Fifty-two books in fifty-two weeks. It sounded like a crazy idea in January 2017 when I decided to do this challenge. Back then, I wasn’t even reading one book a month and my reading speed was SLOW. But it turns out if you set a target and work at it constantly, you can do the things you personally think are impossible.
Before we get into the lessons let’s look at some stats:
Total pages read : 12,735
Average length of a book: 244 pages
Longest book:Principles by Ray Dalio — 593 pages (probably wasn’t too smart picking this as my 2nd last book)
Shortest book: Simplify by Joshua Becker — 46 pages
Times I failed to finish the book for the week: 5 (this just made the following week much more interesting)
My personal top 5 books:
- Solve for Happy by Mo Gawdat
- Man’s search for meaning by Viktor Frankl
- How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams
- The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
- Extreme Ownership — How US Navy Seals Lead and Win / Discipline Equals freedom
Throughout this year I learned a lot of interesting things, from how to neatly pack your drawers (I still use this) in “The life changing magic of tidying up” (video) to everything you want to know about Cryptoassets.
The following 5 things were the big life lessons I walked away with and it’s interesting to see how they also repeat in many of the books :
- Do the things that are hard in life/scare you.
We only grow when we do the things in life that are hard and scare us. I know this is cliche and I also used to roll my eyes when people said this.
But most of us hear this and then just keep on doing what we always did. We decide to rather not try than fail. If you don’t try, you can’t fail………… Right?
No. Not trying is probably a greater failure than trying and not succeeding. The more I read, the more I realised that the people we call “successful” have all tried things they were scared of and failed. From reading books like Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future and Alibaba: The House That Jack Ma Built I’ve learned that Elon Musk and Jack Ma both faced incredible hardship and failure. Only because they chose to do what scared them, have they achieved the positions where they are today.
Even Ray Dalio has this as one of his Principles in life. Where he says:
PAIN + REFLECTION = PROGRESS
You have to learn from your pain and learn from your failures if you ever want to achieve anything in life.
But you won’t have anything to to learn from if you never even try.
The next thing I learned was also the inspiration for this challenge:
2. Think systems not goals
As Scott puts it in his book: Goals are for losers
“For example, if your goal is to lose ten pounds, you will spend every moment until you reach the goal — if you reach it at all — feeling as if you were short of your goal. In other words, goal-oriented people exist in a state of nearly continuous failure that they hope will be temporary. That feeling wears on you. In time, it becomes heavy and uncomfortable. It might even drive you out of the game.
If you achieve your goal, you celebrate and feel terrific, but only until you realize you just lost the thing that gave you purpose and direction. Your options are to feel empty and useless, perhaps enjoying the spoils of your success until they bore you, or set new goals and reenter the cycle of permanent pre-success failure.
Goal-oriented people exist in a state of continuous pre-success failure at best, and permanent failure at worst if things never work out.
Systems people succeed every time they apply their systems, in the sense that they did what they intended to do.
Rather than having the goal of losing 10 pounds you should look at what will cause you to lose 10 pounds. Healthy eating and exercise. Then create a system where you do these things. That way every single time you eat healthy or exercise you are winning and not constantly failing.”
I always had the goal of reading more, but I never really achieved it.
First, I had to define my system. Read one book every week for 52 weeks. Ok great! What now?
Now go out there and do some research: make a list of books, figure out how to read quicker and find a way to hold yourself accountable (public videos every week). Ok great! What now?
Now you just grind away at it.
As Steven Pressfield puts it in “The War of Art”, you have to turn pro. The professional works at it every single day. Knowing that some days he will win and some days he will learn, but he just needs to keep on working.
Viktor Frankel says it beautifully:
““Don’t aim at success — the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.”
Some weeks I finished my book and other weeks I didn’t. Sometimes I had to get up early to read or shoot videos in the airport because I didn’t have time to shoot a proper video. But that is the nature of it.
You design your system and then just work at it.
Then one day the magic happens.
You realise that your reading speed has more than doubled, that now reading every day feels like normal, it isn’t a constant struggle and making those videos that used to take you 2 hours now only takes 20 minutes.
It doesn’t matter what it is that you want to achieve, if you focus on the process and just keep working away at it, then one day you’ll suddenly realise that you’ve actually already achieved it
Which brings us nicely to the 3rd lesson:
3. Discipline equals freedom
From Jocko Willink and Leif Babin in “How Navy Seals lead and win”, I learned that discipline really does equal freedom.
In the beginning of this challenge I really struggled. I would read whenever I felt like it, but I had no structure (read system) and no discipline. So I had to design a system that would help me get through this.
I defined my times for reading. I would read half an hour before work or at night just before bed, and half an hour over lunch. This gave me the freedom to miss any one of these if I was too tired or busy, but still read about an hour every single day.
When I had the discipline to do this during the week, it meant that I could do whatever I wanted over the weekend. I wasn’t spending an entire Saturday or Sunday sitting and reading because I didn’t get to my book for the week. That discipline during the week, gave me the freedom to do whatever I wanted to over the weekend.
This not only helped with reading, but also in work when I had the discipline to do the things that I really didn’t enjoy and it gave me the freedom to work on the fun projects.
When you are eating healthy and exercising, it gives you the freedom to have more energy and enjoy life more.
Those small acts of discipline really do set you free.
And on the days that you struggle, those days when you just don’t want to get out of bed.
Simply use The Five second rule. This is one of those weird things that actually work.
Your brain is great at coming up with reasons why you shouldn’t do the things that you know are good for you. Why you shouldn’t get up early, shouldn’t go to the gym or shouldn’t speak up in that meeting.
Something as simple as stopping and counting back from 5 to 1 interrupts this process and you are able to think clearly about it. So whenever I feel that “Resistance”, as Steven Pressfield calls it, I interrupt the process and take action.
The next lesson builds on all of the previous ones.
4. Compounding works
Small, Smart Choices + Consistency + Time = RADICAL DIFFERENCE
I think this is a problem which lots of people have. As Simon Sinek puts it, we see the top of the mountain (our goal), but we don’t see the mountain.
Lots of us see the “success” other people have achieved and want to achieve the same, but we don’t see the years of hard work and small things that they did every single day to get there. We forget that climbing the mountain is made up of hundreds of small steps along the way. Hundreds of times you trip over rocks or fall down and just keep on going.
That is where the compound effect comes in. Many times the people who succeed are actually the ones that just keep on going. You’re right there at the turning point of the compound graph. If you quit now, you will continue getting what you have always gotten, but if you just push through you are looking at vertical growth after that.
5. Love yourself
This is something I’ve struggled with for a long time and I think lots of people struggle with it.
You have to love yourself along the way.
I learned this lesson from Love yourself like your life depends on it by Kamal Ravikant. If you are constantly putting yourself down, telling yourself you are stupid, unmotivated, a failure. Then how are you ever going to have the motivation to do the things you have set out to do?
And I struggled with exactly this. My self talk would be really negative, I’d constantly be comparing myself to others. Constantly be telling myself I should do better, try harder and I’m not good enough.
But you need to realise that struggling is part of the journey. If everything comes easy, you won’t appreciate any of the things that you have achieved. Along the way you have to recognise that this is just part of the process, just part of how we learn and how the world works.
So love yourself along the way. You are actually trying. You’re not one of those people who decided not to even try. You are right here in this moment trying your best and that is all you can do.
I think Viktor Frankl said it best in Man’s search for meaning:
“For the meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day and from hour to hour. What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment.”
In this you should realise that all you have in this world is this current moment. And all you can do to choose the direction of your life is whatever you are doing in this moment. So stop thinking about the things you did wrong in the past or dreaming about the things you might do one day, if only…..
All you have is right now. So love yourself and do your best right now.
— — — — — — –
Thank you for reading my article, I hope it helps you on your journey and maybe we’ll oneday bump into each other along the way. I look forward to that day.