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Bookshelves full of old books

How do reading goals help—or hurt—you?

Bookshelves full of old books

I suspect most everyone will admit that goals really matter. They help motivate us. They give us a sense of accomplishment and get us doing something we know we really should. This is why every year people set goals for themselves to lose weight, break bad habits, start good ones, and even read more books.

But what’s more important than a goal? An achievable one.

Every year since I created an account, I’ve set up a reading challenge on Goodreads. For me, it’s fun to plug in a number and see if I can accomplish it. And every year, I have never once missed it. The funny thing, though, is there are a couple of things that happen when I get too concerned about the numbers: I want to somehow win at reading, and I get twitchy when I’m behind on my target (which hasn’t happened in a while).

What if I don’t meet my goal? What if I get behind and can’t catch up? What if I only read 102 instead of 104?

Seriously. This is the epitome of dumb, but it’s what my mind does. I can somehow turn reading into something to be won, instead of something to be enjoyed. And that’s the thing—reading is meant to be enjoyed. Reading is supposed to be fun!

When a goal is functioning the way it should, it helps reading stay fun. For me, the fun comes from the challenge—in my case, trying to read 104 books this year, or two books a week. This is pretty much in line with my goals from years past, which probably means I could increase it a little bit. I know how to plan for this. I know how to read this many books. But at the same time, the pace is one I enjoy. I don’t generally get bent out of shape about the number, because I’m working on the me being dumb about it thing.

But for some people, the goal sucks the fun right out of reading. And that’s not okay, because like I said, reading is supposed to be fun. We’re supposed to enjoy it. So what can we do? Here are three recommendations:

  1. Make sure your goal is realistic. If reading isn’t fun, it might be because your goal isn’t realistic. If you’re overwhelmed, it might be because you’re trying to do too much. Someone who struggles to get through a book in a month shouldn’t aim for 100 books in a year. They should probably shoot for getting through 13 books (one every four weeks).
  2. Hold the goal loosely. Goals are guidelines. They’re something to shoot for or aspire to. They aren’t a “must” in your life, though. So don’t freak out if you’re reading speed only allows you to get through chapter a day. Enjoy the chapter you’re reading and keep working on the next one.
  3. Put down bad books. Don’t waste your time reading books you hate. If a book isn’t grabbing you, grab a different one. Don’t freak out about not finishing the bad one, because reading bad books doesn’t actually make you enjoy reading—and if you don’t enjoy it, your goal will remain incomplete.

I know: none of this is earth-shatteringly original. But sometimes we just need a dose of common sense. And that’s what I hope this post is—the kind of common sense that helps you to keep reading, and keep enjoying it.

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