A woman reading on the couch

The Problem with Reading Goals

Because I spend all my time in the reading community, I hear the same proclamation weekly – someone has set a goal to read a certain number of books this year. I often wonder how they decided on 50 or 100 books. Are they basing their goal off an arbitrary internet list? Or did they read 40 books last year and now they’re trying to out shine themselves?

We should forget about these kinds of goals. They turn reading into a performance routine, a daily to-do list of more stuff to get done. James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, tells us that we don’t actually rise to the level of our goals – we fall to the level of our systems (27). He would suggest that instead of creating a reading goal, we should create a reading system. That’s a little arbitrary, so let me design two as examples.

Set a pleasant sounding alarm to go off five minutes after your last child walks out the door for school. When you hear the sound, you have to put down your phone and read a book for at least ten minutes. Do this every day.

Or perhaps your system revolves around food. We all love food. Every time you eat a meal, you do so with a book by your side. Once the meal is finished, you read for at least ten minutes.

“Goals restrict your happiness. The implicit assumption behind any goal is this: ‘Once I reach my goal, then I’ll be happy.’ The problem with a goals-first mentality is that you’re continually putting happiness off until the next milestone” (Clear 26).

Clear points out that goals aren’t bad because they set our direction (24), but they’re also not great at helping us during the day-to-day when we’re tired, lazy, or distracted. In those moments, we almost prefer to ignore our goals. If we had a daily system we could rely on, then even on the bad days, we run the system and see progress – and progress makes us feel good.

For some reason, we set these wild reading goals and subconsciously think that when we accomplish them, we’ll be smarter, more accomplished, and happier. The funny thing is that by creating a daily reading system and dropping the goal, you’ll probably read more books.

Until tomorrow, read slowly – take notes – apply the ideas.

**Works Cited:

Clear, James. Atomic Habits: Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones. Avery, an imprint of Penguin Random House, 2018.

Published by

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *