What I learned from reading 2 books a month for 12 months
Reading is one of the fastest ways to expand your thinking. It can be educational, moving, motivational, and perhaps most importantly, help you seeing the world through a new perspective.
Self-development gurus, visionary leaders, and a wide variety of “successful” people alike very often recommend reading, and correlate it strongly with their success in life.
So I’d been hearing a lot of similar advice – to read a lot.
“I try to read two books a week” – this from Ramit Sethi, a hugely successful entrepreneur in the self-development space.
Susie Moore, another popular self-development guru and author herself, proudly proclaims that she’s read over 600 titles.
Bill Gates has been quoted as saying “I spend a lot of time reading”.
Heck, even Dr. Suess wrote, “The more that you read, the more things you will know, the more that you’ll learn, the more places you’ll go.”
So I set out with a goal in 2019 – to increase the amount I read dramatically, reading 2 books a month for 12 months. Largely the titles were self-development-related, but some were more for interest’s sake. You can see the full list here.
So what did I learn from the experience?
First, I can only make an extreme understatement and say I learned a lot. I have fallen completely in love with reading again, and my list of books to read has exploded in size.
But overall, goal-setting wise, I disagree with aiming for a goal of reading a certain quantity of books. Here’s why:
Often I felt like I was rushed. (But hey, maybe I’m just not a fast reader!).
By trying to keep myself reading at a good clip so as to keep adding new titles to my “completed” list, often I ended up feeling like I was rushing through some really juicy learning, and missing the chance to fully apply it.
Even though themes are often repeated in the self-development space (allowing you to burn through titles more quickly), each book lays out its philosophy differently and generally has something new to add.
If you’re reading quickly, a lot of the new material doesn’t get fully digested. I take it as a bad sign when I catch myself unable to remember what the chapters I had read were about without checking the titles.
I found myself getting more focused on the goal of reading, and less on the point of it.
Because the target was to read X number of titles, I had more focus on the goal than on the benefit of the goal.
Not only was I rushed reading, but reading so many books drove me to get trapped in my head thinking about the behaviours I would change rather than taking more action in my life – it became an easy distraction.
I did my best to manage this, but with so much new information coming at me it was difficult to find time to apply it all.
I started to think the next title would be the BEST title.
As I chewed through new material learning precious tidbits that changed the way I looked at the world, I became even more hungry for new titles.
I caught myself a couple times loving the description and reviews of multiple different books I hadn’t read yet, thinking “I really need to read THAT book, THAT one will tell me everything I need!”. Rather than applying what I was currently reading, now I was churning time reading relatively the same material over and over again.
How am I adjusting for 2020?
I learned that more important than a reading goal, is a reading habit.
And when you build a reading habit, you can also take the time to apply what you’re learning.
Starting this January, I’ve begun reading in my spare time – on the train, listening to ebooks while I work out/in the car, and before bed instead of checking social media.
Building reading into my week amplifies the benefits – I continually take in new ideas, but without a set deadline to finish, I get more flexibility to move quicker or slower through a book and really pay attention to what I’m reading.
Two books a month turned out to be a dizzying pace for some months, and a leisurely pace in others – depending on the books. Some books I felt like I moved through too quickly. They were like textbooks – there were so many new insights and perspectives that I found myself taking notes, highlighting paragraphs at a time in my kindle, and wishing I had more time with them.
There are of course still many, many book titles that I’m very interested in reading, on a wide variety of topics (more than just 12 in 12 months). I fully intend to keep moving through new books, and reviewing the old ones, but I’ll be much happier doing it with consistency.