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@JakeShell

LIFE AT MAXIMUM VELOCITY

Welcome to @JakeShell! We feature swim camps, a swim school, various products, and articles about life, sport, productivity, faith, purpose, success, and more!

More Retweets, Fewer Likes

Disclaimer: A part of me loathes the fact that I am writing an article about Social Media. Please, don't judge me too harshly; I still write daily with my fountain pen and fine paper. While I adore the old school, Social Media is here to stay, thus we should learn to use it properly and exploit its power whenever possible.

While Social Media tends to get a bad rap from the various personal productivity experts, I approach the topic with a neutral approach. Yes, Social Media can be a massive distraction and highly addictive when used unwisely, however, it can also be a fantastic tool when used with a clear purpose, specific goals, and a heavy dose of self-discipline. Similar to many tools in life, it can be used for good or can be a significant roadblock to success and personal productivity. While I am not here today to advocate for Social Media use as a worthwhile or worthless endeavor, I will highlight the good, and specifically, an area where we vastly underutilize its potential as a tool for said good. The topic I tackle today is the "like vs. retweet" features on Twitter, and one could apply the same approach to "likes vs. shares" on Facebook as well. As Twitter is my Social Media tool of choice, I will focus mainly on the topic of "likes vs. retweets."

In short, we like far too many tweets and retweet far too little. We are missing an opportunity to use Twitter as a productive tool, instead falling into a trap where so many users of Social Media fail; our narcissistic tendencies and the never ending quest for a quick hit of dopamine (likes) trump the ability to virally spread important messages to the masses (retweet). A "like" provides little value; to desire likes is nothing more than an ego-driven quest for higher and higher numbers, as the more likes we get the better we feel about our self-worth as humans. It is quite sad, indeed. A retweet, by comparison, allows us to share (hopefully virally), information and content that we think would be beneficial to others. And it is in the retweet that Twitter becomes more than a Social Media platform, it becomes a massively powerful communication tool used to spread ideas, knowledge, and "stuff people need to know" in general. To like someone's tweet is to massage their ego; to retweet valuable content is to change the world (or at the very least educate the masses). It is on retweets we should focus, not likes. 

Three recent examples highlight the above points, and they come close to angering me in a way - I want to shout: "more retweets!!!" To those who chose to only like the following tweets:

In the first example, we'll look at two separate tweets concerning Liberty's recent jump from FCS to FBS football. FBS football was a dream of this university since our founding in 1971, as from the start our goal was not to be another small bible college, no, the dream was to be a top national university, a "Triple A" school if you will, with top national Academics, Arts, and Athletics, all while maintaining a Christ-centered focus. The move to FBS football was the absolute biggest news, the single biggest event, to ever happen to this university from an athletic standpoint, in our entire history. This news sent ripples across the national college football landscape, and for Liberty, it was a long-time dream come true. Given the gravity of the event, one would think the Social Media response would be fitting; sadly, it was not.

The original Liberty Flames Twitter handle tweet is below, with 315 retweets and 370 likes. My question is to the 55 users who chose to like the news but declined to retweet said news...what were they thinking? Again, this was and is the single biggest news, the single biggest event, to ever happen to Liberty athletics, and 55 users "liked" the tweet but failed to see the value in spreading the word. And so it is, there are myriad people out there who still do not know we did in fact, move up to FBS football.

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The second tweet was again from Liberty Flames, with 360 likes, but only 146 retweets. Quite sad, indeed.

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In the second example, the news of the construction of our new Natatorium here at @LUSwimDive is easily the biggest, most important event in the young history of our swimming & diving program. The Facebook post on our swimming & diving fan page announcing the facility garnered an impressive 386 likes, but only 69 shares. If you are a Liberty Flames fan and you "liked" the news but did not choose to share it... The post is below:

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 And so it is, similar to FBS football, there are a plethora of people out there that do not yet know we are building the best on-campus swimming & diving facility on the entire East Coast, and a top-10 facility nationwide. For our growth as a program, this is news worth sharing, not just liking. We want more people to know - but what of the 317 who liked but did not share? Do they not care if more people know about our new facility?

And the list goes on and on. I could post countless examples of Liberty Flames fans liking tweets but not retweeting, and the same for Facebook posts in regards to likes and shares. I should note - I am not suggesting that we blindly retweet every post we read. The world would be a better place with fewer grumpy cat or bae tweets in circulation...but the big news or great articles should certainly deserve a retweet or a share if you care about the success of your institution, if using the university example, or the impact that important thoughts have on the collective in regards to great articles. Consider one of the latest from Bill Gates, who specifically states his tweet is worth sharing:

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The article, which highlights how a program started by President Bush in 2005 saved over 2 million African children from Malaria, earned him 1,990 retweets compared to 8,343 likes. The richest man in the world is suggesting those who read the tweet share it...retweet it...yet still four times as many people "liked" the tweet vs. retweeted it. Astonishing. 

And thus, we need more retweets and fewer likes. A like is slightly better than pointless in my humble opinion and does little to spread the news of big events and thought-provoking articles. A like makes little impact, while a share or retweet helps to spread great news and important thoughts. In the case of Liberty, FBS football, and Natatorium news, it is the retweets we want, not the likes. Ideally, the news goes viral; I don't particularly care how many people "like" that we are building a pool. I certainly do want every swimmer and club/high school coach in the country to know we are building a pool (and going FBS in football). Are you a Liberty fan? You should want the same if you desire success for our athletic programs and our university as a whole. A retweet will help us spread the word...a like, while it "feels good," does little to raise our profile on the national level. Our egos are not fragile - it is not likes we need - retweets preferred!

The Four Pillars of Elite Human Performance

My thoughts today are brief; recruiting for the 2018 signing class is in full swing, thus, the overwhelming majority of my time is currently spent on matters relating to said recruitment. Length aside, I trust this article provides value, however short it is. Nothing I share here is new or groundbreaking, and such is the point. In a world full of biohacking, fad diets, and extreme forms of exercise, I believe it is time that we speak again to the basics, a return to the fundamentals, if you will. I am of the belief that four pillars of elite human performance, ranked in order of importance:

1. Sleep
2. Diet
3. Exercise
4. Stress Management

form the bedrock of success, in all areas of life. Furthermore, I believe that these four pillars must be mastered in order to fully extract the benefits of still higher-level performance pursuits. Mastering these four pillars provides a scientifically proven, time-tested, whole-body hardware and software upgrade that will transform not just individuals, but teams, organizations, businesses, and the world at large if adopted en masse. Imagine the productivity, for example, of a 25-person company where all 25 employees sleep well, eat clean, exercise consistently, and take the time to upgrade their software. I would bet on their success over a similar company where the employees were a physical and emotional mess. But my goal today is not so much world change, more so to bring the individual back to focusing on the power of the fundamental basics. So powerful in fact are these four, their benefits simply cannot be challenged, for to do so would be as though challenging the laws of nature itself.

While the gurus will say to question everything (and I would agree, on most occasions), the efficacy of the aforementioned pillars simply cannot be questioned. I digress. They can be questioned, and they can be challenged, but those attempts would be futile; anyone with the arrogance to disagree is, quite simply, wrong. While we may debate whether there are four pillars or three, or that diet is more important than sleep, or that perhaps other pursuits such as practicing gratitude, reading, or journaling provide a better benefit, we must agree that proper sleep, diet, exercise, and stress management provide myriad benefits to those seeking elite performance in life. You may not rank them in your top four, but to challenge their individual benefits is a losing proposition, indeed. 

But we do not want the basics. We loathe simplicity. Americans, in general, have a funny habit of making life more complicated than needed, particularly in the realm of human performance. Perhaps it is human nature, or perhaps it is learned behavior. While the origins matter not, we cannot escape the truth; by and large, the majority attempt walking before crawling, and we are apt to run before we walk. My goal today is to bring us back to a level of sanity, to a thought process that focuses on the basics, the premise that in order to attain still higher levels of human performance, we must first learn to master the vital few. I believe that proper groundwork is needed to build to higher levels - without the four pillars of elite performance, the lure of complicating life with more advanced techniques is as though chasing after the wind. As per one example: while supplementing with glutathione is a worthy endeavor, what good is it without first mastering proper sleep habits? Will supplementing provide a benefit? Sure. Would optimizing your sleep provide a greater multiplier? Absolutely. A poor diet supplemented is still a poor diet. Poor sleep habits masked by caffeine? You know the answer. 

Of note - I define performance with a broad and open-ended brush, as this article is not meant to focus on sport and athletic performance alone. Musicians, writers, husbands, wives, artists, business executives, all white and blue collar types in general, professors, students, parents, friends, those who drive or fly for a living, and yes, athletes and weekend warriors as well, are all included in my definition of elite life performance. Everyone, no matter their standing in life, their profession, or their goals, is at all times a slave to the four pillars, and they would be wise to obey their masters.

By performance, some specific examples: the recall ability of a professor at the lectern, the ease with which an athlete graces the field, and the ability of a business associate to connect with potential clients during a presentation are all dependent in some way on the four pillars, and this is a fact that we cannot escape. Do you want to be a more successful athlete? Sleep and diet surely help. Do you want to be the best version of yourself for your friends and family? Exercise. For parents, stress management is a must to fully engage and connect with your children; the results of not doing so can be devastating to their development (and your health). 

Thus, we must return to the basics, to the fundamentals of elite human performance. Sleep. Diet. Exercise. Stress management. Often the biggest gains in performance come from the simplest of "hacks," and the effects (both positive and negative) multiply over time. Start now, start today. Even better, start yesterday. Return to the basics, and keep it simple. Focus on proper sleep (quality and quantity), diet, exercise, and stress management. You will perform better in all areas of life, and the investment in becoming a better version of yourself will pay dividends both personally and professionally. The sacrifice is well worth the additional performance benefits. 

Rethinking Global Missions

Disclaimer: These thoughts are my own, and do not represent the views of my employer.

Is it time we reexamine the role global missions work plays in the American church? I believe the time has come, yes, and perhaps it is well past time. I believe we as a church should pause and think deeply and strategically about the next 10-15 years of missions work. Have we lost our way? Have we lost focus? What are our priorities? What is it that we want to see from our collective resources? What is the opportunity cost of our current practice of supporting world missions? Are we aware of current religious trends here in the United States, and if so, how much do we care? What of our children and grandchildren - what kind of nation do we want to leave for them, and how will our current focus on world missions impact these United States they will someday inherit?

I believe we are approaching a crossroads in American history, a point of no return if you will, and if we do not change our current course we will awake one day to find ourselves in a foreign land, one that we do not recognize, and one that is different in kind than what our parents and grandparents knew. The trends are alarming, indeed, and my goal today is to shed light on these cultural changes and inspire the aforementioned pause and deep thinking. Perhaps I will even inspire a shift in priority; if just one reader or church changes course, I will have succeeded in sharing my thoughts and writing this article. If nothing else, I believe we as a church collective need to acknowledge and accept the trends I will highlight - only once we identify the challenge can we go about solving it.

The American church as a collective is diminishing, both in terms of numbers and influence. To say the church is dying might be extreme, but the trends point towards a slow decline that certainly does not resemble "living" in the long run. Those "in the know" and those who study such issues are well aware of the above facts, and they've known for quite some time. Unfortunately, the greater American church as a whole is not doing enough, in my humble opinion, to combat such trends, instead pouring resources into overseas missions while our numbers and influence wane here at home. Just a few of the startling trends, citing various Gallup polls:

  • In the 1950's, more than 95% of U.S.adults identified as Christian
  • By 2008 that number shrunk to 80%
  • By 2015 the number shrunk still further, to 75%
  • 72% of Americans believe that religion is losing its influence on American life
  • In 1965, 70% of Americans said that religion was "very important" in their lives, that number since dropped to 53% today
  • While more than 80% of those over age 50 identify as Christian, only 62% of those 18-29 do the same

And the list goes on and on. These numbers should be alarming, and it is here and now that I yearn for those in positions of power and influence within the American church to pause, reflect, think, and meditate on such trends. That we are spreading the Gospel to the far ends of the earth is noble, indeed, and I am not suggesting we cease world missions altogether...but I do believe we should rethink the emphasis it receives. While we've gone overseas to spread the message of salvation, our own percentage of believers here in the U.S. has decreased, and these trends show no sign of slowing. From 95% in the 1950's to 75% today...what will the data show in 2050? In 2100? Again, I ask, have we as a church collective given this much thought, and if so, how much do we care?

An Alternative Viewpoint: America First

While the point of this article is not to delve into politics, let me highlight a few points of interest from the 2016 election. Donald Trump won some 80% of the Evangelical Christian vote, and did so on a platform that often featured the slogan "America First." While it sounds good as political stump speech, I would be ecstatic if those same 80% of Evangelicals in America took it to heart and applied the same approach to missions and outreach as well. Why not "America First" as it relates to religion? The Christian Right loved it during the campaign - why not apply it across the board?

We have many challenges here in the U.S., ranging from poverty and homelessness to health care and drug abuse. To drive the point home further, a specific example: In 2014 Veterans made up 8.5% of the U.S. population, and accounted for 18% of suicide deaths. Here in Lynchburg, the poverty rate of 22% is twice the Virginia state average, and 30% of those are children. How is this possible given the fact that Lynchburg is also home to the world's largest Christian university and a plethora of churches?

Prior to the 1930's and especially the 1960's, it was largely the church collective that pitched in to help solve such challenges, and the church served as the bedrock of American community life. Since then, the federal government has taken over this role formerly held by the church, and it is my opinion that church influence suffered as a result. In his commencement address at Liberty University on May 13, 2017, Trump espoused:

"In America, we don't worship government, we worship God."

While yes, that is still largely true, I would debate that as government influence grew, church influence diminished, and the Gallup numbers would go a long way in helping to prove such beliefs. One could debate that many in fact do rely on and "worship" the federal government. Dare I say, if more church resources were poured into the everyday challenges in American life, more Americans would have a reason to rely on, and be influenced by, the church collective as a whole. I believe wholeheartedly that a reprioritizing of our collective outreach would do much to reverse the trend of Americans fleeing Christianity. I cannot prove this, but believe it to be so.

And thus, by and large, I vote America first. Buy fresh, buy local. Made in the U.S.A. This is the classic trolley problem made famous in psychological circles, and I know which lever I would pull. I will save my family before those I do not know, and just the same I would want to save my country before saving foreign lands in which I have no affiliation. The church I currently attend supports seven missionary families in five different countries. Again, a noble pursuit, but at what opportunity cost when we have myriad challenges here in Lynchburg, and here in the U.S.? What is our yearly budget to support those seven families? What could those resources (time, energy, money) do for our local community here in Lynchburg? Could it decrease poverty? Crime? Out of wedlock and teen birth rates? Drug abuse? Homelessness? Have we thought about the opportunity cost of sending said resources overseas?

If I have a dollar to give and have the choice between a poor family here in Lynchburg and a poor family in "XYZ" country abroad, I am choosing Lynchburg, every time. It is the trolley problem extrapolated on a global scale, and I believe wholeheartedly we should help our neighbors and do everything possible to help our local communities before we go overseas. "But we have government programs to help such people," they say. Yes, we do...but see the Gallup numbers once again regarding the influence of the church in American society today. I desire the church to once again be the bedrock of American social welfare, not the federal government.

Opposition

But what of unreached people groups, you ask? Yes, I understand fully the Great Commission and the importance of reaching those with the Gospel that have not heard...but again there is an opportunity cost involved, and we cannot deny the above Gallup numbers when we look at worldwide missions and church outreach. It is a grand trolley problem, indeed. Again, let me reiterate - as we go overseas to spread the Gospel, Christianity is slowly dying here in the United States. At some point, we will have to come to terms with such facts as a church collective, and hopefully sooner rather than later. It would pain me to someday see missionaries from other countries traveling to the U.S. to spread the Gospel to those who do not believe...you may laugh, but the trend line is present for all to see:

95% in the 1950's

75% today

...and with no signs of slowing. Look no further than Western Europe as a simple case in point: Just 17% of Britons identified with the Anglican Church in 2014, and to say that the role and influence of Christianity has diminished in Western Europe over the last 50 years in quite the understatement, indeed.

Conclusion

I am doing my part, albeit a small part that that. I give only to our benevolence, building, and general fund at my church; I do not give to the missions fund. I have thought this decision through quite thoroughly, and sleep well at night knowing I am doing said small part to make Lynchburg and in turn our country a better place. Through my daily interactions with friends and colleagues, I try to inspire others to do the same, and my hope in writing this article is to inspire you to do likewise. If not convinced, by all means, reexamine the Gallup numbers - for anyone concerned about the fate of Christianity in these United States (and all religions, in general) the numbers are certainly troublesome, indeed.

Imagine an extreme example of a United States where every church and non-profit (yes, all of them), poured 100% (yes, all) of their time, energy, and financial resources into their local communities. How might our country look? Could we make a larger dent in homelessness, poverty, hunger, and crime? Could we reverse the startling trend of an increasing number of single mothers? What could the church collective do for health care, substance abuse, and care for our Veterans, areas where the federal government has often failed or is otherwise inept?

I would like to think that we could have a huge impact, indeed. While this 100% is a utopian dream of sorts, and will certainly never happen in my lifetime, it is my (admittedly) selfish desire for this country that we try. It is nearly criminal that in the richest nation the world has ever known, a percentage of its children go to bed hungry at night, and veterans commit suicide at a rate twice that of the general population. I believe the church can and should do more. Our federal government is hoplessly inefficient in many cases, and I believe the American church collective can do it better, cheaper, and through goodwill and charity vs. the forced altruism that a federal government requires. As an added bonus to the church playing a larger role, more people would, in turn, rely on the church, and I see this as a win-win for anyone concerned with the future of Christianity in America. 

Liberty University Center for Digital Wellness

 

A recurring theme throughout my writings over the past two years is that of digital addiction, and specifically the power that Social Media and other forms of digital communication hold over our lives and the way we use our precious time. I shall revisit such themes today, and though I do not see said power releasing its grip anytime soon, I will offer a message of hope; there are many prominent influencers taking notice, and they are working hard to motivate the masses to disconnect from the digital and reconnect to that which is present and authentic.

While I won't repeat all of my prior debating points here, you can read my thoughts on the topic in the following articles. While I may be biased, I do believe all are worth a read, and I do believe all will impact your life in a positive way should you put action behind my words.

Social Media vs. Social Capital - What is authentic social networking? 

Technology Dependence & Addiction - Technology use rewires our brains. 

Creation vs. Consumption - Create more and consume less. When we do consume, consume that which brings us closer to our goals. 

Think! - Turn off the tech, schedule dedicated time to think, and put fountain pen to paper. 

Deep Work - A review of Deep Work by Twitterless Cal Newport, who urges his readers to quit Social Media, go deep, and become true masters of their craft. 

Monastic Trails - There is value in silence and solitude, for our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health. The challenge is we must disconnect to obtain it. 

In short, to summarize:

1. Airplane mode is your friend. Unplug. Disconnect.

2. Reconnect to real life. Take a walk. Have a face to face conversation. Read a book. Paint a picture. Keep a journal. Go for a run. Hike. Study. Learn. Live. Laugh. Love. 

3. Reap the benefits - lower stress levels, increased academic and athletic performance, higher levels of personal productivity, more depth in our relationships, more passion, purpose, and fulfillment in life in general, and yes, more happiness as well.

In an aim to help our students here at Liberty to do just that, I am thrilled to share that we started a Center for Digital Wellness, believed to be the first of its kind at a university in the country. Say what you will about our beliefs; I would hope that even the staunchest Liberty opponents would agree that this is a good thing, and I believe we can find common ground around the above themes of digital toxicity and the need to disconnect more often.

I hope more universities and high schools follow our lead, as by and large, I believe this population group is the one most affected by the outbreak of digital addiction. While I can't prove such a statement, many experts in the field of neuroscience and cognitive psychology agree wholeheartedly, and I reference their research in the above articles. But don't take my or their word for it - simply walk down the hallways or sidewalks of your local university. Go there, and see such examples for yourself. On any given day as I walk the halls at Liberty, half of the students I pass are on their phones, meandering mindlessly about, as though zombies, stupefied in their own digital worlds. Try as I may, avoiding them is a challenge, indeed. An impending collision is a certainty, and I am surprised hallway accidents don't happen more often with so many students glued to their screens. 

But there is hope. Liberty Professor Sylvia Hart Frejd founded said Center for Digital Wellness, and you can read more about the founding here. And thankfully, the word is spreading. Just this morning, Dr. Frejd joined Liberty President Jerry Falwell on Fox and Friends to share the news. You can see the segment of the show here. And finally, you can visit the Center's homepage on our website here

This is an idea whose time has come, and again I hope more will take up the cause. As Charles Murray would say, we are missing out on the "stuff of life" because we are engrossed in our technology and digital worlds. The goal of our Center for Digital Wellness is to encourage a healthy relationship with our tech, with the understanding that while a useful tool, technology can be quite destructive when misused as well. Finding a healthy balance is key, and our Center aims to do just that. Take the Digital Wellness Challenge for example, which encourages students to do the following:

1. I commit to using technology as a tool that makes my life simpler, more productive, and embrace its many benefits.

2. I commit to finding my true identity in God and not in my likes or friend count.

3. I commit to being salt and light by engaging our culture in a positive way through Social Media. (Be Salt and Like)

4. I commit to seeking face-to-face conversations and connections as much as possible during my day.

5. I commit to practicing being present and savoring the moment and not try to hoard every experience through technology.

6. I commit to taking digital breaks throughout my day – where I breathe in fresh air, get sunshine on my face and do some exercise.

7. I commit to not using technology as an escape from my feelings and emotions and will instead use a journal for processing my feelings.

8. I commit to finding moments each day for SILENCE AND SOLITUDE, to make space to hear the voice of God, and resist a culture of noise and distraction.

9. I commit to not access inappropriate content through the Internet, and to enlist accountability when needed.

10. I commit to practicing digital wellness for a lifetime to live God’s purpose and calling for my life.

 ©Dr. Sylvia Hart Frejd

While not all may share the religious beliefs, certainly we can all agree that the above challenges are good, worthy, and should be taken up by all high school and college students. And we shouldn't stop there; ideally, in a perfect world, everyone accepts this challenge. Said world would certainly be a more friendly and productive place, both personally and professionally!

And yes, I understand fully the contradiction here; I am urging readers to disconnect from technology and Social Media, while writing my thoughts on an iPad Pro and distributing through a blog and...Social Media. See my thoughts on Creation vs. Consumption above; the key is calculated consumption, or the idea that we consume that which moves us closer to our goals in life, and ceasing the consumption of information that drives us from that which we desire to accomplish. Technology, Social Media, and the digital world are useful tools when used wisely; in my humble opinion the reading of this article was a wise decision, indeed. Now...feel free to disconnect!

 

 

Monastic Trails

A weekly church bulletin is the last place one would expect to find a reference to Cal Newport and his widely acclaimed book "Deep Work," but there I was, three weekends ago at Grace Church in Lynchburg, VA, pleasantly surprised to see just that. While the bulletin was not in reference to Cal or the book specifically, it did invoke images of a term he labels "Monastic Work", a method of cognitive output in which the adherent is secluded in a concentrated, highly-focused, deeply-intensive and distraction-free work zone for several days, weeks, months, or in extreme cases, years at a time. Imagine scribes in an early European Monastery or Monks in a secluded retreat high up in the Himalaya in what is now modern-day Nepal; this is the Monastic style in action, and as Cal states often, can produce significant results both in terms of quality and quantity of results achieved.

The section of the bulletin was entitled "Monastic Trails," in reference to a trail through a wood created by a Grace Church couple on their farm, with the intent to foster silence, solitude, and a Monastic experience for their enjoyment, reflection, and spiritual growth. They open this trail to others on occasion, and often in the weeks leading up to Easter Sunday, the goal to encourage believers to experience the power of the Resurrection, while secluded in nature and practicing silence and solitude to deepen their Faith.

It is not just on spiritual matters where I will focus my thoughts today, however one could obviously apply the lessons learned here to a spiritual practice, and of any faith. My thoughts focus on "Monastic Work" specifically, and how one might benefit from this style of deep work without having to move to Nepal or join a Monastery in upstate New York. I do believe everyone can benefit from a deep foray into the realm of Monasticism, whether they be secular or religious, service or professional, knowledge or manual labor, white or blue collar, etc.. Monastic work can be adopted by all, and with great benefits to those who practice it seriously.

As mentioned, Monastic Work is characterized by an extended amount of distraction-free, focused, deep work, often in an environment and location different from the "normal" workplace. I believe environment is of the highest importance, and I will speak further to environment below. For now, know that I believe it paramount, in my humble opinion, to practice Monastic Work in a location that is different from your regular place of employment or work space. There are myriad examples of Monastic Work in action throughout time and in the modern day, and Cal covers many in his book. 

I would expand on Cal's definition further, including such activities as hiking, camping, hunting, vacationing in general, and business trips as ideal candidates in which to practice Monastic Work. While Cal is writing for the professional, knowledge worker crowd, as anyone such as myself that comes from a manual labor background knows, Monastic Work is not just for writers, artists, professors, and other creative types. A week-long hunting trip into the woods of Potter County, PA, with your father, when you are 12 years old, is quite the Monastic experience indeed, and includes all the benefits associated with this type of work for the knowledge worker class.

And of the benefits, there are many. As I've written ad nauseam on this site, we live in a distracted world, with our attention, focus, and time fragmented on a scale that was unheard of just a generation ago. As Cal would agree, to go deep into an undistracted work session is rare, and the "work" I describe here is again, not limited to the knowledge class alone. A father and son on a hunting trip, connecting with nature and with each other, free from wi-fi and cellular distractions, may be different "work" than a professor finishing a proof or the last chapter of a book, but is certainly not any less important. Different, but not less important.

Students can benefit from Monastic Work in their academic studies. A greater depth and understanding of coursework and related information is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the benefits; surely that term paper would be of a higher quality if it were written free from the distraction of Snaps, Insta, and Facebook. Couples and families alike can find benefit from Monastic vacations and weekend escapes. How often do families unplug, get away for a while, and go to work on their unit? Do they go deep? How well do they know each other? Do they spend quality time together? For the Grace members who took advantage of the Monastic Trails that opened this article, I am certain there was something to be gained in their spiritual lives. Silence and solitude are tremendous vehicles for spiritual growth; the results are magnified when combined with a Monastic focus. Religion, after all, is where we popularized the term - surely our spiritual practices, of all faiths, would benefit from Monastic Work.

And the list goes on and on. Extended periods of distraction-free, focused work can do wonders for the soul, our creative output, our studies, our families, and for our lives in general. We need only commit to Monasticism to reap the benefits.

But how? Is it possible to practice monastic work in our always-on, constantly connected society, where instant email response is seen as a sign of working hard, and open loops provide for a never-ending cycle of stress and response in the brain? I believe it is possible, yes, and I believe it is possible for everyone, from professors and coaches in academia to auto mechanics, farmers, and steelworkers alike. In fact, I would debate it is easier for a farmer to practice Monastic Work than a college swimming coach, and I know from experience, as I grew up on a family farm and now coach swimming for a living.

Action Steps:

1. First and foremost, commit to a time block of Monastic Work.

Plan the time into your calendar. For fans of The One Thing, this is time blocking your time off first. For some this might be a vacation, for others, a sabbatical. For students, it might mean a period in the summer or a few days of spring break. Whatever your current occupation and stage of life, you probably won't be working a full 365 days over the next calendar year, so take the time now to schedule a period of Monastic Work. How long? This will depend on your specific occupation and time availability - ideally, you are scheduling multiple days in a row to allow yourself total immersion. Simply skimming the surface will not allow you to reap the full benefits of Monastic Work.

2. Protect your period of Monastic Work.

Again, a concept borrowed from The One Thing. It is funny what we humans will fight for when motivated to do so - consider our current political climate as just one small example. Imagine, if as a collective whole, we fought for periods of deep, focused, distraction-free, Monastic Work with as much vigor as we wage our political battles. Where might our time and energy be better spent? Political jokes aside, the point remains; protect your time with as much energy as is needed to see it through to fruition. A conflict may arise - do you have the energy, willpower, and fortitude to say no? Be intentional, and be strong. Have the courage to say no to attempts at sabotage. No one is expected to work 365 days a year, nor should they. It is your time...take it!

3. Prepare for the work, and plan ahead accordingly.

Again, I believe wholeheartedly that location and environment matter. Mark Twain had his cabin in the woods, and Walden and Thoreau will forever be linked throughout time immemorial. Teddy had his Badlands, and London his Beauty Ranch and the Klondike. Here too, the list goes on and on. While one does not need a distinct, special location in which to practice Monastic Work, there is much benefit from a cognitive and overall physical standpoint when digital and social distractions are removed, and nature is introduced. The research in this area is definitive, and growing; our brains and bodies work better in a writing shack in the woods than in an office in the city. We know this instinctively, but few go to the lengths needed to make their unique, ideal environment a reality. And the ideal location is certainly subjective, it is unique to the individual. Some may prefer the Outer Banks, others the Sierra Nevada. For still others, a hunting cabin will suffice. I've had the privilege to experience Monastic Work in all three of the aforementioned locations, and all have their benefits. In a perfect Monastic work space, one is far enough away from society that cell phones lose coverage, thus removing altogether the ability to reconnect should one be tempted to do so. If this isn't possible, make a commitment to keep the phone turned off. It is nearly impossible to practice authentic Monastic Work - to allow the brain to engage fully in your endeavors - when distracted by the lure of the digital abyss.

4. Execute the plan. Do it. (And keep the phone turned off)

No further commentary required here...do it!

In Closing

Periods of brief or extended Monastic Work are attainable for all, and immensely beneficial for those willing to commit to the process. Whether writing the next great American Novel or the next chapter in a marriage, deep, focused, distraction-free Monastic Work is a goal that we should all aspire to achieve, and experience frequently in our lives.

I make time for Monastic Work on average two times a year, and while not for as long as I would prefer, the benefits of just a few consecutive days of disconnectedness from the digital world produced long-lasting results. While my output pales in comparison to the Giants I mentioned above (along with running a country, Roosevelt also authored some 35 books or so), I would not have published my Power Tower Book or written the 60 articles on this site without my intermittent Monastic habits.

I remember not what I "missed" on social media or through text message/email during those days of pleasant disconnectedness, but the Power Tower book and blog articles remain. Far more value do I add to the world collective through said articles and books than my text messages or Facebook posts, and contrary to popular belief, I didn't lose a single friend in the process of disconnecting.

What do you want to accomplish, whether personally or professionally? Is it a better relationship with your spouse or children? Is there a big project at work that could benefit from Monastic depth? Perhaps you want to rekindle a spiritual fire that the digital world has a funny habit of dampening? Whatever it is that you can envision, Monastic Work can help you achieve, and I urge you to dive in, head first. Perhaps your next week-long vacation is split in half, for example, with four days of disconnected, Monastic Deep Work (in an area that may or may not be associated with your day job), combined with three days of a normal vacation? The benefits are many, and the drawbacks are near zero for this type of work. Now get to it, and as Cal would say - go deep!

Copyright 2016, @JakeShell, LLC