My "Books to Read" List Just Hit 1,000 Titles: Notes From an Anxious Mind

You read that right. I just hit 1,000 titles. And that's not counting the unread books on my bookshelf. The books I haven't heard about yet. The beautiful books sitting on the front tables in Indigo that, due to the lock down, I haven't been prompted to impulse buy yet. I posted the other day about one of the books I’d just finished reading, and immediately got a message from a friend offering me three other book suggestions, which I promptly added to the list. I then remembered the size of my list, and felt this sense of overwhelm that I'll never even read a fraction of the books I want to in this lifetime. 

Photo by Elena Mozhvilo on Unsplash

At a very young age I developed a strategy of managing my anxiety by making these lists. I felt like if the thing was on the list, I'd never lose it and everything would be fine. But now my lists have grown lists and managing them has become it's own activity, and anxiety trigger.

This book list is just the tip of the iceberg of all the things I want to tackle. It adds to the articles I want to read, the topics I want to research, the things I want to do, the people I want to talk to, and the endless list of amazing things that this life has to offer. I'm definitely that person at the buffet with a plate of food larger than my stomach can possibly hold.

This week, the floodgates in my brain opened up something fierce. I added a new aspect of book publishing that I needed to learn about, and proceeded to go down a rabbit hole of information. As the new list grew, I started thinking of all the other lists and it all just spiraled. 

We Can't Read Every Book

Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

Maybe I'm the only one with this problem and y'all have figured it out. For some I'm sure prioritization and focus come easily. For many I know it doesn't. I just read a book that blew my mind. It wasn't even on my list, but it came to me just at the right time and helped out with some of my anxiety around the topic of doing all the things. This quote really resonates:

"Of course, we can't visit every place or meet every person or do every job, jet most of what we'd feel in any life is still available. We don't need to play every game to know what winning feels like. We don't have to hear every piece of music in the world to understand music. We don't have to have tried every variety of grape from every vineyard to know the pleasures of wine. Love and laughter and fear are universal currencies. We just have to close our eyes and savour the taste of the drink in front of us and listen to the song as it plays." - Matt Haig, The Midnight Library

There are so many other great moments of wisdom in this book and I highly recommend it. I love this idea though. If you're reading the book with the thought that you need to get through it so that you can read the next, you're not appreciating the beautiful images your brain produces in response to this particular book, the words chosen, the structure that makes it unique or just the overall feel of it. You're basically missing out on the book that's in your hand, and this of course can be applied to any situation in life. You can have the same feeling or the same success without reading all the articles, or doing all the things. 

What you can't get is success by spreading yourself too thin. 

Blinders and Boundaries

In this age of information, the ability to put blinders on and to prioritize, pick areas of focus, and to not feel bad about saying no to the rest, might be the most coveted skill out there for peace of mind. I have to continually remind myself of my goals and take a deep breath when new things are added to my desire list, and think calmly: that sounds cool, but not right now.

There's also a point where you can say: I don't need another book telling me to meditate. I got it. I don't need another 5 steps to this or that or ways to cultivate good habits. I've read enough. I know enough. 

Trust in what you already know. And focus on what you love!

Anyone else share this need to read all the things? Or use similar tools to manage anxiety?


Ian Trudeau said…
I also used to have lists. Ok maybe not as many! The hardest part of letting go of the lists was the guilt of not doing all the things. But as that faded I also realized the things you need in life come to you as you need them. You just have to have your eyes open to see them coming, which is hard to do if your nose is buried in a list! Love you.
Jonathan Lin said…
I'm at 816, so not quite there :)

I will, however, never trim my lists and will keep adding. The List isn't a source of anxiety, but I treat it as a reading diary, of the "sliding doors" type that you spoke about in your last post. My reading wishlist is a series of signposts and memories. Books recommended by friends who are no longer in my life. Books recommended by one-off conversations with fellow backpackers on a five-day-long train ride across a continent. These are the books that I never read, but I don't know how my life would have changed if I did read them.

I don't have to read them, any of them, or all of them. However, I do treasure the specific moment they came into my life.

I am not sure when I will have time to read The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, but on January 13, 2011, I set that down as something I wanted to do.

The best part is, discovering books that aren't on the list, as you did, or re-discovering a book that was put on the books years ago, but forgoetten about.

Keep on with the coping with lists. If it works for you that sounds good. If it's anxiety inducing, get rid of them!