This is an article based on my speech at SALT Retreat in September 2018. I’ve had to cut quite a bit for conciseness, but I’d love to share more of it in the future. For more on my experience at that amazing conference, check out my post here!
You know when you’re just checking your messages because your phone buzzed at you, and suddenly you’ve also read your emails, checked the news, and scrolled through Instagram for 15 minutes? No, that’s just me?
Information overload is real. Researchers talk about “headline stress disorder” and our tendency to spiral events into terrifying patterns of doom and gloom. The world is, by many measures, a safer place today, but we wouldn’t know it from watching survivor footage of school shootings and reading Facebook posts of near-miss kidnappings. And on top of that, the platforms we get our information from are designed to be addictive. The problem is that our reserves of attention are finite.
I spent four years working as a TV News Reporter/Anchor. We cared about sharing valuable, newsworthy information with our viewers and worked hard to bring it to them in a timely manner. But also, at the end of the day, we had to fill a black hole sandwiched between two ads. And the thing is, for consumers, using up our precious attention on marginally-important things will crowd out the good things that uplift us or improve our lives. The things in our control.
Dr. Stephen Covey taught about our circles of concern and control – the difference between being a reactive person and a proactive person.
Do you see how little room is available for the whisperings of the Spirit when we let our circle of concern grow so large? This is what a reactive person does, they are paralyzed and confined to a tiny circle of control. The things in the circle of concern aren’t necessarily unimportant, but look at how much space they take up! And this is key: if we give more room to the Spirit, he can tell us which of these is important for us to pay attention to given our particular stewardship.
Remember: Satan stresses, the Spirit stills.
On the right side of the diagram is a proactive person; she’s the woman who listens to the Spirit and seeks out personal revelation for her life and her stewardship. Look at her circle of control, the influence and power she wields!
Where do you think Satan has an interest in keeping us?
C.S. Lewis wrote: “Our leisure, even our play, is a matter of serious concern. There is no neutral ground in the universe: every square inch, every split second, is claimed by God and counterclaimed by Satan.” It’s up to us to reclaim those blank spaces of our lives.
Our prophet, President Russell M. Nelson, knows exactly what we need right now. “I urge you to stretch beyond your current spiritual ability to receive personal revelation,” he told us in the April 2018 General Conference. And remember when he challenged the youth to take a seven-day fast from social media? There’s a stronger correlation between personal revelation and unplugging than we often realize.
About three years ago, I decided to fast from social media for Lent – that’s 40 days without Instagram, Facebook, or my phone constantly at arm’s reach. It wasn’t easy at first but slowly, calm crept back into my life. And I’ve done it every year since.
The biggest change I noticed was that breaking up with my phone gave me back those little in-between spaces. More focus on the things I actually want and need out of life instead of mindlessly entertaining myself. More moments just soaking in my sweet children. And more time – silent spaces — to hear the quiet whispering of the Spirit we can so easily tune out. I had unwittingly created space and time for my mind to wander.
Is this something you feel like you need in your life? Do you need more calm, more of the Spirit? More connecting with your loved ones? Try it! Don’t be afraid to make it uncomfortably long, we grow when we’re stretched. And be careful to leave space, don’t just fill it back up with other stuff. Those moments spent on the ground, at eye level with my little girl as she giggled in delight at my antics are precious memories, and I made a lot more of them when I started to step back from the bad habits I had acquired.
Social media fasts are pointless, though, if we don’t build better habits in our everyday life afterward.
How much time do you dedicate to Gospel study every day? Did you know people spend an average of 135 minutes per day on social media?
I’m not trying to make us all feel terrible. Remember, we’re in an attention economy full of programs and devices built to chip away at our attention span. But perhaps we can flip the script on social media. It’s easy to consume because it’s just bite-sized scrolling, right? So next time you want a quick burst of entertainment in a moment of boredom, grab an Ensign for a short article instead. Build a better habit. (Ancient scripture scholar Tina Peterson has a lot more on the topic of reinforcing spiritual cravings.)
Here are some other ways we can reclaim mental space:
- Be honest about your media usage. Measure it.
- Delete apps or log out for periods
- Get control of notifications – use the “do not disturb” mode unsparingly!
- Silence your phone – and put it in B&W
- Have discussions about rules and standards
- It’s not so much about saying “I’ll only use my phone for one hour today” as it is about creating sacred spaces where we give ourselves, the Lord, or loved ones our undivided attention
- The #LookUpChallenge by Katie Penry is a great place to start making a media use plan
- Finally, Cal Newport’s “Digital Minimalism” is a fantastic resource to really examine habits in a completely new way. (I’ve blogged about it here if you want more!)
Elder Ballard warned us that “if we do not find time to unplug, we may miss opportunities to hear the voice of Him who said, ‘Be still, and know that I am God.’” In my life, the time and effort it took to receive answers were precisely what made them such deep, sacred, perfectly personalized experiences. I want to be the one who decides what I let into my life, my home, my family… not the advertisers who pay to push content at me all day long! It is hard to be deliberate about our attention. I write about it because it’s a battle I’m still fighting.
But Heaven is cheering us on! The Savior’s hand is always outstretched, and if we will make the effort to create more space for Him, His voice will become an intimate, familiar presence in our lives.