Don’t read for show, read to be better

I don’t know what’s with people for their fascination with new year’s resolutions. It doesn’t work. And no, I’m not saying that from my experience, I don’t believe in resolutions hence don’t make them at all! But what I can say (from other people’s experience) is that resolutions are meant to be broken since the level of commitment is much lower than a goal.

I guess that does make perfect sense. Nonetheless, I’m pretty sure you’ve got a bunch of resolutions as well. And in all likelihood it would fall in any (or all?) of the three broad categories below:

  1. Lose weight/fat (or “workout” at least 3 days a week, drink less, eat less, move more or a variant thereof)
  2. Get better with finances (or create an emergency fund, save more, invest more or a variant thereof)
  3. Read more books (or perhaps 50, 100, or 200 books this year)

I’m pretty sure there are more categories out there but let’s not get into that right now. The point is that while the top 2 resolutions have been there forever, I’ve observed “reading more” to be a trending resolution for the past few years. Of course, without a doubt, reading is a fantastic habit to develop and I firmly believe every individual should read at least 5 books a year. If not more.

The issue, however, is that we tend to live in extremes. Our tendency to latch onto to popular trends such as the 50-book-a-year challenge is ruining the joy of reading. Yes, there are folks who actually do read 50 or more books a year but they’re doing it because they can and want to. Not because of a stupid challenge. It’s not about the number of books that you read but how much were you able to absorb and apply to your life.

I think Seneca said it the best, You do not run hither and thither and distract yourself by changing your abode; for such restlessness is the sign of a disordered spirit…This reading of many authors and books of every sort may tend to make you discursive and unsteady. You must linger among a limited number of master thinkers, and digest their works, if you would derive ideas which shall win firm hold in your mind. Everywhere means nowhere. When a person spends all his time in foreign travel, he ends by having many acquaintances, but no friends. And the same thing must hold true of men who seek intimate acquaintance with no single author, but visit them all in a hasty and hurried manner…There is nothing so efficacious that it can be helpful while it is being shifted about. And in reading of many books is distraction.

Neither Seneca nor am I suggesting that you shouldn’t read. You definitely should but don’t obsess over the number of books. Instead pay attention to the valuable lessons you’re learning and think deeply on its applications. Which means:

  1. If you haven’t been reading 50 or more books a year for less than 5 years, you should probably slow down. And even if you have been doing this for ages, slowing down wouldn’t hurt.
  2. If you’ve been literally counting the number of books that you’re reading, you must slow down.

The practice of reading has a purpose — to gain knowledge or seek pleasure. Not competition. Reading is not a sport. Yes, you may get the conversation started and then what? I’m yet to hear a convincing answer to that question.

Here’s what I believe can be an ultimate reading challenge:

  1. List down 5 of the best books that you’ve ever read. And if the word “ever” stretches your thinking faculties and gives you a migraine, go back just a few years (3-5) to get stared.
  2. Write out in a sentence the core insight you gained from each of these books.
  3. Take this books out of your library (physical or digital).
  4. Read just these 5 books for the rest of the year.

If you’re like me you would continue reading new books while allocating some time each night to read these books one at a time. If you’re through with all of them in 5 months, great! Read them again. Or perhaps, you can try re-reading just one book every month.

I can personally guarantee that you will be a whole lot wiser and more effective in your personal and professional life than you are right now. How? Focused reading will help you gain mental clarity while helping you gain control over your thoughts and perceptions. Yeah, I know, it doesn’t sound as cool as “read 50 books this year” but you will have gained a lot more than your peers who’re into competitive reading.

Here’s Seneca again, “Be careful, this reading of many authors and books of every sort may tend to make you discursive and unsteady.” If you were trying to heal a wound, he says, nothing slows the healing process more than incessantly altering ointments. If you were trying to grow a plant, nothing would inhibit its growth more than to constantly move it from one room to another. Isn’t that exactly why we read? To heal and to grow?

Why do you want to read? And most importantly, what will you be re-reading this year?

P.S. I stole the title right off of Ryan Holiday’s personal commandment. It’s worth a read!

%d bloggers like this: