Managing Overload with Boundaries

overloadOverload Symptoms

Overload all to often flares up and disrupts life. For me, the symptoms include…

  • Productivity decline – Inability to focus. Jumping from task to task. Accomplishing little.
  • Short attention span – Nothing holds interest for long. Always seeking new and better.
  • Feeling overwhelmed – Too many projects. Too much information. Too much to do.
  • Feeling disconnected – Feeling forgotten, unimportant and alone.
  • Always on guard – Unable to relax. Tasks, goals & projects steal attention from relationships.
  • Think & speak in absolutes – “I can’t… because…” or “I have to… because…” or “I need…”

Obsessiveness covers all of these symptoms by amplifying their affects and creating a constant need to keep going and doing and thinking. Simply put, overload robs me of contentment and peace. Can you relate?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Creating Boundaries

Counteracting overload involves setting boundaries that then guide the creation of habits. Setting boundaries involves taking time to think by…

  1. Simplifying – Prioritize. Say “no” to good to be able to say “yes” to and go deeper with better and best.
  2. Seeking connection – Make face-to-face connections a priority over completing a “to do” list.
  3. Keeping truth in focus – This daily necessity not only helps with moral choices but with time and priority choices too by protecting the mind from the world.
  4. Stopping the flow – Stop reading for information & refuse to take in new information. Back off commitments and occasionally shut out the world. Allow thoughts to flow freely. Allow time to just be.
  5. Purging – What aren’t you reading that you can stop receiving? What can come off your schedule? What material items can you get rid of?
  6. Getting out – Find a change of scenery. Take a family vacation, short getaway or even just a day trip.

While creating boundaries, keep these two pervading rules constantly in mind:

Rule #1 – Relationships are the deciding factor. Choose relationship over tasks as much as possible.

Rule #2 – Limit overload by limiting information and commitments. Doing nothing means choosing overload.

When I consistently choose to live within boundaries, overload doesn’t exist. But, I also regularly need to reset my boundaries because overload always seems to creep back in somehow if I don’t give my boundaries regular attention.

So, I need to make setting and maintaining boundaries a habit, and I need to stay aware of the symptoms over overload in order to make necessary, regular adjustments.

DISCUSSION: What changes will you make to set information boundaries and protect your life from overload?

On a completely unrelated note, I also posted this week at my friend Dan Erickson’s blog Hip Diggs. If you are interested in landscaping, check out my post
Tips for Installing and Maintaining Landscaping.

On a related note, next month’s focus on balance will include more on the idea of creating boundaries along with taking a look at balance from a variety of perspectives.

Reducing & Preventing Overload by Filtering Thoughts

1430223_49148998 (2)Filters purify. They keep out the harmful and leave the beneficial. In any are of life, improvement comes through removing or keeping out bad and adding in good, through filtering.

A defective filter does little good. Only remove bad and fail to replace with good, and the bad comes back in full force (Luke 11:24-26). Only add in good and fail to remove the bad, and the good fails to have much – if any – benefit (Colossians 3).

Filters in our thought lives reduce overload by sifting through all the information and opportunities constantly coming at us. They allow for separating and removing what we don’t want and keeping what we do want. This filtering involves processing information received by placing it against truth, and with the Holy Spirit’s guiding choosing the appropriate response.

Filtering to Prevent & Reduce Overload

Applying filters involves creating habits and establishing priorities that help keep out negative and allow positive to shape us.

Habits go a long way in directing our thought lives. For example, I make a habit of considering the impact of whatever I choose to read. This means reading very little romance or horror and also flipping between fiction and nonfiction as a routine. I also regularly consider the benefit of the various blogs and articles I read. This habit keeps me balanced since my thoughts are easily influenced by the written word.

Filtering thoughts also involves prioritizing. This means realizing that sometimes we have to say “no” to good things simply because we cannot say “yes” to everything if we hope to avoid overload. Prioritizing includes everything from the what to read, what movies to watch, who to spend time with, and even what commitments to accept or reject at church.

My husband and I have created a filtering system that orders priorities within our schedules. This system works well in keeping my inner atmosphere from getting overwhelmed with too many details and lack of focus and my husband from getting out of balance by failing to relax and rest.

Our prioritizing filter involves keeping each other accountable and not adding any large and/or long-term commitment to our schedules without consulting one another. We ask if the added commitment will tax the margin in our lives because lack of margin almost always results in an overwhelmed thought life.

Creating Your Own Filters

Start by looking at what overwhelms you easily and finding specific ways to simplify and keep overload at bay. Remember that a good filter usually involves the following…

  1. An accountability system.
  2. Acknowledging and recognizing limits.
  3. Prioritizing to maintain healthy margins.
  4. The Holy Spirit’s guidance.
  5. Consistent time with God.
  6. Adjustments with the seasons of life.

The idea that focus determines reality is never more true than in our thinking. This is why we must deliberately choose a filtering system based on absolute truth, God’s truth, and not on the relative truth of man that changes like shifting shadows.

“Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow.” (James 1:17)

DISCUSSION: What filters can you apply in your own life to prevent and/or reduce overload of any type?

Reducing & Preventing Overload by Capturing Thoughts

In Solving the Problem of Information Overload, we realized that the goal for reducing overload involves balance, which comes through deliberately capturing and filtering thoughts and by setting information boundaries.

When we receive information, regardless of its source and avenue, we react to it through our thought lives. The more aware we are of this process, the better able we are to deliberately make choices regarding our focus.

A large part of capturing thoughts involves creating a strong core of truth within us out of which our thoughts can then operate.

Capturing Thoughts

sf_spiritOfTruth_05Taking thoughts – the products of our God-given ability to reason, reflect and respond – captive means avoiding decisions based solely on our finite processing. This requires holding to a central truth to help govern those thoughts.

Truth should shape us, not the information we take in. The information we receive and digest, whether overloading us or not, should not sculpt thoughts. If it is, we’ve got it backwards. Instead, let truth determine the shape & direction of thoughts. Information then becomes a tool for spreading truth.

Spending time in Scripture allows truth to become part of our thinking and to fuel our filtering system. This practice must exist at our core instead of as a problem-solving method only, and this only happens by spending time regularly dwelling with Him and allowing His Holy Spirit to guide our thinking (1 Corinthians 2:10-16).

Reducing Overload

An overloaded mind produces a divided focus, and a divided focus fails to live fully by truth. So, in addition to establishing a habit of building core strength on truth, capturing thoughts involves limiting and managing the information we take in to allow for a more singular focus.

To reduce overload in a way that allows truth to direct and guide, first limit incoming information and then make sure what you do allow to dwell supplements your thinking instead of draining it.

This process requires taking the time to think about what you’re thinking by asking the following questions regularly:

  1. sf_beautifulMind_04What am I allowing to shape my thoughts? Psalm 1:1-2 says to avoid bad influences and focus on good. We’ll cover more of how to manage this in the next post.
  2. What am I allowing to dwell in my mind? If you think you can’t help what you think about, you’re wrong. Scripture tells us we can choose where to fix our thoughts (See Romans 8:5, Philippians 4:8 & Hebrews 3:1)
  3. What is the source of my thoughts? Do they come from the thinking of others? Or, do they flow out of the truth of Christ established in you? (See Colossians 2:8)

Overload blocks deliberate thinking and even an awareness of the thinking process itself. At some point, you just have to say “Enough!” and give yourself time and space to stop the inflow of information, consider what’s going through your head (writing thoughts down or talking them out can help), and pit them against God’s truth.

If you fail to capture your thoughts by thinking about what you’re thinking, you’ll be the one in the cage while your thoughts wreak havoc as you watch through the bars of overload. Choose to use information as a supplement and an avenue to spread truth instead of letting it overload you.

DISCUSSION: What experience do you have with reducing information overload? What role did God’s word play in that process?

Solving the Problem of Information Overload

Information 1

Information Overload

“I feel… thin. Sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread. I need a holiday. A very long holiday.” (Bilbo in The Fellowship of the Ring)

Can you relate? While specifics vary from one person to the next, many people, myself included, feel spread thin by the constant flow of information and constant access available every minute of every day. And we largely bring it on ourselves through our unbalanced approach to interacting with technology.

This lack of balance leads to too much information coming too fast with no down time allowing for processing any information in a healthy way. Information overload does to our minds what indiscriminate eating and a sedentary life do to our bodies.

Infobesity

Information overload, known as “infobesity” or “infoxication,” has actually been around since the 1970’s. Over time, information overload leads to “information anxiety,” which distracts and negatively impacts an individual’s ability to be productive.

Even before any of these terms existed, George Miller hypothesized that humans have limited ability to process information and that overload results when these limits are exceeded. Evidence of taxed limits include…

  • Confusion
  • Poor decision making
  • Inability to generate original thoughts
  • Inability to have unique ideas

Nichoas Carr and Eric Schmidt agree with Miller and say that information overload could have an impact on though processes by…

  • Obstructing deep thinking
  • Blocking understanding
  • Impeding formation of memories
  • Making learning more difficult

This condition of “cognitive overload” results in diminished information retaining ability and failure to connect remembrances to experience stored in the long-term memory, leaving thoughts thin and scattered.

Simply put, information overload reduces our ability to think, understand, form memories and learn. It limits our capability for retaining information and accurately remembering experiences.

Finding Balance

To a great extent, we cannot control how much information comes our way nor how much we have to use technology. However, we’re not helpless either. We can find balance and avoid feeling spread thin by overindulgence.

Balance comes through setting information boundaries that mitigate the negative impact the constant flow of information has on a person’s ability to think, reason and remember. It also comes through deliberately capturing  and filtering thoughts.

(Note: The next two posts will look at the idea of capturing & filtering thoughts in relation to technology and information overload, and next Thursday’s post focuses on providing ways to find balance by creating information boundaries.)

Creating balance in the atmosphere of the inner self requires developing ways to regulate and filter the information entering our lives. Doing so helps create a state of  information balance instead of information overload in our lives.

DISCUSSION: What symptoms do you see of information overload in your life?

Addiction, Avoidance, Distraction & Technology

texting 2Electronic Fellowship

In a hallway between the sanctuary and fellowship hall at my church sits a pew where most Sundays a half dozen teens fellowship with their cell phones, Ipods and Kindles. During service, their fellowship continues, and many adults join in the fellowshipping with their Ipads and smart phones too.

This electronic fellowship ceases – sort of – during worship but returns fully at sermon start, continuing until the “stand and pray.” Sure, some may use their devices for Bibles, but I’m pretty sure doing so involves less thumb movement.

I realize the caution needed here regarding law and rules and judging others, so let me turn this on myself. I leave my cell phone at home on Sundays and Wednesdays when I go to church because if I don’t, I’ll fellowship with it instead of fellowshipping face-to-face. No matter how much I say I’ll leave it in my bag, the temptation to check it usually wins out at some point.

And yes, I’m even tempted during the sermon (sorry, Pastor) to check messages. I’m simply better focused on connecting with the body and hearing from God if my handheld device gets alone time at home while I’m at church.

But I can’t help but wonder…

Do so many teens stay on their devices while at church because they don’t want to talk to other people? Or, are they simply that addicted to texting or gaming or whatever they’re doing? Do the adults on their devices during the sermon simply have an addiction to staying connected? Or, are they using them to distract themselves from what they know they need to hear but don’t want to hear because then they’ll have to change?

For my part…

I know it’s addiction since I sometimes just can’t seem to resist the lure. It’s avoidance too, because some days my introverted self finds my cell phone much easier to connect with than the people around me. And while I’m at it, I’ll admit that its also distraction. After all, mindlessly surfing the Internet is a great way to not deal with life and forget about mistakes.

Beyond the Church Walls

Certainly, this is not a church-specific problem since this particular challenge with technology exists abundantly outside the church walls too. And unfortunately, our obsession not only allows for easy avoidance and distraction, but it is also creating some serious social issues with far-reaching impact.

According to Psychology Today, a prolific use of technology causes…text 3

  1. Isolation – We feel socially isolated because we end up substituting or mistaking electronic relationships for physical ones.
  2. Unhealthy substitution – Reading LOL in no way lifts your spirits like hearing a person’s laughter. Likewise, electronic confrontation limits effective resolution since emotions rarely come across as accurately when written as when experienced in person. These types of substitution limit the necessary human contact relationships need to deepen and grow.
  3. Loss of etiquette – Many people say online what they would never say in person. Likewise, electronic communication allows for avoidance of difficult situations simply because ignoring and sidestepping is easier electronically than face-to-face.

These are just some of the challenges presented by over-use of mobile devices, challenges that happen when we choose electronic communication too often over face-to-face connection. And, unfortunately, this causes us to become increasingly uncomfortable experiencing and expressing true emotion but at the same time craving it to the point of desperately seeking it out even more and usually in the wrong places.

In closing, consider the following quote by Jonathan Safran Foer in “How Not to Be Alone.

“Technology celebrates connectedness, but encourages retreat… My daily use of technological communication has been shaping me into someone more likely to forget others. The flow of water carves rock, a little bit at a time. And our personhood is carved, too, by the flow of our habits.”

DISCUSSION: Weigh in on how you see addiction, avoidance and distraction with regard to the use of technology. Please offer any solutions and bring in any relevant Scripture application.

How Parents Can Model Balanced Technology Use

1380315_40329376Parenting & Technology

My parenting has never not known technology. In fact, I’m not sure how my parents disciplined or entertained me when I was a kid.

Today, my relationship with my kids cannot escape the influence of technology. Like it or not, technology shapes my kids’ thinking and will forever be a part of how they interact me and with the world.

More and more though, technology also impacts how I think and interact with the world. And I’m discovering that if I don’t deliberately choose how that interaction takes place and especially how much that interaction takes place, it too easily replaces valuable connection with others.

Training a Child

According to the Pew Internet Research Project 75% of all teenagers have a mobile phone, and 58% of all 12-year-olds have one. Of those kids…

    • 90% send/receive texts
    • 50% send 50 or more texts daily
    • 80% use them to take pictures
    • 64% share pictures with others
    • 60% listen to music
    • 46% play games
    • 32% swap videos
    • 23% access social networking sites

But before we are too frustrated with our children’s seemingly constant use of technology and blame it for the disconnect all to apparent in way too many families, consider the following data from the Barna Group

  • Parents are MORE likely than their teens to use their mobile devices regularly.
  • Parents watch just as much TV, movies & use the Internet as their kids daily.
  • 2/3 of parents think technology (cell phones, computers & video games) make family life better.
  • 1/3 of parents say they do not regularly take a break from technology.
  • 49% of parents worry that technology wastes their children’s time.
  • 21% of youth say parents have a double-standard regarding technology use.
  • 17% of youth say their parents bring their work home too much.
  • 39% of parents and 27% of tweens/teens say they’re frustrated that technology makes face-to-face conversations more difficult.

This research tells us that while teens/tweens spend a lot of time on their cell phones parents are equally guilty with regard to their use of technology. This research also illustrates that the Biblical instruction to “train a child in the way that he should go,” (Proverbs 22:6) most certainly now involves technology use not just in our children’s lives but in our own lives as well.

Modeling Technology

How can Christian parents model a balanced use of technology in a culture seemingly obsessed by and revolving around technology? Consider the following suggestions:

  1. 1105898_27026966Make face-to-face communication a priority. Since only about 10% of our communication happens with our words, a lot of communication fails to take place when limited to only words such as through text and email. Make a point to model effective communication in all your relationships, so your kids see you placing consistent value on it.
  2. Set technology boundaries. In a study by Psychology Today of 55 families, 1/3 of parents used mobile devices throughout a family meal, and 40% of parents ignored their children by focusing on their mobile devices leading to kids acting out to get parents’ attention. Start by banning mobile devices & television during meals, and consider creating regular breaks from technology.
  3. Remember that you can’t have rules without relationship. In other words, boundaries on technology or in any other area mean nothing when true relationship doesn’t exist. Get involved in your children’s lives. Instead of spending the entire track meet or baseball game on your phone, enjoy that moment in your child’s life. Instead of complaining about your kids always texting or playing video games, text them and play video games with them. The more consistent you are in developing and maintaining relationship, the less impact outside influences such as technology will have on the depth of those relationships.

For certain, there are a lot more ways we can model a balanced integration of technology into our lives. What are your suggestions?

What Can The Amish Teach Us About Technology?

Amish 2Much of my childhood involved interacting with the Amish. From age 6 to about 13, I spent time playing at one of three Amish neighbors living within a 1/2 mile of my home on a dusty dirt road in SW lower Michigan.

The Amish aren’t perfect. They’ve got family and financial challenges like the rest of us. But there are areas of life they seem to have figured out in a way that the rest of us constantly long for like a cool drink on a hot day. Yet, we act as if these accomplishments are uniquely available only to the Amish.

Simplicity and community stand out most as examples of this truth. While there are probably other reasons for their ability to maintain simple and community-oriented lives, the most obvious – perhaps because of its stark contrast to the surrounding culture – is the Amish approach to technology.

In “Amish Community Not Anti-Technology, Just More Thoughtful,” Jeff Brady explains their approach this way:

“The difference between Amish people and most other Americans is the deliberation that takes place before deciding whether to embrace a new technology. Many Americans assume newer technology is always better, and perhaps even inherently good. ‘The Amish don’t buy that,’ says Donald Kraybill… ‘They’re more cautious – more suspicious – wondering is this going to be helpful or is it going to be detrimental? Is it going to bolster our life together, as a community, or is it going to somehow tear it down?’”

Amish Studies supports Brady’s assessment by saying…

“The Amish do not consider technology evil in itself, but they believe that technology, if left untamed, will undermine worthy traditions and accelerate assimilation into the surrounding society. Mass media technology in particular, they fear, would introduce foreign values into their culture. By bringing greater mobility, cars would pull the community apart, eroding local ties. Horse-and-buggy transportation keeps the community anchored in its local geographical base.”

If we take an honest look around at our culture, we’ll have to admit that they are right. Technology seems to be doing exactly to our culture what they fear it could do to theirs.

Perhaps you’re wondering if it’s really working for them. Are they Amish truly not only able to keep most technology at bay, utilizing only what benefits their traditions and community, and still thrive and grow? Most of us believe we simply could not survive without our smart phones and laptops, so how could they with even less technology than that?

Not only are they keeping technology at bay and surviving without smart phones and laptops and even – gasp – television, but the Amish actually do have a growing and thriving community. Consider the following statistics provided by Amish Studies and combined with those from Conversant Life.

amish

Certainly, we can’t place all the blame on technology for the large exodus of today’s youth from our churches. However, we also can’t deny that it likely does have an impact, albeit a rather complex and difficult-to-understand one.

Adopting the Amish Approach to Technology

I’m not suggesting anyone become Amish, though I know of someone who did. What I am suggesting involves adapting their proactive approach to technology, which for many likely means no longer absent-mindedly riding technology’s superhighway.

  1. Be deliberate about the technology you choose to use and when you use it.
  2. Don’t assume new technology is always better.
  3. Consider if any given technology helps or hinders your life as a whole.
  4. Ask if a technology will bolster or tear down your relationships.
  5. Make simplicity a priority.

Technology seems virtually impossible to avoid for most people. To a great extent, we actually have little choice about if and how we use it. But as the Amish show us by their lifestyle and thriving church, we don’t have to be slaves to technology. We can choose not to let it define us.

DISCUSSION: What lessons about technology from the Amish can you immediately apply?

Note: I am also guest posting today at Cycleguy’s Spin, telling my “second-chance story” titled Kari’s Second Chance: Learning from Jonah. Stop by if you have a minute, and check out Bill’s other posts too. He shares from a pastor’s heart, and I am always blessed by it!

Two Questions to Help Assess Your Technology Use

QUESTION #1 – Are you an average mobile user?

Average mobile userQUESTION #2 – Is technology your tool, or are you its slave?

Technology tooSlave to technologyDISCUSSION: What else can help us assess our technology use?

Struggle to Victory with Technology

A Love/Hate Relationship1071936_89886661

I’m addicted to technology. I waste time with it, and I’m easily distracted by it. Sometimes, I actually use it to keep from having to acknowledge and interact with others. I hate that it’s so natural for my kids, even part of the way they think and view life and can’t imagine life without it. And I especially hate how it interrupts and prevents face-to-face conversations.

At the same time, technology gives me a place and audience for writing that I would not otherwise have. It allows for friendships, encouragement, knowledge and support that would not otherwise happen because of geography. It provides ease of research and in fact helped me tremendously in my journey to healing.

Then, there’s GPS… as much a necessity as gas in my car. Technology helps my husband and I connect when he travels since his trips allow for little free time even for phone calls. And, technology provides a way to connect with my boys that fits how they think and operate.

Some days I want to quit technology. Usually, though, those are the days it’s not working right or as I think it should work. But then I remember the days of waiting for my dial-up connection and having the phone unavailable while on the Internet, and I realize how far technology has come in such a short period of time.

I truly hate technology when I’m talking to a friend and she stops mid-conversation to answer a text. After the frustration subsides, I realize the problem is my friend’s inability to focus on what’s in front of her more than it is about the technology.

Technology exists as a necessity in my life that I love for so many reasons and that I hate for as many reasons. With that, I am conflicted over how I want technology to live and breathe as I live and breathe.

1126743_41600248Finding Balance with Technology

How we used technology 10 years ago differs greatly from how we use it today. As those developing technology continue showing us what we didn’t know we needed and wanted, how we use technology will continue evolving. The ever-changing nature of technology is a fixed reality.

The ever-changing nature of technology also adds frustration through the impossibility of keeping up with the flow of information as well as with the latest and greatest. With this comes a choice of either continually struggling to keep up or finding balance, something that exists as uniquely as our fingerprints.

My own journey to find balance in my use of technology involves considering…

  • Is technology my tool or am I its slave?
  • Do I always assume new technology is always better?
  • Do I consider that my kids watch and imitate how I use technology?
  • Do I understand the relevance of technology not just in my life but in the future for my kids?
  • Can I find a healthy balance and/or rhythm by controlling my habits?
  • Are there boundaries in place in my life where technology is concerned or is it an uncontrolled addiction?
  • Does technology exist as a distraction and a way to avoid being uncomfortable?
  • What does God think about how we should live with and use technology?

These are the dominate thoughts on my mind as I consider how technology currently exists and how I want it to exist in my life. And these thoughts provide the basis for getting into the details of technology over the next month.

DISCUSSION: What struggles and victories do you have or see with technology?