Now that we’ve officially reached late January, I’m rushing to come up with a new set of New Year’s Resolutions. It’s my annual second chance after breaking every resolution in my first set, which I did this year by January 8.
(Note to self: Top 2016 resolution should be not to smoke all year. Because I’m not a smoker, this should be an easy win.)
So here’s one resolution I’m going to try, and which you might want to consider as well: Stop tracking your accomplishments.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s great to step back every so often, take stock of the things you’ve accomplished, and enjoy that moment. Go ahead and recap the successes you’ve had at work, creative projects you’ve tackled, things you’ve gotten done around the house, time you’ve spent with the kids — that sort of thing. My wife and I have an informal “year-end recap” ritual like this every December. It’s fun.
But I’m talking about something different: Tracking your accomplishments as you go, making scorekeeping a part of the process. This could be a bad idea. Here’s why.
A few years ago, I read what sounded like a brilliant suggestion in a book I still recommend, called The Little Guide to Your Well-Read Life. The author, Steven Leveen, is the guy who founded Levenger, which sells high-end work accessories like leather journals and fancy pens.
Leveen argues in the book that one way to push yourself to read more is to keep track of every book you read — to keep a journal (hmm, maybe one you could buy at Levenger) where you write down each book after you’ve finished reading it.
I took Leveen’s advice starting about 10 years ago, and sure enough, for the next few years I found myself reading a lot more books. I’d count up my books-read total at the end of the year, and the number — sometimes 30 books, sometimes 75 — was a big source of pride for me.
I even got a little adrenaline rush every time I finished a book, because I could head over to my journal and write it down — to add it to my “score.”
But then I noticed a few things about the process that troubled me:
- I was reading articles less often. After all, they didn’t count in my book tally, and they were taking away from my book-reading time, which would hurt my score.
- I wouldn’t start a book I wasn’t sure I would finish.
- I actually looked for shorter books. Not books I’d enjoy or that could teach me new things. Just books with fewer pages or a lower word-count.
- And I wouldn’t re-read books, even the ones that I really enjoyed or found interesting the first time. Those wouldn’t count toward my score, either.
In other words, my scorekeeping was actually undermining the very reasons I wanted to read in the first place: to learn new things, to get exposed to different ideas, to go back and enjoy my favorite books.
So this year, I’m going to scrap the scorekeeping altogether. I’ll read when I can, when I find a book that moves me (no matter its length), and if I feel like re-reading it I’ll do that too, without the guilt that it won’t “count” the second time.
Taking note of your accomplishments is a great practice. But I’m not sure identifying yourself with your accomplishments, and the constant pressure that comes with it, is as healthy.