March 21, 2016
Back to Books
I think I've mentioned this before, but I've always loved reading. I actually learned how to read from my grandma, before I even went to school. It quickly became one of my favourite pastimes, and it has stayed that way for my entire life so far.
Last year around February though, I realized that I wasn't reading many books anymore - almost any, actually. I had a couple of them started months prior but they were just gathering dust on my nightstand. Sure, I was going through plenty of articles, blogs, and other online content every day, but it didn't feel the same as sitting down with a book, turning page after page, and getting lost in a good story. And I really wanted to change that. Easy to say, but hard to do: with a hectic schedule, where I was rushing everywhere and felt like I didn't even have enough time to sleep as much as I needed to, I wasn't sure how I was going to bring reading back into my life. I was so exhausted most of the time that I didn't think I would be able to successfully add even one additional task to my already-filled-to-the-brim days, no matter how much I enjoyed it.
I knew that, whatever I would come up with to help me get back into reading books had to be really simple. I wanted to set a daily challenge for myself, but I knew that I normally don't do well with them; I almost always abandon them several days (maybe weeks, if I'm really trying) in. So, in addition to being simple, this challenge also had to require as little willpower as possible.
I decided to try this: every single day, I would read one page from a book every night before going to sleep. While reading just one page wouldn't get me too far even in a year, I just wanted to establish a habit of reaching for a book regularly again. Of course, if I felt up to it, I could read many more pages in a sitting, but I knew that reading just one page wouldn't take longer than a few minutes so, no matter how tired I was, I didn't have an excuse not to do it. To make it even simpler, I didn't even care if the next day I remembered what I read, and I gave myself permission to re-read that same page as many times as it took to "make it stick" in my brain.
While in the back of my mind, I still didn't fully trust that I would follow through long-term, I actually surprised myself. While there were some days when I didn't read at all, those days were few and far between. Instead, most days I read several pages, which motivated me even more. Of course, since I read mostly at night, right before going to sleep, there were also several days when I struggled to stay awake for that one page, but I still kept at it for close to a year.
I did eventually stop keeping track of whether I was reading every single day, but not before the challenge fulfilled its purpose. These days, since my schedule is very different from what it was a year ago, I don't always read every day anymore, but I do read regularly, usually for larger chunks of time.
Looking back, I'm so glad I did this. Although it was a very small and simple challenge, it had a big impact on me. For one, it helped me confirm for myself a concept that I learned as a student at IIN and that I use with my health coaching clients: as founder and teacher Joshua Rosenthal explains, if we aren't following through with a goal, that is because the goal just isn't small enough. It doesn't have to do with an inability to follow through or a lack of desire to reach that goal, but rather the goal itself is too big and too overwhelming - it needs to be smaller.
Beyond that, it helped me to think about goals in a different way: start small - so small that you have no excuses to not do it - and then build on from there. It's a great reminder that every big goal is made up of small steps just like this, and I am definitely the kind of person who needs this reminder constantly. So often, what keeps me from going after the things I want is starting, so if I can make that first step as small and non-threatening as possible, I know that I can do so much more of what are now just dreams.
Needless to say, I've been thinking of other areas of my life where I can apply this valuable lesson, but I'd love to know, is there anything you think that it can help you with as well? Is there any aspect of your life where you really need to start small if you are going to make any progress at all?