This time of the year is when people will start making their New Years Resolution and goals for 2019. I wanted to share how I achieved one of my goals last year and hopefully it will help you to achieve yours as well.
Although this article is mainly about reading books on a more consistent basis, you can apply this framework to almost any goal you want to achieve such as exercising regularly or having a more balanced diet.
But Firstly, The Problem with Goals
However, I wanted to begin this reflection with interrogating the problem of setting goals. Don’t get me wrong, goals are fantastic in providing an initial north star and general direction but they are limited.
What I mean by this is that only setting an intention to achieve a goal is not enough.
You need to design a system to help achieve that goal. Setting a goal without an appropriate system, is like having a cup with a hole in it. It defeats the purpose of the cup.
Think of Olympic athletes who all have the same goal of winning a gold medal. What distinguishes the winners and losers is not the goals they set (since they all have the same goal of winning gold) but rather the systems they design related to training, recovery and nutrition. The best athletes often have the best systems.
With a system you can take away the need for sustained motivation and having strong will-power, which we all know is finite, fragile and a rapidly diminishing resource (especially after the initial burst of New Years inspiration wears off) .
After reading James Clear’s ‘Atomic Habits’, here are 5 systems I employed to be able to read more and make it a daily habit:
1. Make reading Easy
I made sure that I carried around a book with me everywhere I went. And by everywhere I mean everywhere. Doctors appointments, shopping, running daily errands and yes, I even on occasion brought my book to the gym (only when I regrettably found myself on a stairmaster or treadmill). The many small and ‘incidental’ pockets of time I found throughout my day accumulates to a couple of hours spent reading over the course of a day or even a week.
I also utilised my time spent in transit, especially on public transport. Working in Melbourne’s CBD means I have roughly 1.5 hours of travelling time between my front door and the office each day. Instead of mindlessly daydreaming out the window I made sure that I redefined my ‘commute’ time to ‘reading’ time (although daydreaming is beneficial for creativity sometimes).
By reducing the amount of friction and barriers associated with reading, you’ll be able to maximise the time spent reading with minimal changes to your daily lifestyle or routine.
2. Make reading Satisfying
What gets measured often gets done. I set daily reading goals so I would be able to engage the in-built reward systems we all have as humans. Much like the feeling of beating your Personal Best at the gym, by setting reading targets — say 40 pages per day — and achieving them helped me keep on track to reading a book a week.
I created a checklist where I would physically tick off my daily reading targets, which enabled me to reap the feeling of a ‘reader’s high’ (to continue the gym analogy) and keep me motivated to read on a more consistent basis. I was really surprised how far consistent daily reading took me in being able to reach my reading goals.
By setting tangible and unambiguous daily reading goals, you’ll be able to make reading more rewarding whilst also keeping yourself accountable and on track.
3. Make reading Attractive
There are many well documented benefits and incentives to read (such as improved vocabulary and general knowledge). But you need to find one that suits you and it may not necessarily be conventional.
For instance, I personally felt that by constantly reading a variety of different books from different genres (politics, business, evolutionary psychology but never the same genre or author sequentially) enabled me to constantly engage the child-like curiosity I have for knowledge, learning and interesting ideas. I also utilised the element of serendipity and spontaneity when choosing which books to read.
Often, I would go into a book store with no expectation of finding a book and walk out with something I am really interested to read. Exposing myself to a variety of different books kept me constantly engaged and motivated to keep reading.
By knowing what incentives work for you (such as joining a book club or rewarding yourself with a fancy brunch) will make reading more attractive and will increase the likelihood of reading becoming a daily habit.
4. Make reading Obvious
This is the most important step in making reading a habit. What I found really effective was designating specific times in the day to read without fail.
In my circumstances, I allocated 5:00am — 6:00am to read every morning. This may sound a little crazy but hear me out. At this hour of the morning I know that I won’t be interrupted by any phone calls, messages or social media notifications because no one else is awake and there is also no expectation that I will need to respond to them.
By reading in the morning I was also guaranteeing that I would almost always achieve my daily reading goal of 40 pages a day. By making my reading habit obvious meant that no matter what happened during the day (unexpected increase in workload, emergency or incurring significant delays) would not impact on achieving my daily reading target.
You may find that the best time for you to read is before bed or after work. But the main point of making reading obvious is that no matter what time you pick, you need to be able to guarantee that you will read during this time without fail.
5. Replace screen time with book time -
The biggest barrier I hear to not being able to read consistently is that people don’t have the time. This is an excuse that I also told myself in the past as well.
But on a weekly average, I use my phone and other devices (for non-work purposes) for roughly 3.5 hours a day. I can almost bet you that most of my screen time usage was not for productive purposes. I decided that if I could minimise the amount of time spent on my phone by at least 30%, it would give me an extra hour a day to read on top of my morning and incident reading habits.
I almost certainly had enough time to read everyday, I just needed to know how to reallocate my time to align with my goals (and make the necessary sacrifices in order to delay gratification).
In combination, these daily systems enabled me to read 52 books, but they can be applied to almost any goal you set out to achieve.
However, setting any goal requires sacrifice that leads to long-term behaviour and identity change. This means you don’t want to just read books but you want to become a reader, you don’t want to run, you want to become a runner.
To paraphrase James Clear, you don’t rise to the level of your goals. You fall according to the level of the systems you design.
Design a system or systems that are purposeful, deliberate and orientated towards your goals and you can achieve even your most ambitious goals.
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To end with, here are the top 5 books I read in 2018 that I would recommend:
- Sapiens — Yuval Noah Harari
- Atomic Habits — James Clear
- 80/20 Principle — Richard Koch
- Mindset — Carol Dweck
- 7 Habits of Highly Effective People — Stephen Covey
Bonus Tip: How do I remember what I’ve read?
Another useful tip to remember the information you have just read is to apply it straight away. Here are 4 systems I designed:
- I usually highlight and tab my books so I have easier access and to re-read those sections again at a later point in time.
- I create a summary of no more than 3 dot points to highlight the main / most important points of the book.
- I engage in conversation about the books I read with people and the interesting ideas I’ve learnt (even if they didn’t ask).
- Apply the 80/20 principle. Usually 20% of the book contains 80% of the knowledge value of the book. Identify the 20% and maximise your learning.