Why climb TBR Mountain if it’s such a challenge?

There must come a time in every mountaineer’s life, where they find themselves shivering in a windswept tent, thousands of miles away from and above civilisation, and they think to themselves “I wonder if I can get Deliveroo out here?”

Doing great things like climbing a mountain often demands some form of personal sacrifice.

While the stomach may crave lamb tikka or a barbecue chicken pizza in a moment of frost bitten weakness, the surge of triumph felt upon reaching the summit surely outweighs the quick hit of satisfaction gained by staying and home and ordering in.

Otherwise, why bother?

For many of us, though, the mountains we attempt to conquer are metaphorical. Our mountainous To Be Read piles, for one.

The climb may be easier, and the risk of attack by mountain lions notably smaller, but, like climbing, reading can be something of a challenge.

So why do we strive for these things? Why conquer the metaphorical reading mountain? Why not just laze around in the flatlands of instant gratification instead?

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Challenging myself to focus on the longer-term

Like many readers, I began the year by setting myself a reading challenge on Goodreads. In 2020 I read 18 books, in 2021 I read 20, and this year I’m hoping for another personal best, so have set my target as 21 books.

It’s an interesting idea, isn’t it, having to ‘challenge’ yourself to do something that you supposedly love. Shouldn’t my hobbies be things that I want to do without encouragement?

In actual mountaineering, the fact it’s difficult probably adds to the appeal. There’s not much excitement to be gained from planting a flag atop the nearest molehill.

The fact the TBR mountain is difficult to climb as well isn’t so much a factor, but what it does share in common with the real mountain is that the pleasure one derives from it can take a while in coming.

The easiest thing isn’t always the best

Modern life is full of distractions. This is probably one of the reasons why going up mountains still appeals. The Wi-Fi is terrible; it’s a good way to escape the temptation to scroll Twitter.

It varies from person to person, but for me it’s much easier to sit and play on my phone, frittering away minutes or hours on socials or mobile gaming or checking emails again, than it is to pick up a book and read.

The path up TBR mountain is littered with distracting yetis offering short-term – and ultimately hollow – highs. It doesn’t help that our brains are geared to prefer the easy thing; to seek rewards while conserving energy.

For me the most frustrating thing about spending time this way is that I’m not really doing anything at all.

Do you find, as I do, that much of the time spent looking at your phone is just you searching for something to do?

Give us twenty minutes spare and we’re just as likely to spend that scrolling through YouTube looking for videos to watch as we are watching videos, if not more so.

My free time is mostly confined to the evenings, even at weekends, because I have a full-time job and two young kids. So when I go to bed every night I want to feel that I’m ending another evening well spent.

For me, the things that make me feel like that, that give me a long-term feeling of satisfaction, are those activities that take a bit more effort to get started; reading, working on my fiction, painting Warhammer, and so on.

Escaping distractions

Rather like how making yourself get up and go for walk is better for you than just sitting around all day and trying to figure out how many chocolate digestives you can fit in your mouth at once, I find that a little kick to do something like reading leaves me feeling more fulfilled in the long-term.

The Goodreads Reading Challenge helps with that, by heightening slightly the sense of achievement I get after every book I finish. It’s like the rope connecting me to the intrepid climber of TBR mountain ahead of me, pulling me up and guiding me to the safest handholds.

Some of the ways I could occupy myself leave me feeling hollow and unsatisfied. Spending fifteen minutes playing a mobile game that is 50-75% ads isn’t actually fun. It’s just programmed to appeal to the goblins in my head, trying to convince me that this large patch of ice which keeps creaking precariously is the best way to get to that satisfaction summit.

I get much more out of seeking genuine satisfaction, which requires more effort.

The Goodreads Reading Nudge

There are definitely times where forcing yourself to read doesn’t make sense: if you don’t like books; if you’re only doing it because you think it’s ‘smarter’ than films or video games or Tik Tok; if your house is on fire.

But all relationships need work, and my relationship with reading is no different.

Having a target helps remind me to keep my focus where it pays the most dividends. Perhaps the world ‘challenge’ isn’t very helpful here, but I guess The Goodreads Reading Nudge wouldn’t have the same ring to it.


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