This year my New Year’s Resolution was to quit reading for the entire year. My plan was to stop reading anything unnecessary for work or survival and that included my RSS feed, books, magazines, news, and research. I managed to make it 45 days.
Everyone I told about my goal looked at me like I was crazy. “Don’t most people set goals to read more?” some people asked. Others just looked at me incredulously and asked “Why?” I didn’t have a good answer and it got me thinking.
Why did I do it?
After some reflection I realized that there were a number of reasons that I wanted to quit reading.
Abstinence experiments can lead to self-reflection. Over the years I have tried abstaining from a number of different things. While I believe that moderation is the best policy in the long-term I have found abstinence can be very revealing in the short-term. Abstinence truly disrupts your habits, takes you off auto-pilot, and leads to increased self-reflection.
Free up time for family, writing and guitar. Going into 2013 I was thinking about whether I could maintain my guitar and writing goals and give my family the time they deserve. It felt like there wasn’t enough time in the day. I estimated I was spending 60 minutes a day reading and that is roughly how much time I need to do my writing and guitar.
Take action. I was worried that I was spending too much time reading about doing things and not enough time actually doing them. Reading about something can leave you with the false sensation that you actually made progress towards it. There is a never ending flow of ideas and thoughts in the world and I may be spending too much time consuming them and not enough time acting on them.
Get out of the echo chamber. Over time I have built an RSS feed full of thinkers that reflect my personal beliefs and dreams. Whenever I discover a site that rubs me the wrong way I eliminate it. I wonder if it is healthy to be shielded from ideas that challenge my opinions.
Stop thinking. Reading makes me think a lot. I suppose my de facto position is that more thinking is good, but is that necessarily true? The type of reading that I enjoy mostly turns my thinking on. It causes me to reflect on my life, habits, dreams, and goals. Is it healthy, normal, or preferred to stay in that state of mind all the time or multiple times a day?
What did I learn?
I originally set a goal of going a year without reading and after a couple weeks I knew that I was never going to make it. I am proud of the fact that I lasted 45 days because it was a truly challenging goal. The most rewarding part of doing an experiment like this is learning more about yourself and I was able to learn plenty during this experiment.
Awareness of urges. The first thing I noticed was how often I felt the urge to read and how unsettling it was to avoid it. I had expected these feelings during my normal reading times: in the morning while I had my coffee, at my desk during lunch, and in the evenings after I washed the dishes.
I didn’t anticipate how often I would feel the urge to read at other times. When I was tired or frustrated I wanted to hop into my RSS feed. When I thought of something interesting or had a question I was tempted to Google it and read an article. When I was waiting for someone or bored I felt the urge to open Reddit for some quick entertainment.
I realized that I had a lot of triggers that lead me to want to read. In each of the situations there were other actions I could take but my first urge was often to read. Reading my be a perfectly good option in all these situations but I found it interesting that I was making that decision automatically.
I would like to make conscious decisions about when and what I read.
Replacement activities for reading. Each time I felt the urge to read I tried to direct my energy into different activities. In the first couple weeks I was able to direct my energy into “healthy” activities like practicing guitar and writing, socializing with friends, or spending time with my family.
I wasn’t able to sustain this positive redirection for the entire trial. Eventually I replaced almost all of my reading time with video content. I started by watching TED talks which felt like cheating because the content is very similar to the blogs I follow. Then I started to look for new shows on Netflix and Hulu and watched way more narrative television than I normally would.
I would like to transfer the extra time from reading into my family, friends and hobbies.
Feeling uninspired. I missed reading about new ideas and feeling inspired. I will often read a blog post that inspires me to reflect on something I have been doing or would like to do. I find my personal ideas are inspired by what is going on around me and often a blog post will trigger a series of thoughts that I will want to capture in writing.
That being said, I also have the tendency to read for 30 minutes straight, be inspired with 10 different ideas and never act on any of them.
I would like to channel the inspiration I receive from reading into action.