I love reading. I read a lot and widely. For me, reading is a source of relaxation, entertainment, and knowledge. But there are times when I find I’m unable to pick up a book and immerse myself in a story. No matter how much I’m looking forward to reading the book, I just can’t do it.

This the dreaded reading slump, and it can happen to anyone at any time.

A reading slump is a period of time when I experience a lack of interest or motivation to read. This feeling of disinterest that can last for days, weeks, months, or even years! Yep. Years.

During this time, I may find it difficult to concentrate on reading and can struggle to finish even the shortest of books, even short stories! This is extremely frustrating, when love to read.

What can cause a reading slump?

Some of the most common reasons include stress, boredom, lack of time, and technology. I know, it’s that list of shit that has the power to suck the will to live out of you.

Stress greatly reduces my ability to concentrate and focus, making it difficult to engage with a book even if it is something I would normally enjoy. Boredom can also contribute to a reading slump, especially if I’m reading books that don’t align with my interests, or if I’ve read too many books from the same genre and they’re all starting to feel the same.

A lack of time can be a factor, because when I’m busy with work, family, or other commitments, it can be challenging to set aside time for reading. If (when) I end up feeling guilty for taking time away from other responsibilities, it can also push me into a reading slump. This is one of the reasons I love audiobooks so much, because they allow me to do other things while still getting to read – and make even the most boring chores reading time!

Speaking of guilt, how’s your TBR?

I know from experience that if my TBR gets out of control, it turns into a doombox and then all I can do is think about how guilty I am when I look at it. So, I’ve learned to be gentle and cut myself some slack with my TBR. Because I will impulsively add books to my TBR, which then get passed over again and again, when I dive into my TBR and pick something else.

I’ve also taken to periodically culling my TBR of stuff that I put on there when I saw something that seemed interesting, but turned out to be SO not my cup of tea after watching some honest reviews about it. If someone can tell me that I’m not gonna like a book for X reasons, I’m happy to move on with my life at that. If you need to hear this: it’s okay to drop books from your TBR. It’s also okay to DNF books you’re just not enjoying.

My phone and social media can also be major contributors to a reading slump because constant notifications and updates from devices can be distracting, making it challenging to focus on reading. Spending all my energy on endlessly scrolling on socials will quickly drain the energy I have for reading.

Have you asked yourself why you stopped reading?

Sometimes you can get into a reading slump without realising that you have. This can be down to that when you were younger, you felt like you had a lot more time to read. And it’s true! Once work errands and responsibilities become the norm, you find you have less time for hobbies. If you don’t intentionally account for reading, you’ll likely be unable to find the time. At least until you remove something else from your schedule.

Maybe you also feel like you don’t have the energy. And it’s not surprising as reading is surprisingly complex. You aren’t born with brain circuitry dedicated to it, such as you have for breathing. When you look at a page you see shapes, and those shapes are matched to their meanings and combined to form words. These words are then connected to your experiences and knowledge, until you eventually extract understanding from the text.

This requires a level of concentration that can be difficult to maintain after a long day, or if you’re struggling with things linked to focus impairment, like mental illness or stress. This can also be true if you aren’t practised in reading. Especially, if you haven’t read in a while, you might not be used to concentrating for long periods of time or grappling with dense writing. Or if you’re used to using your focus in shorter burst because of spending a lot of time on social media, mustering the focus required to read a book can feel frustrating.

From a psychological perspective, a reading slump can be seen as a form of burnout.

Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by prolonged stress or a lack of fulfilment in your work or activities. Similarly, a reading slump can be seen as a state of burnout specifically related to reading. When I’m burnt out from reading, I can feel apathetic or disinterested in picking up a book, even if it is something I know I love.

A reading slump can also be related to my personal identity and values. For me, ads for many other readers, reading is an important part of my self-concept and my values – as it should be, if you ask me! When I’m unable to read or find myself disinterested in reading, it can challenge my sense of identity and values, leading to feeling frustration, guilt, or disappointment — all which further perpetuate the reading slump.

In some cases, a reading slump can also be related to underlying mental health issues, such as depression or anxiety. These conditions can impact your ability to concentrate, focus, and engage in activities, reading among others. In these cases, please seek professional help to address the underlying mental health concerns.

Self-care is important and if something is make you feel worse, not better, let it go. The books aren’t going anywhere, they’ll still be here when you’re ready to come back to reading.

So, how did I get out of a reading slump?

It can be a challenge sometimes, but it’s very possible. I’ve done it several times. And one key element is killing my shoulds. Most of us live our lives based on a list of “shoulds” – things we believe we should be doing based on societal and cultural expectations. These shoulds will usually lead to feelings of guilt, shame, and dissatisfaction (which, as we just discussed, are bad for having that mental energy available for reading).

To overcome the slump, you want to identify your true priorities and values, and align your actions with these priorities rather than the expectations of others. By letting go of your shoulds and focusing on what truly matters to you, you achieve greater fulfilment and success in your personal and professional life, as well as get out of your reading slump.

Some simple steps you can take to get back on track:

  1. Take a break: If you are experiencing a reading slump, it may be helpful to take a break from reading. This can give your mind a chance to recharge and reset.
  2. Switch it up: If you are bored with the books you are reading, try switching to a different genre or author. This can help you rekindle your interest in reading. One thing I love to do is pick up a comic when books feel like too much mental work. I also love to read kid’s books with my kiddo, because they’re so far outside of the kind of material I usually work with, I always find I come back super inspired.
  3. Set realistic goals: If you are struggling to find time to read, set realistic goals for yourself. Start with just a few minutes a day and gradually increase the amount of time you spend reading. Or cut down on your monthly/yearly goal. Or chuck it out entirely and just read for fun, for pleasure, for enjoyment.
  4. Eliminate distractions: If you are easily distracted by technology, try turning off your phone or disconnecting from social media while you read. There was one study that found turning your phone face down allows you to focus better because it discourages you from constantly glancing at it.
  5. Connect with other readers: Joining a book club, a reading challenge, a buddy read or a read-along can be a great way to stay motivated and engaged with reading. You can discuss books with other readers and get recommendations for new books to read.

Are you reading the wrong books?

There are typically three motives for reading; evolution, education and escape, and the books you pick up usually fall into at least one of these motives. So, the next time you wanna pick up a book ask yourself why you want to read and make sure the book meets your motive for reading.

Also consider different length books depending on the time and mental availability you have available. Shorter books are just as great as longer books and can help you get a sense of accomplishment as you manage to finish them quicker.

Reading is a slow activity and slowing down after a busy day, filled with adulting and the anxiety-ridden responsibilities that come with it. Work, stress and responsibilities can quickly take so much from you that there isn’t enough energy or time to be yourself any more, and there’s no hack to fix that. You can’t add more hours to you day. You need to take time for yourself outside of work, disconnect from distractions and be physically present.

Reading is a great way to achieve all of this. Reading is a great way to safeguard that time just for you, plus it’s an esacpe from all those things that are stressing you out in the first place. Plus, reading as an activity doesn’t give you the kind of existential dread that social media leaves you with — and it makes you an interesting person with interesting thoughts.

And always remember that there are audiobooks. If you can’t find the time to sit down and read easily, audiobooks are a wonderful way to read. Reading is meant to be enjoyable, so don’t put too much pressure on yourself to read a certain amount or type of book. Read what you love and have fun with it!