Tag Archives: distraction

How I FOcus On Process Over Progress: On Outsmarting Self-Sabotage

“Here’s the thing: whatever your schedule, stuff is going to happen. People will make demands on your time, your equipment is going to fail, and your family and friends need you. The world is not going to roll over and make it easy for you to get your writing done. In fact, many people might try (either consciously or unconsciously) to sabotage your efforts. You may sabotage your efforts. That’s the way it is for everyone–you’re not alone.” – Write that Book Already!, Sam Barry and Kathi Kamen Goldmark

W hat keeps you motivated to write when you don’t particularly want to? Do you push through the resistance and pick up some quick inspiration in a book like The War of Art or Bird by Bird? Or do you distract yourself and go clean the garage or make some soup? Do you have a strategy that works for you? I’m asking because I’d really like to know. Maybe your method would inspire me to change mine.

Being the deliberate, results-oriented person I am, I normally try to push through it, with mixed results. Sometimes I find it seemingly impossible to pick up where I left off, and there are as many reasons for that as the potential ways the new day’s words could take me. It could be a million reasons at once compounding and converging on the blinking cursor, and no one strategy could ever solve the puzzle.

It’s Monday on the final full week of March. There’s new snow on the ground overnight, and a statewide lockdown expected soon. The news is dire and distraction from writing feels like it’s at an all-time high. But if I stay in my process and turn off the news, the stillness an silence are preserved and the stories will emerge again.

We all have a decision to make about what we let have our attention. None of us are helpless to control the influences and knowledge coming to us each day. “There is a time for everything under the sun,” the wisest man who ever lived wrote. Wisdom is knowing the proper time for everything we choose to give space in our finite attention.

It’s not a new thought, but we forget so easily these days. That’s why I have to keep being so deliberate about my day and reengage each time the distractions win. This presence of mind is a spiritual practice and allowing it to be stolen is a failure to trust the simpler, quieter knowledge of who I truly am: a called writer who has a job to do before other things are allowed in.

“But little by little,

as you left their voices behind,

the stars began to burn

through the sheets of clouds,

and there was a new voice

which you slowly

recognized as your own…”

– Mary Oliver, The Journey

Tiny Distractions and Silent Vows

“Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead.” 

– C.S. Lewis

These emails have been going out every Monday for more than four years now. I think I’ve missed a Monday or two, but a recurring theme has been getting past the common barriers to live the higher purpose.

DSC_0031Because Mondays come, of course.

So how are you doing at living out of your core commitment these days?

On Thursday, I drove the 30 minutes to downtown Portland to speak about writing for freedom at the monthly meeting of the Faith & Culture Writers Conference. I love the mission of the group: “inspiring writers to impact culture.” It’s a big vision. A big mission. But as I told them, sometimes I think to get big, first we have to drill down.

To one simple thing.

Our impact on culture will happen through a small, simple decision. This tiny commitment that eventually becomes a deep conviction, this is the silent vow we make to ourselves that determines who we’ll be. Whether we’ll be a good person, a good spouse, parent or friend who supports others in need.

Before we can be good writers, this silent vow must decide how our faith gets lived out. This is what will make us good writers.

It’s not incidental.

DSC_0025Because your identity as a writer and artist is based in these other roles: Spouse. Parent. Son, daughter. Leader, worker, confidant.

And all of those are founded on one unshakable identity—the one set in Christ. Ultimately, there’s nowhere else to find who we are or what our impact will be. That core is where freedom is found.

At least, we strive to remember this, to live it and share it.

And at times, Christ-followers who have been saved into this grand unfolding belief can begin to see everything flowing from that secure base, from HIM.

But this guy I know, he gets scared. He gets distracted.

DSC_0016The world twists him up. And his deepest identity can become completely foreign. He wonders if he’s really totally redeemed, or if he’s just another unimportant sinner of the sick world.

This is the challenge every day. But sometimes he doesn’t even realize it. He’s stuck in fear and distraction and doesn’t even know it.

And fear of the bigness of his tasks and forgetting to give all his worry and pain over to God, it can blind him, impair his work. And soon, the larger impact is forfeit.

Such a little thing; a tiny crack in an invisible vow.

To be effective writers of faith,

to reach the culture we’re called to help,

it means we have to slow down,

and more often than we’d like to admit,

get quiet again, and take note of the tiny distractions.

DSC_0010Writing and living for God require a commitment to our core identity. Our struggles all come from these seemingly-small challenges to our deepest beliefs. And all higher purpose writers and artists must learn to take them seriously to defeat them in becoming who we were meant to me.

If we only realized that’s what every Cross-seeking artist goes through on the way to freedom. This is just how it works.

Becoming who we are is the goal of it all. It’s what writing and living is for. Many writers far greater than I have talked about this. The goal of all art is this kind of freedom.

You are finding it just by showing up and keeping committed to your call despite the constant assault of fear and distraction. And I’m grateful to get to be here, to be allowed into your life,

to have some of your most precious commodity,

to talk to you about this.

We’ve got to take on the tiny distractions,

to make a difference in our culture.

DSC_0018We’ve got to learn to hold to our simple vows,

rest in the midst of difficulty,

peace in the complex challenges that stretch us.

And we’ve got to hold fast our root of Christ,

To continue in the daily work.

“Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.”  

– C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

For the higher purpose,


Outsmarting Distraction

“The evolving text was never, for Murray, purely a creation of the writer—it was an active participant in the process itself. He would speak of ‘listening to the text,’ or ‘the informing line’; he would describe the thrill of writing outrunning intention and entering new territory….if the writer was alert to cues and possibilities, and not tied to an outline or a plan. ‘Be patient, listen quietly, the writing will come. The voice of the writing will tell you what to do.’ ”

– Introduction to The Essential Don Murray: Lessons from America’s Greatest Writing Teacher


To hear this voice, as Murray said, we must believe in it.

And it’s incredibly difficult when we’re constantly pulled away.

CSC_0024It can seem impossible these days, but if we’re to hear the voice, we have to fight for it.

But we won’t stop being so easily distracted and pay attention.

I believe it’s self-evident most people are chronically over-involved. In church and with friends and family. People have legitimate needs and we have ability to fill them.

We like people dependent on us so we don’t have to face ourselves.

But there are also entertainments and hugely involving activities. In the now-classic Amusing Ourselves to DeathNeil Postman wrote prophetically about the problem now rampant in so many creative people’s lives. We all tend to think we’re above the law–special, unusual, the exception to the universal rule that no one can produce consistently good work when being continually distracted.

With all the crazy modern influences our culture throws at us, we’ve got to realize we’re not an exception to how humans function. And it’s astounding to me how many people think they are! We think we can circumvent natural laws and never have to say no.

DSC_0006We never even consider that God’s law is higher than our limited perspective.

Why do we think our best intentions will escape the consequences of over-involvement?

Why do we trade our best for so little?

It isn’t rare–everyone seems to have a touch of this disease. But most ambitious writers I run into these days seem to be in advanced stages of disarray. They think they can do whatever they want, say yes to everything and never sleep, cut corners and cheat the system. Maybe they believe that’s what it takes to be successful.

And aren’t we all tempted to agree? Maybe we just need to learn to manage. Or maybe that’s our exceptionalism talking.

We’re too dang busy. And we’re distracting ourselves from noticing.

IMG_5944It doesn’t take a psychotherapist to realize we’re running from the truth about many things–situations, people, deeper emotions, issues, pain. We forget that people who run from pain are still being controlled by it. The proof is when their fragile sense of control slips, they become angry or depressed.

We get over-involved and call it normal in order not to face our pain and hide from fear. Pain always forces us to deal with it, one way or another.

And as we all know, with all the convenient distractions available these days, dealing with it head on is far easier said than done.

Yet is there anything more important than to get free of this?

Everyone has to face it or continue to struggle. The pain of life leaves us no choice. And our culture preys on this universal weakness. It’s a war for our attention and we give ours to whatever comes by. Anything flashy or convenient, and we don’t even notice we’re doing it.

Oh, hello beautiful, manipulative advertisement designed to sell me some IMG_5998expendable junk! You want some of my attention? Well, sure! It’s only my most precious possession…

You do this. I know because I do this. And what I’m saying now–in as sincere a way as I can muster–is you’ve got to pay attention!

The Opposition is winning.

So what’s your method to preserve your attention for your greater intention?

We each need a personal strategy, or we’ll end up dead before we get free. We’ve got to begin to fight.

We need a practice to get behind until it becomes effortless, even if initially it takes a lot of effort. Remember, everything worthwhile (like good writing) takes practice.

Everything worth doing is worth doing well. All it takes is patient persistence.

IMG_5988Pain, fear and the Opposition will conspire to keep you silent forever. You’ll only grow more self-centered and incapable of changing anyone, convinced you’re entitled to overindulging your numbing comfort of choice, and trading your dreams for panaceas. That is, if you don’t stop, pay attention, and commit yourself to a better way.

People make their own prisons. It happens. We’ve met them, known them.

Research shows many will choose addiction. They’ll coast through life and sample many things and never achieve what dreams God placed in them. We know about the “quiet lives of desperation” because we could so easily choose them too.

We all have to cut back and slow down even though we don’t want to.

IMG_5949And why? Because the world requires our attention. Practicing discernment and making time for what deserves our attention is the only way to escape the undue demands we face.

The tyrannical dictator of Urgencia tries to demand our allegiance. But we serve the Life-Giver, and our lives require us to learn to live for him and not be afraid.

Our collective destiny is just down the road in Futureland. But first we have to reclaim it from the stickle-backed demon Overwhelm.

In its grip, even heroes lose their minds, can’t think, can’t feel. We’re in the battle for our lives. It would kill our desire to contribute.

Do you truly realize the unlimited value of your Ruler’s gifts to you? You have been given all the power.

Simply decide you won’t allow it to be undermined. Don’t allow your contribution and output to be stolen by inattention.

Reclaim your freedom and breathe in the fresh air of your rekindled dream.

Too much busyness breaks anyone’s resolve.

Don’t go down without a fight.

And if we seem ascetic to some people and family members who don’t understand what we’re doing for the sake of the work, so be it. If we want to make room for the inspired words to become everything to us, it’s a small price to pay.

For until the Inspired Words do become our everything, no one else will see their eternal value either.

“I believe in all that has never yet been spoken.
I want to free what waits within me
so that what no one has dared to wish for
may for once spring clear
without my contriving.
“If this is arrogant, God, forgive me,
but this is what I need to say.
May what I do flow from me like a river,
no forcing and no holding back,
the way it is with children.
“Then in these swelling and ebbing currents,
these deepening tides moving out, returning,
I will sing you as no one ever has,
streaming through widening channels
into the open sea.”
 – Maria Rainier Rilke
For the higher purpose,

Your Silent Battle

“We have met the enemy and he is us.” –Pogo, Walt Kelly

Reading through my journal I see that back on December 4, I wrote about my process of writing my first new chapter since before I went freelance, over 4 years previous.

I wrote it from pieces that started with the basic action and locations, then researched the locations and built the needed discussion based on where they were in the story and what I knew needed to happen. It took a lot to pull myself away from the myriad other things and books I’ve got to work on, but it was worth it. And it felt good.


I initially thought it wasn’t a big deal or somehow cheating since it was built on something existing. I often feel like that, like somehow using something that’s already there is not as valid, not original. But even brand-new rough drafts are built on preexisting thoughts. We all write to get free of something. But nothing we write is truly new; there’s only one ex nihilo creator.

It felt good. Even fiction is a great way to unload my baggage. When I’m willing. My best stuff is where I face the truth and get real, feel what’s buried under so much noise and busy, mind-numbing daily dross. And what’s there? Shame, fear, anger, resentment. The work of writing brings knowledge we’d never realize otherwise—thus reminding us of our undeniable imperfection. And suddenly, magically on the page, what was so easily dismissed everywhere else in our hurry-up world is laid bare, exposed and unmistakable. We are glorious messes and in dire need of a little more honesty and affection.


So often we want somebody to love us but we never stop and love ourselves—just as we are. Who has time?

Last week I wrote about attention as a limited resource. And just today in the New York Times, an article on “The Cost of Paying Attention.”

“Attention is a resource; a person only has so much of it. And yet we’re auctioned off more and more of our public space to private commercial interests, with their constant demands on us to look at the products on display or simply absorb some bit of corporate messaging… In the process, we’ve sacrificed silence—the condition of not being addressed. And just as clean air makes it possible to breathe, silence makes it possible to think.”

Just before I read this, on my Facebook feed, some Christian speaker I’ve never heard of, writes: “When I feel alone, what helps is _____.” I imagine writing something snarky but I resist and unfollow and continue to scroll. Fortuitously, Susan Cain, author of Quiet posted this article just below it. What are the chances?

I’d call it the zeitgeist but it’s probably just this ubiquitous overwhelming feeling these days. Simple flowers are starting to take on much more importance.


Andy Crouch’s cover story for Christianity Today this month says, “Social media is leaving us more ashamed than ever.” The point is well taken but the writer looking for an excuse to procrastinate could hardly ask for a more diverting solution than the technology-addicted Internet world we currently live in.

Side note: Early reports that an “iWatch” from Apple will aim to give back some of our time currently being sacrificed to our smartphone’s incessant interruptions and notifications seem a hopeful step toward ending the tyranny of the urgent. But can it also sort the endless feeds and apps and platforms and devices from continuing to proliferate? Can it convince us our attention is becoming more valuable by the day? You might recall smartphones were supposed to make life more manageable and efficient and all of this stuff too. But maybe this time it’s different. (Wendell Berry’s moratorium on technology for humanity’s renewal seems more prescient than ever.)

We need silence and space alone to work out preexistent ideas, emotions and mental states our attention is being continually pulled from. We need our time back to fully love ourselves and our lives, to feel, deal, heal and become real. And then maybe we’ll find ourselves able to love not only ourselves anew, but others, and God as well.

We need to fight for silence.


Without this novel I’m writing, I’m not sure I’d have gotten free of the resentment I felt for the church and Christianity all my young adult life. And had I been trying to write the original chapters while managing a blog, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Tumblr, LinkedIn, GooglePlus, Pinterest, Instagram, Vine, Snapchat, and whatever else I’m supposed to add to maintaining my website, I doubt it would have ever happened.

“We are compelled by forces that, like the ocean current, are so subtle and pervasive we take them utterly for granted.” – Art and Fear, 116

And without the practice of writing, I’m fairly certain I’d never take the time to remember my life and that books reconnect me to myself and expand me rather than disconnect me from myself and diminish me. Reading because I want to write has made me read attentively when the whole world has seemed to pay its attention to the Internet. It will end up being the most costly mistake many will ever make.

Yet, maybe once it’s clear how precious our lives truly are, we’ll realize our Faustian bargain with being “virtually connected” and the time we’re losing in the process.


Several would-have-been writers may discover something worth writing for in the effort to get clean and clear of our modern enslavement. After all, the worse off we are, the better the story. And in place of the great wars earlier technologies required—from guns to canons to machine guns, tanks and planes and nuclear bombs—the common man’s new objects of liberation and destruction have gone truly viral.

Maybe like me, you’ve doubted you lived something bad enough to warrant your full commitment to this. But maybe you’re living your great fight right now. Believe it: in the days to come, the ability to retain your awareness of what was preexistent will be of great value.

We all write to get free of something. And though nothing we write is truly new, this may be the new battlefield where your true heroism will be forged.

If you’re called, write to connect and to share and to help. We’ll need wounded healers to help the generations to come.


Distraction –

The day has just started and I haave 24 new emails.

I don’t have time to fix that typo…

The Wikipedia entry for distraction is here.  It's basically "divided attention."


Here are 2 pics from that page. 

I fought to read today’s entry in Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest. (I at least know this much, that if I don’t establish the “rule” of connecting with God first thing, my freedom from anxiety in this fight will be forfeit all day.)

I do have to engage the battle. But I don’t have to do it alone.

In Quiet, Susan Cain uses the example of Seth Klarman, one of the great investors of our time, who said he’s "a big fan of fear and, in investing, it’s clearly better to be scared than sorry." Klarman is a world-class worrier, according to the NYT, and he owns a racehorse called “Read the Footnotes.” During the stock market crash, he stuck to his guns and bought when everyone else was panicking. His style is an example of the value of waiting quietly when the world seems to be telling you to rush ahead.

There's another great book called One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp about learning to stop and write the simple gifts right in front of you. This little book has been my antidote to distraction for 4 years now, like C.S. Lewis, convincing me to slow down and go deeper, but also showing me how to take tangible, practical, daily steps toward the better stuff of life, in the midst of anxiety and chaos.  

Fear and anxiety can make us feel ill-equipped by nature, by God. But according to Cain in Quiet, not rushing ahead in the face of strong potential rewards, i.e. maintaining a strong respect for risk and uncertainty, is a powerful, maybe the most powerful predictor of success.

I should check those emails…oh, 2 text messages now…

We need not see distractions as all bad. In fact, in our morning pages today, Sheri and I decided to try an experiment to hold one thing we wanted insight on today. Mine was "distraction."

My hunch is this experiment might help me avoid getting bent out of shape by life’s (and wife’s) interruptions. 


Some folks do so many things at once that they have to use two screens.

I don't know when it started or why I forget this so often, but I frequently try to hold too much.

Is it any wonder I get frustrated when a practical matter like kids' violin practice or dinner is more pressing?

And though I’m deeply in love with my wife, when I’m hot on the trail of some flash of lacking insight I think God's offering me, I could even turn down a kiss from the love of my life.

I’m happily married, thank God. But yes, this has actually happened.

Obviously not a happy marriage thanks to me.

It’s only with help from some much more level heads–my wife's, parents', friends', even kids'–that I’ve managed to organize my manic mind into some still-very-loose structure (I'd bust out of anything more restrictive).

Work is calling…people waiting…I really should go do something…

Shhh…it's okay. Even so, it isn’t as though my “Noodlings” file isn’t full to overflowing with the brain batter that flings every which way when I’m hot on the trail of a flash of lacking insight (let’s just go ahead and shorten this cumbersome phrase to “HotToFoLI” to save time–which also conjures “hot to trot,” “hot to fly,” as in, my desire to escape this mortal coil and join the spirit in the sky, and “hot to follow” white rabbits of curiosity…also it rhymes with Hot Tamales which are the bomb even if they're no match for Atomic Fireballs. And yes, all of this is applicable.)

But most of all, HotToFoLI is folly. Of the highest order.

It will ruin me. In fact, it has threatened to many times.

There’s nothing wrong with excitement and passion. But when it isn’t kept in check, it can do unspeakable damage. If this needles you in any way, you probably have some apologies to make like I do (and don’t get distracted from the point, but remember to actually follow through with that conviction when we’re done here–it could be very rewarding).

Not only can our excitement overwhelm some of the great wonders of the universe—people we love, and especially sensitive people we’re probably married to, parent, and call friends—we can so dominate them that we drive them away. You know of what I speak.

Trust me, you don’t want distraction to ruin your life. Learn my lesson and learn to submit. As Chambers says, “Obedience is the natural life of a child.” Stop trying to be an "adult." Accept your limitations.

You are not a superhero and you can't catch all the opportunities raining from the sky.

Listen: you don't have to catch it all. You can not catch them all.

So calm down, Junior Executive. Calm down, Missionary Jane. Relax, Hot-to-Trot Author.

Don’t let the endless shadow missions distract you from your true work—this primary job you were given to be right where you are today, swaddled by your Dad…your flailing appendages tight in his straightjacket of love…