By this point last year, I had probably read two books. Maybe three.
So far this year, I've read 21 books. My goal for the entire year was 20, so I'm about 8.5 months ahead of schedule.
I wish I could say the 10x leap was due to a lifestyle hack or a reset of priorities. In reality, I bought a Kindle.
For the first 27 years of my reading life, books were things with pages I held in my hand. Then my wife and I planned a vacation for this past January that would involve hours spent lying on the beach, and I had no interest in lugging all that weight.
So, I bought the lightest Kindle I could find. Around the time I finished my third book in two weeks, I began to suspect something about my reading habit had fundamentally changed.
Here's my theory.
In behavior science, there's a concept known as the intention-implementation gap. It's also called the knowing-doing gap. It refers to the difference between wanting to take an action, and actually performing that action.
Every year, on January 1, millions of people intend to start going to the gym. By March 15, how many have actually implemented the habit?
For most people, this gap exists because they over-rely on tactics that make it harder for habits to stick, and they under-rely on tactics that make it easier.
In Atomic Habits (book #9 this year), James Clear underscores this point when he adapts a quote from the philosopher Archilochus to observe, "You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems."
Things like willpower and mood are temporary, and will eventually run out. A system, once implemented, requires no energy to sustain. Systems are what close the intention-implementation gap.
My gut tells me this is how a Kindle 10x-ed my reading habit. Rather than wait two days for Amazon to deliver a new book, I can now finish one book and roll right into the next one, seconds later. There's no friction.
It's not the only system that could work. For someone else, the system could be picking up a new library book at the moment they drop off the one they just finished. Or it could be reading 30 pages every morning at 9 a.m.
I was surprised to discover my problem was a lack of momentum. Helpfully, my Kindle shrinks the amount of time I can get distracted between books to basically zero.
I also suspect there's an optical illusion at play. If I'm 50 pages into a 400-page physical book, I'm way more intimidated to pick it back up because of how far I have left to go. With a Kindle, I can't see the totality. I just see the page on the screen.
As someone who likes to believe people like James Clear are actually writing for other people, this feels like the first time I legitimately feel the power of systems. (Trust me, getting up early to go for a run is still hard even if you leave your sneakers out the night before.)
I set a goal of 20 books for this year thinking it would be doable, if challenging. Having hit the goal in a quarter of the time, with seemingly no extra effort, I can only wonder: Where else am I missing out on 10x returns?
In case you're interested, here are the first 20 books I've read this year, in order.
1. Beginners: The Joy and Transformative Power of Lifelong Learning by Tom Vanderbilt
2. That's Not Funny: How the Right Makes Comedy Work for Them by Matt Sienkiewicz and Nick Marx
3. The Psychology of Money: Timeless Lessons on Wealth, Greed, and Happiness by Morgan Housel
4. Free Food for Millionaires by Min Jin Lee
5. The Almanack of Naval Ravikant by Eric Jorgenson
6. One Million Followers: How I Built a Massive Social Following in 30 Days by Brendan Kane
7. Company of One: Why Staying Small Is the Next Big Thing by Paul Jarvis
8. Hourly Billing Is Nuts: Essays on the Insanity of Trading Time for Money by Jonathan Stark
9. Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones by James Clear
10. Value Based Fees: How to Charge What You're Worth by Alan Weiss
11. The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis
12. Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein
13. Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton
14. To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truths About Moving Others by Daniel Pink
15. Ben Hogan's Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf by Ben Hogan
16. Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It by Chris Voss
17. Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable by Seth Godin
18. Stolen Focus: Why You Can't Pay Attention—and How to Think Deeply Again by Johann Hari
19. Anything You Want: 40 Lessons For a New Kind of Entrepreneur by Derek Sivers
20. Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl