Understanding the Symptoms of Vacation Brain

5-14-13 Vacation brain

Vacation Brain discussed the mindset that happens when one fails to live life deliberately. The symptoms of vacation brain include increased comparisons, God neglect and flesh focus.

Let’s address each of these symptoms in detail.

Increased Comparisons

On sea days, cruisers spend a lot of time lounging around and being entertained. The entertainment staff provides an almost constant schedule of entertainment opportunities. However, my husband and I found people watching to be more intriguing than most of what they offered.

Unfortunately, I too easily started playing the comparison game while people watching. I naturally found individuals “better” than me in some way, and I deliberately looked for those “worse” to help me feel better.

I eventually realized the danger of living in a constant state of comparison and what it did to freeze my progress and growth. I mean, I could easily feel good about myself or berate myself depending on where I placed my focus.

This idea of how constant comparisons can negatively impact our lives gets more attention in the series Battling Boredom.

God Neglect

A cruise offers activities for virtually every interest. Comedy acts, dance shows, trivia contests, video games, casino gambling and club dancing are some examples. There’s no chapel on the ship that I’m aware of, and no Bible studies make the daily itinerary.  In other words, any focus on God does not appear to be a cruising priority.

I am not suggesting that everyone on a cruise ship totally neglects God. With over 3,000 people on the ship, I am certain some people spend time with Him. In fact, one couple at our dinner table on our second cruise prayed together each night, and we had some faith-related conversations with them.

I am suggesting that the cruise ship atmosphere does nothing to promote one’s faith. Routines are broken, and everyone seems to be living the good life. Unless an individual deliberately chooses to incorporate God, most of what is offered on a cruise ship does more to promote desires of the flesh than anything else.

While I believe that a God focus remains the responsibility of the individual, I also understand how the pull of our culture, especially in such an amplified way, can significantly impact an individual’s choices.

Flesh Focus

The draw of abundance is as clear as the surrounding ocean on a cruise ship. Opportunity for gluttony, drunkenness, laziness and poor stewardship abound. To make the ease even easier, cruisers receive a “sail and sign” card that allows them to “pay” for everything. In other words, no actual money exchanges hands when buying drinks, gambling or purchasing anything while on a cruise.

So, focusing on the flesh really requires little effort, and to some extent that is why cruises are so immensely relaxing. When this focus becomes a habit, though, an unhealthy life becomes a trap. Our fast-food, immediate gratification society cultivates this focus on the flesh, which then grows naturally if we do nothing to resist.

The post Are You Living a Cruise Ship Lifestyle? looks at how these symptoms undermine a productive and fruitful life.

DISCUSSION: As with any illness, symptoms can manifest themselves differently from one person to the next. Can you name additional symptoms of vacation brain?

Vacation Brain

vacation brainWhen I came back from my first cruise, I literally felt like I was still on the cruise ship at times with its constant swaying. This lasted a few weeks after the cruise. I even woke up in the middle of the night from what I can only describe as my brain trying to connect with my shipless reality.

Having this swaying sensation in the absence of being on a boat led me to realize that sometimes our minds can get stuck cruising while the rest of our bodies struggle to go through the motions of life. This creates and out-of-balance state that I call “vacation brain.”

Defining Vacation Brain

The Urban Dictionary offers two definitions for “vacation brain.”

“The 1-2 days before vacation when you can’t get much work done because your brain is already on vacation.”

“When you feel like you’re on vacation but you actually aren’t.”

Those definitions make sense, and I’ve experienced both, but allow me to offer a third definition. Vacation brain is…

“Failure to live your life in a deliberate way that leads toward balance physically, mentally and spiritually.”

Let’s face it, if we live our daily lives the same way we live when we on vacation, we’d all be in serious trouble.

The Symptoms of Vacation Brain

The symptoms of “vacation brain” exist within what I call a “cruise ship lifestyle.” Here are the ones that stand out most to me.

  • Increased comparisons
  • God neglect
  • Flesh focus

The posts, Understanding the Symptoms of Vacation Brain and Are You Living a Cruise Ship Lifestyle? delve deeper into how this topic relates to the influence of culture and also discuss the application to our everyday lives. For this post, let’s discuss some ideas to remedy this unhealthy state of existence.

The Remedy for Vacation Brain

The best remedy that I know of for “vacation brain” comes from Romans 12:2.

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

When I came home from my first cruise vacation and started feeling the shipless swaying sensations, I knew that concentration and focus would be a struggle for me until the sensations went away. (On a side note, Mal de Debarquement Syndrome does not go away for some people.)

We must stay keenly aware that vacation brain can easily become a part of our everyday lifestyles if we don’t deliberately choose to not let that happen. Consider the following for helping keep vacation brain from becoming a lifestyle.

  1. Renew. Renew the routines and habits that work well and discard or revamp what doesn’t.
  2. Read. I need to get as much positive input as possible, so I read God-focused blogs in addition to my Bible. Reading is one of the best ways to renew your thinking.
  3. Reconnect. While my husband and I connected a great deal on our cruise, I missed my friends and the rest of my family. Reconnecting help to refocus.
  4. Review. Review your priorities. Checking your calendar and your checkbook can help with doing this.
  5. Refuse. Vacations should be relaxing. They should help create new perspectives or reestablish old, helpful ones. Refuse to let the benefits of vacation be erased.

Almost immediately upon our return from our first cruise vacation, we had to deal with some significant life issues. I found myself wondering if the relaxation of vacation would dissipate more quickly than it came. Then I realized that vacations don’t create a state of peace that will live on indefinitely; instead, they should hit a reset button that helps us re-balance in a way to better deal with life’s coming challenges.

DISCUSSION: What other suggestions do you have for remedying vacation brain? Why do you think vacations are so important, maybe even crucially essential, for our lives?

Stability Amidst Constant Change

Serenity Prayer

Strange Things Are Happening

Wrinkles. Slowing metabolism. Almost constant aches and pains. Physical changes resulting from aging.

Driving. Dating. Independence. Teen boys growing into adults. Life’s seasons usher in change.

Friendships fade. Marriages end. Busyness distracts. Life’s choices result in the rippling impact of change.

“Strange things are happening.” So goes the song in Toy Story to reflect the pain accompanying life’s inevitable changes.

Change brings new excitement along with nostalgic longing to relive moments and feelings. And of course, regret shows up in the process of change too.

My heart aches from change at times. I can’t keep up, and my comfort zone feels tight.

“They say that change is good, but it isn’t.” (Sheldon Cooper, Big Bang Theory)

Out of control weight gain. Families growing apart. Estrangement. No, change is not always good.

But it is inevitable. Sometimes we can shape the change as it comes. Sometimes, we simply have to choose how we let change shape us.

The only constant in life is change. At least, that seems to be truth when the focus lies with how change challenges our comfort and expectations. We must learn to expect the unexpected and deal with change as it comes at us. Right?

Fortunately, we have another option.

Change As A Catalyst For Transformation

My oldest resists change. He’d like the same meal routine week in and week out, and he’d also like to stay well within the realm of the known and expected at all times. Change visibly shakes him, but he eventually accepts and embraces it even if never becoming completely happy about it.

My youngest adapts quickly to change. He even seems to need it and to resist much structure. Change motivates him to activity, much like my morning cup of coffee wakes me up, but he fades quickly until more change comes.

Two extremes, yet neither fully functional. Expected, I suppose, in teenagers. Maturity will hopefully bring balance.

How do you react to change when it happens in your life?

While each of my sons reacts differently to change, both ultimately use it as a catalyst for progress and growth. They don’t stay stuck in their comfort zones.

Stability In The Unchanging

Though my boys respond to change in two very different ways, they both grow and mature through it because they also know stability. They have structure and consistency in their lives as much as two imperfect but being perfected parents can offer.

That stability only exists in our family because God provides it. My husband and I don’t. Our routines don’t. The presence of an unchanging, holy God gives the only real stability and consistency that can exist in a world where all else seems to live in the unexpected even with our desperate attempts at controlling everything.

  • Stability in a God whose character never alters.

“Whatever is good and perfect comes to us from God above, who created all heaven’s lights. Unlike them, He never changes or casts shifting shadows” (James 1:17).

  • Stability from promises that never fade or fail.

“For no word from God will ever fail.” (Luke 1:37)

  • Stability like a rock.

“My God is my rock, in whom I find protection. He is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of safety. He is my refuge, my savior, the one who saves me from violence. (2 Samuel 22:3)

  • The only light to guide in the storm of inconsistency and instability that is life this side of Heaven.

“This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” (1 John 1:5)

Change is inevitable in this world. So too is God’s unchanging nature. Where do you place your focus?

Going Backward So You Can Move Forward

MistakesUnfortunately, my history with backing up a vehicle is somewhat embarrassing. Here’s the rather humbling list:

  • Backing into the school van during driver’s training while learning to parallel park (another driving challenge for me).
  • Backing into my brother’s car early one morning when I was 16 (never told him about that).
  • Backing a rental car over a huge boulder and needing several large men to lift it off (never told my husband about  that one… he knows now though).
  • Breaking the passenger rear view mirror on my husband’s truck when I hit the side of the garage backing out (he definitely knows about that one).
  • Scraping the back passenger side of my Jeep when I backed into a trailer parked in our driveway.
  • Backing into a moving car in a Barnes & Noble parking lot.
  • Hitting a car parked in my own driveway when I backed out of my garage.

While I haven’t had any auto accidents while driving forward, backing up obviously causes me problems. As God does so often in my life, He’s using this physical pattern to show me a spiritual truth.

dodinksy

5 Principles for Moving Forward

The same mistakes causing my backward vehicular accidents mirror those I struggle with spiritually and mentally. For example, my lifelong struggle with depression continues to haunt me, though less so as the years roll by.

Out of this realization comes five principles I must regularly and deliberately apply to prevent my backing up from delaying forward progress.

  1. Don’t let hurry motivate. I backed into my brother’s car because I couldn’t see through the frost on my window, which I failed to clean off because I was in a hurry. Failing to plan ahead led to this mistake. A little planning ahead can prevent many of life’s blunders.
  2. Be sure to see when looking. The Barnes & Noble incident happened simply because I did not see the car when I looked before backing up. This is akin to my kids not seeing the milk right in front of them in the refrigerator. Sometimes we get so into the routines of life that we fail to see the obvious. Slowing down and taking time to really look helps prevent mistakes.
  3. Realize that others are often hurt by our mistakes. Backing into a car in my own driveway left me with a lot of guilt over the inconvenience I caused others. Realizing that our mistakes hurt others hopefully motivates us to develop habits that put us in a place of helping them instead.
  4. Take ownership. When I backed into the trailer in our driveway, it of course wasn’t my fault. I mean, the trailer isn’t usually there, and it was below my view enough that I couldn’t see it when I looked. In this and many of my backing-up incidences, my first instinct involved blaming someone else for the mistake. Yet, because I know I can only control me, I must take ownership and admit my mistakes and their root causes if I am to break the negative patterns in my life.
  5. Let go of pride & embarrassment. Each of these backing-up incidences caused me embarrassment. In my pride, I worried too much about what others thought of me. I had to humble myself by going through the above process in order to get out from under the weight of my mistakes.

I love the parallel parking technology in newer vehicles today, and I would really like it on my next vehicle. However, if someone came up with a vehicle that backed up all by itself, that would be necessity.

Unfortunately, there really aren’t any workarounds for backing up. We must look behind us from time to time in order to learn from our past and then move forward in a way that allows  the past with its mistakes to positively shape the future. In other words, we each need to learn how to Put Your Behind in the Past. If we don’t, we’ll continually make the same mistakes and essentially relive our pasts instead of grow beyond them.

DISCUSSION: What patterns of mistakes do you have in your life? How can you learn from them in order to move forward?

Pursuing Encouragement Through Scripture

Psalm 119During a season of discouragement, I can’t convince myself that it’s going to end. Current discouragement always seems permanent. When discouraged, Scripture often frustrates me. I understand little to nothing and struggle with wandering thoughts. So, I just go through the motions and do my best to fight through wondering, “What’s the point? Why bother?”

When I’m discouraged and feel like reading God’s word is pointless, I must remember that my feelings often inaccurately gage the impact of God’s word on my inner self. I must force my vision outside of my feelings and remember that all previous seasons of discouragement eventually ended, which means this one will too.

Never has consistently meditating (reflecting) on Scripture failed to significantly aid my struggle through discouragement. Though the process seems minutely gradual at times, that’s how progress journeys to visible growth. Perseverance is essential to spiritual growth in the struggle through discouragement.

While I cannot feel the progress during this current season of discouragement, I can replay the memories of moving through and out of previous ones. In doing so, I come to know the truth currently at play even though feelings fail to confirm its activity.

While there are many others, three portions in particular showcase why Scripture encourages me.

Encouaragement

God doesn’t just suggest encouragement, he actually commands it. What’s more, he gives us reasons to find that encouragement along with sources for making that happen. Scripture reminds believers that God’s promises continual support for his people, particularly when they become weary, depressed or disillusioned. And the encouragement it offers comes through a focus on God, not on ourselves or our problems.

For me, that focus consistently involves allowing Scripture to:

  • Shape my perspective
  • Give me boundaries
  • Keep me thankful
  • Guide my every step
  • Renew my hope

The most poignant times of discouragement in my life came clouded with depression and despair because of the absence of God’s Word in my habits and routines. Yet every time, God drew me back and drew me in. The seasons eventually ended, and I understood their role in my growth. Because he’s done this so many times before in my life, and because His Word promises He’s always with me, I know he’ll bring me through this season too.

DISCUSSION: How does God’s Word encourage you?

What is your fear doing?

no fearWhat does fear look like in your life?

Zombies, ghosts, vampires, and evil witches (as opposed to the good ones) — only get to me when I read stories or watch movies containing them. My solution? Avoidance. No matter how much I tell myself (and truly believe) they aren’t real, I still get nightmares. So while I’m not exactly afraid of them (seriously, I know they’re not real) they somehow get to me on a subconscious level. But these fears really don’t affect the way I live my life much.

But many fears do affect daily living and life choices to varying degrees. For example, those afraid of heights avoid skydiving and climbing ladders, and a fear of spiders causes entertaining reactions from many people. These fears are manageable though, and not usually significantly life-altering.

Then there are the fears that keep us from progressing in life.

Fear of failure makes us not even try. Fear of what others think leads to dangerous conformity. Fear of rejection prevents relationships from blossoming. Fear of the future causes staunch routine and vehement resistance to change. Fear of what might happen motivates many to seek relationship-damaging control. These fears I know well either through observation and/or personal experience. How about you?

To some extent, every fear holds the potential to limit life and keep us from following God’s will, but some fears certainly seem to have more power for doing so than others. So what can we do when fear grips us, and we simply want to hole up somewhere and live a safe, comfortable life?

The Bible says numerous times — someone counted 365 times, one for every day of the year — to not be afraid. God obviously knew fear would be a stumbling block, so he gave an abundance of encouragement for overcoming it.

Overcoming Fear

For me, overcoming fear lies with the examples found in God’s word of how others handled fear. These stories help change how I think about fear.

My favorite example is when Joshua became the leader of the Israelites and then faced the daunting task of leading God’s people into the Promised Land. God encourages Joshua by telling him to “not fear” and “be of good courage” multiple times (Deuteronomy 31 & Joshua 1:5-9).

The same God who encouraged Joshua and promised to never abandon him — and Scripture  shows God followed through on that promise — is the same God who will do the same for me today. That gives me courage to keep moving in spite of my fears.

Benaiah is another example of courage in the face of fear (2 Samuel 23:20-23 & 1 Chronicles 11:22-25). He faced a lion, two great warriors, and a man with a spear when he himself had only a club, and he came out victorious. In fact, his bravery (as well as many other positive characteristics) moved him up the ranks in both David’s and Solomon’s armies. Benaiah must have felt fear (who wouldn’t?), but he still did what was necessary to achieve victory.

We can’t stop fear. We will face it, and it will grip us. And while we may not be able to control the circumstances surrounding our fear or often even our reactions to what we fear, we can choose to pursue freedom from all fear (Matthew 6:25-34 & John 11:25-26).

Remember that focus determines reality, and with the power of God working in and through us, we can face our fears and push through to accomplish the will of God. We can focus on the fear itself or on the one who conquered sin, death and the grave. That choice determines the impact fear has on our lives.

DISCUSSION: Ask yourself what you’re afraid of. How does that fear shape your life? Are you focusing on the fear or on the one who calms all fears?

Defeating the Winter Blues

While debate exists over the cause and even the existence of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), few doubt the impact of the dreary conditions of wintertime, especially those who live in areas with little sun in winter. For me, the term that best describes the blues that seem to hit in the dead of winter (December through February for the most part) is “doldrums.”

Doldrums

This term fits well for most who struggle with mood and energy during the winter months, about 12% of the population. Another 3% or so suffers true SAD , something I’ve also experienced. (Note: I migrated from SAD to the doldrums after finding victory over depression.)

10 Tips for Defeating the Winter Blues

Fortunately, much of what relieves the doldrums also helps with SAD (and depression too). So, for the sake of simplicity, let’s lump SAD and the doldrums into one category and call them the “winter blues.” However, realize that these exist along a continuum of severity. In most cases of SAD, there’s usually a significant biological reason (research shows that people with SAD produce significantly less seratonin in winter than in summer) that must be dealt with first with the help of a professional.

Based on my experience with the winter blues at almost every point along the continuum from SAD to a slight funk, I offer the following tips for defeating the winter blues.

  1. Move. Any activity beyond sitting or lying down positively impacts mood. This can mean a 10-minutes stretching routine, a 30-minute walk, cleaning the bathroom, or a quick trip to the grocery store. Just move!
  2. Budget. Money concerns, especially right after Christmas when the winter blues hit their peek, can drag even the most optimistic person down. Get some control by creating – and using – a budget.
  3. Breathe. I’m continually amazed at how just taking 10 deep breaths improves my outlook. Not only does it lessen my winter blues, but it helps me deal with stressful situations too.
  4. Eat. While eating your blues away is often a bad idea since it usually involves poor food choices, that doesn’t have to be the case. Instead, learn about healing foods that help lift mood and increase the “feel good” chemicals in your brain, and then purpose to get more of those consistently in your diet.
  5. Drink. Drinking more water is one of the two main activities that most quickly improve overall health. Whatever amount of water you’re drinking now, drink more. Hydration plays a huge role in virtually every bodily system.
  6. Sleep. Here’s the partner to drinking water. Establish a regular sleep/awake routine and stick to it year round. Figure out the amount of sleep that allows you to operate at your best, and get it consistently.
  7. Socialize. When I’m at a low point, I often avoid social interaction. Unfortunately, I avoid a terrific way to improve my mood when I do. We’ll cover this topic more in next week’s post, but let’s say for now that positive interaction with others does almost as much to improve mood as sleep and water.
  8. Simplify. This one took me years to truly establish as a life principle. Now, when I feel a funk setting in, which I know will grow into the doldrums if left unchecked, I look for ways to simplify.
  9. Supplement. Over the past 5 years, I’ve learned what supplements I need to operate optimally, especially mentally. A naturopath helped me get established, but now I do my own research & assessment. Start by learning the basic supplements everyone needs.
  10. Enjoy. Take time every day to enjoy simple pleasures from a hot bath and great music to a sunset and fresh air. Do this daily to help ward off the winter blues.

Hopefully you’ve gotten the idea there are a lot of ways to successfully battle the winter blues, and the more tools you have, the better. Yet, I have found that none truly help for the long term without the existence of one, specific focus always present in my life to motivate and drive me toward victory. I’ll let C.S. Lewis explain and close out this post.

Happiness quote

DISCUSSION: What tips do you have for gaining victory over the winter blues? What tips from the above list will you try this year? Any questions?

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Spiritually Healthy During the Holidays & Beyond

Light 1Focus Determines Reality

In previous years when the holidays approached, my thoughts immediately went toward negative memories. The cat using the presents under the tree as a litter box. My parents telling me they were divorcing. No decorating or celebrating the first Christmas after the divorce.

Seems silly, really, since those years represent far fewer Decembers than ones with neutral or even positive memories. But since my focus dwelt there, my holiday reality existed in the negative for many years. This meant that depression easily met me each holiday season as well.

Slowly, as I learned how to be Physically Healthy During the Holidays and Beyond, I discovered a desire and ability to choose my focus rather than just allowing it to happen.Light 2

Jesus Changes Everything…

The biggest impact on my focus for lasting transformation and increasing joy during the holidays and beyond came when I truly met Jesus in the pages of Scripture and allowed His Holy Spirit to direct my focus. I’ve technically been a Christian my whole life, but it took almost 30 years for my faith to become a significant driving force.

This doesn’t mean my faith didn’t impact my life before that point, because it definitely did. However, when I finally realized and admitted my utter dependence upon Christ to work in me through His Holy Spirit for a joyful reality, my faith became so much more than mere fire insurance.

If You’ll Let Him!

Jesus always wants to change the focus of our lives toward one of living for God. But He doesn’t force Himself on us. His Holy Spirit doesn’t force its way in as the director of our focus. We must let Him change how we think, which changes our focus, which then changes our reality.

And often, our “letting” involves those activities we already know to be spiritually beneficial. In other words, “letting Christ” simply means doing that which Scripture extols as necessary habits for continually increasing spiritual health. What might those activities include?

  1. Not neglecting the basics. This is never a good idea but especially not during the holidays. Personally, I get knocked off kilter much easier during the holidays, so keeping to a routine of Bible study, prayer & worship proves immensely beneficial.
  2. Renewing the Christmas story. The longer you’ve been a Christian, the more difficult having a wonderment about the Christmas story may seem. Yet, seeing it with fresh perspective can help renew your spirit. I do this by reading a Christmas book every year. Can be fiction or nonfiction, but it must have the Gospel message.
  3. Try simple & minimal. Take this approach with everything from gift giving to party preparation. Consider it with clothing and schedules too. Allow yourself the mental space to enjoy the people in your life by keeping the material aspects as simple as possible.
  4. Pay attention to physical health. Staying Physically Healthy During the Holidays and Beyond is so very difficult with all the parties and special family gatherings focused around food. While indulging may feel good in the moment, the later consequences usually outweigh any momentary, immediate pleasure. Consider the long-term impact of choices before you make them.
  5. Make relationships a priority. Choose relationships over doing and going  and accomplishing and impressing whenever possible. Make Romans 12:18 a goal for all of your relationships this holiday season.

Focusing more on Christ, the Christmas story and beyond, even when feelings or circumstances work to steal that focus, creates habits that work toward a purpose beyond ourselves. Deliberately considering what I allow to direct my focus, the thoughts I allow to dwell in my spirit, helps me continue making right choices that lead to a positive and joy-filled holiday season. And each year, living spiritually healthy during the holidays and beyond becomes a more natural part of who I am.

Establish your focus on the only person able to align all you are with with truth, light and hope. Let Jesus continually and increasingly direct your focus and shape your reality.

DISCUSSION: What activities help you obtain or maintain joy and stay spiritually healthy during the holidays and beyond?

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For another take on how to stay healthy during the holidays, check out the post “How to Keep Emotionally Healthy This Holiday” by Laurie Wallin. While you’re there, take some time to look at the rest of her blog where she writes about how to “live with joy and confidence no matter what life brings.”

How to Retreat With Purpose

Retreat

A few weeks ago, I went on a writing retreat. At first I felt guilty for going away by myself and leaving my family to fend for themselves. Funny, since the retreat was my husband’s idea, and I followed through with it only at his encouragement and insistence.

As I thought about the idea of a retreat, and as I realized the deeper meaning of the concept beyond its obvious military application, I began to understand the value behind a focused retreat.

Retreat 2The planning as well as the actual retreat itslef convinced me of the value of making time to retreat. Below are the revelations coming from the planning and execution of my first personal retreat.

  1. Have a very specific purpose. The specific purpose of my retreat was to reach 50,000 words in a rough draft of a book I am writing. I already had 10,000 written but struggled dedicating time to the project. My retreat had no other purpose beyond this.
  2. Set specific goals. While my ultimate goal was 50,000 words, I quickly discovered the need to set smaller goals during the retreat. In the 48 hours I was gone, I set smaller word count goals and rewarded myself (coffee, snack, Big Bang Theory, etc.) when I reached a goal.
  3. Keep it simple. I went to a hotel about 1 1/2 hours from home. No glamourous location. Just a simple location where I could focus with minimal distraction.
  4. Focus. I refused to think much beyond my goal. All I thought about, except during break times, involved reaching 50,000 words.
  5. Plan some variety. While I spent most of the time in my hotel room, I found variety by visiting a Starbucks (good coffee = good writing) nearby for a couple of hours each day. This change-up helped me physically and mentally.
  6. Create a plan of action. Before going on the writing retreat, I developed a project outline. I also brought notes to read through to help generate additional ideas.
  7. Minimize distractions. I brought much of my own food, which saved a lot of time. I turned off the volume on my phone and did not log on to the hotel’s wifi except during break times. I did not bring any books to read either (that’s a big deal for me, btw).
  8. Plan ahead. I made sure I did not have any unrelated tasks hanging over my head to distract me while I focused on my goal.
  9. Work ahead. To prevent coming back to overload, I got as much work as I could done ahead of time. This takes a big of extra work on the front end, but it made a huge difference for keeping me focused during my retreat.
  10. Get enough sleep. One mistake I made was not sticking to my normal sleep routine. I was exhausted the second night just from writing so much, and the lack of sleep the first night caused me struggle a bit toward the end of the second day.

I plan to take regular retreats, perhaps one every quarter or at least twice a year, since this one was so productive. Specific purposes I am considering for these retreats include reading/researching, editing, and generating ideas. I want these retreats to be fulfilling and meaningful to me, which is why I choose to focus on writing.

DISCUSSION: What could you focus on if you took a personal retreat? What are your suggestions for planning and executing a successful personal retreat? Anyone going to do something like this in the near future?

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How to Have Consistent Focus Even When No One Is Watching

how-to-focus-hacks-infographicFocus Determines Reality

The object of focus as well as the existence or absence of focus itself determines the reality of a person’s life. Do you believe this?

The truth that focus determines reality drives me. I believe it to the point of frustration when focus remains allusive. When my mind continually engages distraction, anxiety and frustration set in and depression approaches.

Establishing & Keeping Focus

When I transitioned from working in an office where others held me accountable for my productivity to working for myself at home where only I truly knew my level of accomplishment, the discipline of focus taunted me while at the same time taught me a great deal about establishing and keeping focus. Here’s what I learned about establishing and keeping focus in that process:

  1. Know your purpose. This requires regular (daily) Scripture study & prayer before moving on to the specific tasks of the day.
  2. Eliminate distraction. Leave your phone in the other room. Work in a room without a television. Go for a walk or bike ride to brainstorm and plan. Find ways to reduce the temptations of distraction.
  3. Simplify. Reduce possessions to regularly-used items. Keep calendars simple and clutter free. Focus on simple, healthy meals. Establish routines to reduce decision-making. When overwhelmed, this one word – “simplify” – works wonders for refocusing.
  4. Talk. Working alone means I’m in my head a lot. Regularly scheduling exercise time or coffee with a friend gives opportunity to get out of my head and process thoughts in more tangible ways. Evenings with my husband and time with my kids also help me cultivate and process ideas.
  5. Follow the Spirit’s leading. Remove blockades (don’t “hinder”) the Holy Spirit’s ability to work in your life. Put yourself in a position to regularly hear the wisdom He offers.
  6. Take small steps. Returning and staying focused happens through small steps (choices) that over time add up to make a huge difference.
  7. Establish accountability. Voicing my goals creates one level of accountability. Partnering with others creates another. Creating deadlines takes accountability up another notch. Make accountability a reality and not just a good idea.

Learning to Focus

When talking to others struggling with focus, I hear excuses like, “I’m not just good at focusing,” or “I just get distracted easily,” as if they lack the ability to focus like some lack musical ability. In this ADD-culture, many seem to believe focus comes only for those blessed with unique ability or at the very least live absent of attention deficit.

My personal success in achieving a focused life convince me that focus is not a special talent like running speed but instead a learned ability. If you’re not yet convinced, consider the story of a young boy diagnosed with ADHD, PTSD & FAS at age 8.

All three of these disorders rip apart one’s ability to focus. Yet, in the past five years through the avenues listed above done in a consistent manner in a stable environment, this boy went from being several years behind in reading to reading just above grade level. He also gets As and Bs in school and stays out of trouble as much as any other 13-year-old boy.

My youngest son taught me anyone can learn to focus. While it may exist as more of a struggle more for some people than for others, anyone can improve their ability to focus.

A Biblical Formula for Focus

Let’s look at one more element involved in one’s ability to focus. Scripture provides a great deal of help on the topic, but let’s look at two passage in particular to finish our discussion on focus.

Focus all energy on one thing: Forget the past, look forward toward the goal, and work to reach the end and receive the prize. (Philippians 3:13-14)

Refuse to focus on the temporary and instead fix your focus on the unseen, the eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:18)

Focusing where God tells us to focus results in an extraordinary ability to hone our effectiveness. Keeping eternity in mind as we plan our lives results in living productive and meaningful lives. No longer do we wonder if our daily activity matters because we know we’re connected with the eternal, with what matters most to God, so all we do matters.

Remember the question in the beginning of this post? Go ahead, take a look again.

When we truly believe – because we know for certain – that focus involves choosing to have it as well as placing God as the object of that focus, we find that our ability to focus grows in supernatural ways. We discover that an inability to focus may simply mean a wrong focus. We realize that an overwhelmed life often means a life focused on the wrong or too many different things.

No one can convince me that consistent focus ever exists as impossible for anyone. Learning to focus without being under constant watch by others taught me about the possibility, and my youngest son’s progress over the past 5 years further confirmed the truth. And both leave me excited to live a future focused on God and pleasing Him.

DISCUSSION: What struggles do you have with focus? How does the above advice provide hope for learning to focus?

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