Distracted from Greatness

(Cover art by Elisha Guido courtesy of ideclarewarbook.com)

Distracted from Greatness

Excerpted from “I Declare War” by Levi Lusko (Copyright 2018). Used with permission from Fresh Life Church and W Publishing, an imprint of Thomas Nelson.

One particularly bad habit that threatens our ability to achieve greatness is our addiction to our screens. Americans spend up to five hours a day on our phones. Almost a third of the time we’re awake, we’re hunched over glowing screens. That’s more time given to any other activity in our lives besides sleeping. A hundred and fifty hours a month checking emails, sending texts, playing the newest game, shopping online, putting dog ears and noses on our faces, reading blogs, selecting GIFs and emojis, and catching up on Twitter. Over the course of a lifetime, that adds up to about fourteen years. Here’s a frightening thought: if you have an Instagram account, you are not actually their customer. Have you ever paid them for services rendered? How can you be a customer if you have never bought anything from them? Instagram receives money— you can be sure of that— but not from their users. A customer is one who buys goods or services from a business.

So who is an Instagram customer? Businesses. What does that make you and me? We are the product they are selling. Our eyeballs, to be precise, and little bits of our souls. Instagram gives the app away for free, and once we are on it our attention is sold to those who want to put things in front of us while we are there. We’re being used. 60 Minutes ran a special called “Brain Hacking” about how the cell phone industry spends an enormous amount of money to exploit the addictive properties of our electronic devices. Tech companies hire brain experts to figure out how to get us to launch apps more frequently and spend more time (and money) on them— in other words, to make their use a habit. “Likes,” texts, notifications, and emails trigger dopamine rewards in our brains, and we feel the same pleasure that comes from pulling a slot machine in a Las Vegas casino. Checking your phone or tablet is the equivalent of yanking the slot machine arm, because your mind is eager to see what is going to come next. When you haven’t touched your device in a while, your brain releases a stress hormone called cortisol in a plot to trigger another hit of dopamine, and you feel afraid you might be missing out on something. Justin Resenstein, the man who created the Facebook “like” button, now describes likes as “bright dings of pseudo- pleasure.” On that episode of 60 Minutes, Anderson Cooper interrupted the expert he was interviewing to say he couldn’t focus on the conversation because all he could think about was whether he had gotten a text. The researchers hooked him up to electrodes and put his phone out of sight; the needle jumped when Cooper’s phone buzzed and he couldn’t answer it. You could literally see the FOMO and PSA (phone separation anxiety) on the display coming from his brain! It’s unfortunate but true: the conditioned response of compulsively refreshing our email inboxes or messages or social accounts doesn’t satisfy you. It only deepens your dependence and leaves you like an alcoholic craving another drink. The experts admitted to such practices as holding back likes until a time when the algorithms indicate you are most likely to spend a good period of time on the device. That’s why you won’t get just one like but a burst of them. It’s all to turn your mind to mush. And it’s working. The robots are taking over, all right— only we are the robots, jumping every time the ping sounds and drooling every time the bell rings. How are you ever going to do all the great things God has called you to do if you give away that much control of yourself? I recently read David McCullough’s The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand For, and it stopped me dead in my tracks. McCullough is a celebrated historian whose bestsellers on subjects like the Revolutionary War, President John Adams, and the Wright brothers are all incredible reads. The American Spirit, however, is a collection of speeches he has given at college graduations and notable occasions like the two- hundredth anniversary of the building of the White House. His words shook me, especially when he talked about the fact that so many people today don’t read. Among those with a college degree, a third didn’t read a single book last year. Staggering! (If you have made it this far, you are probably going to finish, so yay, you!)

One part in particular that gave me pause was his description of Thomas Jefferson: “He read seven languages. He was a lawyer, surveyor, ardent meteorologist, botanist, agronomist, archaeologist, paleontologist, Indian ethnologist, classicist, brilliant architect. Music, he said, was the passion of his soul, mathematics, the passion of his mind.” Are you kidding me? Seven languages? A meteorologist? Indian ethnologist? Architect? But don’t pay any attention to that because music was his real passion— of his soul, anyway. In his mind, he was always a math guy. I read that paragraph out loud to Jennie and remarked, “This is why he was able to write the Declaration of Independence.” Which, by the way, he wrote at age thirty- three. Imagine sitting down, the entire Continental Congress breathing down your neck and George Washington waiting to cross the Potomac, and writing these words: “We hold these truths to be self- evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” If you put down your phone for a few minutes, picked up books a little more, and took up a hobby like paleontology or botany— or, heck, why not both and six more— perhaps you, too, would be capable of creating something that could change the world. The world doesn’t need another Declaration of Independence, but it does desperately need to see the greatness Jesus has given you— greatness that is bursting to come out. But you have to win the war with yourself before it can ever see the light of day.

The habits you allow in your life today are going to determine who you become tomorrow. Future you is an exaggerated version of current you. Time doesn’t change anything; it merely deepens and reveals who we are. If you are kind today, you will be kinder tomorrow. If you are cruel today, that, too, will deepen. Smile lines or frowning wrinkles are forming on your face at this very moment. Generous old people are people who, when they were young, lived lives of generosity, and cranky old people grew out of young people who never learned to get out of their own way. At a commencement speech David McCullough spoke to a generation that is addicted to the Internet and has lost sight of simple pleasures: “Sometime, somewhere along the line, memorize a poem. Sometime, somewhere along the line, go out in a field and paint a picture, for your own pleasure. Sometime, somewhere along the line, plant a tree, buy your father a good bottle of New York state wine, write your mother a letter.” Whatever new habits you decide on, make sure to write them down. Those who commit their goals to paper are 42 percent more likely to accomplish them and earn nine times as much over their lifetimes as people who don’t. As we make our way into the next chapter, where I’m going to talk more about how to weed your habit- garden, know this: it will feel really uncomfortable to jettison behavior that has been with you for a long time. Your desire for comfort will beg you to go back to how it used to be. But you mustn’t relent from what you wrote down at the beginning of the book, when you chose to declare war. I’m begging you.

People who die of hypothermia are often found naked. In their final moments, they were convinced they were hot, so they shed their clothes. What feels right and what is right are two very different things.

To find out more on Levi Lusko and “I Declare War” at: levilusko.com