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Want to know how to set reading goals? Here are two methods that will help you set reading goals you will actually be able to achieve. 

read more books

Setting reading goals can get complicated. As someone who loves to set reading goals every year, I have first-hand experience. But I also know how it can go wrong. 

You are going to learn two methods for setting your reading goals using traditional SMART goals and using the identity goal method. (Don’t worry. Both will be explained in great detail below.)

After learning about how to set reading goals, you will be prepared to have the most satisfying reading year to date. 

This post is all about how to set reading goals that every reader should know about. 

Before We Get Started

One thing I want to talk about before we get started is something that I believe is very important to the reading life (and the theme of this blog) — your reading life should bring you joy. 

The keyword there is you. I have personally gotten caught up in the latest books that everyone is talking about on Bookstagram and elsewhere, and most of the time, these books end up being a huge disappointment for me. 

So as we go through this process, I really want you to think about the books, authors, genres, and any other variables that you have noticed that have brought the most joy to your reading life so we can add more of those things into your life. 

On the flip side, also think about those things that have derailed your reading life, so you can also know the things that you want to avoid.

Evaluate Your Previous Reading Year

Before diving into setting your goals, I recommend spending a little time evaluating your previous reading year.

If you keep track of the books you read somewhere, it’s time to open that journal, Goodreads account, spreadsheet, or whatever it is you used.

Grab a journal or a Google Doc, and write down what you liked about the books you read this year and your reading life in general. Here are some questions you can try to answer in this step:

  • Are you happy with how many books you read?
  • Are you happy with how often you were able to read? Did you develop a new reading habit that really worked for you?
  • Did you discover any new authors you loved?
  • Did you read more backlist titles by your favorite authors that you enjoyed?
  • What genre(s) did you really enjoy? What new genre(s) did you discover?
  • Note any 5-star reads on your list and what they have in common.
  • Did you do a reading challenge that you loved?
  • Did you develop a new tracking system that you loved?

Note: If you didn’t keep track of the books you read, you can still do this exercise. You’ll just have to do it from memory.

Next, write down what you didn’t like about the books you read or your reading life in general. Here are some questions that may help with this part:

  • Do you feel like you read too few books or too many?
  • Did you struggle to find time to read?
  • Did you fall into any reading ruts during the year, and why do you think that happened?
  • Did you get stuck in only a handful of genres?
  • Are there books you finished that you wish you would have DNFd?
  • Did you fail to read backlist titles by favorite authors?
  • What do you wish you would have done differently?

You can use this information to start setting your reading goals. 

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Option 1: Create Identity-Based Goals

setting identity based goals

This method comes from the book Atomic Habits by James Clear. In fact, Clear doesn’t describe these as goals. Instead he describes them as “identity-based habits.”

Clear says that “the key to building lasting habits is focusing on creating a new identity first.” In other words, we need to change what we believe about ourselves. The way we start doing that is to think about the kind of person we want to become. 

For example, let’s say you wanted to lose weight. Clear says that instead of making a goal to lose 20 pounds, create an identity goal to “become the type of person who moves everyday.”

Let’s apply this to reading. 

Here are some examples of reading goals: 

  • Read 50 books
  • Read for 1 hour per day. 
  • Spend less money on books.
  • Read more backlist titles by favorite authors.
  • Keep a reading journal.
  • Complete a reading challenge

Now, we’re going to take one of these goals and convert it into an identity-based goal. 

Here is the process we are going to follow: 

  • Step 1: Name the goal you want to achieve. 
  • Step 2: Describe the type of person who would achieve this goal. 
  • Step 3: List 3-5 small steps or habits you can take to become this type of person. 

For our example, I’m going to use this goal: Read 50 books. 

  • Step 1: Read 50 books in one year. 
  • Step 2: Become the type of person who reads 50 books every year. 
  • Step 3: Habits needed to become this type of person.
    • Read every morning for 30 minutes when I wake up. 
    • Track my reading habits every day in a habit tracker. 
    • Don’t watch TV on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Spend this time reading instead. 
    • Listen to audiobooks on my commute. 

In summary, you are first deciding the type of person you want to become and then listing habits needed to be that person. 

I really like this method. There’s something about it that feels more motivating than most typical goal setting methods. 

Option 2: Create SMART Goals

woman setting SMART goals

I think most people have heard of SMART goals, but just in case, here’s a summary: SMART is an acronym for:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant 
  • Time-bound

Goals have a tendency to be very abstract such as: read more books, watch less TV, lose weight. The SMART goal method takes such goals and turns them into something more concrete. 

Let’s take the goal “read more books” and convert this into a smart goal.

Read 50 books in 2024. 

Simply by adding the number and the year, we’ve made this goal specific, measurable, and time bound. It is relevant to the topic of reading. If you want to have a number reading goal this year, just make sure the number you choose is something achievable for you. 

Reading Goal Ideas

If you’re anything like me, you’ve been thinking about your reading goals for the coming year for several months now, but if you can use some inspiration, here are some ideas:

  • Read X number of books.
  • Read all the backlist titles by [insert author]
  • Read more books from your own bookshelf. (This is going to be one of my reading goals this year.)
  • Turn off all electronics by 7 PM and read until it’s time to go to bed. 
  • Complete a reading challenge
  • DNF more books
  • Read one book from a genre you don’t normally read.
  • Track your daily reading habits. 
  • Keep a book journal. 
  • Complete a reading challenge. (There’s a fun reading challenge right here, if you’re looking for one 😉
  • Make at least 50 percent of the books you read be books you already own.
  • Make at least 50 percent of the books you read be books from the library.
  • Read X number of non-fiction books.
  • Make a list of specific titles you want to make sure you don’t want to miss. (This is something I do almost every year.)
  • Re-read X number of books.
  • Read for at least X minutes per day.
  • Join a book club.

Something else I like to do each year is to make a list of books I want to make sure I don’t miss in the coming year. 

How to Reach Your Reading Goals: It’s All About the Habits

No matter which method you choose, achieving goals all comes down to our habits. In some cases, we need to start new habits, but we may also have habits we need to stop.

habit stacking

Habit Stacking

One tactic I’ve used for starting new habits (that has actually worked) is called habit-stacking. (This also comes from Atomic Habits.) This is how habit-stacking works:

  • You start with a habit you already do. For example, maybe when you get up in the morning you make coffee. 
  • Choose a new habit you’re going to do right after making your coffee every day. 
  • Implement the new habit. 
  • Once you establish a new habit, you can start adding other new habits. In other words, you’re stacking new habits on top of current habits. 

Track Your Habits

Another tactic I’ve used that also helps is tracking my habits in a habit tracker. This can be done with a journal, a spreadsheet, with a platform like Notion, or one of the many habit-tracking apps.

Choose the one that you think will be the easiest for you to stick with.

Closing Thoughts

I want to close with a couple of thoughts:

  • Your reading goals are personal. We’re all individuals, which means that we are likely to have some different goals, and that’s okay.
  • Be careful with numbers. While there are some cases in which aiming for a specific number of books makes perfect sense. We also never want to read for a number. If we’re just flying through books, and not taking the time to enjoy and reflect on those books, I think we’re missing out on one of the important parts of the reading process. And I think reading for a number can very quickly kill the joy we get from reading. (Even thought, I get it . . . you want to read all.the.books.)

What are your own reading goals? I would love to hear about what goals you decide to set this year!

Habit and Goal Setting Books Worth Reading

I love to read a good habit or goal setting book to kick off the new year. Here are some of my favorites.

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