I’ve got a small mountain of books that I want to read, some that I’ve started many not. They’re a diverse lot, ranging from academic texts on Roman history, a number of travel books (I love good travel writing), a couple on politics, strategy and diplomacy, and a Le Carre that I picked up on the way to the US which I still haven’t finished. The pile keeps getting bigger!
I used to have blocks of time for reading as a student, but that’s not so much the case anymore, except on holidays and weekends. Still, I’m determined to catch up. Reading is a great way to spend time. It engages the brain much more than the average TV show, requiring concentration and an active mind. So, a little while ago I decided to make reading a part of my daily practice. If I wait around for holidays to get through my growing piles of books I’ll never catch up, but if I just start chipping away bit by bit each day, say just 10-20 pages daily, then I’ll be able to read 1-2 books per month at least.
Rather than relying on future events or waiting for ideal conditions that may or may not eventuate, I have decided to
create what I believe is a good habit. Even on a busy day there are little windows of time that I can exploit for this purpose. I set myself a daily target of 10 pages. 10 pages per day doesn’t seem like much, but over a year that’s over 3,500 pages. They really add up over time.
It’s all about making it a habit – part of my daily practice rather than sporadic events. This approach is effective for producing results in all kinds of areas, from writing books, to learning a language or an instrument, saving for an overseas trip, or training to run the Boston marathon. Small regular increments are the key, increments that are added by habitual action.
The thing is, it’s our habits that have the greatest effect when it comes to creating our lives. Most of our lives are lived on autopilot, full of all kinds of habits. Some of them serve us, some of them don’t. Some will help to build a life you are happy in, others will create problems in the future if they have not already.
Think about it. How do you spend your time on the average day? What do you eat regularly? How do you use your money? Which people do you choose to spend time with most weeks? Spend a couple of minutes and do a survey of your main habits. The more attention you devote the better, but you can also do this in stages. One week look at habits of time usage, then look at eating or spending habits next week perhaps. Staggering changes more gradually will increase the likelihood that they stick.
Now, are there any habits you think you are better off without, or are there some habits that need to be added or refined?A couple of years ago when we were doing a review of our nutrition, I worked out that by cutting back on sugar in my coffee, I would reduce my sugar intake by 5 kilos per year at least, based on 2 spoons per cup, once a day. I cut back over about a month. What about saving and investment habits, or exercise? How about relationship and social habits, or those that relate to your life passion? If something really is important to you, then you need to make time for it, even if only a little. Right? Each day you have 24 hrs to use so this is about becoming more mindful of the choices you are making each day in every area of your life. Let’s face it, when the end comes, you won’t be wishing you had spent more time watching TV will you? On the other hand you might wish you had read War and Peace, or that you had devoted more time to playing with your kids, mastering pastel drawing, or building an investment portfolio for your family’s long-term financial security.
Even more important than habits of doing are habits of being. Indeed, it’s the consistent qualities of our being that inform and underpin our habits of action. I don’t want to create an impression of an overt dualism. In my experience, they work together and support each other. Habits of being are basically a matter of values in action. The specifics will be personal to you, but good starters might be being courageous, creative, loving, compassionate, generous, grateful, or cooperative. You name it. It depends what is more important to you. But the way I see, it’s our way of being, specifically our habits of being, and the mindset that this supports which is the foundation of meaningful and effective action.
At the moment, I’m reading Practical Wisdom by Barry Schwartz as my morning read, usually after breakfast, while before bed it’s a fantasy classic, The Earthsea Quartet by Ursula Le Guin. I’m a late comer to the fantasy genre. Ophelia introduced me to it, first by reading me The Lord of the Rings. I don’t know how she did it. It took her two years, and I kept falling asleep and missing bits, sometimes quite big bits in fact. As a scholar of ancient epic literature though, I could really appreciate the craft of these fine fantasy writers. If you’re interested in reading more on the power of habit look at the work of Stephen Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. And of course, one of the best ways to really make a habit stick is to invest in a course of personal coaching.
The top image is a view over the city of Firenze, or Florence, in Italy. It has no direct relevance, except that it’s a place where we want to spend more time on a regular basis.