Note: This is a post from Joan Otto, Man Vs. Debt community manager. Read more about Joan.
It doesn’t really matter what it is – barring anything else handy, I’d happily read the back of a cereal box at breakfast – but since I was about 3 years old, I’ve rarely been without a pile of books in progress.
In January, I set a goal on Goodreads to finish 75 books this year. I started out great – averaging almost a book a day.
But life happens, and the books piled up into the stack you see above, unfinished and, in most cases, not even started!
The mental drain of being “behind”
Here’s the problem: I have serious issues with being “behind.” It doesn’t matter if it’s my to-do list at work, my housecleaning, my scrapbooking, my Coursera courses, my martial-arts training or even something entirely silly, like my QuizUp challenges from friends and family.
When I get what I perceive to be “behind,” I get paralyzed. I’ve learned this the hard way about myself over the past 31 years. When I feel like I’m in over my head, I have trouble digging in and just getting started. (This, not coincidentally, is why it’s been such a long haul to pay off almost $90K in debt…)
It’s also why I make lists – and lists of my lists. My latest incarnation, Bullet Journaling, is at least allowing me to dump all the pressure out of my brain and onto paper, but fundamentally, I still can’t get over the fact that I just can’t seem to get started when the mountain of stuff in front of me looks overwhelming.
Not coincidentally, when I go through high-stress periods in my life, this tendency gets worse. And while it manifests itself in many ways, the thing that’s stressing me out at present is the pile of to-be-read books on my nightstand (and don’t get me started on what’s on my Kindle!)
What’s on my to-read list
I’ve got a bunch of things on my list – everything from complete quick, one-time reads like my favorite manga series to, essentially, textbooks, plus philosophical essays, literary fiction and anything in between.
Some were recommendations from friends, others things I found whiling away the hours in used bookshops (a kind of big pastime of mine), and yet others are related to online courses I’m taking. Just for fun, here’s a look at 10 of my top “want to reads,” in no particular order, from my collection of physical and digital books:
- Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
- Heads in Beds by Jacob Tomsky
- Fool by Christopher Moore
- How Music Works by David Byrne
- The Good Luck of Right Now by Matthew Quick
- Dumbing Us Down by John Taylor Gatto
- Lucky Wander Boy by D.B. Weiss
- The Great Influenza by John M. Barry
- The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean
- Love 2.0 by Barbara Fredrickson
And that’s just a start…
Making myself a priority
The thing all these books have in common are that I really want to read them. They’re not just time-fillers or assignments or things for work. Maybe that sounds obvious, but it gets to the core issue that I’m struggling with here:
I’m not the best at making my own wants a priority. I make lists of lots of things, but I don’t do a good job of balancing even simple self-care things like reading books I enjoy with the daily grind. And it’s not that I “don’t have time” – it’s that, when I do have time, I’m so paralyzed by the pile of things I might do that I don’t do any of them, instead whiling away my time playing Candy Crush or whatever.
That’s why the Very Next Step concept has worked so well for my financial goals – and it’s why I’m vowing, here and now, to finish ONE BOOK this week. Just one. I won’t worry about the pile – just the work in progress (Christopher Moore’s “Fool,” which, by the way, is hilarious.) And only when it’s finished will I go on to the next thing, or the next, or the next.
Lists are great. But sometimes, you have to take a step back and take a single forward-moving action.
Put down the list.
Pick up a book.
And, as my husband, Chris, owner of a stunning pile of to-be-read books that makes him happy rather than stressed, just said last night, “There’s nothing worse than no new books to read.”
That’s the perspective I’m striving for – a goal of always looking excitedly ahead instead of striving for that perpetually unattainable goal of “caught up,” whatever that means.
How about you? What’s on your to-read list – or what else are you paralyzed into not taking action on?
Tell us in the comments!