Books Books Books: What I learned from the 52 books I read this year
This year I managed to read 52 books. How? Well if you want to get down to the math- an average sized book is about 250 pages long, so in order to finish a book in one week, you simply need to read 35 pages a day- which would take the average reader the same time as watching two episodes of Friends on Netflix (which I’m sure most people have time to do). So, instead of turning on the TV and tuning out- I got to reading. Somedays I read just a few pages and some days I read a whole book. There was no “perfect” formula for achieving this feat, but the point is I made my reading a priority in my life and I accomplished my goal. In 2018 I did a lot of reading as well but I never could seem to finish a book from cover to cover. With so many topics that interest me, I’d devour about the first 50 pages of one and then jump on to the next, never really focusing my full attention to one book. This year (in conjunction with my word of the year; discipline) I decided that I would read every book I picked up completely cover to cover. So here we are, at the end of 2019 and I did it. 52 books, cover to cover.
So it’s time for some year end reflection- 52 books, what the heck did I learn?? First let’s breakdown the content. Over half of the books I read were focused on optimizing performance- these came from psychologists, coaches, athletes and business leaders who shared their research or philosophy on the principles of success. Throw in some autobiographies of high performers like Navy Seal David Goggins and Ultra-runner Rich Roll, a handful of Mindfulness based lessons and a few random picks like the textbook on Metaphysics I decided to read “for fun” and you’d think I’d have all the answers on what it takes to be great. What’s interesting is that sitting here right now I know on some level that I have more information on hand than ever; I’m hard pressed to find a conversation that I can’t relate back to “one of those crazy books I’m reading”, and yet still I feel like I know nothing. For every book I read there is probably at least 2 more I add to my list. And at times it can be downright overwhelming. What one person preaches, another provides research on the contrary. How can we push through the discomfort to reach new levels of potential while still incorporating mindful, present moment acceptance of where we are? I think the most important lesson I’ve learned is the power of belief. This is not to say that sitting on your couch and believing you are a successful millionaire with an Olympic gold metal will make it so- but to reach a goal you need belief driving your actions. For any of the so called “principles of success” to work- you need to believe in their power to make real changes in your life. Along these lines, an interesting phenomenon I experienced throughout the year was how much these individual books influenced my actions. When I read “Finding Ultra” by Ultrarunner Rich Roll- I found myself pushing harder towards fitness goals and staying up late to read just a few more pages. The energy was electric and inspiring. On the other hand, reading “Wherever You Go There You Are” by Jon Kabat-Zinn, creator of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) to help people with stress, anxiety and pain, I found myself taking more time to meditate and reflect on the passages. I felt comfortable instead of rushed and I prioritized sleep over the hustle. In both cases, I got a lot out of the experience, I felt like I was learning about how to structure my life and putting the tools and tricks from the book into practice quite well- the problem is that you can’t take all the advice from all the books all the time.
If you wish to look a certain way, with the discipline, dedication and the right resources, you can, but does chasing after a certain physique make you as physically and mentally healthy as you can be? Will achieving a goal provide you with the relief and peace you are searching for? I think in trying to sort out what is “right”, it comes down to my favorite question, why? If you have a shooting pain in your foot and you realize that it’s coming from a rock in your shoe, do you take out the rock or take a painkiller to mask the pain? It seems like a simple enough answer to take the rock out of your shoe. And yet so many people live in pain and discomfort, physical or emotional that they find ways to mask instead of finding the source of the problem. We all have rocks in our shoes- we just need to find them.
Why is what motivated me to read all these books in the first place. It’s my own anxiety, fear and failures that sent me searching for an answer. So, 52 books later, do I have it? Not even close. Instead of finding “THE” answer, I found a philosophy. That no matter what you’re going through you’re not alone. That nobody can win all the time at everything. That struggling and finding more questions to ask is part of what makes this life interesting. I made sacrifices throughout the year to get my reading done- sometimes it was sleep, other times social interactions and perhaps the most undervalued experience of sitting alone with myself in silence. The world of High Performance has helped me craft a vision of what it takes to be successful but it also has caused me a lot of anxiety when life gets in the way of keeping up with those standards. I think it’s important to recognize that we’re all on our own journey. We should look to others for inspiration and motivation but try not to buy into the idea that one size fits all. As I move into 2020, I feel excited- to read, to learn and to practice but also to simply live. At the end of the day, wherever you are, whatever you are doing- in that moment is most important. So live it up and live it well. After all, you could get hit by a bus tomorrow.