I’ve been seeing a particular trend on YouTube, Reddit and other platforms:
“How to read 50 books a year.”
“How I read 100 books last year.”
“How to read one book a week.”
You get the idea. Basically, a bunch of content on how you can read a lot of books. And I’m the person who actually reads more than 50 books a year. But here is the thing. I believe reading more books will not make you successful. Today I want to explain why.
There is No Magic Secret
I am not going to lie, I used to be the person who thought that reading more books would make me smart and successful. The first year I decided to read 50 books, I watched a bunch of these videos on YouTube. I created schedules and plans for myself on how to achieve this goal. I had a daily page count I needed to hit to be on track. I did end up reading more than 50 books that year. But guess what… It didn’t bring me the success I was hoping for.
I had this illusion that all those books had this “magic secret” I had to find. Once I find it, everything will change. The day I find this secret, I will get everything I’ve dreamt of my entire life. And usually, people who embark on this journey of reading 50+ books a year have this same illusion.
But guess what. Your life will not change unless you start taking action. Unless you actually go and do something. Unless you try something and fail, get up and fail again. And you can’t do these things if you are busy reading books. You can’t be taking action while you are reading a book. It’s either one or another.
Active vs. Passive Actions
This is the difference between an active and passive action. Many of us are taking passive actions. This is when we do research. Google things. Read books on the topic. Watch YouTube videos. And take online courses. This is everything we are doing when we think we don’t have enough information.
Active action is when we actually do something. When we produce things. When we engage in the creative process. When we ship the work. When we do something with our hands, our brain, our soul. Active action is when we face risks. When we are doing passive actions there is zero probability of failure. There is no risk. When we are actively doing something there is a possibility for failure. There is a risk. There is a chance it won’t work.
Check out this podcast episode with Brooke Castillo. She talks more about the difference between passive and active actions. I like her definition of what it means to be productive.
If you think you need to read a lot of books to achieve your goal, you’re probably afraid of taking active actions. You want to hide behind the passive action. You want to hide behind reading books. You tell yourself that unless you read 50 books, you can’t take the first steps, you don’t have enough information. Very often this endless research is just fear. Some people call it perfectionism but perfectionism is, again, just fear.
Ok, let’s look at the difference between passive and active actions one more time. Reading 10 books on how to write an ideal blog post is a passive action. Writing and publishing a blog post is an active action. Listening to 100 podcasts on starting a business as a passive action. Building a website, launching it and advertising it is an active action. Reading 10 books on an ideal diet is a passive action. Picking one weight-loss activity that you want to try and sticking to it for a month is an active action.
Just-in-Time vs. Just-in-Case Information
I have a friend in my life who is perhaps one of the most successful people career-wise. He achieved incredible results in a very short amount of time. This guy does not read books. I don’t think that he has read a single book ever since he graduated high school. And I’m not sure he read books cover-to-cover in high school either.
This guy just goes and tries things. He’s always doing something. He is taking massive actions. And this is what allows him to grow in his career. Don’t get me wrong he educates himself a lot throughout the process. He is not an arrogant dude who thinks he knows everything. But the difference is that he approaches it from the place of just-in-time information.
Many of us consume information just-in-case. Just in case we ever need it. My friend consumes information when he needs it. When he needs this information to take the right action. For example, he needs to figure out how to create a contract for a new group of clients. He would read a lot of information on different types of contracts out there. What should be included in the contract? What shouldn’t be included? How is it different from what they have for a different group of clients?
When he needs to create a contract he consumes a lot of information on how to create a solid contract. But the goal of his research is to actually have the contract created and sent to the customer. And he has a very limited amount of time for this research because there is a deadline. He gets as much research done as he can in this short amount of time. Then he goes and does something with this information. In this case, he creates the first draft of a contract he can send to a lawyer for review.
Many of us would read dozens of business books about different types of businesses, filing taxes, bookkeeping, marketing, etc. We read these books without even having an idea for the product yet. Why do we need all this information? Why do we spend so much time and energy acquiring it when don’t need it yet?
If you are tempted to read 50+ books a year and most of them are nonfiction ask yourself – Why? Why do you want to do that? Most likely it is because you think that reading more books will make you smart and it will make it easier to take action. But let me tell you it won’t.
Most likely it will have the opposite effect. It will make you more confused. Because you will find different opinions on the same topic. And then you need to figure out which one is correct and then you need to read even more books. This is happening while you’re sitting there and not taking action.
Instead of reading 50 books this year, why don’t you set a goal to actually take actionable steps towards your goal? If it’s launching a successful company why don’t you create a goal of taking the steps that will get you there?
Nothing is Hidden
One of my favourite sayings came from a Zen Buddhist monk. It is Nothing is hidden. What it means is that we often think that there is a secret. That only one person knows how this whole universe works. That you have to pay thousands of dollars to find your perfect guru, your perfect book, the perfect course to find the truth. Zen Buddhism teaches us that nothing is hidden. It means that the truth is out there. If you are willing to be mindful and pay attention to the world around you, you will find this secret on your own.
You don’t need to find the guru or the perfect book, all you need to do is to just pay attention to what’s going on around you. What if you decided to actually use your brain and your attention to find your own truth?
I have a postgraduate science degree. And I know that what we call a scientific approach is very similar to this Buddhism idea of nothing being hidden. Think about it. Scientists track what’s going on and then they analyze the data to find the answer. First, they observe. Yes, they might construct some experiments but then their job is to sit back and observe how their subjects react. And then they try to see common trends among what just happened to derive the truth.
You can do the same with every question you have. You don’t have to read hundreds of books.
Let’s take weight loss for example. Why don’t you just observe people who are naturally thin? Without all the drama in your own head. Wear a scientist’s hat. Just observe and try to find some common trends. How do they think? What do they eat? What do they think about food? Do they obsess over it? Do they overeat? If not then why? Conduct your own research and let naturally thin people be the subjects of this research.
Or let’s look at a business example. Let’s say you want to learn how to do Facebook ads. You can go and spend thousands of dollars on different courses. You can read hundreds of books. Or you can just go on Facebook every day and maybe spend half an hour to an hour just scrolling and seeing what ads you see. Take screenshots and analyze them. Pay attention to the ads you see more than once. It probably means these ads are working. The company wouldn’t be spending their marketing budget on ineffective ads. See what works and what doesn’t? What triggered your attention as a consumer? What is common among all these ads?
You can even go to your competitor’s page and see what ads they are running. See what they’re doing, how they phrase things. They are probably following some sort of template for their Facebook ads. There will be some similarities between the different ads they’re running. Remember, nothing is hidden. If you are willing to pay attention, you will find the truth.
Why I Read 50+ Books a Year
I’ve mentioned in the introduction that I still read more than 50 books a year. But the reason why I do it is very different. For me reading a book is a pleasurable experience. I love new ideas. They inspire me. I love feeling inspired. I read books first thing in the morning with my coffee. This combination (morning coffee + a book) motivates me to show up for my schedule.
I like reading fiction books at night. Again, I do it solely for pleasure. Plus, it helps me to fall asleep quickly and get my 8 hours of sleep. I like beautiful stories. I love beautiful language. I think reading books helps me a little bit with my own writing. I get true satisfaction from beautiful phrases, from unexpected combinations of words. Some people like watching movies. Some people like going to the galleries. I like reading books. It’s just my preferred form of art.
I have no illusions that reading so many books is making me successful. It might be improving my language, my writing but it’s not improving my chances for success. Taking massive actions consistently is what’s improving my chances for success.
Another reason why I read so many books is that I don’t want to be spending too much time on my phone. Reading is a great substitute for my screen time. Instead of scrolling Instagram or YouTube, I would rather read a book. Why? Because social media use ruins my concentration. When I spend too much time on social media. I am training my brain to be switching context every 2 seconds. I am training my brain to be seeking novelty every 2 seconds. As you might imagine, this is not helpful for doing hard work during my workday. When I sit down to write a blog post or record a podcast, I don’t want my brain to start searching for novel stimulation every 2 seconds. I want it to be able to concentrate on one thing for 60 to 90 minutes straight.
Basically, I’m reading books in order to decrease my phone usage. Social media is very harmful to how our brains work. Any action that takes me away from scrolling is good for me. I just find that reading a book is the easiest way to do that on a daily basis.