You should read for a reason, but hitting a number is not one of them.
“The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.”
— Mark Twain
Most people don’t read. Others might read for fun or pleasure. But most people do not read to grow.
And maybe you have noticed a trend that beckons every person to read more and more. Which is great.
Until you realize that following that advice does not always lead to growth. Reading more does not necessarily solve problems.
You need something else.
Quantity Doesn’t Matter
“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”
— Bruce Lee
For years, I had to stretch for 2 to 3 hours every single day in order to be able to walk. I became bored quickly, so I started reading while stretching.
For 10 years, I read 2 to 3 hours every single day, in addition to any reading done for school or my work. History, self-improvement, religion, fiction, biographies. I kept reading and reading and reading. More was never enough.
I learned so much in that time, but I learned one thing more than any other: the number of books that you read does not really matter.
Overloading yourself with information is a guaranteed path to failure. You need the right information. If you are not reading simply for fun, escape, or entertainment — for growth essentially — then you need to focus your reading.
You need the right information, and not necessarily the most.
It took me 10 years to learn this.
Reading Without Action Is Useless
“Knowing is not enough, we must apply. Willing is not enough, we must do.”
— Bruce Lee
Most people have access to the information that they need to move forward. And then some of us are fortunate enough to figure out the right information as well.
But that is not enough.
We have to act on the right information. That is much harder than simply knowing what to do.
For me, focusing on a number of books to finish actually hurt my ability to act on what I was learning.
The more I read, the more information that I have access to. And the more information that I have in front of me, the less likely I am to implement any one idea‒even if I only needed to execute on one idea to move forward.
The focus on reading a certain number of books prevented me from figuring out the one thing that I needed to implement or change.
So after 10 years, I needed to modify my approach: focus on reading theright content, and not necessarily the most, and then act on it.
Read What Is Worth Reading
“Education … has produced a vast population able to read but unable to distinguish what is worth reading.”
— G.M. Trevelyan
Most people think that what they read does not affect them. That what they put into their mind and plant in their subconscious does not matter.
But it certainly does.
What you read makes a difference.
There is a time and a place for pure entertainment — fun reading and anything else that captures our attention.
But to echo Mark Twain, with a nuance: the person who does not read good books has no advantage over the person cannot read at all.
“In reading let your motto be ‘much not many’.”
— Charles Spurgeon
You do not need to read 1,426 books to be successful. Wait — why 1,426?
Because that is how many books that I estimate that I’ve read.
I used to count how many books I’ve read. Not any more. I now track how many books that are so good that I must re-read them in order to become who I want to become.
There is one book that I re-read every three months — in order to live what it teaches every single day: The One Thing, by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan.
Another book I revisit yearly.
And yet another I pick up anytime I have any sense of struggle, laziness, loneliness, or depression: Spiritual Depression, by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones.
I grab my old copy of Leadership and Self-Deception when I have a problem that lasts longer than seven days. I think I have read it eight times.
I no longer search for copious quantities of books so that I can build a bookshelf or a library.
Now, I read in order to become a person worth knowing, spending time with, and following — by focusing on the very best information and studying it intently.
“Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection will come even more effective action.”
— Peter Drucker
If you never reflect on what you read, then you will miss out on so many important benefits of reading. Reflection creates change. It allows us consciously choose our direction instead of being forced to proceed based on whims and urgencies.
For me, reflection allows me to choose who I want to become. But I must focus my learning by reading the right materials in order to do this.
Focusing on growth instead of chasing a normal of books allows me to create, day by day.
The One Thing ends with an incredible story:
A young boy was eager to spend time with his father, and excitedly walked up to him and asked to play. The father, needing a few minutes to finish his work before playing with his son, had an idea. A newspaper that he was reading earlier contained a large picture of the Earth. The father tore up the picture into small pieces. Then, he told his son to put the picture back together. When the boy was finished, they would play.
The father thought he had a decent amount of time to finish his project, but in just a few minutes, the boy returned. The entire picture was taped back together ‒ much faster than the father expected!
“How did you put the picture together so quickly?” the father asked.
“It was easy dad,” the boy said. “I couldn’t do it at first. It was really hard. But I noticed that there was a picture of a man on the other side of the Earth. When I put the man together, the world just fell into place.”
When you focus on one thing at a time ‒ when you focus on learning the right things instead of everything ‒ when you focus on specific change ‒ the world will fall into place.
It is not about reading the most, it is about being effective.
You don’t need to read 1,000 books to be effective.
But you do need to read at least one.