Featured Article: Are You Addicted to Your Screen?

The lure of social media, games, and binge-watching a series on Netflix can be one of the most disruptive forces in our pursuit of prayer or writing. The practice of scrolling through social media does not restore our minds or spirits in any way, even it’s enjoyable to catch with a friend.

Most importantly, we can invest significant parts of our weeks in practices that aren’t just preventing us from mindfulness, prayer, writing, or exercise. We could also end up more stressed, sleep-deprived, and distracted than we were to begin with. This article on limiting screen time is directed at parents, but I think it applies to all of us:

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“Rather than making rules based strictly on screen time, figure out what your kids are actually doing when they’re on the computer or their phone, says Devorah Heitner, who founded Raising Digital Natives and is the author of Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World.”

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“If you’re concerned about compulsive use, current research suggests that online games seem to be the technology most likely to “potentially result in problems,” says Daria Kuss, a psychologist and member of the International Gaming Research Unit at Nottingham Trent University in the U.K.”

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“One way to help everyone curb overuse is to create tech-free zones, says Rosen. Those can be geographical, like banning technology at the kitchen table or bathroom. Removing smartphones and tablets from the bedroom is also helpful.”

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Read the rest at NPR.

 

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Featured Article: Is Social Media Bad for Us?

The average person is not going to delete every social media profile no matter what researchers tell us about social media, so what should we make of the many studies that tell us about the impact of social media?

Facebook is a favorite target of researchers, and some studies would lead us to believe that Facebook “causes” depression. However, it’s also possible that depressed people are more likely to use Facebook, which hardly helps matters. One compilation of these studies offers some insight into what we know, what we don’t know, and what we can be reasonably certain about when it comes to Facebook helps us dig a little deeper into its impact.

As we approach writing and prayer, social media is one of the many influences that can impact our moods, mindsets, and mental space for prayer or creative thought. Here are a few quotes to consider from the article:

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“People who had taken a break from Facebook felt happier and were less sad and lonely,” an online presentation of the study said. Those on a Facebook “fast” also “reported a significantly higher level of satisfaction” and significantly less stress than those sentenced to remain on the site.

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According to a 2013 research paper from Germany, for example, “upward social comparison and envy can be rampant” on Facebook and other social networks. The online environment promotes “narcissistic behavior,” the researchers found, “with most users sharing only positive things about themselves.” Among the 357 participants in the German studies, the researchers turned up a large number of what they called “envy-inducing incidents” — most frequently related to travel and leisure, social interactions and “happiness.”

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A 2012 study found that posting status updates decreased loneliness, even when those updates elicited no response. And a 2010 study recorded moment-by-moment physiological responses when using Facebook. The equipment logged indicators of pleasant emotion when users actively sought out information or directly communicated with their Facebook friends, but fewer such positive feelings when passively browsing.

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Read more…

 

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Featured Article: Tips for a Sustainable Creative Career

Comedian Mike Birbiglia shares his six tips for “making it small” in any career, and his advice is particularly sound and relevant for writers who desire to remain true to their mission or to at least find some kind of calling in the first place. I find his advice particularly relevant because too many Christian writers have tried to make the leap into the “big time” as writers long before they were ready.

I could have used an article like this back in 2005 when I was really working hard to get a book published. I needed more practice, more failure, more feedback and a greater sense of acceptance for the kind of work I felt called to do. Here are a few highlights from Birbiglia’s list of six:

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“It will take years for your taste and the quality of your work to intersect. (If ever!) Failure is essential. There’s no substitute for it. It’s not just encouraged but required.”

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There was a great column in The New York Times recently where Angela Duckworth writes, “Rather than ask, ‘What do I want to be when I grow up?’ ask, ‘In what way do I wish the world were different? What problem can I help solve?’ This puts the focus where it should be — on how you can serve other people.”

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The point is, forget the gatekeepers. As far as I’m concerned, what you create in a 30-seat, hole-in-the-wall improv theater in Phoenix can be far more meaningful than a mediocre sitcom being half-watched by seven million people. America doesn’t need more stuff. We need more great stuff. You could make that.

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Read the rest of the article here…

 

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Featured Article: How to Make Time for Prayer

Taking breaks throughout the day to practice contemplative prayer or to pray the hours isn’t just beneficial for your soul, it can provide a period of rest and relief in the midst of our days so that we’re more focused and less stressed for our work, family, or daily tasks.

While this article from 99u focuses on work productivity, take note of the findings from the various studies on the types of breaks that are most beneficial throughout the day. Routine pauses for prayer may feel difficult to squeeze in, but the truth is that we’ll most likely do our work better if we take more breaks throughout the day.

Are you too busy to pray? It turns out that you may actually get less done any way if you don’t take frequent breaks.

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“Only relaxation and social break activities had any benefit. Cognitive activities during work breaks actually made fatigue worse, likely because reading websites or checking emails taxes many of the same mental processes that we use when we’re working.”

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“If you deprive yourself of many breaks, when you do finally take one, it’s going to be need to be longer to have any beneficial effect. A related detail from this study was that if you take frequent breaks, then they don’t need to be as long to be beneficial – a couple of minutes might be enough.”

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“If you can get outside, even if it’s just a five minute walk around the block, you potentially – depending on where you’re located – also get to benefit from a rejuvenating dose of nature. Countless studies have shown how a green environment gives us a mental recharge…”

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Read more at 99u.

 

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Featured Article: Multitasking Drains Us, Kills Focus, and Leads to Anxiety

You may have applied to a job that values “multitasking,” but the latest research tells us that regularly switching between work, email, and social media can kill focus and lead to a sense of anxiety. Even worse, we can train our brain to crave interruptions.

While working on this post I even had to close my email tab because checking email has become a regular habit. Researchers suggest that we need regular breaks away from our screens in order to recharge and set aside focused time to address email and social media without constantly interrupting our days.

Read more from the article in Quartz: 

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“When we attempt to multitask, we don’t actually do more than one activity at once, but quickly switch between them. And this switching is exhausting. It uses up oxygenated glucose in the brain, running down the same fuel that’s needed to focus on a task.”

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“Gloria Mark, professor in the department of informatics at the University of California, Irvine, says that when people are interrupted, it typically takes 23 minutes and 15 seconds to return to their work, and most people will do two intervening tasks before going back to their original project. This switching leads to a build up of stress…”

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“The solution is to give up on multitasking and set aside dedicated chunks of time for each separate activity. So only check your email first thing in the morning and again at midday, or set aside 10 minutes per afternoon for Twitter.”

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Read more here…

 

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Featured Article: Develop Healthy Habits for Working Alone

I personally write best in a public space with a reasonable amount of activity around me, although I do sometimes work early in the morning, alone at my desk some days. It’s those days in solitude that prove especially difficult when I don’t have clear plans and habits to guide my actions.

Solitude is a learned practice, whether for writing or prayer, we will do best if we have some guides to help us experiment with what works best for us. This week’s featured article dives into the practice of writing alone.

According to Paul Jun at 99u, working alone also poses these challenges:

“When finally alone, it’s easy to allow a wave of self-doubt and insecurities to begin to flood your mind. Sitting in solitude for even five minutes makes you get up to grab a snack. Or to check Twitter. And perhaps the most challenging of all, you don’t know when to call it a day; the constant polish and re-polishing when your energy is low masquerades as productivity — or so it goes if you’re not prepared.”

What should you do about these challenges? Here are a few suggestions…

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“Your work must be challenging enough to keep you engaged but easy enough to prevent frustration. Additionally, an ability to allow this ‘deep work’ to occur requires you to be vigilant about outside interruptions.”

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According to Greg Ciotti, “Researchers have shown that a moderate noise level can get creative juices flowing, but the line is easily crossed; loud noises made it incredibly difficult to concentrate. Bellowing basses and screeching synths will do you more harm than good when engaging in deep work.”

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“Be very clear and deliberate about what you should, can’t, or wouldn’t do. Without boundaries while being alone, you will work into the night with dark circles under your eyes, falling under the seductive illusion that you’re being productive. You’re dogged, yes, but at what cost?”

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Read more at 99u

 

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Featured Article: Tips for Overcoming Distraction

Whether at work with our writing or seeking the quiet of contemplative prayer, distractions will become a major challenge. Thankfully, there are some tried and true ways to approach our days and to organize our tasks in order to make the most of our time.

This article in the Harvard Business Review offers a great summary of the latest research in overcoming distractions in our day to day lives:

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“Start trying a simple mindfulness practice when you wake up, which can be anything from quietly taking a few deep breaths to meditating for 20 or 30 minutes. Dr. Seppälä explains why this is so important: ‘Meditation is a way to train your nervous system to calm despite the stress of our daily lives.'”

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“Instead of struggling to accomplish what matters, you can take advantage of your body’s natural rhythms. Focus on complex, creative tasks in the morning; these things will tend to be ones you accomplish individually or with 2–3 other people. Push all other meetings to the afternoon.”

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“If you want to avoid wasting time and burning out, add buffer time between each meeting. For every 45–60 minutes you spend in a meeting, make sure to take 15 minutes or more to process, reflect, and prioritize.”

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Read more at the Harvard Business Review…

 

 

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The Contemplative writer is ad-free and never shares sponsored content, but it is a lot of work to maintain. We rely on affiliate links from the books we share and the generous gifts of our readers. An automated monthly gift as low as $1 per month or a one-time gift of $5 goes a long way to sustaining our mission to provide contemplative prayer resources for our readers. Thank you!

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Contemplation for Vacation

The Contemplative Writer is going on vacation for a few weeks in July. Don’t worry, we’ll be back at the end of the month with our regular line up of posts.

If you want to maintain some kind of daily contemplative rhythm while the daily and weekly emails take a break, here are a few options:

Prayer Resources: You’ll find books, websites, and apps that you can use to pray daily right here at the Contemplative Writer.

Prayer eBook Sale: All of my independent eBooks on prayer are $.99 while I’m on vacation.

I also invited some members of the Contemplative Writer Facebook group to share some posts for readers to check out:

 

Kelly Chripczuk

Spontaneity – The Discipline of Undiscipline

 

Imagining the Psalms

Internalizing the Psalms, Psalm 64

 

 

Elizabeth Maxon

When Noticing Isn’t Enough

When You Are Wrestling

 

Finally, if you have a moment to send either a one-time or monthly donation of any size, every bit helps cover the many hours I invest in this site each month.

 

Thanks so much for reading and subscribing. I hope you have a wonderful July!

 

 

Featured Article: Steps Toward Experiencing God’s Presence

Pastor Ray Hollenbach writes frequently about the disconnect we experience between the promises of Christianity and the struggles that often become reality. How do we bridge the gap between the aspirations of our faith and the distance we feel from God.

Ray offers five first steps toward experiencing God’s presence, and I’ll highlight a few quotes from his post below:

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The first step in experiencing the presence of God is to take the Biblical witness seriously. We are told time and again that God is near—why does he feel so far? Worse still we’ve trained ourselves to dismiss the scripture as inspirational thoughts rather than a description of reality. To know his presence we must honestly evaluate whether our daily life matches God’s revelation of the way things really are.

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Second, we should order our lives in ways that allow us to experience his presence: we must train ourselves to recognize his presence. The spiritual practices of silence and solitude do not conjure up God’s presence; they help us awaken to God’s presence.

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Read the rest here…

 

 

Featured Article: The Church Fathers on Mindfulness

Mindfulness has been a favorite of psychologists and behavioral researchers. In a purely secular sense, mindfulness simply means becoming aware of your thoughts or thinking about thinking. However, mindfulness has also been a part of the prayer practices of the historic church.

The early church and the desert fathers and mothers in particular routinely practiced a form of mindfulness that they used in conjunction with prayer. This practice has continued throughout the history of the church, although it has been called different things over time, such as the Ignatian Examen that I use each evening. Here is one analysis of this prayer practice and its Christian background:

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The early fathers of the Eastern Christian Church talked about the vigilance of the mind and heart [nepsis], which is similar to the cognitive-rational-emotive therapy technique employed by psychologists in helping patients to be ‘mindful’ and thus learn to control their thoughts and feelings. In response to this technique Beck (2011) writes that “. . . mindfulness techniques help patients nonjudgmentally observe and accept their internal experiences, without evaluating or trying to change them.”

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A vigilance and watchfulness of the mind and heart somewhat similar to the cognitive-rational-emotive therapy technique employed by psychologists in helping patients to be ‘mindful’ and thus learn control of thoughts and feelings is a frequent theme in the writings of the early Fathers of the Eastern Christian Church.

These early Christian spiritual teachers taught their disciples to develop nepsis, that is, to be wakeful and attentive (from the Greek verb nepho: to be vigilant, mindful)iii to that which was inside and around them. Thus, we also need to practice being completely “present” to our thoughts and surroundings.

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Read more…

 

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The Contemplative writer is ad-free and never shares sponsored content, but it is a lot of work to maintain. We rely on affiliate links from the books we share and the generous gifts of our readers. An automated monthly gift as low as $1 per month or a one-time gift of $5 goes a long way to sustaining our mission to provide contemplative prayer resources for our readers. Thank you!

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