The "What About Bob?" Approach to Reading: Baby Steps

This essay was written by Brandon Monk.

Bill Murray is my favorite actor. Favorite movie is Rushmore. In case you’re interested. Before that, though, in the early 90s Murray starred in What About Bob? He played, Bob, an obsessive compulsive patient that sought care to bring him back to a sense of normalcy. Right after Bob starts treating,  his new psychiatrist leaves on a family vacation and Bob tracks him down. Watch the movie if you haven’t seen it, but the part that I want to reference is that the star psychiatrist (played by Richard Dreyfuss) had just recently released a book called Baby Steps. In it, he emphasizes taking small steps, “baby steps,” toward normalcy. You can be the judge of the success of the book on Bob, but the thought spawned an idea. There are a number of small steps we can all take to revive our reading pleasure. Here are four:

1. Get back to basics and read for fun as opposed to intellectual stimulation.

There are a couple of different ways you can do this: (1) Remember your favorite book from your childhood and take the time to re-read it now through the lens of your present experience and intelligence; or (2) Scan the list of best sellers and go after a good story being consumed by the masses. Either way you should pick a book for interest as opposed to picking one because you want to challenge yourself, at the outset. After a book or two following this pattern your brain will probably be sufficiently warmed up to take the next step, if you are so inclined, but stepping things up to a more difficult book is not something you have to rush into.

2. Make it a regular activity, but tell yourself you just have to start and you can quit whenever you get bored.

Starting is more than half the battle. Once you pick up a book your tendency is toward curiosity and a desire to see the story unfold. Turn your mental focus toward picking the book up and reading a page. Once over that mental hurdle commit to do it daily.

3. Keep a book handy. Life is full of waiting and reading can help make that tolerable.

Read in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles, read while you wait for a table at a restaurant, read while your significant other is watching a marathon of wedding shows, read before you go to bed, read for five minutes at lunch, and read for a few minutes before you head out the door to work in the morning. All of these opportunities add up. Having a book with you lets you seize the reading moment.

4. Focus on finishing something. There is no better motivation than the feeling of accomplishment.

Some days I leave a full day of working hard feeling like I got nothing accomplished. There is peace of mind in truly finishing something, even if it is as simple as mowing the grass or reading a book. Reward your mind with a little nugget of satisfaction in the process and make a commitment to finish at least one book. Use your success as a catalyst to spur additional exploration.

What “baby step” can you think of that you could take to get back to reading for pleasure?

Photo by Paul Jarvis.