What to Do when Old Goals No Longer Serve You

[Author’s note: If you want to get the short notes on this story of discovery, look for the list of three steps below. It should be easy to find.] I have always heard that as a writer, I should read voraciously. I just couldn’t find a lot of time to do so. I had heard about presidents who would read an amazing number of books. Teddy Roosevelt read a book a day at least, in addition to magazines and newspapers. Even at my best, when I had nothing to do but read and no desire to do anything else (the summer between my sophomore and junior years in high school), I could only read about 100 pages a day unless it were a particularly good fantasy novel.

As I got older, I tried to find a speed reading book that would help me read faster. That didn’t work. So, I decided to go about it the old-fashioned way. I was going to set a goal and achieve it. In 2010, I decided to read a book a week. The only parameter I set was that it had to be a book. Magazines and newspapers didn’t count, and while I tracked my audio books, they didn’t count as reading either.

I accomplished my goal, reading 52 books with an average page count of 221. The longest book I read was 1099 pages, and the shortest was 28. I also listened to 18 audio books, but those would fall by the way side in later years. These numbers gave me a baseline, and so every year thereafter, I kept upping the ante. In 2011, the books averaged 222 pages each. In 2012, the average didn’t change, but I read 16 more pages than the year before. In 2015, I fell short of my goal by four books, but I made up for it in 2016 by reading additional books. In 2018, I read 58 books.

So, this year, I set my sights on 52 books with an average page count of 255, but 10 books in and I find that the unintended consequence of this goal is that I don’t read magazines, and I avoid lower page count books because they would make the average that I have to read in the future go up. The dilemma is that I have several books that have fewer pages than 255 that I need to read for research, and I have a couple of magazines that I need to read sooner rather than later because of the opportunities they hold.

While it’s still early in the year, it’s clear that my goal is hampering my progress rather than helping. It’s done this before, but I just ignored the implications and bulled my way through the process. Now, the situation seems different. It’s time to change the goal.

The process for doing so must look something like this:

  1. Recognize the goal no longer serves you; you are serving it.
  2. Decide what you really wanted from the goal in the first place.
  3. Set a modified or new goal that enhances your ability to achieve what you really need to achieve.

The original purpose of the goal was for me to be able to say I read a book a week and know they weren’t all children’s books. I didn’t exclude children’s books outright because there are a lot of good children’s books out there, and they typically make the best way to learn the basics about some subjects quickly. For example, children’s book on Ancient Egypt presents a starting point for the subject matter that is easy to follow, generally accurate, and provides enough information that the adult (or child) reader can find out what specific aspect about the subject matter he or she wanted to learn and move on to more adult books about that part of the subject. (Also, I was studying to be an early childhood education teacher at the time.) By setting up a tracking system and breaking it down into number of pages read, I stayed motivated and kept myself on track. There was always an end of the year blitz, but some of that had to do with holidays as well as motivation.

At this point, for this particular goal, I think I need to modify the page count, or at least not worry about it. I might not be able to read a book a week while I am in research mode, but that shouldn’t dissuade me from catching up at the end of the year. As long as I maintain my reading on the subject matters at hand – Disney, creativity and online marketing, in the early part of the year, and the Twilight Zone, creativity and online marketing in the latter part of the year followed by a holiday blitz for the final month – I should be okay. If not, I should be able to forgive myself and realize the goal is only as good as the benefits I get from it. In this case, it is the benefit of education and the growth of vocabulary and literary styles.