Last year (2015) my theme was “Input, Output, Muse.” My focus was on balancing out all my reading, writing and taking time to think. This manifested itself in just shutting everything off and thinking; usually in the last hour of driving my semi truck over the road. I focused on that theme all year until it became a habit. Take time to think and reflect.
This year (2016), I settled on a theme that has proved to be transformational. My resolution was a theme, and not a goal. It was a direction to travel and not a destination. It was undefined and nebulous, yet dramatically effective in my life. My new year’s resolution was simply, “Quality of input.” I’ll show you how it changed in my life.
In 2015, I read a little more than twenty books. That was slightly above my average for the last five years. That may sound like a lot to some, or maybe even to most people, but for me, it was normal, and I was overdue for growth. I was driving fifty to sixty hours a week and just about all of my reading was being done with my ears. Most books are about seven hours. With ease, I could listen to three books a week. Why wasn’t I? I was filling those driving hours with a whole lot of other stuff. That other stuff ranged from economic podcasts to political talk shows. There was a spectrum between informative and entertaining. None of these other inputs could measure up to the contents of a book. Books have to be sold. They are concise and often to the point. They are usually a qualitative package of knowledge. Of the more than one hundred books that I’ve purchased on Audible.com, I think I’ve wanted to return two (they do have a return policy). Second to books in quality might be blogs and other topically oriented articles from sources like the Wall Street Journal. After that ranks podcasts and speeches from Youtube like Ted Talks. At the bottom of the list was a big chunk of my listening habit; The Rush Limbaugh Show. I quickly realized this was a source of listening that I would have to confront.
The Big Cut
The Rush Limbaugh show is a fifteen hour a week show. That’s the equivalent of two books every single week! Was I getting two books worth of learning material for my time? Not in the least. Boiled down, It’s a news and opinion entertainment show with maybe ten minutes of news and the rest opinion and commercials. Now I’m a subscriber so I don’t get commercials. That cuts it all down to about two hours a day. Still, there is a whole lot of redundant drivel that I’ve heard more times than I’d care to admit. I had to come to the point where I was willing to let go all-together. Did I expect to accomplish this on January first? No, but it would be on my conscience and I would have to develop a plan that would get me there within the year.
(Update) I did not cancel my subscription in 2016. I was unwilling to do so in the most exciting election of all time. I did not renew my subscription as of June 2017. I have not listened to Rush in over a month. I don't miss it at all. I have indeed graduated from the Limbaugh Institute for Advanced Conservative Studies. Insistently, it is no longer referred to as such. Rush has changed it to "…Anti-Leftist Studies."
One goal to support the theme
My new year's resolution theme wasn’t limited to the hours that I was driving. I had a whole lot of work ahead of me in cutting down my “after driving” content. Facebook, Fox News, Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube were all taking up gobs of time. Reading a physical book was almost non-existent in my life. Hacking at the weeds of time-waste wasn’t going to be enough. I had to have something to drive at that would fill the void. I would have to fill the gap with a goal.
In the spirit of my theme, I chose to double last year's reading and set a reading challenge of forty books this year. I had to move from where I was to where I wanted to get to. I couldn’t expect to jump from where I was to where I wanted to be all at once. I had to set a goal I could grow into as I accomplished it. I seriously thought about making my goal fifty or fifty-two books; one for every week of the year. The reality was that I had to account for the fact that I was reading just shy of two books a month. Ultamately, my goal would have the added benefit of forcing me to start cutting back on other content to reach its realization.
I already had an app to keep track of my progress. Goodreads is a great app that lets you review books you’ve read, read others’ reviews, and share about what you’re reading with others. It has a reading challenge feature that is also shared. I use this app to keep track of my progress both in terms of this year’s goal and progress in each category.
I categorized all the books that I’ve ever read in twelve categories. The following are the categories with the number of books assigned to them; economics (26), business(18), stocks(8), history(8), biographical(12), marriage(8), motivational/self-help(20), science(6), political(9), psychological/ neurology(7), Christian(6), and lastly (which I added this year) leadership (7). The Christian and Marriage categories, I've actually read more but I've lost track of the titles.
A Challenge from Jenny
Second to The Rush Limbaugh Show, Facebook was another colossal time waster. Worse yet the political back and forth drove me crazy. I was already taking action to cut back. I refrained from posting stuff that would stoke the fires of controversy and eliminated sources on my feed that would tempt me to jump into debate. I was on the right track. Then Jenny challenged me to take a full break from Facebook until further notice. I didn’t even ask why, or what prompted it. I thought it was a good idea. I figured we’d be back on in a month. It ended up lasting over six months. I did log on one time to see my birthday wishes. That one time I logged on, I saw two posts from some really good friends that angered me. I gave them my two cents, logged off, and realized how much happier I was without it. (I later called both and apologized for my harshness) I thought, “Man I wish I could just use Facebook to share life with people and not have to hash out politics” I used to be a political junkie! Now I was over it. What I thought would be an impossible task was making itself easy for me. That is, tuning out politics in the most exciting time of politics ever. The two biggest time wasters were being squelched out of existence. I had no idea how much additional time I would be left with.
By July I was nearly halfway to my goal. I had about eighteen books completed. I was happy, but I was still behind and falling behind. My time was coming to an end as an over-the-road driver and I would be starting a new job driving for the oil industry. While Jenny and I traveled the country, I was trying to do whatever I could to ensure that job was in place at the right time. In addition to that, we were looking at houses and trying to secure a loan. We were trying to pull off something that was very hard to do. All this planning and effort cut into my ability and self-will to absorb an audio book. At this point, I had succeeded in cutting out most of the lower quality input, but I hadn’t yet ramped up the higher quality input. I was spending lots of driving hours burning through copious amounts of thinking. (I personally believe that, though we can’t all be on-the-spot quick witted, our intellectual differences can be minimized with more quantities of time applied to thought.) Our months of planning paid off. The day that I finished my truck lease was the very day I finished orientation for Steven’s Tanker and became an employee there. I'll leave the rest of that story for another writing.
By September, I was little more than half way and I wasn’t sure I was going to make my goal. I wasn’t worried because in my mind, whether I met the goal or not, I had made a tremendous amount of progress in following my theme. I had cut out massive lower quality inputs.
At first, in my new job, I didn't find much time to listen to audio books and read. I was busy climbing over the learning curve and frankly, it was difficult to think about a book when I was trying to close on a house and my money was running out paying for a hotel. After a month or so, and after we settled into our house, I integrated my theme of high quality input into my job. I figured out that I had about twenty hours a week of driving and about sixteen hours of waiting around for loading and unloading. I could listen to books while driving read books while waiting. By October, I was cruising to the finish line; reading about a book a week. I had more than doubled my reading rate at the end. At this rate, I could easily continue into next year with the goal of fifty books. I wasn't sure if I wanted to make that commitment yet though. I wanted to make next year's theme a theme of taking action. With the theme of "quality of input" and it's corresponding goal well under control, I wanted to focus the last few months on the latter half of the theme; "excellence in output."
By the last few months, I was already looking forward to next year's resolution. I wanted to focus on doing. I started a blog and it was consuming my time. I loved it. I should have done it six years ago, or even twelve years ago when I was in Afghanistan. It was so much fun puting my writting together. Time was ticking away and I still had a half dozen books to finish. I was very much over the challenge of reading forty books, but I had to. If for no other reason to make this blog post complete. I had most of this post written months ago.
My last days off work before the end of the year were at hand. I would need to sit down and read the last two books, but I didn't want to. I didn't want to be fretting over reading just to read. "The point of the goal was to support my theme," I reasoned and I had accomplished that. Not by just a little, but by a lot. I had read 190% of what I had the year prior. I had cut out a bunch of time wasting habbits and replaced it with a focused effort to increase my knowledge. That wasn't a failure, but when new years eve came, it felt like one. I had worked all year to complete this goal. I had fell behind at times and had caught up and gotten ahead at other times. If I could go back to my days off, I would have sat down for those few necessary hours and closed the deal, but I can't. I turn my eyes to this year and embrace it with a new vision. I don't have a reading goal this year but I'm very certain that I will read at least thirty books without much effort. My habbits have been refined and the quality of input has increased with a lasting impact. What is your resolution and/or goals for this year? Leave a comment below.
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