We all begin the year with a fervour for change, progress and productivity. This year I wanted to wrangle my digital habits, particularly on my smartphone, and sharpen some spiritual disciplines. A midyear review can be confronting, but it is worth considering whenever you have a moment to catch your breath and reflect.
The person I become on the first day of every year is a curious beast. She is filled with immutable optimism as she writes her goals and her weekly plans for the shiny year ahead. All previous failed attempts at changing everything all at once are banished from memory as midnight strikes and she is reborn, like a beautiful phoenix rising from the ashes of unfinished to-do lists.
That first of January version of me, bless her, is reckless; completely hyped on holidays, Lindt chocolate and honey-glazed Christmas ham.
The July version of me, she’s seen some things. Like many of you, the July version of me is wiser, more circumspect. She is acutely aware that the books she bought six months ago are gathering dust on the bookshelf. She is not the prayer warrior she wanted to be this year. She is not as selfless or as disciplined as she hoped to be.
Fuel your faith every Friday with our weekly newsletter
My goals and objectives were not even what you might consider challenging. They were based more on values than desired outcomes. That is, I wanted to feel more authentic in my life and faith, rather than tick a bunch of things off a bucket list.
Being more present in my life and more present to God should be easy, but in the fast pace and casual discomfort of life, I find it easier to look at a screen, for work or for leisure, than sit in contemplative silence.
As much as we’d all like to throw our phones into the ocean, we need to find solutions that work with the tech, not against it.
I read all the articles and books about ‘disconnecting’, but calls to delete all the apps or make a ‘digital sabbath’ happen don’t feel achievable for me. Being connected is not only my job; it’s the way I learn, build relationships, stay abreast of current affairs and speak to interstate and international family. It is deeply integrated into my life.
As much as we’d all like to throw our phones into the ocean, we need to find solutions that work with the tech, not against it. If you’re like me, you may need a midyear revamp of your digital and spiritual life. I’ve road-tested some hacks and tweaks to my digital habits and spiritual practices which may just work for a busy, digitally entangled, working and/or studying human like you.
1. First things first
Are you hardwired to reach for your phone the minute you open your eyes every morning? If you can leave your phone in another room, amazing! If not, make that first contact count. Open your Bible app before you go to sleep, so it’s the first thing you see when you unlock your phone in the morning. Before you check the news or respond to the family WhatsApp, read the Word.
Focus on consistency rather than quantity of Scripture read.
Love them or hate them, you can use YouVersion’s ‘streaks’ feature to build the habit of reading your Bible every day. Over time, you may find that your appetite for consuming other digital media begins to wane, which is a nice bonus.
If you’re out of the habit of reading the Bible, focus on consistency rather than quantity of Scripture read. Opening the Bible and reading the verse of the day every day is better than avoiding the Bible for days because you can’t get through a chapter.
2. Engage mindfully
Mindless social media scrolling is the worst. No one wants to do it, but the platforms we use daily are designed to be addictive.
If you can’t take a hard break from your digital habits, build some self-awareness into your use of various apps and channels. First, take stock of which apps you spend the most time on. Delete the apps you simply don’t need to access on your phone, then build some parameters around the ones you need to keep.
No one wants to scroll social media, but the platforms we use daily are designed to be addictive.
Before you next open a time-wasting app, write a note in your Reminders app (iOS) of what you intend to do on the platform and set a deadline, say in 10 minutes’ time. Whether it’s content creation, reading an article you saved, connecting with others or having a brain break, you have set an intention and allocated time to the task. When the reminder notification pops up at the end time, you get the prompt to finish up and move on.
If you need a little more automated support with curtailing your digital habits, you could download a focus app for your smartphone or a plugin for your desktop browser. Some popular options that work well include Freedom, One Sec, Focus or (if you need something insanely militant) SelfControl.
3. Digital spiritual practice
There are some great digital tools available that can help you to redesign your devotional practices.
YouVersion offers the Daily Refresh feature for a short teaching and reminder to pray through Scripture. Lectio365 walks you through the practice of lectio divina, meditating on Scripture. The app is based on a simple P.R.A.Y rhythm: Pause to be still; Rejoice with a Psalm; Reflect on Scripture; Ask for God’s help; and Yield to his will in your life.
The Pause app is another simple tool you can use to intentionally take a break and prayerfully focus on God for just one minute.
Again, if you’re starting fresh, remember to first focus on daily consistency rather than expending a huge amount of effort. Choose one tool that works with your capacity right now. If a minute is all you have, take that minute every day until you have built a habit. Then challenge yourself with five minutes and so on.
4. Joy-filled disconnection
Our brains and souls do well when we are offline. Unfortunately, this fact alone may not be enough of an incentive to release our clutch on our devices. Time away from our screens should be compelling, fun and facilitate deep relational connection.
Fun is not frivolous; it’s incredibly useful when you’re trying to build new rhythms of rest and disconnection. Schedule fun offline activities that force you to log off. Join a choir, community group or church group to meet new people. Start reading great fiction to unwind at night. Leave your phone at home the next time you take your kids to the playground. Find a pool or a sauna or a beach you can pop into before or after work.
These activities make screen-free time less of a chore. That’s a good thing when you’re trying to create new digital habits and spiritual practices.