Churchill’s Lost Decade In The Wilderness

In 1929 Winston Churchill was driven from his political life and entered into what the ambitious and ‘crushing it’ among us today might consider a “lost” decade.

After being in parliament for 30 years, he was out of office and at home. What followed was a period of recharging himself by engaging in activities which fed him. He spent a great portion writing, traveling, as well as the well noted painting and bricklaying. He remained engaged but at a pace outside of public servanthood which allowed him to regain focus.

In the context of Ryan Holiday’s book Stillness Is The Key, emphasized was Churchill’s ability in this time period to read and write, to sit and do nothing, to take the temperature of the world around him others were too busy to figure out. It was this time in the 1930’s he would focus on the concerns coming from Germany. His contemporaries would call his focus and alarm sounding “scaremongering” about the leadership in Germany. It was his time away, painting during the day, writing as found to be inspired, that allowed him to read into what others were dismissing.

Which is why Churchill is called back to lead Britain once the realization became reality through war. He had become still enough, slowed down enough, while staying active enough to focus his attention on an issue which prepared him for a moment in time like World War II.

Holiday asks if the dynamo and larger than life figure Churchill could have taken on the task at hand to lead his country during such a pivotal moment in history if Winston didn’t get still for a decade. The obvious leading answer is no, and Churchill would have been the first to say so.

Churchill wrote about the importance of every prophet’s forced exile into a wilderness. Into a time and place, as Holiday pens it, “of solitude, deprivation, reflection and meditation.” This was a decade of time. It wasn’t an unproductive time. It just took a different form of productivity by slowing down and gaining an energy and focus we can only find once we’ve exited the rat race, turned down distracting noise, and focus intensely on things which matter most.

A time being in wilderness which prepares us for strength. Not weakness.

John Mark Comer pivots our normal way of thinking about wilderness as a place of weakness in his book The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry. He notes the word eremos, translated as desert, is the place Jesus enters into a number of times throughout the Gospels.

The issue with our modern day goggles is the word eremos in Greek can mean a number of words, such as desert, lonely place, quite place, wilderness, solitary place. And it is in these places, or figurative deserts and wildernesses, where Jesus enters to gain strength for what is next. Not to become weak from the slower place. It’s where He would go to charge up, to regain energy, to establish connection between Him and His Father.

The wilderness is not a place of weakness. It is a place to restore by stripping away all which does not matter and drains us. All the things hijacking our attention. Causing distraction so we can’t see the inevitable around us.

What strikes me most about Churchill’s anecdote above is through the near ritualistic engagement of reading, writing, painting and more, he becomes very clear with the concerning rise in power in Germany. He gains a form of clarity on a single subject which prepares him to take some of the most important actions in history during WWII.

Churchill’s abilities were birthed from a period of stillness, rest, and reflection.

The wilderness prepares if we are willing to do the work found inside the intentional slowing down of life. There is work to be done inside of stillness for sure. But apparently, a work which is elusive even when everything designed to busy us is slowed down.

“I think we’re all lost till we’ve walked in the wilderness.” – My Epic

Chatter And Noise – Towards A Still Mind

Chatter of the news and the noise of the crowd is filling you past the point of full.

Ryan Holiday’s summary chapter about the Mind in his book Stillness Is The Key starts with a paragraph re-stating the issue before he moves onto the next topic, of why it’s so hard getting to stillness. Those two items, a constant news and a perpetual noise, are major contributing factors robbing us entry into stillness.

I keep saying something along the lines how I wish I had people in my life to talk to directly about this topic of elusive stillness in an increasingly digital world. I feel this way when the wheels start turning in my head about this topic because, well, Ryan Holiday is writing and talking about it. Cal Newport is too. And John Mark Comer.

And many many others.

I’m not alone in observing the noise of the crowd are the social media mediums.

And I am not alone in observing the chatter of the news is just that, chatter without deep substance of understanding, vetting, or regard for clarity for the masses.

This first paragraph of Ryan’s conclusion on the mind sent my mind into…..focus.

It’s when he then speaks of the buried insights. The reward beyond the problem of the chatter and the noise. The only way to get to the buried insights is to not dig at them like a conspiracy theorist looking to connect things that are not even there. No, it is the task of clearing out the noise just to reach the things already present.

They’re just buried under the social media pings, opinions flying unchecked, and the rising noise of our age.

I can’t help but connect this a step further to Comer’s recent book as he attributes a rise in noise (let’s call it distraction from mindfulness) to the Devil himself. Chiefly because it is the Devil’s best interest to get us unfocused, distracted from the pursuit of truth, to be in a constant state of frenetic pace.

Even if you are one that removes spirituality from this or doesn’t have a specific religious view on the matter, a point still stands where we know there is an intentional distraction or misleading of breaking news, coupled with unchecked opinions from bloggers and social media posts. We know it and subscribe to it as a sort of disclaimer.

But we perpetually feed ourselves with these mediums instead of doing the more chore like tasks of finding what peer reviewed journals, books, scientific magazines, and/or experts in niche subject matters have to say.

My point here is self awareness plays a large role here as we evaluate our ability to enter into a stillness in order to produce our best and not to avoid responsibility.

There is some analogy that escapes me right now, but it involves getting wildly excited and sober minded as the results come in from a test you are conducting in a lab, and the results demonstrate you are one that suffers acutely from what it is you are discovering.

I sense this is the reason people really find a passion in solving something, finding what is buried underneath the chatter and noise. It is because there is a disease of sorts and you are relentless in finding a solution to it because as you research more and more, you find how it affects you greatly.

Because yes, I seek the stillness Ryan describes in the book because I find it completely worthy of a task to continue ridding myself of the chatter and noise in exchange for the buried treasure below its surface.

What Makes You Come Alive?

There was no way I could avoid this thought on Easter Sunday morning:

What makes me come alive?

Well by now I know those things exactly. I’ve known some for a long time, or I have known a few others but struggled mightily in accepting them or making room for them.

This is a central question in my life now because I heard it expressed numerous times as what is life-giving to you? What made your heart leap for joy today? Sometimes we are so entirely unfocused that we don’t even notice the life-giving things that happened in a 24-hour period.

But the issue I know I am attempting to drill at more so is how do I maintain what makes me come alive?

There are many a cynic who will be quick to say life isn’t about doing what you love (it’s because they stopped doing what they love years ago).

There are many who say life is a grind (they let their loves flicker out).

And there are others yet that equate being fully alive with childish ambitions that don’t recognize the toughness of the real world (they stopped playing a long time ago).

What I am pointing out on Easter today is how I really got caught in the wonderment of prioritizing the things that make me come alive more than any other things. I acknowledge, it truly is a fight to guard your time for those things.

I think this is the case though because of the point of view I carry more than often, a view that says what nourishes my soul should be rare and only done after responsibility.

But I think that our responsibilities, our duties, our entire lives are enhanced when we safeguard an abundance of our time doing and learning what makes us come alive.

The next time you get excited over something, and someone notices your excitement, don’t just take note of it. Ask yourself, how can I pursue more of this which excites me? The thing you nerd out over more than others. The challenge you want to pursue that others don’t want to touch with a ten foot pole.

The things that make you fully alive.

Slow Solitude

Not being in a hurried rush means, once slowed, we can become present to all around us. People and Someone we weren’t seeing as we went by in a blur with our daily to-dos. Or thrown off by our phone notifications. Or an increase in our ancy emotions to impulsively be distracted constantly.

What is it we have incorrectly desired to be distracted from?

Solitude.

It is a very misunderstood virtue.

When fully engaged in a healthy manner, solitude is a place the soul draws from to replenish, not to go into despair. That would be a state of loneliness, as Henri Nouwen rightly distinguished.

Instead solitude is a placed of strength when engaged properly. We can look no further than Jesus in seeing the importance of solitude.

John Mark Comer in his book The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry helps reframe the many references of Jesus retreating into a wilderness, pulling back from the crowds, entering into days of prayer, as not states of entering into weakness but instead entering into places of strength.

Solitude is a place of strength:

“Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness” because it was there and only there, that Jesus was at the height of his spiritual powers. It was only after a month and a half of prayer and fasting in the quite place that he had the capacity to take on the devil himself and walk away unscathed. (P. 125)

The issue is the magnification in our modern world of constant distraction. But here is Jesus, 2,000 years ago and free of a cell phone and breaking news red banners, in need of drawing into a state of solitude on numerous occasions. He needed to draw away from the noise of that era so He could hear from His Father right then and there.

C.S. Lewis fictionalized in a very true metaphor in his book The Screwtape Letters, that the devil’s realm is a ‘Kingdom of Noise.’ And that in fact, the demons and the devil together say that ‘We will make the whole universe a noise in the end.’

It’s no surprise that noise and distraction and a hurried life leaves all of us crippled in our soul. Drained of energy, even the most hustle driven among us, we know we must retreat into solitude and rest now and then. Otherwise all the noise out there just keeps distracting.

But the moment of solitude and retreat into the wilderness, be it from a rushed life, too many kid’s practices, several board meetings, church committees, and recreation league softball, whatever those appointments were, the moment you can stand still for 10 minutes and retreat into the present moment, is the moment you find a slow stillness that nourishes.

What’s at stake is missing the present. And Comer emphasizes that all our “hurried digital distraction is robbing us of the ability to be present.” (P 121)

Because the amazing flipped on it’s head reality about God’s way of things, is that through solitude and stillness, we become more present to God, other people, all that is good, beautiful, and true in our world, even present to our own souls. (P 121).

What would you do with an increase in solitude? Would you welcome it or find yourself cascading into an unhealthy loneliness? In solitude, we are guaranteed to find Jesus there, in no rush and filled with all the patience in the world there ever could be.

 

Pain As Purpose – Wave Of Anxiety

There is a wave of anxiety out there.

It’s out there and it keeps increasing. It’s around us and it isn’t going anywhere. It doesn’t discriminate. It takes all sorts of people hostage.

I was recently at a Levi the Poet show in a little coffee shop. The show carried an emotional weight to it before I arrived, the artist being Levi the Poet after all whose material is shared from painful depths from his innermost being.

The opening acts, a couple solo singer/guitarists, took the opportunity to share some of their own stories in between songs. They were gut wrenching, tales of broken dreams, betrayals, personal screwups, and…..also about the radical love of Jesus.

A love that seems to completely defy what is in the air around us and in us with the increasing anxiety in our world.

These artists set the intimate stage of sharing deep pains they’ve been through, while in the same sentence at times turning around and talking about how we have a healing God, a God of life, a God who loves regardless of what has happened and what is still going to happen.

Brokenness filled the room. But healing overwhelmed it too and filled the broken gaps. Perhaps this is because space was given to be honest of our collective and individual brokenness.

A coffee shop worker came up between sets and felt compelled to share his testimony. He talked about how his call to become a pastor had come true, him and his wife moved to another state, were a year into what he absolutely knew was his purpose in life and the beginning of a promising career helping build up the youth in Christ’s love.

Then the church fired him after a year. Because they said he didn’t fit.

The opening act talked about the four year relationship he had that came to a terrible end. I’ll spare the details because they were very painful and I don’t recall the story exactly, but to be sure he experienced racism, a miscarriage and more.

Yet, both of these gentlemen expressed how Jesus, in spite of their sorrows, is the lover of their souls. Jesus gives dignity, provides the next day, the next foot forward.

I once read a statement from a Donald Miller book titled Searching For God Knows What. He said:

“Show me a guy who was molested by a minister and still loves Jesus, and I’ll show you a genius. The stuff that guy would have had to think through in order to arrive at an affection for God is nothing short of miraculous.” (p. 199)

I was in the presence of several geniuses at the concert.

People are carrying deep emotional wounds.

Then in addition to all that, there are pressures to keep up with the next overachiever you see in your feed screaming to crush it and work 14 hour days. There are models of perfect execution leaving us all with ‘no excuse’ not to execute as perfect as them in the information age.

I personally believe there is a strong connection to the digital era in all this increased anxiety as well. After reading Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport I see it all around now. The mechanism or the conduit, it’s a double edged sword to be sure. We are connecting better but we are not communicating better.

On one hand, I was in a room filled with people primarily under the age of 30. As long as there are reports like this one that keep turning out about Millennials experiencing loneliness at higher rates than other generations, despite our increased internet usage which is supposedly devised to make us connect better, anxiety will find a way into our lives as we don’t fulfill interpersonal needs we are wired to thrive off.

On the other hand I was able to go to the show that night because I found out about it on social media. It’s a tool that can benefit for sure.

But it’s about how we use the tool. And I keep seeing this theme of constant connection, a wave of anxiety, and an increased sense of loneliness.

It’s why it was so important to listen into all these geniuses at the concert. Levi in several lines of his poetry alluded to silence, stillness, quietness. Understanding we have to withdraw is the most important thing. It’s a true paradox, because we need each other and we need the community that springs forth from connecting with each other. But we also need to withdraw. Otherwise the anxiety is simply going to get worse.

Witnessing folks in person spilling their guts, many younger than me, was Jesus in action that night. Folks were doing something about what they experienced. They were releasing it out there. And they were doing it with and in the presence of each other.

I am left with the impression that my own anxiety is a result from living a life I’ll have studied and examined, and not done anything about.

The big first step for myself is showing up. Then acting on what I know.

And I know this.

I am not the only one in pain. And it would be selfish of me to keep what I know about dealing with the pain to myself. I must give and I must help. Because I must take care of myself, and as I do so, I have to reach out to others. We need each other and will continue to need each other. Maybe this is how the wave subsides.

Breathe For Us Right Now

You find yourself out of breath. Gasping.

You don’t have any breath to draw.

Is this panic or anxiety? Or something worse?

You can’t write at this moment. You can’t talk. People are asking for things of you and you have answers lodged inside of you you know you are saying but they aren’t coming out, you can’t figure out how to get them out.

If only you could just breathe.


Wim Hof  wanted to replicate the rush of cold he experienced after diving in ice water, which led him to find out how to control his breathing. The man from Amsterdam took a plunge and was addicted to the rush he felt in the cold water, how it made him feel so much more alive.

What Wim Hof eventually figured out through self trial and error was his breathing pattern would change from submersing in cold water daily. He was breathing deeper. This rush of feeling good was concentrating his breathing as a reaction to the cold. He soon would go on to develop breathing methods separate from cold water stimulation to mimic the rush of adrenaline and improvements to his mind’s condition. He replicated the cold therapy through deep breathing patterns.

What Wim has discovered, and is being backed by scientific research, is a method of breathing and mindfulness which actually controls the body’s autonomous system. Wim is altering and controlling his body’s immune system, state of well being, fighting depression, and reducing stress levels. Even making him a better athlete overall.

All by starting with breathing and embracing the cold.

Just breathe.


If all it takes to calm ourselves down and establish a greater level of wellness is to deeply breathe and enter in a mindful presence, then there is a deeper connection I’ve always found myself astounded by.

The Hebrew word ruach can be defined as wind, breath, or spirit. It is exactly the word describing the Spirit of God hovering over the waters of creation. The strong connection in the Hebrew language between the Spirit of God and breath is poetic. God breathing into the nostrils of His creation. Job welcomes the breath of God as that which sustains him.

It sounds more essential than mere poetry. Breath as the life sustaining Spirit of God.

If people like Wim Hof have stumbled upon the strong connection of physical well being and breathing deeply, then there is some notion God is hinting at us.

Just breathe son.

Just breathe daughter.

All that stress and worry and anxiety. Just breathe it in and out.

No really, just breathe in deeply 30 straight times. Hold the last breath in. Then let out.

Then think of your Abba, Papa, good good Father God as He embraces you exactly where you are in life.


Wim Hof’s wife committed suicide in 1995. By then, Wim had already been doing his daily cold therapy and breathing for years.

After his wife’s death, he doubled down on the concept of redemptive purpose. He dealt with the pain and grief he was experiencing by assuring people like his wife don’t have to make the decision they made, but instead, can resort to breathing and cold therapy to find healing.

Wim breathed in deeply. And he wants to help as many as he can to breathe as deeply and as often as they can.

 

A Character That Wants Something, And Doesn’t Know What They Want

A character that wants something…

But what if they don’t know what they want?

I have struggled to answer this question honestly to people in my life. To myself. Which leaves all parties involved frustrated.

Despite going through life planning curriculum, including Storyline and StoryBrand clarifying activities, and long retreats filled with contemplative prayer asking God what makes my heart leap, what has He stirred in me more than in others, what are my desires?

So why don’t I know what I want?

First, a lesson from story itself.


“Hindsight is a priceless jewel, but I’ve never been one for clarity.” – Listener, My Five Year Plan

Donald Miller’s Storyline process was something I latched onto as soon as it came out. I had the book pre-ordered and it landed on my porch in 2012. The anticipation swelled because I was going to finally put to personal usage the most convincing process I’ve ever heard of structuring one’s life: filter our lives through the process of a good story.

In the intro of Storyline, Miller writes “Great stories have one thing in common: they are clear. As such, Storyline is all about gaining mental clarity. If a character doesn’t know what they want, the story gets muddled. The same is true in life. And if the conflict isn’t clearly identified, the story drags, as it does in life.” (p 7)

A story is good, at least from the start, because it lets us know what the protagonist wants. If it is not clear what the protagonist wants, why would anyone stick around for the rest of the story to unfold?

By not being clear about what we want, there is nothing anyone else can really do to help us when a challenge comes. The potential customer, the potential employer, the potential date, they have no idea how to really say yes or commit or dive in to help clarify what it is we want if we actually don’t know what we want.

How does someone not know what they want? How am I still not clearly saying what I want with all the tools and weeks on end invested towards untangling all of this and organize it all in a clear fashion through the power of a good story?

Enter the Enneagram. The missing piece to my puzzle.

Discovering I have an Enneagram Type Nine personality, I have a quality about me that seeks to bring people together, but at the cost of merging with people I desire to bridge divides and make peace with. Able to reconcile conflicts between people or ideas, a type Nine person is usually setting aside what we deeply want in order to be at peace with others.

Ian Morgan Cron in his book The Road Back To You elaborates on the “unevolved” Nine’s issue by stating how they “neglect their soul’s summons to identify, name and assert what they want in life and to go hard after it. In fact, they can merge so deeply with the life program and identity of another that they eventually mistake the other’s feelings, opinions, successes and aspirations for their own.” (p 69).

Cron also states, “But Nines are slothful when it comes to fully paying attention to their own lives, figuring out what they want in life, chasing their dreams, addressing their own needs, developing their own gifts and pursuing their calling.” (p 67) This happens because in order to keep the peace, a Nine pushes what they want down to save embarrassment or to avoid attention being drawn to them.

If this sounds bad enough, not knowing what I want because I have the personality tendency to suppress my wants in order to gain acceptance from others around me, Cron punches me and other Nines in the gut about something a Nine can produce to the detriment of their unsuspecting victim: the “Epic Saga.”

As Cron writes:

“Because they sometimes lack drive and focus, average Nines often become jacks-of-all-trades but masters of none. They are generalists who, because they know a little bit about everything, can find something to talk about with everybody. Conversations with Nines are delightful as long as they don’t switch over to cruise control. You’ll know a Nine has done this when, after asking them how their day went, they launch into a long, drawn-out story containing more details and detours than you ever thought possible.” (p 71, emphasis added).

Yikes.

Now imagine instead of asking a Nine like me how my day went, you ask me what do I want? This could be applied to a number of areas, like career, relationships, hobbies, etc. The unhealthy Nine is going to enter into an epic ramble because they have not clearly defined what they want. Or, in all honesty, are afraid of desiring what they want.

I’ve turned several epic saga’s loose on some people in my life recently. What’s happening on the inside is actually pretty clear to me. I have a ton of connective ideas, truths, bullet point facts, for what was asked of me: what do I want?

Well ok, here are a bunch of facts that are truly connected in some way, and now it is my task to give you a fantastic sounding story weaving all of these things together. Ten minutes later as the dust is settling, what I want is not only not clear to the victim listener, but not clear to me if it ever was to begin with.

Which is why what Donald Miller says about what a customer (or date/employer/mentor, this is very flexible in application) is having to do when they first come across our product/request is the most important and condemning truth for an unhealthy type Nine personality. Our customer is trying to figure out within mere seconds ‘what does this person want?’ Me, as an unhealthy Nine, launches into an epic saga. This isn’t good, this is actually disastrous. As Miller says in his book Building a StoryBrand, “so what do customers do when we blast a bunch of noise at them? They ignore us.” (p 7).

An unevolved Nine doesn’t know what they want on a good day. Hence the epic saga ramble pours out.

What a breakthrough. This is it. The linchpin for me.


Healthy Nines or anyone else who knows what they want need to clarify how they ask for what they want. No one does a good job of how to ask, otherwise there wouldn’t be a need for StoryBrand, seminars, or entire avenues of communicative sciences to study and aid people in figuring out how to clearly state what we want to someone.

Ok. I get it now. Finally.

If people don’t know what I want, they can’t help. If I am not saying it clear enough, like we all struggle with to some degree, they can’t help directly. But at its worst I actually don’t know what I want because of my merging, appeasing Nine personality. So I launch into the ramble with a ton of truths baked into it, yet with no clear up front ask. No clear ‘this is it, this is what I want! Now for all the details.’

Can it be God just wants me to help others with what they struggle with too? That would be so Nine of me! But I think so, and I think it’s finally time to live out the story I worked out, to face the challenges worth overcoming, because of the permission I’m finally granting myself.

The Storyline process gets you to come up with a life theme based off what you see God having done in and through your life up till then. Having come up with this theme back in 2012, I am kinda floored at how accurate it is, and how it does tell me what I want. If only I follow through more with it and subvert the slothful type Nine personality in me, I can enter into a healthy version of myself knowing what I want, because it involves more than just me:

God is encouraging talents and passions in me to be used for relationship with Him and people.

The Rise Of Anxiety Due To Instant Messaging And Digital Connection

In case I am wondering why I am, at one level, personally shook in response to the book Digital Minimalism by computer science professor Cal Newport, and at a second level, shook for society en masse, look no further than this statement from Newport’s investigation into the present crisis on college campuses:

She [the head of a mental health service at a well-known university] told me that everyone seemed to suddenly be suffering from anxiety or anxiety-related disorders. When I asked her what she thought caused the change [from previous cohorts of students born prior to 1995], she answered without hesitation that it probably had something to do with smartphones. The sudden rise in anxiety-related problems coincided with the first incoming classes of students that were raised on smartphones and social media. She noticed that these new students were constantly and frantically processing and sending messages. It seemed clear that the persistent communication was somehow messing with the students’ brain chemistry. (pg 105 of Digital Minimalism) [emphasis added]

This bares repeating: messing with the student’s brain chemistry. Newport highlights studies by Jean Twenge, professor of psychology and expert on the study of generational differences, demonstrating in her work that the ‘iGen’ generation (born after 1995) and Millennials (born between 1981-1995) are displaying the sharpest spike in generational behavioral differences ever recorded. In other words, the way the iGen cohort behaves compared to Millennials is the largest difference in behavior between succeeding generations since psychological observations have been occuring.

I am going to agree with this statement and its revelations until proven otherwise for now, and work from this baseline in writing what follows. Let’s say Newport, Twenge, anonymous school therapist are right in their hypothesis.

What are the smartphones doing to us? To me? 

If I look personally at the first level, I can say given whatever preexisting cognitive conditions I unknowingly have, over usage of texting and instant messaging serve as detrimental tools instead of beneficial. The key being over usage.

Let’s say my ‘shyness’ I’ve always had in life is some form of communicative hindrance. Now, add the medium of constantly typing to people in a manner which allows for backspacing, editing, getting my random thought out there minus my speech impediment (yes, I was in speech therapy most of my young elementary school life), and all of a sudden the hypothesis of an altering brain chemistry in order to process and keep up with frantic, constant inputs from other people, let alone my own participation, is an urgent call to modify my behavior sooner than later.

Of which I have already.

Initially after reading the book, I entered into a state of digital minimalism as prescribed by Newport. This meant not checking instant messaging, not texting unless it was an emergency or to coordinate meeting with someone, and certainly the removal of social media apps or any distracting apps at all from my phone.

I was two weeks into drastically cutting down my messaging to friends. Not a full cut off like Newport recommends, but drastically diminished. 

And I have to say I was clearer thinking. I wasn’t as anxious. In fact there was an anxiousness of some other variety I didn’t even know was present to me until I cut off the constant engagement of messaging and connection.

I have unlocked some portion of my mind where, and this is the kicker, I recall being in undergraduate libraries circa 2005, reading class material and only focusing on the material. Not switching tabs every 10 minutes in my open browsers. Focusing intently on what I need to do. Not checking my analog cell phone for notifications. 

To stress the point being made by Newport and others, my brain chemistry already begun changing for the better in this detox period. There is no question. I was recovering a state of focus I’ve experienced, oddly enough, as a teenager and young college student.

As for the iGen cohort, they’ve only known instant messaging. What’s at stake?

There is an anxiety rising like we have not witnessed en masse. The generation born after 1995 have been bombarded with constant connection and are increasingly anxious over things that people wouldn’t normally have the time for.

The band Fit For A King emphasized this on a recent track. As an interview from Altpress reveals about the song When Everything Means Nothing:

Fit For A King’s Ryan Kirby told AP that he knows people who are depressed because their lives don’t seem to be going as well as some people who share a lot on social media.

“I just wanted people to know that no one is living a perfect life,” Kirby says. “If you are struggling with things like depression and anxiety, it’s normal. It doesn’t make you less than a bunch of other people. A lot of other people go through the same thing.”

As the opening line of the song says:

“One’s and zero’s fill my eyes
Am I supposed to be like everybody else?”

Before And After Digital Minimalism

I just don’t see things the same way anymore.

I gave it over six months now to sink in further, see if I just was going through something, a phase or a strong initial reaction.

But no, I am living firmly in the biggest before and after of my life.

It was a book that did it. Many people have had a similar experience after reading something. It gives the reader no option to continue on in life the same way they were prior to reading it.

Digital Minimalism, by computer science professor Cal Newport, provides this kind of clear demarcation in my life.

I had already caught on prior to reading the book. On the side prior to reading this book, I was already collecting information about the effect the digital world is having on the human psyche. The pastor at the church I attend was also giving a sermon series on the effects social media are having on people when this book was released.

Though Digital Minimalism released in early 2019, my first hard pause regarding this subject happened back in 2016. It was an article published by Andrew Sullivan titled “I Used to Be a Human Being: An endless bombardment of news and gossip and images has rendered us manic information addicts. It broke me. It might break you, too.” I recall reading this and sitting back in my first state of shock going ‘wow, how did Sullivan get into my mind?’

As I sat down to read Newport’s book, stoked about the topic and ready to read, he opens the book by……referring to Sullivan’s article.

I’ll forever remember the airport bar I was sitting at when I read those first lines. My heart skipped a beat in excitement.

I was convicted. And I will get to that. I’ll get to it way in depth. In fact, this entire site will see an extended series all about it. I plan on releasing important observations about this book over time.

But first I must expound on how this book shocked me into B.D.M. (before Digital Minimalism) and A.D.M (after Digital Minimalism).


What Newport does in Digital Minimalism is take the hardest holistic jab at the new digital frontier. He holds no punches back, and it is all backed by research.

Remember. He’s a computer scientist. He’s enthusiastically pro-technology.

After reading this book I am convinced I fell deep into the cognitive, psychological trappings of over stimulation and abuse via instant access to the Internet, and very particularly, access to instant messaging (IM) capabilities. The former, social media and the Internet in general, were predictable; the latter, instant messaging, was the most surprising and most deeply convicting in terms of rebuke of either medium.

Stated explicitly, my approach towards addictive technologies and the social trending topics of our time (in combination with my intellectual curiosity) would lead to daily behaviors where I’d have 35 open Internet browser tabs, skimming social media for opinion after opinion, messaging five to six instant messaging chat groups simultaneously, while all of these inputs from multiple sources created an anxiety of unmet answers to strawman questions via trivial Internet feuds no one would even have in-person in the first place.

There were moments I paused while reading Digital Minimalism and for the very first time saw, felt, went back mentally, to pre-Facebook, pre-instant messaging David. Those were the most surreal moments.

Actually, they were scary.

There was the realization that I substituted in-person conversation (which was already hard for me in life) with instant messaging and texting. Mainly instant messaging. And I mean wholesale swapping out.

Consequently, I know I have operated below my God-given potential for a long time. My intellect, a brilliance reinforced several times over in meaningful deep conversations with mentors in my life, has had its oxygen supply significantly cut off. I realize my ability to hyper-focus is actually a gift and the object of that focus is the critical difference.

This book made me see I can’t focus anymore because I was never progressing in meaningful focus, term paper focus, only work-on-what’s-in-front-of-me focus.

More important than the loss of focus is how I’ve lost what little in-person communicative skills I once had. The tie into instant messaging though, I’m telling you, it floored me. Because it made so much sense.


This is merely a new beginning for me as I’ll return to this theme a lot on this blog. I’ll flush out more of what I just eluded to, what Newport laid out, references he cited, and more.

For now, I realize there is no escaping this theme, even in music.

I knew of the songs which were tackling the issue of the digital mess we’ve entered, but these songs started to churn inside me in a new way after reading Digital Minimalism.

Thrice’s Salt and Shadow provides such a glimpse. From their comeback album of 2016 titled To Be Everywhere Is To Be Nowhere, this song highlights how we are connected via our phones but are becoming deteriorated grey shells of ourselves.

We are connected, but not actually communicating the way our brains are wired to.

In an interview with guitarist Teppei Teranishi, on the topic of the album title’s ancient philosophical reference brought into a modern focus:

…with things like the internet and social media – everybody kind of staring at their phones and not being present…at all. So that was kind of the idea that resonated with us – you think about being on Twitter and constantly on your phone…you’re everywhere, but you’re kind of nowhere, you know what I mean?

I do know Teppei. I do.

As Salt and Shadow says:

“On the edge of a knife, it’s like you’re living your life on the stage,
You’re talking through glass, we’re just square photographs on a page,
Oh, we’re never alone but we’re each in our own little cage.”

Reclaiming Your Environment

I tripped a wire the other day when I combined an old bad habit with a new good habit inside the same environment.

I was inside my car listening to a podcast about incrementally creating better habits daily when I simultaneously hit the drive-thru line. Twice. In the same car ride home.

When I’m in my car driving aimlessly (or purposely like a commute) I find a strong association with hitting fast food lines, with the image of Taco Bell bags strewn across the back passenger floor. This is because I had actually gone through so many drive-thru lines in the exact car I am still driving today, despite going through the massive physical change in my life.

It really hit me after I tossed the empty bag of the second order of Taco Bell down: the physical environment inside my car is associated with reckless eating.

Psychologists point out how environment certainly can become associated with past behaviors, good or bad. A strong mental connection is forged in “learned environments.” Adi Jaffe, Ph.D., writes, “when behaviors are repeated, they can be conditioned to a particular place or situation and these learned habits can be hard to break.” 

If I felt like the driver’s seat of the same car I had done all my caloric drive-thru damage in was triggering, it’s because it actually is.

Place really matters.


Enter the podcasts and lawn cutting season.

I was cutting lawns with a friend and listening to podcasts all day long. A new environment and habit began to forge.

Learning from others via the podcasts while I was smelling freshly cut grass helped re-wire my brain more than it already had, having already lost all my weight.

What made me connect the idea of environmental conditioning with podcasts and my driver’s seat was one more final element…..the smell of….pear? Not sure what the tree was in one customer’s backyard. But I loved running over the fruits because the blade of the mower would slice multiple chunks of the fruit strewn across the backyard. An aroma would fill the air around my riding lawn mower and all of a sudden I was in a Bath & Body Works store. But on a riding lawn mower, sweating.

Scent is closely tied to memory. Add to that the incredible impact environmental conditions have on a student’s ability to learn.

I was hard-wiring my brain with the smell of freshly cut grass, moving scenery, beautiful landscapes, while simultaneously becoming a podcast consuming student listening to personal stories from others who overcome challenges in their lives, and share to help others.

I was consuming advice from some of the world’s leading over-achievers. They were talking about their failures, their insecurities, their bold life-hacks, their methods and routines at approaching life daily. Even their under-achievements and shortcomings.

Hardwired into me now is an association between podcast learning (of the more informative variety [Ferriss, Altucher, StoryBrand, etc.]) and lawn cutting.

And the smell of the freshly sliced fruit in the one backyard.

Now to reclaim the car driver seat forever.

Why not commit to only listening to podcasts out loud in the car on a commute? Taking the good habit, shifting it to an environment once the literal vehicle for a bad habit, is the way to repair the damaged environment.

When I am listening to an informative podcast in my car, I have to listen. I am not listening to my inner-dialogue, no matter how crappy I may feel at the time. Or how good. Sometimes it was moments of euphoric reward that led me to a drive-thru line.

By listening to interviews of people who overcame challenges, I can reclaim an environment which conditioned repeated destructive behavior.  Even a podcast about woodworking will work. Anything to draw my attention towards learning while driving a gas powered vehicle of some sort.

I’m gonna have to get a pear car scent now as the final touch. It will reinforce the process of reclamation.

My car is not a tool to get me into a drive-thru. My car is a tool to teach me one more lesson from one more person who overcame a lot in order to help others.