loved about reading. For instance, I’m particularly drawn to novels with multiple points of view. The (admittedly nerdy) thrill from reading chapters written as different characters and the feeling of anticipation I get as I wait for the plot to come together is much more exciting than reaching for my phone.

I’m less stressed

Before setting my evenings aside for reading, I often felt agitated at night. I realized this was because I had allowed being busy and feeling stressed at work to bleed into my free time. I would spend hours worrying about projects I couldn’t work on until the next day anyway or planning out difficult conversations I needed to have.

Shifting my focus to reading during this time has allowed me to free my mind for a bit. While I can’t say I’m stress-free, I do find myself feeling more refreshed. Because reading requires my full attention, I’ve found that focusing on the plot of a book causes me to temporarily forget about my own issues and approach work with a fresh eye each morning.

I fall asleep easier

After switching to reading before bed, I found myself falling asleep easier than the nights I zoned out staring at my phone. Initially, I thought this was simply because I was feeling a bit less stressed, like I mentioned above, or because I was doing something that required a bit more brain power.

A little googling, ironically, taught me that there was some scientific backing to reading specifically helping me fall asleep. Research shows that the light from backlit screens can make it harder for your body to physically wind down at night. To take it one step further, some studies have shown that reading a print book specifically, rather than looking at a blue light-emitting screen, can help you fall asleep 10 minutes faster.

I’m excited about learning again

It’s so easy to get caught up in our day-to-day lives — going to work, running errands, wasting time on social media, etc. — that we convince ourselves that we don’t have time for the things we love (or at least, I do). It may sound cliche, but reading reminded me that I love to learn.

Whether it was a lighthearted read like “Confessions of a Domestic Failure” by Bunmi Laditan or something a bit deeper like “Educated” by Tara Westover or “Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine” by Gail Honeyman, each book sparked a desire in me to learn more. I found myself questioning stereotypes, researching different lifestyles, and contemplating social norms. And while the lack of concrete answers to all of my new questions is sometimes unsettling, I’ve found comfort in the simple joy of feeling curious again.

Originally published on May 23, 2019. 

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