DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

***Distracted multiple times in the writing of this blog

Written by: on October 11, 2018

It’s such an irony to return from a whirlwind trip to Hong Kong, try to recover from jetlag, reconnect with family and friends, return to work (and all the emails, meetings, and responsibilities), return to “school” aka assignments (three in one week!) AND then read Cal Newport’s Deep Work.  Newport’s research shows “This was something I noticed was very common to influential thinkers, is that they all seem to have this drive to, on a regular basis, cut themselves off from their lives of busyness and communication and distraction and isolate themselves to think deeply. This drive to get away from noise and towards isolated solitary thinking is something that just comes up again and again when you study people who use their brain to produce influential or valuable output.”[1] Yet here I am, composing my thoughts, with a noisy head, emails still unread from my long absence, and only having listened to Cal Newport on NPR’s Hidden Brain podcast.

I found significant research on the impact of technology and its connection to distraction.  And it all reiterates the same message (including multiple authors who discuss email as a productivity killer).  It begs the question…no one is changing course for better output?  For me, the technology demands – especially email – are consuming my energy and decreasing by influential and valuable output (on a side note, I literally just stopped to read a work email that caught my eye at 8pm!).  I am on board with dialing back society’s use of technology, but not just at work.

It’s brilliant that Newport has rejected all social media.  Time spent on technology outside of work is just as damaging – but to a different target – people.  It’s no longer about the bottom line of productivity, but the bottom line of relationships.  Spouses/partners/paramours suffer.  Children suffer. Friends suffer.  “In 2012, in fact, scientists at the Chinese Academy of Sciences found that the brain chemicals of people who habitually used the Internet (and were perhaps addicted to it) had abnormal connections between the nerve fibers in their brain. These changes are similar to other sorts of addicts, including alcoholics.”[2]  As a therapist, I frequently see damaging technology use from toddlers all the way to the elderly.  Whether it’s video games, pornography, cyber bullying, online dating as a form of infidelity, or just Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or Snapchat, technology is consuming our time and energy.

While all of the focus of Newport’s writing is on technology connected to the concept of distraction and decreased influential thinking and valuable output, this same phenomenon exists for the person who has experienced trauma. Think about the refugee who is fleeing their country to escape war, human rights violations, or persecution. They leave almost all their belongings, their home and job, family, community, and friends to find protections for themselves and whoever is able to leave with them. What strength and courage it takes to make and execute the decision to leave.  And then there’s the trauma. Significant trauma. Trauma from the dangers in their own country, and trauma from the leaving. Yet, after years (often 10-20) in a refugee camp, and relocating again to a new country (let’s say the United States), refugees are expected to arrive in their new homeland ready to assimilate to culture and language, all the while become productive, contributing citizens within a short period of time. (Writers note – distracted twice in the writing of this paragraph including a phone call and viewing a suggested sweet video which triggered a “trauma” response from me).  Have you ever struggled to focus on a task due to your own state of mind?  It’s hard!  Wait…more like impossible, right?  For the refugee, there is then the trauma of arriving.  Yes, arriving to the country where they begin their new life.  In the United States, there are expectations and timelines for paperwork, school enrollment, job attainment, housing, etc. If, per se, the refugee struggles to get these things accomplished, there’s criticism, consequences, and guilt and shame.  The fact of the matter is, the brain just can’t do it.  Because of the trauma, critical thinking and outcomes are hindered (just like hindered thinking and outcomes from technology distraction).  It’s imperative to provide trauma-informed care at every level of service for the refugee – whether it’s Job and Family Services, ESL classes, or learning how to grocery shop here.  It would be an undertaking, but my hope is that the attitudes and biases towards refugees – deepened during this administrations tenure – can be turned around to reflect the heart of Jesus.  Love, service, and non-judgment.  He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ Matthew 25:25

I want to be an influential thinker.  I want to have valuable outputs. I want to find time and space in my life to create a place of solidarity, put away my technology (I would even discard social media if we didn’t have to have it for school), leave work at work, and be truly present in relationship with self and others. Thank you Cal Newport for this important reminder!

[1] https://www.npr.org/templates/transcript/transcript.php?storyId=539092670

[2] https://www.cnbc.com/2015/08/15/gy-killing-the-human-touch.html

About the Author

mm

Jean Ollis

10 responses to “***Distracted multiple times in the writing of this blog”

  1. mm M Webb says:

    Jean,
    It was great seeing you again at the HK advance. We have such a good group!
    Yes, I can sense the business of your “life happens” adventure at home. Thanks so much for sharing your passion, love, and care for the refugee in your community. Missions, cross-cultural foreign missions are coming home and are often right in our neighborhoods.
    I do not really see our LGP group lessening the pace, demands, or challenges as ministry leaders as we prepare the church for Christ’s return. We must continue to adapt, advance, and reflect the image of Christ while being obedient and faithful to the path set for us by the Holy Spirit (Prov. 3:5-6). I’m not sure what that will look like in 5 years as fast as tech and information moves, but I can image we need to be preparing our minds for even more chaos, distractions, and need for the love and grace of Christ. We’re only using about 10% of our brains anyway, right…..so we do have room for growth. Great Post!
    Stand firm,
    M. Webb

    • mm Jean Ollis says:

      Hi Mike! Thanks for your feedback. Can’t wait to connect tomorrow. I like your observation about the 8’s – we are all actively engaged in life and ministry and it probably won’t let up through the rest of our season together. Do you feel you have time/space for deep work?

  2. mm Kyle Chalko says:

    great points Jean. Its so esay to run back into our tasks and life get busy making stuff happen. but if we want to be thought leaders, we will need to really build into our lives some time for deep work. and then guard it.

  3. mm Dan Kreiss says:

    Jean,

    You mentioned that you feel that your sense of influence is vastly diminished by those things that are touted as beneficial to productivity. Why do you think that with all the research to the contrary we continue to be slaves to email and other forms of technology in the workplace, even in academia where one might assume that such research would be accepted.

    Do you think it is even possible to disconnect the way Newport suggests when we are not self-employed and are expected to be connected in this way? Do you think we would risk losing our positions?

    I also wonder how you might encourage someone who came to your practice seeking help in overcoming technology addiction.

    • mm Jean Ollis says:

      Dan, you pose two great questions! At this point, my job would be in jeopardy if I wasn’t responding to emails and giving immediate feedback to people who ask. I do find that if my auto office asst. is on, people have more realistic expectations of my time. Perhaps I should use it more in protecting my deep work time.

      As for technology addiction, I explore what “need” technology is filling in their life. We would work on behavior modification techniques to reduce screen time and I would encourage an accountability partner. There are also apps which monitor content and track and limit access.

  4. Welcome back Jean, as hard as it is to come back to all the distractions of everyday life. We sure had fun playing with you guys in HK and can’t wait for the next adventure. The connection you made with distractions and trauma and how they affect people was awesome, and very clever I might add, to make the reading relevant to your topic. There is so much truth to the fact that people who are recovering from trauma cannot function at their best even to accomplish the simplest of tasks. I know I definitely need to figure out how to eliminate distractions in order to accomplish more deep work, the internet and social media is a good place to start. What about you, what distractions do you feel you need to eliminate or decrease? Great thought provoking post as always!

    • mm Jean Ollis says:

      Hi Jake!
      This book speaks to me – I would love to remove the social media distraction. (notice I want to remove it but haven’t done so yet…big sigh). While email is annoying and distracting, I don’t feel the “need” to be on it constantly – I just am out of necessity of keeping up.

  5. Jean,

    Thanks for connecting the idea that just as technology distracts, so too does trauma. For years I was oblivious to the power of trauma to debilitate us, but I am wakening up to how it debilitates normal functioning. We expect everyone to act normally and achieve, but trauma often invisibly distorts one’s capabilities. For sure this is true of refugees, but it also afflicts many of us. It is a silent influence we need to acknowledge and give voice to.

  6. Greg says:

    Jean, I laughed when I heard you confess you had only listened to Newport on NBR. I did the same. I appreciated the way you laid out the problems with social media/internet that we don’t like to talk about.

    Great job relating to your research. The longer I live abroad the more understanding I have to those that come to the states looking for a new home yet don’t understand how to fit in.

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