The psychology of attempting to read a book a week in 2022

Lots of us are likely at the point in the year where we find ourselves assessing what we might like to do differently in 2022.

Plans for the new year quite often focus around less (alcohol, spending) and more (exercise, sleep).

But one thing that has grown in favour is the challenge to read more – specifically by reading a book a week, or 52 books a year.

Made popular by various bloggers, lots of 2021 Instagram timelines were filled with pictures of books hastagged with the ongoing count.

While admittedly, for anyone who is still struggling on with the book they started weeks ago and failing not to be distracted by social media and TV, this can make you feel slightly under-accomplished – any reinvigorated interest in reading is a very positive thing.

For many over the last year, the activity of reading has provided something dependable and solid to work on – reading is a safe activity, and isn’t something that can be cancelled last minute, or pose any risks.

But pandemic aside, there are huge benefits of increasing the amount we read in general.

The benefits of reading more books in 2022

‘The more words we know, the more we can experience the world in new ways,’ saysEmma Kenny, TV psychologist and presenter.

‘Our emotions are all linked to words and so the more well-read we are, the better we are in our mental health, wellness, and general experience of the world – as it helps us explore and express the way we feel much more cogently.

And the benefits don’t end there. You’re also giving yourself the space to digitally detox and immerse yourself in a world make-believe, or learning.

‘Engaging in regular reading actually starts to change the way your brain interacts with the experience,’ Emma continues.

‘We know from research that when we are on computers and smart phones, while it might seem like a similar sedentary experience, we actually zone out, rather than zoning in. So, we might be scrolling but we are not taking a huge amount of interest in what we are doing.

When we are reading, however, the area of the brain that is required is transfixed by the experience. This means that the exchange is so much greater.

You’re using the divergency of your brain, – you’re ultimately using your imagination, and feeding your creativity.

As well as that, it gives us time to escape from the toxicity of other platforms online. It’s solitude but in the best space possible.

The positives of setting the goal

‘Setting yourself this goal it imposes a familiar seven day structure that helps the reader focus on the book they’re reading, and reduces the temptation to start other titles or generally procrastinate,’says Sally Baker, senior therapist at Working on the Body.   

‘Having a deadline, even a self imposed on, on anything you want to accomplish is a useful strategy to increase success.’

‘Fulfilling goals or hitting a target increases self-esteem and builds resilience to tackle future projects. People who fully embrace their “wins” benefit the most from successfully accomplishing tasks.

‘Whereas people who regularly dismiss or minimise their achievements may be as productive as others but they are not so adept at owning their victories so feel less confident in their abilities.’

Maya Zack, peak performance specialist, expert mindset coach and hypnotherapist, suggests that succeeding at this particular goal can also help you build more motivation and commitment towards any other goals in your life, whether small or big.

‘It can help you feel more open to new possibilities, which are always out there for you,’ she says.

‘This also helps you fully internalise the truth that you are always free to choose new ways and states of being, and over time, any internal changes you might want to make become easier.’

Jill, an insurance broker from Glasgow, has been successful in reading a book a week in 2021, with just one more to go to reach her goal of 52.

‘I was terrible for just buying books and piling them up,’ she says. ‘I used to read all the time but for some reason, I found it difficult to concentrate on them when lockdown hit last year.

‘So this year, setting a conscious goal has made me stick to it, and not get distracted by other books, or things on the TV – because I’m conscious I only have a couple more days to finish what I’m reading, or I’ll fall behind. It’s been brilliant and I’ve rediscovered my love of books.’

The negatives

However, setting any target comes with potential negatives – as there is always the possibility that you won’t achieve it, and the consideration of how that could then make you feel.

‘The draw back of focussing on the end point of completing a book and not the process of reading is that there will always be those who turn a self-imposed carrot into a self-punitive stick,’ says Sally.

‘Not hitting targets can trigger the opposite when you take this one ‘failure’, give it subjective meaning and generalise it to other areas of your life,’ adds Maya.

‘It can make you feel ‘stuck’ in the story of ‘who you are’ – which is based on a collection of ideas and memories of all your (past) habit patterns and behaviours.  

‘So, you might be less inclined to believe in your ability to change or to stick to a goal-commitment, you might feel less confident about your inner resources and less open to the possibility of new experiences.’

However, the key is to remain positive, says Emma.

‘People shouldn’t be too hard on themselves,’ says Emma. ‘Life is busy. As long as you’re getting through a book, that’s a positive.

‘Congratulate yourself for setting goals and trying to achieve them.’

Making the book-a-week challenge work for you

While reading a book a week is a nice, neat goal – and an impressive thing to achieve, there are many different ways you can spin it.

Whether that’s by cutting down the target to a less challenging number – perhaps a book a fortnight, or a month. But having a specific goal will definitely be helpful to keep you going.

‘Change the time scale to a book a month and embrace that as a victory,’ Sally wisely suggests.

‘There have been many, many people during this pandemic who struggling with heightened anxiety have found it almost impossible to settle themselves long enough to take in more than the odd paragraph.’ 

The other option, adds Maya Zack, is to ‘flip the goal setting process on its head, and set small, easily achievable goals, that help you to create consistency which is the key to habit building.

‘So, for example,’ she says, ‘you could aim to read a chapter, a page or even a paragraph a day to begin with, which makes the initial goal really easy to hit.

‘This will boost your dopamine and have you feeling good about yourself and what you’ve done. From there, you can then easily become an ‘over-achiever’ by reading more than you had intended to, because you WANT to, not because you have put a pressure on yourself to do so.

‘In terms of habit building, doing something driven by the desire of what you want, rather than the pressure of what you ‘should’ be doing, is not only often more effective, but it makes the whole process more enjoyable too.’

Amy, a TV producer from London, took on the challenge last year with a slightly reduced goal of a book a fornight.

‘I won’t meet my target this year,’ she says. ‘But that’s OK because I’ve still read more than I did last year. I don’t beat myself up if I don’t achieve it. But it’s nice to have something to work towards.

‘I’d definitely recommend it.’

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