Habits Matter

  1. 5 lines per day habit
  2. Celebrate your successes daily 
  3. Make reading part of a larger routine
  4. Read with a group
  5. Reread something that you have previously read

5 lines per day habit — you need routine

If you wish to become a life-long reader of Latin or Greek outside of the university environment:

  • Set up an easy-to-reach goal that you can meet daily, e.g.  5 lines of Greek/Latin per day.
  • Place the text in a very visible location within arm’s reach. If you are using a pdf or link, make that link a prominent bookmark on your browser.
  • Develop the habit of reading immediately after another well-established habit, e.g. after you sit down on a bus, after you grab a cup of coffee or tea, after you finish a meal, etc.

Even if you are a student with regular assignments, follow this regimen on holidays and breaks. You can always read more than five lines, but maintain the five lines of prose or poetry as a minimum goal for each day. The minimum goal is intended to encourage you to maintain the habit even on those days when you are exhausted or overly busy. If the goal is too high, you are likely to skip a day and break the habit. It is the development of the habit–not the quantity of lines–that matters. Once you develop a daily routine, the number of lines that you read will increase accordingly.

Make it a mantra that you share with friends or family daily: “Well, I am going to read my five lines now.”

Celebrate your successes daily — you need positive reinforcement

Find some way to celebrate your daily progress and make it known to others:

  • Announce to friends and family what you are reading
  • Write out translations or notes so that you have physical proof of your daily progress.
  • When you meet intermediate goals, give yourself a reward.
  • When you finish a work, give yourself a reward, boast, and create a trophy to commemorate your success.

To develop a habit, you need not only routine but also positive reinforcement. In a school environment, this reinforcement comes readily in the form of feedback from teachers, quizzes, exams, and eventually your degree. Outside of school, however, you have to be proactive and create your own opportunities for positive reinforcement.

First, announce to everyone that you are reading a particular Greek or Latin work. You can do this verbally, but it is also good to note your goal online: for example, in your bio on social media. If the people you encounter daily are aware of what you are doing, they will more likely ask about your progress and give you that extra encouragement that you need.

Second, write out your translation or take notes as you read . In a classroom environment, a few notes may be enough, but, if you work independently, you need something physical to show your daily progress. Fitness bands and apps on phones are popular for the same reason. These bands monitor an athlete’s daily progress and provide a physical reminder of just how many steps, miles, or repetitions one has completed. We need similar reminders as we read Latin and Greek. That internal ‘wow’ that you express to yourself as you look over your written translation or notes may be all the reinforcement that you need to sustain your habit.

Third, set intermediate goals every week or every two weeks and reward yourself when you meet those goals. If, for example, you are reading at a rate of 10 lines per day (again, keep the minimum at 5-per-day), reward yourself after every 100 lines. Splurge on coffee or tea. Treat yourself to a particular grocery item. In short, give yourself something to look forward to as you strive to meet each intermediate goal. Again, the aim is positive reinforcement.

Finally, when you meet your overall goal, celebrate and create a trophy to remind yourself of your accomplishment. Do not separate your inner life of the mind from your social life. Tell everybody about your achievement and take a victory lap. If you want Latin and Greek to be part of who you are, make your reading  known to others. Then, treat yourself to something truly special, perhaps a night at your favorite restaurant, and make sure that everyone knows why you are celebrating. The anticipation alone will keep you motivated as you work towards your goal.

Make reading part of a larger routine — make your habit stick

We successfully maintain  the habit of brushing our teeth because we make this habit part of another, larger routine: taking a shower, preparing for work, or finishing a meal. If we fail to remember to brush our teeth, it is often because there is a disruption in these larger routines. And so, if you want to read Latin and Greek regularly, make it part of  another well-established habit that you will not forget: e.g. after you finish lunch or dinner, after you grab a cup of coffee or tea, after you finish the dishes, etc. You want the decision to pick up a book to be automatic and natural.

Read with a group — you need a community to support you

You do not have to read alone. Consider forming a reading group or joining one that already exists. Reading with others will help you maintain your minimum daily reading habit and more importantly offer the sort of friendly conversation and intellectual engagement that so many of us crave.

Reading in a group will not limit your ability to read at the pace that you wish. If you meet once a week, for example, you can always set a weekly target (2 pages, for example) and then be very selective about which passages you wish to reread and discuss as a group. Such an arrangement will allow experienced readers to read the entire weekly target at a comfortable pace and less experienced readers to read the selected lines in Latin or Greek and the rest of the weekly target in translation.

Reread something that you have previously read — favorite books should always be reread

How is it that so many people claim to have a favorite book but will also admit to have read that book only once? If a book has brought you joy or changed your outlook in life, it is worth reading again and again and again. If you struggle to maintain the reading habit or just cannot find a new author or text that you enjoy, reread your favorite Greek or Latin  title.

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