Today I am thinking about my New Year’s resolution for 2017. For the first time in maybe my adulthood, one resolution has held my interest through the entire year. I think of myself as very goal oriented and driven to accomplish what I set out to do, so it is hard to admit that I may not stick to a new year’s resolution. I am in good company though. Research says 85% of those who set resolutions don’t achieve them. How do you join that 15%? Figuring that out became part of my exercise too.
In January, I pledged to read a book a month. The truth is I read all the time. In fact, it is fairly typical for me to read several books during the same time. That is easy to do when I comb through books like a student, studying the details to weave insight and information into my teaching or practices of personal development coaching. But I noticed that reading served as another “to do” list item. The way I read and the content I consume needed to change. Reading had lost its pleasure. I had abandoned a passion and a form of play for me. So the pledge was to return to fiction and expand from there.
Two insights persuaded me to focus on reading with a new perspective. I noticed how hard the practice of sitting with a book is for today’s youth. This digital age has hijacked the simple joy of enjoying reading a book of any sort. I noticed that we can fall out of practice and really lose the art of knowing how to read a book well. What I saw in students, I also noticed in myself. I was out of practice and found it hard to finish a book that lost my interest. In a conversation with my kids, I realized that I had put reading for pleasure on hold, robbing myself of one of my hobbies, an essential and life giving activity. I felt I didn’t have the luxury of time for pleasure reading. Time to become lost in a character, to be absorbed in a fantastic adventure or travel back in time, or explore unknown territories for me. That topic of “not enough time” is a constant trigger for me, as I think about time and what really matters. A topic for another post. But not taking time to read was a problem worth solving. A problem that needed a resolution. That’s what New Year’s Resolutions are for, right?
This resolution really became more than a goal for me; it has been a commitment to myself to improve in something that I value. I considered a pledge that would allow me to really take on this goal with intention and meaning. Here are some dimensions of my pledge that I think have upped my success. 1) I needed to mix up the genres, more fiction, more history, more out of my comfort zone – I have grown tired of the “self-help” category. 2) When I started a book, I had 30 days to finish. I believe I am capable of finishing a book in one day; in fact, I completely consumed one of my kids’ summer reading books in less than one day. That was rewarding because I had not indulged in young adult fiction in way too long. 3) I would not curate a reading list. I needed this to be organic. I needed a rabbit-hole experience to let books find me. This was where fun seeped in. Two soulful titles were recommended more than once. One cousin asked me three times to read a novel that mattered a lot to him. I loved both of these books.
There was one more aspect of my reading that I wanted to honor. Typically, when I read, I think of who else would enjoy this book, and what wisdom can I share from this new “learning”. I generally thought I had to do something with the book. 4) This year, each book was just for me. Yes, I shared some titles with others when people asked me what I was reading and what current topics are intriguing me right now. But I allowed the reading to be solely for my benefit.
The ingredients for sticking to a resolution? First, the goal linked to one of my values, to what really matters to us. Often times, a goal is given to us or qualifies for what “I should do”. I had to own the goal and be willing to think about it regularly, as a companion and not a burden. By connecting my goal to my value of growth, I maximized my motivation. I also chunked the reading into to a month-by-month measure of achievement. These shorter goals set me up for success. A third aid tied in the idea that when we publicly proclaim our goal, others conspire to help us achieve it. While I did not talk about this often, my family definitely celebrated with me each time I declared a book finished. They became my accountability team. Even a brief but genuine congratulations motivated me to stick with this goal. Often I encourage people to name what they feel proud of. Genuine pride motivates us to see our own progress and keep it up. In order to reach any goal, we need evidence and a sense of personal pride in what we are doing. And the more success I had, the more determined I became to move forward and expand on my potential. Finally, I chose activities that promoted my goal. It is easy to let those free moments connecting with my smart phone. I paid closer attention to my choices when I acted out of boredom or lacked the elements necessary to follow through.
Looking back over the year I see how expansive this goal has been. It has impacted other, unintended areas of my life. I have listened to more genres of music with my family members. I have watched different kinds of TV shows. I have read different sections of the newspaper, paid attention to sports, listened to other thought leaders who I earlier dismissed or didn’t know. I am so glad to have a mix of topics now. I know new artists, scientists and influencers. I like having read them, not just heard them through TED talks, podcasts, posts, digital followings and tweets. And I have stretched to more than a book a month, when it suits me.
With two months remaining and room for two books, I have four books that I am eager to read. I admit, two qualify for my academic side, but two others are really calling out to me. Don’t worry! I know how to prioritize this choice now! Those books are in my cart and ready to ship.
I am excited to end the year having accomplished my resolution. The list of books may not be that impressive, but the experience has been broadening. Maybe sticking to any goal feels this way. For now, I am tinkering with some ideas for the new year ahead. I like to plan. But I also like to respond to the moment, and reading more has helped me do that.
You may have some insight about what reading does to inspire and uplift you. What really captures your interest right now? How are you taking in information and finding pleasure? I would love to know.