Books are tools

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Listening to Tim Ferriss' podcast the other day, I heard Kevin Kelly (Editor of Wired Magazine) say:

If you want to significantly improve your life, read 10 books a year.

That got me thinking about the books I'd read this year. Had they significantly improved my life? Had I even read 10 books? Does it matter how many books you read?

the sheer numbers

It turns out I read 10 books. 10 actual books, cover to cover:

  1. Don't Make me Think by Steve Krug
  2. The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz
  3. Hooked: How to Build Habit Forming Products by Nir Eyal
  4. Give and Take by Adam Grant
  5. Harry Potter and the Order of the Pheonix by JK Rowling (re-read)
  6. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by JK Rowling (re-read)
  7. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling (re-read)
  8. What I Know For Sure by Oprah Winfrey
  9. To Sell is Human by Daniel H. Pink
  10. Why Mexicans Don't Drink Molson by Andrea Mandel-Campbell

break it down for me

I'm wondering if the reason I read these books matters. Are the books I chose to read more likely to impact me?

Let's see.

Looking at my reading list, I can split it into 3 categories:

  1. Books I've read before (30%)
  2. Books I had to read (40%)
  3. Books I chose to read and were new (30%)

And I can sort by most-impactful:

  1. Give and Take
  2. What I Know For Sure 
  3. Hooked
  4. The Harry Potter Books
  5. Hard Thing About Hard Things
  6. Don't Make Me Think
  7. To Sell is Human
  8. Why Mexicans Don't Drink Molson

When your sample size is 10, it's tough to make such a conclusion. I do feel like the books I chose to read were more impactful. Maybe that's just because I had the autonomy to choose. Maybe they were more relevant to my situation.

but the impact?

Either way, I'm not sure it matters that you read at least 10 books a year. I think what you do with the words in those books is what matters.

“Don’t just say you have read books. Show that through them you have learned to think better, to be a more discriminating and reflective person. Books are the training weights of the mind. They are very helpful, but it would be a bad mistake to suppose that one has made progress simply by having internalized their contents.” — Epictetus, The Art of Living

So yes, I have read books. 10, to be exact. Have I learned to think any better? Am I more reflective than before?

I'm not really sure.

I do know that I see a pattern in myself. It goes something like this:

  1. Feel lost
  2. Read a book
  3. Soak in its lessons
  4. Feel inspired
  5. Feel lost again

This is frustrating because it makes me feel stupid to have to go back to step 1 again.

It makes me feel like I'm floundering.

And I think this keeps happening because my foundation is weak right now.

To read a book just because you see your friend read it, or it's a Product Hunt recommendation, or some stranger told you to... I don't think that's enough. You're keeping up with the Jones's, staying afloat of this mass of information, trying to soak in everything thrown your way.

But I don't want to flounder.

I want to have a clear vision of what's important.

I want to know what books I should be reading.

I want to be able to improve myself sustainably.

To help sort through that ocean of books, I think there's one important thing you need to be able to do: listen to your gut.

You can try to do what Tim Ferriss does (learn deliberately) all you want. But without first listening to your gut and understanding what you need, you'll start drowning.

You'll quickly follow the shiny object.

You'll miss the important questions.

I read a quote the other day that said following desires is dangerous, and that it's better to follow your gut's prediction of what will make you happy. I've been following desires instead of my gut. It's important to be able to listen to what your gut is saying.

when you start listening

I chose to re-read the Harry Potter books when I was feeling a little lost. I'd just moved back home after graduating from University. I didn't have a full-time job, and was feeling anxious about the future. These books were my childhood, so I guess I felt safe reading them. Turns out, it was a great idea to re-read them:

  • It jumpstarted my reading-for-fun. After drifting away from reading over the months before, it was easy to start back up with books that I knew I loved.
  • It made me realize how important it was to value relationships (thanks JK Rowling :)). That's something I'd be slacking on after moving so far away from my friends.
  • And, I finally felt at ease. Sitting down with a book forces you to be in the present moment, away from all your anxious thoughts about the future.

so I need to listen?

I just need to start listening more. I need to create an environment for myself where I listen to myself more.

What does that look like?

I don't know yet...