Books Personal Growth

The Habits that Save Me From Myself

A few days ago I wrote about my reading habit, and how I have read 145 books in the last 5 1/2 years, so many which were 500 pages or longer, etc After I wrote this post, I had this thought:

“If I were already opening and finishing books, then I wouldn’t need to develop my regular reading habit.”

Some people spend time reading books no matter what. They might read two or three hours a day. As an adult, except on special occasions (like a vacation), that has not generally been the case for me.

Even as a child, while I definitely could get into the zone of reading books, and I definitely enjoyed using my imagination via the printed word, reading wasn’t always the most exciting stimulation in the environment. I wasn’t naturally a book worm.* After all, there were so many other things to do! There were sports, and playing (whatever) outside, and video games, and movies, and friends, and many other things that actively drew my attention all the time.

However, I grew up in a literate family that valued reading. My mom is a fiction writer and life-long reader. Both of my siblings read. I felt some competition with them to “prove” myself as a reader. And I always had the ability to sit down and focus for long lengths of time whenever I was interested in something.

As a child, when it came to reading I responded to outside incentives. My middle school teacher gave me a deal that if I read the entire Chronicles of Narnia books that I could keep them. I took this on. Eventually, I really got into them, and I did enjoy reading the books. Yet there was an aspect of making myself do it, and sort of “working” at it. I was taking on a challenge, climbing a personal mountain. Not doing it merely for the intrinsic joy of it.

At least not initially.

As an adult, this continued to be true. The desire to be a reader wasn’t necessarily enough. I found it all too easy for reading to slip through the cracks of daily life. So I needed to adjust my habits.

By the way, it is much the same with savings. David Bach in his “Automatic Millionaire” books makes the point that unless saving is automatic, most people just won’t naturally do it, even though they want to. In fact, much of personal finance literature comes down to trying to ingrain in people the automatic habits that will help them overcome the human tendency for inaction (let alone destructive action) around their long-term financial well-being.

That is the brilliance of a good habit! You automatically get beneficial stuff done! It’s a great way to reverse a tendency that might otherwise rule the roost: doing nothing.

Before I started my morning reading habit, another thing I wanted was to expand the variety of my reading. I felt that I was reading the same authors over and over again (um, can we say Stephen King? With some John Grisham and Michael Crichtion thrown in… the same big three I read in seventh and eighth grade). Taking on a new habit helped me actualize my wish for a more varied reading palette.

As a result, my recent reading list is rich and diverse. I have read Pulitzer prize-winning literature. I have read female authors that I would not have read otherwise(!). I have read classic literature and time-tested favorites. I have read seminal biographies. And of course, I have read a rather substantial variety of books about money. With my new reading habit in place, I not only got books finished, I also read a much greater variety of books and authors.

This boils down to the fact that taking on positive new habits helped me do things that I wanted to do, but wasn’t doing. It’s the same thing in other areas that I often mention on this blog: running, writing, money management/saving, and intermittent fasting.

These are all things I enjoy. Yet, without working on my habits, I probably would not be nearly as accomplished in these areas!

Sometimes discipline is needed to save you from yourself.

To me, this is the wisdom of doing what works.

*I mean the term “book worm” in a positive way, because I can’t think of a better term for someone who naturally and easily gets lost in the world of books 🙂

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