I used to hate driving. It’s a pain to drive in Bengaluru traffic and if you also hate the sheer task of driving, things become quite bad. Now, I do not hate the task at all, though the traffic continues to be terrible.
I used to find it very difficult to wake up at 5am and hit the treadmill or go out for a run. Bengaluru winter adds to the total lack of motivation to get out of bed. Now, I wake up immediately after the alarm and head to the gym happily.
Does that sound like a weight-loss ad? Or, a hair weaving center ad. with a clear before and after scenario playing out? But in my case, these are true and there is one thing that helped me pull these off. Audiobooks!
Yes, audiobooks. From printed books, I briefly tried my hand at e-books (on my phone – a Samsung galaxy S4; not on a Kindle or iPad), but gave up soon enough. The only e-book I fully completed was Amish Tripathi’s Shiva Trilogy (purchased via Google Play Books).
The trouble with both print books and e-books is that the task demands dedicated effort. You can only do that… that is read the book, and nothing else. I can hear you say, ‘Of course smartypants, when you read a book, you read a book!’. But you know something – that need not be the case. When you are ‘consuming’ a book, you need not be doing that alone. Not when you are consuming it in the form of an audiobook, that is.
I started with my favorite must-be-read list of sci-fi books on audiobooks – the likes of Asimov’s Foundation Series and Card’s Ender Series (the extended ones too). That’s when I realized that I can actually do something else… another task, that I can subconsciously perform while listening to audiobooks.
A morning run (outside, or on the treadmill) is one of those subconscious tasks. I recall running extra during the time I was reading (listening to!) Gone Girl! The book was so gripping that I did not want to complete my run and head home! The whole thing felt really fulfilling – here I am, running and feeling all healthy and (gladly) sweaty… and I have also completed a few pages of a fantastic book in the bargain. Getting two things done with a single effort seemed like a mighty great deal to me.
Then, I started listening to audiobooks while driving. I do listen to a lot of music in my home-office-home drive (about 25 kms totally) since I also run a music review website, but by now I have given up on music engaging my brain. It plays in the background and I tune in and out while driving, but it doesn’t engage me enough to get over the annoyingly boring task of moving from point A to point B in my car. Rather, I didn’t have a steady supply of engaging enough pieces of music to do that. Audiobooks filled that void perfectly.
These days, I don’t head to the gym/run because it is good for my health, though that’s a perfectly valid incidental effect that I gain. It is more because I’d like to know, ‘What happens today in XYZ book?’. Ditto with my driving – I enter my car with an anticipation… to know what happens today!
I have heard several complaints against why audiobooks don’t work, from assorted people. The most common one is complete ignorance – many people dodn’t even know the existence of audiobooks. The other reason, from people who do know and have tried at least one audiobook is that the speed of reading doesn’t match their speed of comprehension – slower or faster, there is a difference and that doesn’t allow them to consume the book smoothly. In print or e-book version, you can pause, take your eyes off and consider what you want to, in your mind. Somehow, I never had this problem – I just seem to be better suited to the audiobook format.
Who wouldn’t, I think – we started consuming stories in audio format as kids, remember? From our parents! That was perhaps the first audiobook we encountered. Spoken books seem like an infinitely more enjoyable format to consume classic books that we have always wanted to read. Moreso because they do not tax us into doing only that, like when someone calls, we speak to them, in real-time and all our faculties are directed only at that task. If I can find tasks in life that are beneficial to me, but do not need my complete attention and are something that I have learned to perform subconsciously, why shouldn’t I add another task to it to keep my brain engaged? That’s precisely where audiobooks make a tremendous difference in my life.
If you think about it, this is not a new thing. People listen to music in the background while at work, but in that case, the work needed the 100% attention. People felt that the music in the background helped them concentrate better on work. But take a more subconscious task like cooking – you don’t necessarily need to think while cooking, unless you are participating in Masterchef, and for cooking on an everyday basis, you’d know what to do and how. Imagine making the chore more interesting because Jeremy Irons could be reading Lolita to you in the background!
I’m aware that e-books are the current craze, thanks largely to Kindle, but the recent surge in interest, almost single-handedly, due to Serial Podcast has paved way to many people who are experiencing a podcast for the first time in their lives. And most are hooked – both to the actual story in the podcast, and the format, that allows them to do something else too, in the background. I have a seen a few people mention that they find listening to podcasts while driving a great way to beat the stress of driving! They should try audiobooks, I tell you – a LOT more titles and authors to pick from!
I don’t use any fancy device to listen to audiobooks. My favorite app, on my smartphone (Samsung Galaxy S4) right from day 1 has been Smart Audiobook Player. It helps you sideload audiobooks that you may have purchased or downloaded from any source and handles almost any format. It also has intelligent features like the way it plays the earlier 10 seconds when you pause and play again, has a sleep function that you can set if you like listening to books before you sleep and set it to stop after 5, 10, 15 minutes and so on. For driving, I have paired my phone with my car’s bluetooth and as soon as start driving, I start the book.
If that sounded like an interesting idea, the best place to start with audiobooks is Amazon-owned Audible! But if you want to try a few free books to know how comfortable you are with the format, try Openculture.
Here’s a Forbes article on the topic of ‘doing something’ + audiobooks, for even more inspiration!
(Image courtesy: http://www.californiahomeschoolmom.com/audiobooks-count/)