Rest: your holidays have an enemy, and a co-conspirator


Rest.  Days off. Holidays.  Even the occasional evening off – how do we make the best use of it? After all, it’s not just a good part of the creation rhythm, but it’s a reminder of the gospel. Salvation – even a pastor’s salvation – is not accomplished by your work.

Well, we know the raw ingredient:

Stop working.

Don’t allow meetings, prep, or other stuff to crowd in.  I know this is hard: processing a difficult meeting, or mulling over a major issue, keep coming to mind.  But we have to discover how to do it.  I’ve learnt that in the early days of a holiday I need an occasional hour with a notebook, just to jot down all the stuff that appears when everything else just stops.  My family learnt that the best way to have me present was to allow me to have short leave to be absent. Otherwise those thoughts will keep on rolling, even when you’re in the pool.

And you know about quiet times, and books, and being physically active, and all that stuff.

So why is it so hard to stop working? Apart from being a workaholic, or proud, or controlling.  No, I didn’t think that was you.

The thing is, we have an enemy, and you’re probably holding it right now.

Technology is a wonderful blessing.  It can keep us efficient, focussed, on track, and well informed. It can keep us entertained – and it can keep the kinds entertained in the back of the car.


But we don’t always realise that much of the digital world is designed to work in the opposite direction. In particular anything that has red badge alerts (they’re red for a reason), or suggestions to update, or vibrations, is deliberately made to take us away from what we are doing, into something else  and to keep us there. That is the financial model: the longer that Facebook and keep you looking, the more ads it can show you, and the more revenue it earns from advertisers.  

It gets worse.  Your enemy has a co- conspirator, and you’re definitely using it right now.

Your brain.

Because that little dopamine hit you get when you find something updated, new, alerted, incoming – that’s what keeps you scrolling down, scrolling down.  It’s exactly the same mechanism that slot machine designers use to keep people pushing coins in and pulling the lever.  

Your phone is a one-armed bandit for your brain.  

That’s why you check your screen to see if you’ve had an email, and half an hour later you realise you’ve been watching weird videos of Jacob Rees-Mogg.  You didn’t intend to waste that time, and you dived in with purpose.  But, somehow, Google worked its dopamine magic, and there you are. Just be grateful it’s only Jacob Rees-Mogg you’ve been watching, because the online casinos and pornographers out there are world experts in dopamine hits.

What to do? Self-control is really hard to do in the moment, because the chemical pressure to continue is so strong.  So we need to set things up in advance.

Remember, we’re talking about time off, here.  When it comes to online distractions while you’re working, I strongly suggest the app called Freedom. It’s a clever web and app blocker; clever in that you can set it up to allow you, say, Spotify and Bible Gateway, but nothing else.  It works on phones and computers, and it syncs. Check it out in your app store of choice.

Basically, you want to make good decisions in a calm, dopamine free setting

1. Set up auto-reply on your email,  indicating that you’re away from your desk for a few days, and when you’re likely to return. If you want to be safe, put on an emergency phone number for a colleague if you have one.

2. Turn the email account off on your phone, in Settings.    If you use apps to communicate at church, delete those too (or if you don’t want go that far, turn off alerts, and move them into a folder that isn’t on your opening screen).

3. Turn off social media,  especially if you use it for work.  Remember: if you keep it on, and tweet abut the grand time you’re having in the south of Italy, you’ve told every crook and villain in your neighbourhood that they’ve got a good few days to do their stuff. Think about that before you Instagram that latte.

4. And if it’s really, really hard to do all this, get down to a phone shop and buy a cheap as chips, pay you go, dumb phone.      One where it’s fiddly to text, and the only game is Snakes. Your normal smart phone will have a call forwarding feature, and you can set up a small address book on your dumb phone for the family and friends you’ll really need to be able to reach out to.

Take that on hols with you, with a cheap notebook and pen, and you’re all set.

Now, where are my flip-flops, and that copy of War and Peace?

4 comments on “Rest: your holidays have an enemy, and a co-conspirator”

  1. Yes to all this.

    But also… we have more now to juggle and deal with and less resource to do so than ever before. And yet the onus to care for ourselves falls to us. I’m not sure that’s the right way round. The reason I struggle to shut down is more to do with the volume of “stuff” than my habits.

    1. Circumstances vary of course – but I do know that my (poor) digital habits often do contribute to the feeling of overwhelm, and minimise my effectiveness in responding. Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism is an excellent place to start.

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