I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about resolutions with the new year creeping up on us, and more specifically, I’ve been thinking about how setting resolutions for accomplishing something in a time frame of one year is both a good thing and a bad thing.
Resolutions are a good thing because they’re an act of goal setting. Resolutions require putting down in words actual things that you want to do and achieve. You give these goals a time frame. This is motivating and a push to pursue something. But resolutions are also a bad thing because, well, it’s an arbitrary time frame and sometimes, goals are fickle. They change mid-stream. They mold and shift. Sometimes, not accomplishing a resolution or goal within the time frame becomes a means of assessing failure. If you didn’t reach a goal, you’ve failed, even if there were other things that popped up along the way that hindered (or changed or enhanced) pursuit of that goal.
For some people, that failure is in and of itself motivating. It encourages trying harder, readjusting, reassessing. It encourages finding what did work and aligning goals with those accomplishments. I don’t deny that failure is proof of trying; it is.
For people like me, failure to meet a goal, though, is stressful. Rather than feeling like the other achievements were worthwhile, when I don’t meet a resolution, I feel nothing but stress or frustration. Neither of those sensations are motivating for me. They don’t actually cause me to want to work harder or to reassess. Instead, they make me feel defeated, which leads to disinterest. I lose steam. Of course, that doesn’t mean I hate failure or fear it — it’s a part of every day life.
With me here?
In 2012, I set a goal of reading 220 books. In theory, if I counted the picture books I read, I met that goal. But I don’t count picture books (some people do and that’s fine), nor do I count manuscripts I’ve read (which totals around 20 this year). I came up quite short in my reading, even though I read nearly 160 books.
Even though I want to be stressed and defeated about this, since I didn’t get to everything I wanted to book-wise this year I had hoped to back in January, I made a decision in October to quit worrying about it. I still kept track of the number of books I was reading. I still updated my Goodreads progress bar. But, I decided then that the quantity didn’t matter. I’d rather read and do so with intention, with an eye toward following what it was that interested me reading-wise. Instead of trying to blow through a ton of shorter books, I let myself read a few monster-sized titles, even though it slowed numeric progress down. I picked up adult titles that looked interesting to me and read them, even though a shorter YA title would give me more books read. I am a slow reader, despite how much I read. I can’t normally finish a book in a day or two, unless I’m scrimping on close and critical reading.
At the end of this year, I find myself really satisfied with what and how much I read, even though I did not meeting my goal. I ignored that number, 220. I pretended it didn’t exist.
In doing so, I quit stressing about it.
It’s all self-induced, but I think anyone who reads (as a blogger, as a librarian, as a reader more generally) puts pressure on themselves to read as much as possible. It’s because the to-read piles are huge. It’s because there is so much good stuff TO read. It’s because there’s a drive and pressure for content, for knowledge, for being ahead of the curve. Reading 250 or 300 books a year certainly does that.
But I found it was unsatisfying personally.
Last year and the year before, I signed up and participated in the Debut Author Challenge. I made it a goal to read 32 debut novels this year, and I achieved that, plus some. I’m not going to sign up for it this year, though, because I don’t want to pressure myself to meet a certain quantity of books that fulfill a specific criteria. I still plan on reading and blogging the heck out of debut novels because I think it’s important, but I don’t want to force myself to pick up titles that I’m not interested in simply because it’s a debut. I think reading challenges are GREAT things, and I believe they really do motivate people to push outside their preferred reading (and it’s helpful for reader’s advisory, for becoming a more critical reader, among a host of other things).
But they just don’t work for me.
I’m not signing up for any challenges in 2013, and I’m not going to set a goal number of books I want to read. Instead, I’m going to spend 2013 reading with intention. That intention is to enjoy reading for reading’s sake. I’m going to read widely, both books inside and outside my comfort zone (using Angela’s reader’s advisory challenge as a guide to doing that part). I want to remember the joy of spontaneous discovery through browsing and, since I’m lucky, surprise review books that come to the house. I want to read fiction and non-fiction, YA and adult titles. I want to sink into a thick read as much as I want to sink into a tiny book and tease out all of the layers packed within it. I want to reread favorite books, and I want to try reliving some of them in alternative formats where possible.
What I’ve come to learn about myself as a reader and as a blogger is that the goal setting pressure isn’t motivating for me. It’s not the kind of stress which encourages me. Instead, it frustrates me. In taking a step back and reassessing my reading earlier this fall, I learned what works best for me and what makes me happiest is being intentional and pursing something because I want to. Not because I feel like I need to for myself nor anyone else. This is the same philosophy I plan on taking through the new year more broadly, too. I’m not setting any resolutions. I want the pressure to be minimal where I can make it so.
My only goal for 2013 is to live in it — and blog through it — for me.
Kelly Jensen is a former librarian turned editor for Book Riot. She's the author of IT HAPPENS: A Guide to Contemporary Realistic Fiction for the YA Reader and the forthcoming Feminism For The Real World (Algonquin Young Readers, Spring 2017).