The goal to read 100 books a year is holding you back from your full potential.
I admire those with big ambitions. I have many of those myself. But after spending so much time with non-fiction books, I’m tired of having to sort through the non-essentials.
I feel like most people set this goal just so they can feel good about themselves by telling somebody about it. “Look how much I’m reading” only makes others feel bad about how little they’re reading. And it makes you sound conceited.
But that’s not the worst part.
Reading so many books each year keeps you from the hidden potential of reading less, but better books.
Most Books Repeat Other Books
I’ve summarized over 400 non-fiction books. Most of them repeat the same ideas as other books. I see themes like these all the time:
Social connections make you happy.
Meditation relieves anxiety and depression.
Focus only on what’s essential.
It’s difficult to find books that have unique and new ideas. Malcolm Gladwell is one exception, but there’s a catch. His books are bingeably interesting but don’t focus on clear action plans for using the ideas to improve your life.
That’s fine if you want to be entertained, which is still a worthy reason to read or listen to books. I’m just rediscovering fiction after a couple of years away from it and I had forgotten how much I enjoy it.
But reading 100 non-fiction books a year isn’t going to make your life better. That’s because you learn and grow by going deep with one principle, the right one at the right time, rather than shallow with many.
Go Deep, Not Broad
Reading a lot of non-fiction books can be a good springboard for finding the ideas that you want to focus on. Very few of those ideas are worth exploring further, so you need to go broad before you can go deep. You can’t apply a life-changing idea if you don’t know about it.
But once you’ve discovered the few ideas that are most important — like deliberate practice, grit, or that the #1 indicator of success is happiness and social connections — you’re going to improve quickly by only doing deep dives into them so you can get really good at applying them.
At that point, you’ll grow faster if you read the few best books on that one subject, or, even better, if you re-read the top few books on it until the idea sinks in.
This is why I’ve read parts of Angela Duckworth’s Grit, Carol Dweck’s Mindset, and Martin Seligman’sLearned Optimism dozens of times. And this book I’ve listened to on audio at least 15 times.
This selection might not top everybody’s list of most life-changing books. But they do for me, and only because I took the time to go deep and apply what they taught.
This is why I stopped caring how many books I read per year and instead focus on deeper understanding.
When you focus your attention on a few top-quality books, you’ll grow much faster. Especially when you ignore what everybody else says is good and focus on what hits you the hardest.
Application of one principle gets you way farther in life than learning a ton of different ideas and never doing anything about them.
Michael Jordan became elite at basketball because he repeated the same drills multiple times. Not by doing hundreds of different drills just once.
The same is true for Steve Young, Warren Buffet, and every other person who is exceptional in their field.
It’s the same for you and your goals, too. If you want to grow spiritually, be a better parent, gain financial freedom, or improve your health, you’ll get where you want to go much faster by focusing on one principle rather than many.
This is a principle of nature and you can’t avoid it. It’s how rivers cut deep valleys, how mountains turn into sand, how tiny seeds produce giant forests.
This is the secret to how entrepreneurs build successful businesses, how people lose extraordinary amounts of weight, and the key to building deep and lasting relationships.
It’s how you’ll achieve your biggest goals and become your best self.
So stop trying to read 100 books every year. Find the books that are the best at compelling you to be better and showing you how to do that and read them 100 times.