What Reading 80 Books in 2014 Taught Me About Reading

This past year, I decided to instill a new habit to my life: reading. I realized it was probably the most important improvement I could make that would pay the greatest dividends. I started the year off at a frenetic pace, reading upwards of ten books a month to start, but gradually found a happier medium settling at 5-6 books a month (I was also still in school for the first half of the year, giving me more time to read). In total, I read 80 books in 2014 and more non-fiction books than I’d read in my entire life previously.

You can see my reading list here along with my thoughts on some of them.

Here are 10 things I learned about reading this past year:

1. It’s OK to give up on a book
I finished 80 books this year, but I also dropped 20-30 other books because I wasn’t getting any value from them. I used to feel guilty about doing this, following the mantra I had to finish what I started, but I quickly realized this was a waste of time. I accepted that it’s fine to quit books you don’t like or aren’t doing anything for you.

The timing of when you read a book is sometimes everything – there’s no shame in shelving it to read later, when it may be more applicable to your life. I felt this way while reading many business books. Such books were often targeted towards senior managers or people who were already at the helm of thriving businesses – not so relevant for my present situation. Some books I picked up were simply bad. For these books, I generally gave it 50 pages, then skipped ahead to see if there was anything useful I could pick up from skimming it. No one says you have to read a book from start to finish, either.

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The Importance of Keystone Habits

Habits create the foundation of our lives and shape who we are. They either lead us to success or detract us from it.

Some habits, however, are considered more important than others. They have the ability to start a chain reaction of other good habits. They influence other actions and routines such as how we sleep, eat, live, and think.

These habits are aptly called “keystone habits,” because they lock all the other habits in place.

It’s clear upon reflection that for me, exercise is my keystone habit.

I’ve noticed that following workouts, I eat more (I’m trying to gain muscle), eat healthier, sleep better, feel calmer, and am even more productive. Everything else seems to fall into place easier. On days where I don’t workout, or don’t exercise at all for multiple days in a row, I feel sluggish, eat terribly, and feel like my head is clouded with fog.

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Cultivate Your Gratitude Muscle

Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.
-Oprah Winfrey

It’s Thanksgiving here in the US, and that means there’s an air of gratitude and thankfulness.

It’s one of the best holidays, but being happy and grateful shouldn’t be limited just to Thanksgiving. Gratitude and thanks should be given year-round.

The gratitude muscle is like any other muscle. If you don’t use it often, it’ll wither and be weak.

Focusing on the negative is easy. The average person supposedly complains 30 times a day. It’s like this Louis C.K. video where he says “everything is amazing and nobody’s happy.”

It helps to take a step back in these situations and look through a different perspective.

  • Unhappy with the taxes you pay? Be thankful, it means you’re employed.
  • Unhappy with the alarm that goes off in the morning? Cool, it means you’re alive for another day and your ears work.
  • Unhappy with the rain outside? Great! You live in a place where water is abundant.

Gratitude is one of those things that sound wishy-washy, but I’ve noticed when I write down or think of things & people I’m grateful for, I’m noticeably happier after. I feel more present when I do so, and it’s given me the inner perspective to treat others with more kindness and respect. There’s some science to support this, too, as gratitude has been linked to the feel-good hormone oxytocin.

Wherever you are in the world, even if it’s not Thanksgiving, take some time today to exercise your gratitude muscle. Think of five people you’re grateful for right now. Better yet, let them know.

One Simple Way to Maintain Good Habits

This past week, I worked close to 80 hours at my full-time job. While I’m sure my friends in investment banking would scoff at those hours, it was a new experience for me. It’d be a stretch to say that I loved every single hour of it, but for the most part I got through it relatively unscathed (although I’m sure this won’t be the last time I pull these hours).

That being said, spending 80 hours a week on work does make it more difficult to find time for the rest of one’s typical routine. I’m sure you’ve been there at some point yourself – those days where you’ve spent all your energy and the only thing you want to do, or perhaps are capable of doing, is flopping on the couch and watching TV.

We feel guilty, though, because we know better. We have goals to achieve and habits to stick to, and we know we should be pursuing them for our greater benefit. So how do we do it?

For me, my personal priorities are fairly simple: hit the gym at least three times a week; spend quality, silent time reading books every day; and write and publish a post at least once a week.

I’ve been able to stick to this routine successfully by keeping in mind one simple idea, even amid this past 80-hour work week.

The idea is this:

Reduce the scope, but stick to the schedule

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