Let’s face it. Our minds wander, constantly. Research indicates that we mind-wander almost half our waking hours. We all have a bit of ADHD in us. That same research tells us that most mind wandering makes us unhappy. Although healthy mind wandering can enhance creativity, most of the time it doesn’t help. So, how can we minimize mind wandering and stay on task? In this post I suggest four practical ways to keep on task and win the mind wandering battle.
Four Ways to Combat Mind Wandering:
First, it’s important to understand why our minds wander. In short, our brain simply tires, and quite quickly. The fancy word for what causes mind wandering is called the neuroenergetic theory.
- Our brain cells (neurons) need energy that comes from two kinds of sugars – glycogen, a form of glucose, and and another sugar called lactate.
- Neurons get this energy from the brain’s maintenance cells, called glia cells, and specifically from one type of glia cell called an astrocyte.
- After 12 seconds of mental effort, our neurons literally begin to run on empty. So, they need more fuel to fire efficiently and maintain focus and attention. They first look for lactate and if they can’t find it, they look for glycogen.
- If they can’t fill up with some sugars, they don’t fire effectively, attention suffers, and we mind wander.
So, the key is to keep our brains fueled and alert. How do we do that?
- Get enough sleep at night. Sleep actually helps restore the supply of glycogen to the brain’s maintenance cells, the glia. Regular skimping on sleep will reduce this energy source and thus inhibit your ability to stay focused throughout the day. More here about the brain benefits from sleep.
- Take a short nap. Napping less than 20 minutes in the middle of the day provides many brain benefits. A nap can enhance memory, improve learning by clearing out information in your brain’s storage area making it ready for new learning, and make us more alert.
- Wisely use caffeine. Moderate use of caffeine actually keeps the sleep neurotransmitter (adenosine) from making you sleepy because it mimics it, though without the sleepiness. More here about using caffeine.
- Take regular work breaks during the day. Long stretches of work with no breaks diminishes our willpower, reasoning ability, performance, and attention. It’s called decision fatigue. Read more about decision fatigue here. Taking breaks does the opposite. Resting your brain will improve creativity, productivity, and focus. I use an app called Time Out to dim my screen every 70 minutes. I then take a short five minute walk and get back to work. It works wonders
So, you can win the mind wandering battle with a few simple choices. Try one of these next week and see what happens.
And, reflect on what this Scripture says about our minds.
You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you. (Is 26.3)
The Bible says a lot about gratefulness. Answer these six questions to rank how grateful you are.
- Do you say “thank you” less than once a day or 2-3 times a day?
- Do you often spend time wishing/dreaming that things would be different or do you often thank God even in difficult circumstances?
- Do you often find fault with others or do you express a resilient, forgiving spirit, and grace filled spirit?
- Are most of the words that come out of your mouth critical/negative or positive/affirming?
- Do you have a demanding spirit, more often looking to others to meet your needs or do you look for ways to meet other’s needs?
- Do you blame others for your problems or do you easily take ownership of your problems?
The Psalmist often speaks about a thankful heart. We as leaders must do our best to model a attitude of gratitude for those we serve.
Psalm 69:30, “I will praise the name of God with a song, and will magnify him with thanksgiving.”
Psalm 95:2, “Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving, and make a joyful noise unto him with psalms.”
Psalm 100:4, “Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.”
What has helped you develop a thankful spirit?
Related Posts: 8 Indispensable Qualities Every Leader Needs
Fasting is a spiritual practice the Bible encourages. The Old Testament mentions it many times as did Jesus. We often hear and teach that fasting can help us deepen our walk with Christ, but I also believe that leaders should consider fasting to help them lead better. Taken from the book of Isaiah, fasting can bring these 8 spiritual benefits to the life of every leader.
The first 5 verses of Isaiah 58 describe a fast the people had committed to. Although they seemed eager to know God more intimately, they weren’t truly eager for God. God chastised them for their false humility and in the verses that follow, I’ve gleaned from God’s response to them these 8 positive benefits that fasting offers every leader.
- The Lord can use it as a tool to free you from personal weaknesses or sin areas.
- Isa. 58:6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?
- It can help you become a more generous leader.
- 7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter– when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
- Jesus can bring emotional, relational, or even physical healing.
- 8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear;
- It can help you become more aware of His protection over you as a leader.
- …then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.
- It can result in your seeing more answers to prayer as your prayers align more closely to God’s will.
- 9 Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
- You will become more confident in the dark times you face as a leader.
- …”If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, 10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. Your darkest hour will be like the noonday sun...
- It will remind you that Jesus will give you strength to lead well.
- 11 The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame.
- You will see your leadership yield spiritual fruit.
- …You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.
Andrew Murray, a South African pastor/writer who wrote 240 books in the late 19th and early 20th century wrote these words.
“Fasting helps to express, deepen, and to confirm the resolution that we are ready to sacrifice anything, to sacrifice ourselves to attain what we seek for the kingdom of God.”
How has fasting helped your leadership?
Most believers want to grow spiritually. But often we stumble in our efforts to grow. Is there a key or a silver bullet that catalyzes our spiritual formation? Willow Creek’s Reveal survey of several thousand churches revealed not a silver bullet, but the number one catalyst that believers said contributed most to their growth: Bible reading and reflection. The great leader Nehemiah shows us 8 ways to engage with God’s Word for maximum inpact.
The wall had been built and Ezra gathered the people together and read God’s word to them. Chapter 8 shows us these 8 concepts.
- Congregation: engage God’s Word in community with others. (v1-the people were brought together as God’s Word was read and taught). Hebrews 10.24-25 admonishes us to regularly assemble together.
- Attention: what gets paid attention to gets remembered. (v. 3-they listened attentively). A fundamental principle of learning and memory says that we learn what we pay attention to. The more we learn and remember, the more the Holy Spirit has to work with to effect change in our hearts. What we pay attention to actually causes our brain to change. It’s called neuroplasticity.
- Appreciation: show respect for God’s Word. (v. 5-they stood as God’s Word was read showing respect for it). When we respect God’s Word we are respecting its author.
- Explanation: develop a learning mindset. (v 7-the Levites explained to the people what the Scriptures meant). We must be teachable for God’s Word to change us.
- Application: do what it says. (chapter 9 describes that the people made direct application to their lives by making a commitment to be holy and to give). Neuroscientists have discovered that what we apply directly to our experience sticks with us the longest.
- James 1.22, Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.
- Connection: Let God’s word stir your heart. (v 9-the people were convicted of their and their ancestors’ sins when God’s Word was read). When we read the Bible we must lay our hearts open for the Holy Spirit to bring appropriate conviction of our sins.
- Heb. 4.12 For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.
- Repetition: What gets repeated gets learned. (v 18-Ezra read God’s Word to them daily). Learning experts have discovered that cramming information at the last minute does not last. Only repeated exposure over time will last. If Sunday is a person’s only encounter with Scripture, they won’t experience the change that could happen were they to engage the Scriptures on a daily basis.
- Satisfaction: Enjoy God’s word. (v 10-Nehemiah encouraged the people to no longer weep but to revel in the truth that the joy of the Lord was their strength). Engaging and embracing God’s Word is not like eating your broccoli. Rather the Bible describes itself like tasty food.
- Jer. 15.16 When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, O LORD God Almighty.
The Psalmist captured the essence of the how we should approach and engage God’s Word.
Psa. 119.162 I rejoice in your word like one who discovers a great treasure.
What concepts about God’s Word has spurred your spiritual growth?
Rejection. The sound of the word itself even sounds ominous. If you’ve been a pastor or church leader for any length of time, chances are you’ve felt the dagger of rejection. It may have come intentionally through a serious conflict with a leader who didn’t like or support you. It may have come more subtly when someone quietly leaves your church and the scuttlebutt was that they left because they “weren’t getting fed.” The source doesn’t matter. It still hurts. When it inevitable does come, what can we do? In this post I suggest 7 ways to navigate the pain of rejection.
How Leaders Can Navigate the Pain of Rejection…
- Recognize that you’ve not sinned because you feel hurt. Our brain registers physical pain primarily in two areas of the brain, the insula, which lies deep in our brain, and the anterior cingulate cortex, which lies between our brain’s thinking center and our emotional center. And guess what? Social pain such as rejection registers in the same places. So, rejection actually physically hurts. It’s an automatic response to rejection that God wired into our bodies. So, the bad feelings you experience from rejection don’t mean you’re a weak leader or a sinful person.
- When rejected, admit the pain you feel. Don’t ignore or stuff your emotions. The phrase, “Grown men don’t cry,” implies that a guy should not allow himself to show his ‘soft’ emotions. The problem is, it’s self-defeating. When we stuff or suppress our emotions, it actually makes our painful emotions more intense internally. However, it’s scientifically proven that when we name our painful emotions, we actually lessen their intensity.
- Journal your feelings. Many counselors recommend something called ‘writing therapy,’ a fancy term for journaling. When we feel rejected, journaling our painful feelings can take the sting out of them. Akin to writing therapy is something called ‘talk therapy.’ Again, it’s a fancy term for sharing you pain with others. It’s helpful to find a safe friend to process your feelings when rejected. In this post I share several qualities to look for in a safe friend.
- Refuse to base your identity on your ability to make 100% of the people happy 100% of the time. A temptation every ministry leader faces is to keep people happy 100% of the time. Trying to do that will kill you. We certainly don’t want to intentionally make people mad. But some people will never be pleased, no matter what you do. Jesus, the perfect leader, didn’t please everyone. In fact, John records this uber rejection of Jesus. From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. (John 6.66, NIV)
- Don’t magnify the pain by rejecting the rejector in return. It’s tempting to cut your rejectors off by rejecting them. When we do, we only exacerbate our pain. I once had a guy who did his best to convince the board that I was not the right pastor for the church. The board fully backed me. He left. A few months later I saw him in a store and had a choice. Would I walk down another aisle to avoid him, or would I walk toward him and try to shake his hand? I made the latter choice. I walked over, reached out my hand, and said, “Hi.” He glared at me and walked by without shaking my hand. Poor guy. He was a bitter dude. In such cases, apply the words Peter gave us about Jesus’ response to rejection. When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. (I Pt 2.23, NIV)
- Step back to keep or regain perspective. When rejection stings, our perspective can quickly become cloudy. We can easily extrapolate the rejection in our minds and assume that many other people feel the same way or will do the same thing (i.e., I wonder who else is leaving the church?). Remember, a rejection by one person is…rejection by one person. Such rejection seldom reflects the viewpoints of others. So, guard against the proverbial, “blowing things out of proportion.”
- If it’s a serious rejection, get professional help. Sometimes rejection is such a deep blow that we can’t navigate it on our own with a good cry or coffee with a friend. You may need professional help. Losing a job, losing a vote of confidence from your board, or significant numbers of people leaving your ministry probably qualify as significant rejections. Don’t feel ashamed to seek professional help. If you break an arm, you’ll see a doctor. If your heart gets broken, find a wise counselor to help bring healing.
Sometimes we’d rather experience physical pain that social pain, for good reason. Our brains are wired to recall the emotional pain of past rejection, but not past physical pain. So, rejection potentially carries a long lasting impact on our souls. Don’t take it lightly. Deal with it sooner that later.
What has helped you deal with rejection in ministry?