When I was little, my parents would stock up the house with lots of snacks.
When I got even a little peckish, bored, or simply noticed a snack, I’d scarf it down. Fast.
I’d notice other types of snacks around and didn’t want to miss out on all those.
So I’d think “Ok, maybe I’ll just have a little bit of each…”
Then proceeded to non-sensically vacuum up everything.
Because I would inhale something and not be satisfied because I didn’t actually taste it or wait for my brain to register any satiety signals, I would then immediately inhale the next thing, all without tasting anything.
In the end, I would be full, stuffed even. But still not psychologically satisfied.
In fact, more often than not, I felt psychologically frustrated.
Several years later, After discovering the world of personal development, I eventually overcame my snacking addiction. Hurrah!
Then life decided to gift me with another.
It goes a little something like this…
You start reading a book.
And then Amazon starts suggesting more.
And you’re like “Oh god, there are more books I should read.”
“I better finish this one super quickly so I can go on to the next one!”
Then one day you wake up and go “Hmm, my life hasn’t changed yet…”
“Maybe I haven’t found the right book! I just need to keep reading.”
What’s going on here?
1. Fear of missing out (or FOMO)
I’d jump from book to book without really applying anything deeply because I didn’t want to miss out on all the good advice out there.
Like wanting to eat all possible types of snacks available to you even if you don’t need them just because you want to try everything.
2. Feeling like what you’ve already consumed is not enough (because your life hasn’t changed yet).
This actually reinforces the scarcity mindset that’s typical of FOMO.
It’s like when you scarf down a snack too quickly and don’t actually take the time to enjoy it or give your body time to send satiety signals to your brain, so you think you need more than your body’s capable of processing.
I call the “fear of missing out” the Never-ending Breadth of self-help and the “still not enough” the Neglected Depth of self-help.
We chase after the neverending Breadth without giving Depth the time and energy it deserves.
What surprises a lot of people though is that when you give Depth the time it deserves…
You’ll find that Breadth comes for free!
Because what you apply to one area of life is almost always applicable to every other area of life.
But why is it so hard to do that?
Well in addition to the fear of missing out, you also get a dopamine hit every time you read something insightful and new and imagine your life changing… without actually doing anything.
So you want more of that experience.
Maybe the ideas in the first 1-2 books do change your life via the way it changes your perspective on things, but when you start feeling compelled to consume more and more books without stopping to apply them, then you end up with diminishing “life-changing results” over time.
YET you feel like you need to read more books to get that same “hit” as before.
This “hit” is what fuels the addictive feeling – and it’s not the same as enjoyment.
WikiDiff says “enjoyment is the condition of enjoying anything while addiction is a state that is characterized by compulsive drug use or compulsive engagement in rewarding behavior, despite negative consequences.” 😱
My Reading Game
And this was the point I was saying to myself “Fine, but if I can just stop and savor, I would have already.”
Until I remembered that I’m a weight-loss coach! So I can apply the same concepts in my coaching as I do to my current predicament.
How do these two things relate?!
Well, often when people come to me with overeating concerns, we work on habits like:
- Slowing down to mindfully savor your food.
- Eating nutritious foods alongside snacks so you get both physical satiation and psychological satisfaction.
- And mindset work to overcome scarcity mindset like beliving you can always have more or something different tomorrow.
So I made a game for myself by applying these same guidelines. Here were the rules:
1. Only one book at a time.
2. I can switch books If one stops sparking joy or I realize I don’t actually need it anymore, BUT I can only exercise this power at the start of a new day.
That means no two books on the same day.
If this was food, it would be like I can have ice cream or cake for dessert but I can’t have both in the same meal.
3. After finishing a chapter, don’t progress on to the next one until I’ve applied as many actionable things from that chapter in real life as I can.
I must give each thing at least one decent try. If there’s no way to apply it in my life yet, then I may journal about how I feel about it or skip it.
I get one point each time I apply something (or journal about it) and learn from it.
I get TWO points if it’s not directly related to the subject matter. E.g., Use something I learned from a relationship book and apply that to my work or my health & fitness.
Why this worked for me
The first rule (one book at a time) is to ensure I savor.
The second rule (can only switch books at the start of a day) is to give me permission to have more later so as not to trigger the scarcity mindset. I still get to read a variety of books if I choose. I just need to wait a day.
This gives me enough of a break to sleep on it so I’m not impulsive but it also doesn’t trigger my FOMO.
And the third rule (must apply before advancing to next chapter) is to ensure I also eat “nutritious foods” alongside my “snacks.”
In this case, putting learnings into practice is equivalent to eating nutritious foods for me because as you embody your learnings, your life actually does change and that’s what really satiates the hunger for more, not reading about it and imagining it.
The great thing about the setup of this game is:
- It’s a game, so it’s fun, not a punishment.
- I still get that dopamine hit when I score a point. For self help addicts like us, we love our achievement-induced dopamine hits – that’s what got us into this mess in the first place after all, isn’t it? 😉
Only now, I reward myself for practicing stuff instead of reading about it.
What I learned
First, it can suck at the beginning! I think it took 2-3 weeks of consistency before it the FOMO alerts died down. The scarcity mindset is no joke!
But after my brain learned to chill the f*** out, it started getting a lot better.
Lesson 1: A little = A Lot
I learned how much a little goes a long way. Applying 10% of a book was worth more to my life than rush-reading through 20 books.
So I got more depth in.
Lesson 2: Interconnectivity & Compound Effects
Most learnings can be applied to all areas of life.
I read books about work, relationships, and health & fitness and I have yet to not come across an insight that, when applied in one area, I couldn’t see a way to apply it in other areas.
So I didn’t feel like I needed the breadth as much as I used to.
Despite reading more slowly, and often not even finishing books, I actually created more positive change in my life than when I was finishing a book a week.
Instead of seeing diminishing returns over time, I saw exponential returns from just applying even 10% of one book consistently to as many areas of life as I could. And it was FUN to discover new applications!
Lesson 3: More Freedom!
This exercise was also surprisingly freeing.
Not only did I feel like my life was progressing because I was actually embodying the stuff I learned, but I also quickly learned what type of things worked and didn’t work for me.
This taught me how to better identify what were the right-fit books for my current problem of choice, such that when I pick up new books, I’m much more confident about which book to choose and what parts I need to pay more attention to (compared to in the past when my anxiety forced me to compulsively take notes on everything).
Lesson 4: What “Enough” Feels Like
Finally, I learned what “enough” felt like for me.
In my weight-loss program, I get many students who come to me not knowing what satiety actually felt like because they were so used to overeating until stuffed or only trying to get full on junk foods.
I realized that this whole time I was gorging books, I didn’t know what true “satiety” felt like for self-improvement.
Once I started embodying what I learned from my books, guess what?
I got hungry less often. 🙂