Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Lookin’ for Fun and Feeling Groovy

Written by: on April 4, 2024

“Slow down, you move too fast
You got to make the morning last
Just kicking down the cobble stones
Looking for fun and feelin’ groovy” (The 59th street by Simon and Garfunkel)

One of the reasons I decided to enroll in a doctoral program was because I wanted to learn the discipline of writing. As a pastor for the past 15 years, I spend a lot of time reading and thinking and being creative, but then preaching, not writing, as a way to communicate my thoughts about what I’m reading and thinking for the benefit of others. Admittedly, I’ve struggled with finding a rhythm and discipline of writing in this first semester, from finding the right day and the right time, the right location, the right motivation. My pre-frontal cortex is “fussy” as Rock says (61), and it’s frustrating me.

Currently, I’m sitting in a vision care office waiting for my son to complete an eye exam while I write this post on the day that it is due. It’s not going well.

After reading Dr. David Rock’s Book, “Your Brain at Work” it is becoming obvious why this is a challenge. I’m in a new and unknown environment with plenty of distractions. There are other people here in the waiting room talking, looking at glasses, walking by, each movement and sound an opportunity, then an interruption to my writing, while I’m invited back to talk with my son’s eye doctor. As this happened I realized this theory comes to play in our induvial lives every single day. My pre-frontal cortex, the stage, as Rock calls it, is working too hard on tasks that I don’t need it to be working on in order it to work on writing this blog post.

Rock’s book has been tremendously helpful this week in better understanding myself, and the people around me. It has given language to some of the processes that go on every single day, as well as confirmation and a path forward in further training our brains to become the best selves that God has created us to be. As Rock says, “this whole book is about helping you develop explicit language maps with the prefrontal cortex for experience that until now have occurred only implicitly.” (56)

We live in a distracted world of a multitude of things that are constantly vying for the attention of our pre-frontal cortex. Our brains are constantly being overwhelmed to process large data sets of information from texts, emails, people around us and the environments we place ourselves in that it can be difficult to do any sort of meaningful work in the course of day. Couple that with the fact that our brains seem to be wired for self-preservation and doing the least amount of work possible. Rock says that “we all often thinking about what’s easy to think about, rather than what’s right to think about.” (28) Its comforting and challenging, that meaningful thinking, and writing, like this course, is challenging us to do is happening at all.

What I’m realizing, thanks to Rock’s book, is that I’m learning how to find the “flow” of writing-that groovy feeling where my pre-frontal cortex is locked in on my desired task of writing well and that I am limiting and inhibiting external and internal distractions in order to become a better, and more consistent writer.

Rather than attempting to try and make my brain, which isn’t wired, to focus on critical and creative thinking for hours at a time. I am learning some of the basics of Rock’s book in finding the flow for my doctoral studies. Here are a few tips for “feeling groovy”:

  1. Minimize Distractions: As we are inundated with interruptions and distractions, this dual-task interference limits our ability for creative and critical thinking. “If accuracy is important, don’t divide your attention.” (Rock, 35) How can I be aware of external distractions like new people or sounds, technology, or movement around me and minimize those when I am trying to do focused work. I also need to be aware of internal distractions like stress, other thoughts or ideas that might seem easier then the work I’m currently doing or frustrations and fatigue that come (like they are right now) as I try to gut through this blog post. How can I offload some of those internal distractions so that I don’t derail my opportunity for success?
  2. Push through initial resistance: Because of constant distractions and fatigue of the pre-frontal cortex due to stress or a high ‘allostatic load’ I have to be aware that I will have an initial resistance to thinking about or doing harder tasks. Staying focused and persevering through the initial resistance will not only help me stay on task, but will re-wire my brain to be more robust in the future. The ‘Director’ of Mindfulness is helpful here. Embracing the limits of what I can do and mono-tasking in the moment can be crucial tools in learning this new advanced task of consistent writing
  3. Remember and Renovate: Finally, Rock helped me realize that the stress of a doctoral program, its assignments and expectations, does not have to cause distress but instead can be converted into eustress. He says, “successful people learn to harness deep stress and turn it into eustress, thus enhancing prefrontal cortex functioning.” (Rock, 115) I’m still working my way through how to do this effectively but remembering that this stress that I am feeling about my doctoral studies is stress that I chose and that will result in me becoming a better leader for the people and purpose I’ve been called to, helps me to convert this stress into positive stress, which enables me to persevere. This practice, when done multiple times, will hopefully Renovate my brain into a healthier functioning system. These values are things I can constantly call to mind and develop a new pattern for responding to stress in a positive way.

This is a book I want to come back to this summer, because “Neuro Leadership” is becoming for me a very interesting field to explore. It also has implications for my NPO and study on Sabbath Keeping (which is a great time for mindfulness in various forms). But for now, I’m grateful that I’ve hit my word count and persevered through this assignment, hopefully cultivating more opportunities for “feelin’ groovy” in the future.


About the Author


Ryan Thorson

Follower of Jesus. Husband. Father. Pastor. Coach. I am passionate about helping people discover the gift of Sabbath and slow down spirituality in the context of our busy world.

20 responses to “Lookin’ for Fun and Feeling Groovy”

  1. Debbie Owen says:

    Geat review Ryan, thanks. Which of the strategies recommended by Rock do you anticipate will be most useful to you in the weeks ahead? And why?

    • mm Ryan Thorson says:

      Thanks Debbie. I’m curious about how to use chunking in reading and writing quicker, as well as using it as a memory tool if that becomes a necessary skill!

  2. mm Shela Sullivan says:

    Hi Ryan,
    Based on your life experience, how can the concept of ‘remembering and renovating’ be applied to develop new patterns for responding to stress in a positive way?
    Thank you.

    • mm Ryan Thorson says:

      Great question Shela. I’m finding that a weekly practice of journaling during my sabbath practice is helping me think about things in with a reflective lens. The prayer of Examen has also been a useful daily tool for to think about thinkings in the presence of Jesus.

  3. Graham English says:

    Ryan, appreciate the blog. I’m also interested in exploring neuroscience and leadership. I’d really be interested in hearing about what you’re learning. How might utilizing the strategies during the week to reduce stress, impact Sabbath?

    • mm Ryan Thorson says:

      Thanks Graham! I think that Sabbath is key in developing the space and rest needed in our weekly lives to live abundantly. Because Sabbath includes ceasing from activities or technology, I think it allows our pre-frontal cortex to rest and process what’s been going on ‘on stage’ during our week. Then, the key practice of mindfulness that can reshape our thinking is a practice that can be developed during Sabbath and then transferred into the other six days of the week.

  4. Daren Jaime says:

    Hey Ryan, You saw, you read, you conquered. Keep pressing! As you talked about your struggle to get this done and conflict while at the doctor’s office, I wonder if there are environments that are more conducive to your prefrontal cortex when it comes to getting things done and remembering.

    • mm Ryan Thorson says:

      Thanks for your encouragement brother! There is a coffee shop in a town over from where I live and work. For some reason, I can crank out the work there (I’m going there tomorrow). I think the minimal distractions, as well as now the rhythm and expectation I have of going there contributes to this! Great question.

  5. Jeff Styer says:

    I have found myself trying to reply to the posts using my phone when it seems I have a few moments and I am so distracted by everything going on that it takes longer than it should. I also find myself surprised that I have been able to write my paper this semester as I typically only have time on Friday afternoons and all-day Saturday to write, when I am tired from the week’s brain draining activities. I praise God for that accomplishment. I wonder, do you have a set time to do your sermon prep that you keep, essentially no matter what else is going on, in order to give your best to the task?

    • mm Ryan Thorson says:

      Great question Jeff. I appreciate the thought about how I’ve managed this with sermon prep in the past. I have set days and times where I have an appointment with my sermon so perhaps have set appointments with my doctoral work would help as well. Great questions!

  6. mm Chris Blackman says:

    Great. Now I am going to have that song in my head the rest of the day. Thanks.
    My first thought is already you have mastered your writing. What you are struggling with and what you wrote out so well is probably the struggle that all of us are having this first year – looking for the rhythm. You just put it on paper beautifully.
    What is your most successful strategy for tuning out the noise and distractions and getting writing done?

    • mm Ryan Thorson says:

      You’re welcome…and thanks for your question. Finding the rhythm yes you’ve reframed it better for me. Rhythm is something I’ve always struggled with. I’m trying something new this week of writing an hour a day to see if that daily rhythm helps me in my practice more. Thanks for the thoughtful question.

  7. Adam Cheney says:

    I have been trying to work on reading peoples blogs while at the same time my kids are out of school for Spring break. I can’t wait for them to head back to school on Monday so that I might be able to concentrate a bit better. What rhythms do you use to prepare for your weekly sermon? Can some of those rhythms also help you with writing?

    • mm Ryan Thorson says:

      Thanks Adam! I realized this week that I do my best thinking and writing in the mornings. I need to set more time aside in the mornings before lunch to read and write. Because I’m an extrovert, meeting with people in the afternoon will give me more energy in both quadrants of my day and hopefully more effectiveness. Thanks!

  8. Julie O'Hara says:

    Hi Ryan, Just the other day my husband reminded me that I chose this (doing the program) and that I have the option to enjoy it…and he didn’t even read the book. In what ways can you see deploying some of the strategies you’ve outlined having a positive impact on people around you?

    • mm Ryan Thorson says:

      Yes thanks for the reminder Julie. I’m hoping that the discipline of writing will be an encouragement to others. Its also reminding me to practice grace and patience with others who are developing new disciplines (like Sabbath) to remember how challenging and slow it is to bring new rhythms into reality.

  9. Nancy Blackman says:

    Hi Ryan,
    Ooh! You wrote about writing in the way that I interact with it, as a place of soothing refreshment for my mind, body, and soul. As someone who has been writing since she was a kid, it has become a place of respite.

    Since you’re trying to find your groove with writing, you might be (might being the operative word) interested in The Artists Way as Julia Cameron teaches you how to practice the Morning Pages—a way to allow your brain to consciously stream as you dump words onto a blank page. By the third page, God has a tendency to walk into center stage of the prefrontal cortex and soon you are a scribe. At least, that’s been my experience.

    And, I can’t wait to read what you learn about sabbath keeping because it is something I have been passionate about for over 20 years.

    What are ways that you can imagine connecting Rock’s book and principles to sabbath keeping? Are there some things you remember right off the bat that you know would help you slow down the monkeys in your brain?

    • mm Ryan Thorson says:

      Thanks Nancy for the encouraging words and the Book Recommendation. Yes I think Sabbath disciplines of slowing down, reflecting through journaling and letting go of the work undone will be practices I do on the Sabbath that can carry over into the rest of the week.

  10. Akwese says:

    Ryan, I really appreciated this post and resonated with so much of it as I’m also someone who joined this program to work on my writing yet has been finding myself overly stressed by it and am yearning for the day my distress will be transformed to eustress. That said I will say writing and reading, though stressful, have also been a gift in helping me name and express what I feel, so I guess that’s the beginning of eustress, ha!

    Anyway, you mentioned your desire to pick this book back up and further explore Neuroleadership as it relates to your NPO. What implications do you already see this having on your research and/or larger project?

    • mm Ryan Thorson says:

      Thanks Akwese. I think that the practice of mindfulness seems so key to Rock’s work and, to me, mindfulness is one of the most important gifts and practices of Sabbath. Do you have space and time to slow down, learn to be present and to play and to pray in the presence of God seems to have benefits for the rest of our week in regards to NeuroLeadership and spiritual maturity. I’m excited to explore these things further through my NPO.

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