How to Read a Lot of Books

Reading is and always has been my favorite thing to do.  I’m currently reading How to Read a Book, and I’m learning some fascinating things about how to get the most out of books.  Basically, take expository works slowly to obtain knowledge, take narrative (including history) fast to have an experience.  Between learning new things and having new experiences, reading can be the most exhilarating form of mental exercise.

Sometimes, though, I get burned out.  Like getting too much of a good thing, reading too much in one genre for too long results in boredom.  This is particularly problematic if you’re trying to learn something.  If you’re not curious about what the book says anymore, you’re probably not curious about the subject anymore.

The key to avoiding this is to alternate genres.  When you start feeling that boredom set in, switch it up.  Change from non-fiction to fiction and vise versa; narrative back to expository reading.  If I’ve read a few pop psychology books and I’m avoiding the next one on the stack from the library, I need to skip it and grab some Harry Potter instead.  When I get tired of reading fiction and I’m ready to dig back into learning something, I can pick up where I left off.  After going back and forth for a while, I usually end up spending some quality time with Pandora and my headphones and just drawing.  It’s all about finding balance and not forcing yourself to read and completely killing your enjoyment.

Sometimes, though, there are books that you really want to read, but that you just can’t seem to get into.  There are books that you know you should read that you just don’t want to read.  Some people believe that you shouldn’t force yourself to read anything you don’t want to, especially if you have complete freedom–no teacher or boss is making you read it.  I mostly agree.  But I also think that you can’t shy away from books just because they’re “boring.”  Some of the most “boring” books are some of the best and are meant to be read.


As a daring reader and a lover of learning, I try to embrace even the boring books.  I usually try to read a hard copy first, but if that fails, I listen to it on audio.  Audio allows you to keep momentum with a book that you’d easily lose interest in if you put it aside for too long, a risk you take if you have to wait for time when you can sit down and read (we tend to make time for sitting with books only if we’re excited about them).

I choose to not use audio for books I’m excited or curious about because I tend to miss information when I listen.  If all I need is to ingest, get the general idea, listening to it while I do the dishes or fold laundry works really well for me.

Bedtime Books

Another great trick I use is to keep a boring/challenging book on my bedside table and use it as nighttime reading.  (Do not choose something that might be scary or upsetting.  Most classics and theoretical works aren’t usually like that, so you’re probably fine.)  You get the steadiness of dipping into it each night so you don’t forget about what’s going on, you can use it to distract you from the worries of the day so you can clear your mind for sleep, you can allow it to bore you into drowsiness and not feel bad (since you’ll pick up where you left off the next night), and you can take as long as you want to finish it because you’re just using it as a tool in your bedtime routine.  The thing is, before you know it, you’ve read the book!  I surprised myself by reading The Iliad this way.  It took me a month, but not only did I sleep better those nights, I actually remember basically everything that happened and who the main characters were.  Was it a really exciting book to read?  Not always, although I found that I liked it more than I thought I would.  That’s another secret I’ve learned from forcing myself to read books I think will be boring.  Am I glad I forced myself to read it?  Absolutely!

Digital Books

My mother is a faithful nighttime reader.  She can’t live without her Kindle.  But let’s talk about digital books for a moment.  I think the technology is very cool.  I own a Kindle myself.  But I just can’t learn to love it, no matter how hard I try.  I can’t engage with a digital book, and unlike audio, I still have to go through the work of reading without the pleasure of it’s heft and papery caress.  I also find it frustrating that I can’t quickly gauge the pages I’ve read and the ones I have still to read.  It takes a frustrating maze of menus to see a footnote or table of contents or index, where with a hard copy I can just flip back and forth however I choose.  A real book is cozy and friendly.  A Kindle (or any other e-reader) is just another device that needs to be plugged in.

Finally, and most troubling of all, I almost never remember what I read when I read digital books.  What’s the point of reading if you can’t remember it at all?  I have found that the one thing I do love about digital books is that I can get instant gratification if there’s a book (usually only fiction) that I’m dying to read.  One click and I have it.  It’s also a great tool for instantly previewing books I might like to buy or check out from the library.


If I’m going to be reading all these books, though, I need someway to keep track of them.  I use Goodreads exclusively for keeping track of what I’ve read and what I want to read.  I also use it for discovering new books and checking out books that others recommend to me.  Honestly, when I’m taking time off from reading completely, I still spend a lot of time on Goodreads just adding things to my to-read list.  That usually gets me excited to pick up the next book.

How do you like to read?  How do you fit reading into your life?

The 4 Lists You Must Make For Your Best Year Ever

Let’s stop wishing and sleeping and make those dreams actually come true this year!  Lists are a quick way to get to know your thoughts, and happiness and achieving your dreams all begins with knowing yourself.

Here are the four lists you must make for your best year ever:

1. Write down at least 30 things you’d rather be doing right now.

This might sound like a weird way to prepare for the new year, but hear me out.  This list is going to tell you a lot about your immediate dreams and desires.  And coming up with 30 things will probably be a bit of a stretch for you.  You’ll start writing down moments you might like to include in your perfect day, places you might like to visit someday, the kind of person you might like to be.  Also, looking back at this list will definitely make you smile, so save it.  Here’s my list:

  • sleeping
  • sitting on the beach drinking a slushy, reading a book, and anticipating a lovely dinner and show in the evening
  • painting in an amazing art studio, sun streaming in, music softly playing, just finishing up a big painting that was commissioned for sale
  • shopping for the perfect wardrobe with unlimited funds
  • having lunch with my best friend
  • standing ready to decorate my new house, hands on hips, looking around at all the great potential it has, starting over fresh, notebook ready, unlimited budget, feeling a leap in my heart at the cleanliness and beautiful nature views I can see from where I stand, letting the giddiness take over
  • reading a book I’m reeeeeally into
  • opening a gift from someone who loves me
  • walking through The Met or The Smithsonian with all the time in the world, wearing comfortable shoes and headphones
  • putting together a pretty puzzle on a stormy day, wearing a sweater and fuzzy socks
  • browsing through a bookstore
  • hunting for treasures in a thrift store
  • coming home to a house that has been professionally cleaned
  • getting a pedicure, listening to music and looking at a magazine, anticipating the rest of my spa day
  • watching the lights go down from my perfect seat at a much-anticipated conference, concert, or performance
  • signing covers of my international bestseller and getting selfies taken with my adoring readers in some cute bookstore that has a line out to the street
  • playing a board game or card game with my family, snacking on trail mix, and laughing a lot
  • depositing a check into my bank account
  • sitting on a genuine zafu cushion in meditation, candles lit, quiet all around except for the last hum of the singing bowl
  • eating lobster on a restaurant patio overlooking a sunny ocean view in an adorable northern coastal town
  • riding the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland
  • fishing in a pond from my childhood
  • riding a bicycle down a country road
  • taking a hot shower
  • starting my first day at meditation retreat
  • making my last payment and being truly debt free
  • getting a letter or email from a good friend
  • witnessing my youngest child prove that she is finally, completely potty trained
  • eating a perfectly ripe peach
  • drinking a Jamba Juice, sitting on a blanket in the grass, writing a list in a fresh notebook
  • laughing really hard with my husband about something
  • completing day 365 of my no-yelling challenge
  • walking down an Appalachian country road in the autumn on a long walk before I return to our bed and breakfast for a fireside hot cocoa and chat

Wasn’t that fun?!  You probably know a lot more about me now; and I bet you’ll know a lot more about yourself after you make your list.  Your own list is going to get you into a dreamy, cozy mood for what comes next.

2. Write down 100 goals you have for your life.

Now that the pump is primed and you’re ready to indulge in some serious day dreaming, get out your notebook and paper, find a quiet chunk of time in a comfortable spot.  In order to get to the bottom of the barrel of your dreams and really search yourself, you have to brainstorm in a certain way–a big way.  You’ll probably run out of steam at about the 30 to 50 goal mark, but that’s when the magic starts.  Something happens when you begin digging deeper into your heart’s desires, when you begin imagining your farthest potential.  For me, I started to get bolder, more excited.  I began to think back on all the happiness I’d ever had as a child and all the happiness I’d ever hoped for the future.  These 100 goals have the potential to provide enough inspiration to fuel an entire year’s worth of personal growth.

A lot of people argue that just brainstorming a list of goals or resolutions or dreams is an unproductive activity.  It often becomes a form of procrastination since you’re dreaming more than doing.  But you have to start somewhere!  And even if you know what you should be working to accomplish in the new year, looking at what you want out of life with fresh eyes has it’s benefits.  It can renew your enthusiasm current goals, it can help you clarify or redirect those goals, or it can reveal to you new dreams and ambitions you never knew you had that could end up changing your life in incredible ways.  You can use this list to choose out 12 goals, one for each month, to focus on next year; you can use it to generate ideas for your learning project; you can use it to isolate any basic, specific habits you want to focus on in the new year (your true “resolutions”).  Your goals can be as vague or as specific as you want them to be since this is just a brainstorming session.

3. Create a Slump List

Now that you’re feeling incredibly happy and pleased with yourself, use that place to generate a list of things that you can use to pull you up when you’re feeling down.  All of us have times when we’re bummed out.  I’m not talking about clinical depression here, I’m just talking about the valleys that follow failure or burnout or disappointment or any other negative mind state.  Often when we get to that down place, we forget that things are going to get better.  For most of us, bad feelings are just as fleeting as good feelings.  The problem is that we don’t trust our usual ways of turning things around.  We don’t pull ourselves up and [insert energizing activity here] because we can’t see past our blues far enough to remember that it consistently makes us feel better when we do it.  You might catch yourself sometimes switching suddenly from totally bummed out to feeling pretty good–you’ll probably find it a little bit funny that you were so blinded by your despair and it only took one simple behavior to turn things completely around for you.

Let’s make a list of those little life-saving behaviors now that we’re in a mindset to see them for what they are–magic.  Look at the first list of things you’d rather be doing, think back to those times when you were sad and then weren’t, remember your best days and pinpoint what activities made them good, then gather all of those things and list them as specific, preferably simple, things you can do to turn things around.  This list is going to be your life vest in the unpredictable ocean of your moods.  You’re going to have the bad ones, but you don’t have to stay lost in them for too long.

My list is pretty short.  I’ve been using mine for a long time and cut I down to the most effective behaviors to make it easy to choose in a hurry.  Here’s my list to give you some ideas:

  • talk over my feelings with a friend
  • do the most obviously pressing chore (put in headphones and just do it)
  • pamper yourself–fix your hair, add jewelry, freshen up
  • go to the library (or just read a book you know you love)
  • go outside–look at the sky, listen, breathe
  • go to the gym (or just start doing a few sun salutation on your yoga mat)
  • watch a movie–something really comforting like The Sound of Music
  • take a power nap–don’t forget to set a timer
  • listen to music–put in headphones and focus only on listening
  • lay flat on your back on the floor and breathe deeply
  • review my goals and work with my bullet journal
  • apologize and start over
  • write 750 words, stream of consciousness
  • remind myself that every mind state can be neutrally observed, particularly negative ones, and I don’t have to believe the lies they create–nothing is permanent, an I’ll feel better all of the sudden and wonder, like usual
  • review my gratitude list and add to it

That brings me to the final list:

4. Write down 100 things you’re thankful for.

And add to it regularly.  Like the list of 100 goals you made earlier, this is going to stretch you.  It’ll prompt you to think back on your best moments.  You’ll probably realize that you really do have a pretty good life, even without having that list of 100 goals achieved!  As they say, it isn’t happy people who are thankful, it’s thankful people who are happy.  If you stall out on this list, step away from it for a little while and do something else.  If you keep trying to think of things, you’ll start to notice things to be thankful for in real time.

And that’s it!  With these lists and ideas swimming around your head, you’ll be protected from prolonged slumps, warmed by your happiest thoughts, and fueled by your loftiest ambitions.  Put them where you’ll see them and review them throughout the year.  Next year, make new ones.

What do your lists look like?  I’d love to see what inspiring things you come up with.

To help you out, download the full Happy Lists Workbook from The Workbook Shop!



Fixing Broken Windows with Foundational Habits

I set goals for myself a few times a year: New Year’s Day (like everyone else), in the spring, and in the fall.  I’m also making plans most months in between.  I set a few goals for myself in the spring that involved getting the idea for this blog nailed down, getting more comfortable with my Learning for Mastery class, and launching this blog.  So far, so good.

Since it’s fall, I feel like it’s time to set some new goals for myself.  I always try to set foundational goals for myself.  If I want to be more productive in all areas, there are certain habits I need to have in place first.  Gretchen Rubins is a genius when it comes to habits.  There are two principles that she talks about in her books that have really stuck with me.  The first is the principle of “Broken Windows,” and the second is the principle of “First Things First.”  I’ll let her explain:

The “broken windows theory” of policing holds that when a community tolerates minor examples of disorder and petty crime, such as broken windows, graffiti, turnstile-jumping, or drinking in public, people are more likely to commit more serious crimes.  As a law-enforcement theory, it’s controversial, but whether or not it’s true on a city-wide level, I think it’s true on a personal level.  My “broken windows” are the particular signs of disorder that make me feel out of control and overwhelmed.

And . . .

From what I’ve observed, people who get their basic Foundation habits under control find it easier to add additional good habits, even if those habits don’t seem relate.  Why? Because Foundation habits keep us from getting too physically taxed or mentally frazzled, and then, because we have more energy and self-control, we follow our healthy habits more easily.

When I pay attention to what my “broken windows” are, I can figure out what my foundation habits need to be.  “Broken windows” in my life include the following:

  • a sink full of dishes
  • not getting myself ready for the day
  • disheveled rooms all over my house (I have five kids, remember, so this one is rough)

These three things need habits that address them so that I am in a better frame of mind to tackle other habits.  Gretchen says that her foundation habits cover the areas of sleep, exercise, tidiness, and eating/drinking.  Good habits in each of these areas usually translates to good habits in other ares.

I’d like to add one more idea, though.  If getting enough sleep is a foundation habit for me, that’s great, but what if I have a problem getting enough sleep?  You can break down habits like these further and look at the triggers that cause you to stay up too late or sleep poorly.  Charles Duhigg talks about this in his book The Power of Habit.  Perhaps an unmade bed is a broken window for you, which causes you to avoid your room, so you stay up late and watch television instead of going to sleep.  What if you made your bed every morning so that by bedtime you feel the gentle tug of a cozy, inviting bed with crisp, clean sheets and a fluffed pillow where you can read quietly before drifting off to sleep before 11:00?

So, my new goals are to build some new habits.  And the habits I choose to build address my broken windows, my foundations, and my triggers.

Here’s the plan:

  • Rinse the dishes as they get dirty and run the dishwasher every night
  • Fix my hair every day
  • Reset each room in the house once a day (actually a pretty quick and painless housekeeping habit)
  • Start getting ready for bed at 9:30, read a “bedtime book” and turn out the lights before 11:00
  • Try to at least go for a walk every day (and remember that it’s a gift to myself, not a chore)
  • read to the kids at night (build bonds and help them love reading)
  • meditate for five minutes a day

I think these habits will make the biggest impact on how I feel about everything else in my life–particularly the biggest struggle I have, which is parenting with a short temper.  This learning project, this blog, and these habits are all slowly leading me toward becoming the kind of calm parent I want to be.  I have already started to see the benefits.

What are your broken windows?  What foundation habits will you choose to build this fall?

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