Over the last 15 years, I’ve been trying to unlock the secret to make my Reading Challenge successful. This year I finally cracked the code, reading more than 100 books. Here are the Mindset and Tactics I used to make it happen.
Bird by Bird
At the outset of any new endeavor, it’s useful to remind yourself of a quote from Anne Lamott’s book, Bird by Bird. — Tell them, Anne.
‘my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report written on birds that he’d had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books about birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”’
Books can seem daunting sometimes, so start small with one chapter at a time. As Anne’s dad puts it, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”
Ok, if that was all there was to it, you probably would’ve read that juicy copy of War and Peace by now, so what else can you do?
Put it on Your Calendar
Finance advisor Ramit Sethi shared great wisdom when he said,
‘Show me someone’s calendar and their spending and I’ll show you their priorities.’
How many times have you said, “Family is my №1 priority,” or “I love traveling.” And still, you rarely see your family and who knows when was the last time you traveled. Check your calendar and spending, you will be surprised.
Let’s be honest, there are many things we would like to do but are not actively working on. I want to be a helicopter pilot, design jewelry, learn Japanese, and move to Cote d’Azur. Most of them are not priorities, just things I would like to do. If I was serious about any of those things, I’d put them on my calendar, spend enough money and give them a chance to see the light of day. I know it’s not a piece of sexy advice, but this is how important things get done. Ask yourself, ‘Is reading a priority or only something I would like to do?’ If it’s a priority, do what you have to do. No need to spend thousands of your hard-earned coin to make it happen, though. Perhaps buying a special chair, a lamp, some cool markers, or that Kindle you’ve been dreaming of is enough to make a special commitment. Just don’t fool yourself.
Hundreds of years ago, the phrase γνῶθι σεαυτόν was written on the forecourt of the Temple of Delphi, it means Know Thyself. The ancient Greeks already knew that the key to ace your reading challenge (and life) is self-awareness. In my experience, when you understand yourself, you’re in a better position to do the things you want to do. To read effortlessly, avoid turning your day into a wrestling match against yourself. Are you an early morning or late-night reader? When do you have the right energy to do the right things? I write and read better in the mornings, but only have the energy to workout in the afternoon. As a result, I don’t schedule the wrong activities at the wrong time. Simple cause and effect. How about you?
To make reading a long-lasting habit it’s useful to understand the basics of behavioral design. And for that task, let me present you with The Fogg Method, created by Stanford’s Behavior Design Lab director, B.J. Fogg. In a nutshell, Fogg says that “three elements must converge at the same moment for a behavior to occur: Motivation, Ability, and a Prompt.” If you need too much motivation to start a habit, chances are it won’t be done. If it’s too difficult, you won’t do it either. If the prompt is wrong… you got it. (Fogg has a great book, and I wrote more about the method over here .) To turn reading into a long-lasting habit, start simple with a tiny version of it. Read a paragraph or two, commit to 5 minutes, or just one page. The idea is to have a consistent version that can be relied on in those days you are not feeling it. A great piece of advice Fogg gives is that successful habits have celebrations at the end of them. When we celebrate it makes us feel good about what we’ve done and it crystallizes the action with a positive mindset.
How The Fogg Method Works With My Reading Habit
When it’s time to read, my alarm clock plays a tune from Zelda’s Ocarina of Time. That’s the Prompt. Since I only commit to 15 minutes, even though I have a full hour ironclad on my calendar, I use only a fraction of my motivation reservoir. If I don’t feel like reading, I allow myself to give up when the time is over. Right after I’m finished reading, I eat a piece of dark chocolate and congratulate myself for the accomplishment, ‘Well done, Lucas. You made it.’ It’s a simple action plan that made me extremely successful.
The Dead vs Alive Time Concept
Author Ryan Holiday writes about the concept of Dead and Alive Time in his book, Ego Is The Enemy. Over there, he talks about how Malcolm Little transformed himself into Malcolm X. When the man was in jail, he realized that those years would pass by anyway, so he’d better use that time to read and make something out of it. As we all know, the outcome of his mindset changed not only his life but the course of social activism as well. Got a break between activities? Read a paragraph or two.
Extra Tactics and Goodreads
Common pitfall readers have is believing every single word is made out of gold. Remember, for normal people like us it’s impossible to recall 100% of the words of a book. (What was the 7th word from the Put It On Your Calendar section of this article? No idea, right?) So don’t worry about it. Feel free to give up on books that no longer interest you. Sometimes it’s better to get a general idea and move on. This is not an encouragement for lazy reading, as it’s always better to read one book properly than 100 poorly ones, but no need to call the rabbi and marry your books, right? Have fun! Mix genres, take notes, paraphrase what you learn, and please use index cards for the good stuff. This is how knowledge is acquired. Goodreads Since 2014 I’ve been using Goodreads to get organized and keep track of my book addiction. It’s a great website and app. It catalogs writers, books, reviews, it lets me interact with friends and other users, and for the love of it, the website even points me to where to buy the books I want. Check them out and follow me if you feel like it. I weekly update my reading status, give books a rating, talk to people, and hunt great obscure titles.
Roberto Bolaño once said,
‘Books are finite, sexual encounters are finite, but the desire to read and to fuck is infinite; it surpasses our own deaths, our fears, our hopes for peace.’
The desire might be infinite, but with the tools I just gave you, I’m sure you can fulfill it. Over the following week, how can you apply at least two Mindsets or Tactics to read more books to ace your Reading Challenge?
Happy Reading and talk to you soon, Lucas Napier