Book Review: Cal Newport’s Deep Work

Let’s start by stating the obvious: we live in a perpetually distracted world.

I noticed a while back that I had trouble even washing the dishes without putting something on. Music, at least, probably a podcast or even a YouTube video. It felt weird to simply do. That’s when I started to realize I was addicted to distraction. Distraction, not focus, was the norm in my life.

I’d been thinking about this for a while when I read Deep Work, which is more about how we work than it is about distraction and the digital world (which Newport’s more recent book is about). But you can’t talk about focus and deliberate concentration without scrutinizing our world’s norms around tech and social media.

Newport criticizes these norms that, he points out, are often accepted just because they’re there. It’s not that they’re helpful (though they can be) or better. They’re just there, so we use them. And it’s not just the technology – it’s office and workspaces too. The style is often “open concept” so that we can have as much “connection” and stimulation (i.e. distraction) as possible. This is a bad recipe for “knowledge workers” and others who need focus to produce their best work and compete in a tough economy.

If it’s not becoming clear, Newport’s concept of “deep work” goes against this grain. He himself encourages readers to find the spaces and practices conducive to concentration and limiting distraction. He gives clear suggestions and principles and uses some psychological concepts in doing so. It’s very pragmatic, and like any good productivity book, gives clear action steps. I’ll have to adapt his ideas to my own work and personal lifestyle, as he encourages, but I already feel like my life is changing because of what I learned.

That said, the concept of deep work itself is still somewhat ambiguous. Newport is not a psychologist by trade, and even though his use of psychological concepts and research are helpful, I could have used more fleshing out of just what is happening when I go into deep concentration. But maybe that’s the psych nerd in me.

Nonetheless, the deep work concept has enough substance and clarity that you know what he’s talking about. Even if he hadn’t given me the practical rules and tips, I’d have a general sense of what to do in my life to improve my knowledge work.

If you’re not interested in knowledge work in any way, this book won’t do much for you. The primary audience will be those who have to leverage brain power in their day to day, whether at work or home. As someone who regularly writes and creates mentor curricula, it was right up my alley.

Newport also does a great job at helping you understand the benefits of depth; from economic to psychological. Perhaps the most interesting point he makes is that going deep actually improves the sense of meaning in someone’s work. If you’ve ever experienced a few satisfying hours of productive work free of any kind of interruption, you might know what he’s talking about.

I’m not surprised that Newport’s new book has built off of his extended social media criticisms; his cultural commentary here will really make you reconsider your habits and what you take for granted. But the central concept and pragmatism are compelling enough to make the book very valuable.

If Deep Work isn’t on your productivity genre list, it should be. It’s proving to be a life changer for me.

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Summer Reading Series #1: The Plan

Summer’s great: summer blockbusters, warm breezes, cottaging, barbecues. It’s also prime time for quiet evenings as work slows down (for me, anyways). And with my super extroverted, offended-if-I-hide-in-my-room roommate out of the house with his frisbee tournaments, that means some quality reading time.

For both accountability and something different, I thought I’d do a summer blog series on reading. I’ll post regular updates, reviews, and some tips & tricks for your reading life. Hopefully, I’ll also give you some fun book ideas.

So far this year, I encountered what might be my new favourite fiction novel in Red Rising by Pierce Brown. I’m nearly done its worthy sequel, Golden Son. I’ll keep reading the series til I get bored or catch up, since #4 just came out recently.

Tim Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Work Week began my serious thinking on minimalism in work and lifestyle. It’s a bit of a dreamer’s book but if you’ve got an entrepreneurial spirit or any general interest in productivity, it’s a fun and provocative read.

Cal Newport’s Deep Work has been in the same vein. It’s likely going to change the way I structure my work days – and my life. Stay tuned for that review.

I have a couple others that are great but fell to the back burner: Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life and Christopher Ash’s Zeal without Burnout.

Reading Tip #1 – Make a Plan

Generally speaking, I like reading whatever, whenever. But sometimes I get frozen in decision fatigue. I’ve decided that I’m going to have a short list that, for the most part, I stick to. Less guesswork means more mental energy.

It’s also helped me to have a general structure for reading. Evenings and weekends are for thoughtful reading and reflect afterward (not during). After 9 PM, it’s fiction time. This is part of my nighttime ritual; it helps me wind-down.

We’ll talk more tips in later posts. The key is figuring out what works for you and enjoying the refining process. Comment below with your thoughts!

Here’s my plan so far for the summer:

Goal: 8 books finished by September (besides textbook reading)
Note: I know there are more than 8 books below… this is just my list to work through. If I finish them all, great.

Fiction:

The Red Rising Series: Golden Son (#2), Morning Star (#3), and Iron Gold (#4)

If I complete those, or if I want a change, I’ve got my hands on a copy of All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.

Non-Fiction:

Finish up Deep Work, 12 Rules and Zeal without Burnout as mentioned above.

I figured I shouldn’t go too hard on the productivity genre before I get the chance to truly digest and apply the above. I’ll also likely have a few books to read for my summer courses, and I’ll want to make sure I focus hard there. I thought these books would be more gentle, meditative reads: 

Humility by Andrew Murray

Prayer by Timothy Keller

Evangelism in a Skeptical World by Sam Chan

Finally Free by Heath Lambert

Why entitlement and choice are a bad combo

In theory, everyone should love “The Works” for its breadth of beefy options (herbivores bear with me). Yet a part of me always feels a twinge of disappointment when I go.

Why? Too many options.

If I get the Kamikaze, I’m missing out on Sun of a Beach, Obi-Wan Kobe and Maple Bacon Mozza Bites, to name a few. Pretty much every time I make an order, I start thinking about whether or not I made the right choice.

There’s been some research suggesting that too many choices, even if they lead to a “better choice” in the end, actually leave people feeling less satisfied. It might even paralyze them beforehand. Sometimes I think it’d be easier if someone else made all my decisions.

Whether it’s too many options or some underlying belief I got from culture or a life of relative privilege, I actually think I deserve the “best” option (which is, of course, unhelpfully vague).

Think about the other decisions of our lives that can seem so stressful. Am I at the right job? Will I marry the right person? Imagine the disappointment I’ll feel if there are better options out there!

Admittedly, I find myself at the hands of this kind of entitled paralysis every once in a while. It becomes hard to even make decisions, let alone be content with the ones I do make.

It’s been pointed out to me that if we asked our grandparents if they were “fulfilled” with their jobs, etc. they would probably look at us funny. For them, it was enough to have a job and live your life. Perhaps the lack of options meant they didn’t even think about what some other kind of “fulfillment” would be like. Perspective likely made all the difference.

We, on the other hand, are obsessed with fulfillment. The lust for personal autonomy and success, fueled by social media highlight reels, drives us forward (or paralyzes us). Anything less than this ambiguous (< keyword) fulfillment will not do. I don’t know what I’m looking for, but I know how I want it to feel (note: I probably don’t know that either).

Therein lies the problem. We want to feel good and to be “fulfilled” but we have no idea what that means. We’re directionless or paralyzed in fear that our current direction might not end up feeling like we want it to. How could I bear the disappointment?

Sadly, I fear that we are all but guaranteed disappointment when we feel like we deserve something, especially when that something is poorly defined but supposedly awesome. And that is part two: we don’t just obsess over fulfillment… we think we deserve it.

How is that not a recipe for disaster? We’ve gone beyond just desiring “fulfillment” in life. Now we will be outraged when we don’t get it!

Isn’t life full of disappointments?

Here are some sobering reminders if you find yourself scared stiff with entitlement and choice:

Finding the “perfect” fit is impossible.
Once again, this idea of the “perfect” match is so vague that you probably wouldn’t even know it if it showed up. I say ditch the idea altogether without losing the “non-negotiables” and maybe a minimum of preferences that are reasonable.

From soulmates to dream jobs, the reality is always in the middle. Different jobs (or whatever) will bring you different kinds of joys, but they are joys no less. While some are better than others (for you), doesn’t mean that there is a “perfect fit” among the “good” options.

You don’t really deserve anything. I didn’t grow up going to church but became a Christian through a kind of youth group. I don’t know who taught it to me, but somewhere along the line I learned that I really didn’t deserve anything. Not only did I not do anything to bring myself into existence, but as a sinner I often violated the gift of existing at all. Life was a gift from God, even if it wasn’t “perfect.” 

Even at a young age, this belief gave me an appreciation for just about anything. I still go back to it when I find myself upset at life or people for not giving me “what I deserve”.

Who ever found happiness thinking so highly of themselves?

Happiness is often more about mindset than circumstance.
Once again, grandma and grandpa were content with the little they had. That means it’s possible for you and I. It might require us to be on social media less, or it might mean doing some “mindset work”, and reframing how you think of things. It might also be difficult, but it must be done if we’re going to escape the evils of entitlement.

At the end of the day, life is not about making perfect choices. It’s about making the best of what you find yourself with – including some faulty decisions you may have made along the way.

When you aren’t where you thought you’d be

Turning 30 has felt like a mixed bag. But variety is the spice of life, isn’t it?

And let’s be honest: a lot of life hasn’t gone as expected. My 20’s were tough. Bouts with anxiety and depression. A broken engagement. Add to that feelings of uncertainty, shifting social circles as friends move and marry, and it can make for lonely and unsettling times.

I can also struggle with not being quite where I wish I was (whatever that means) and with feeling like a failure. Usually these feelings are baseless; I’ve seen some solid successes in work, health and education, and overall life is pretty dope. Yet I can’t help but feel like I should have some greater level of success, especially entering my fourth decade on this planet.

The story is far from over

In reading the book of Genesis a while back, I noticed that Joseph’s life wasn’t that great at 30.  He had been tossed in a hole and left for dead by his own brothers who couldn’t stand his arrogance. Though sold into slavery, he climbed the ladder at his master’s house… until the guy’s wife made him an ancient victim of the #MeToo movement gone wrong, landing him in prison as an accused rapist.

So much for “success”.

Despite all of this, the story of Joseph ends in a kind of glory.

Twelve years after being left for dead, this once arrogant young man becomes Pharaoh’s right-hand man and saves millions of lives from famine. He recognizes the blessing of God in his work (as does Pharaoh, actually), and eventually he reconciles with his old family nearly 20 years after they (quite literally) ditched him. I’ve barely been so moved by literary tears.

Where’s the magic wand?

We often hear stories like Joseph’s and think, “Aw, that’s nice”. But when our lives feel even a bit out of sync, we ask “Why couldn’t God do it another way?”

But who’s to say there is another way?

What if what happens to us is exactly what God needs to bring us through? What if it’s exactly what is necessary for our growth and for the good of those around us? Also let’s be honest, isn’t a real story much more interesting than the wave of a wand?

Years of suffering and loneliness yielded much fruit in Joseph. You can’t help but weep with him when you see the beauty of God’s providence in Genesis’ closing chapters.

Like Joseph, I expect I’ll weep tears of joy the more of God’s plan I see written, bring what He may.

Bring it on, 30.

You aren’t that person… and you don’t want to be

Ever feel like you want to be someone else?

Sometimes I wish I was extraverted. Our world is an energetic and social one, and those with the most social energy often have advantages. They tend to have more charisma, tend to get noticed more, and can seem more likable.

But I’ll be honest: when I think about it… I really like who I am.

Being more introverted and cognizant, I catch stuff a lot of people don’t. I’ll pick up more deeply on patterns or the emotions of others. I’ll see details that often go missed. My love for silence and solitude can offer advantages as well: a knack for self-reflection and emotional maturity; a deep inner world that can be fertile for thorough thought and clarity.

I’ve realized these are a few of my favourite things about myself, and they are things I likely wouldn’t have if I was this other outgoing type. So while “the grass can seem greener” sometimes, I don’t actually want to be like those other people. I want to be me.

Now this is not to say that “introverts are deep, extroverts are shallow” – far from it. It’s just to say that in our uniquenesses we have advantages and disadvantages, strengths and weaknesses that we should own instead of beat ourselves up for. This is also not to say that I should never be working on my “other parts”. The outgoing types may need to work a bit harder to ensure they practice solitude; the silent types will need to ensure they’re challenging themselves socially. This is an important part of maturity.

We are who we are

We are who we are for a reason. Take that in for a second.

Being created means being designed with purpose. First, practically: the world wouldn’t be what it needs to be or have what it needs to have if all of us were one type of person.

Who would the strong, silent observers be? If we were all warrior-kings, who would the priestly-advisers be? Who would be our reflective types, writers, and poets? Think about how much beauty and insight would be lost to our world!

We all at times wish parts of ourselves were different. We wish we were smarter, bigger, faster, stronger, more attractive… the list could go on. But what if you, the very way that you are, even the seemingly not so great parts, had a role to play in something bigger? What if there are parts of you that you just need to own, and even learn to like? What if they are designed for God-given purpose, even if they seem pointless or detrimental?

Who’s to say the beauty that could come of them?

Why Entitlement Sucks

“whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:14)

Everyone knows how sucky it feels to be humbled. It almost always begins with entitlement: You think you deserve something, but then it slips from your grasp, or someone else takes it from you. Then, what some would call an ancient “ticker” in your mind goes off. You just dropped in some kind of status, and resultingly, so did your serotonin.

Bitter defeat. Ripped off. Then someone rubs it in: “Sucks to suckkkkkk!!!”

The ideas of status and dominance or competence hierarchies have been floating around in my head for a little while, thanks in no small part to Jordan B. Peterson’s constantly referring to them. While I don’t necessarily like the idea that my happiness is tied to a subconscious status tracker hard-wired into my system, it sure seems like it’s just a part of us.

But if it’s a part of us, there must be something inherently good (or redeemable) about it.

Consider the fact that “status” and this tracker seems to have a lot to do with self-perception and not mere circumstance. That’s why the same social situations can devastate some but not even scathe others (though this could depend on your current serotonin level, too). It’s also why an insult from someone you don’t know or care about usually matters less than one from a close friend or respected mentor.

If our perception matters, then we can have some control over this subconscious and hard-wired system in our brains. And that’s huge.

It means I can affect my own health and happiness as I shift my cognitive paradigms. I can reframe and see myself or my life circumstances differently. Thus, indirectly, I can influence my own serotonin and experience of happiness.

Obviously, there are limitations. Some changes might require so much of an overhaul that you’d be lying to yourself if you embraced them. But perhaps, at the very least, it might make circumstances more manageable and more easily overcome.

Worldview matters

I actually think this is one of the great powers of the Christian message. Even a murderer can be forgiven by God when God himself is taking care of the legal debts we owe Him. Instead of suppressing the memory of a committed evil, instead of justifying it by lies, instead of being crippled by the weight of such guilt, we can own our guilt, grieve our innocence, and accept that God loves and forgives even the murderous. What could be a devastating status loss can be buffered, and a meaningful, redemptive way forward can be found. 

So what does this have to do with humbling ourselves? Let’s see that quote again:

“…whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” 

In a way, Jesus is speaking about entitlement. What happens when you’re entitled? If you get what you expect from entitlement, it might feel good, but it won’t feel as good as it could because you just think you deserve it. The “victory” is just normal. And when you “lose”, it feels all the worse. And if we take the rest of what Jesus says seriously, do we really ever deserve the good things we enjoy in this life?

But what happens when you have the reverse mindset? When you know you’ll be fine win or lose? What if we “expect” that we don’t deserve positions of status or various privileges, given that we’re broken and even evil? What happens when we are blessed with what we see as undeserved gifts?

Perhaps our true security and “status” that ensures decent serotonin or the like is more to do with how we understand ourselves and our place in this world. When we understand that life is a beautiful gift, undeserved and even ill-deserved, we’ll be happy for every bit we can get. When we are reminded that God is our creator who loves us and will see us through suffering, we are kept from devaluing ourselves as if we’re nobodies. It’s only in this balance that we find true and life-giving humility. This is the psychological power of the Christian Gospel. We are exalted when we find our humility. Happiness is a matter of reframing. Lose your entitlement, know your true place, and all of life is a joy giving gift.

When the People Who Are Right Act Wrong

We all know them – or have been them ourselves.

Connor and Khabib act like idiots even if they’re some of the world’s best and most disciplined UFC fighters.

Someone from our school of thought misreads the room, steps on some toes, and makes anyone who sides with them look like a jerk too.

Sometimes the people who are right in truth are wrong in action; which makes their position look wrong. And that makes it hard for those of us who agree with them. Cringe. 

Same goes for the reverse. Think of those people you respect in life because of their sincerity or integrity (or coolness). Chances are, you’re much more likely to respect their views, just like you respect their person. Right or wrong. 

But, and this is important: Misbehaviour does not falsify someone’s perspective. Nor does charisma make someone correct. 

So what’s the call?

It’s simple, and yet so difficult at times: reject the behaviour (maybe: call it out) and acknowledge common ground. And do so respectfully.  

Sacrificing truth at the altar of “virtue”

I see it again and again. Early in my University years it was Richard Dawkins and the New Atheists with their wit (and British accents) somehow popularizing terrible and weak arguments against Christianity. And they won many. Everyone loves Obama and wishes he was still president, not because they know a thing about his economics or policies, but because he was way classier than the guy who’s in office now!

Now to be sure, no one likes when the jerk is right, so it all makes sense. Why would I expect people to listen to me if I have no integrity? If I’m obnoxious or abrasive? If I never listen? 

Yet ask also: if “virtue” is tied to a lie, is it virtue at all? Of course not. 

We cannot sacrifice truth, not even on the altar of so-called morality.

And perhaps most important: an intellectual (or otherwise) opponent is still a human. So while there should probably be consequences for poor behaviour, a person should still be respected and not in any way dehumanized. Unlike the usual evisceration that happens on social media. 

This’ll take practice. It’s hard to resist the knee-jerk comeback. It takes energy to show empathy and to actually think. It’s much easier to make fun of someone or just be nasty to them.

Grace leads to grace

Stephen Covey makes it an essential habit: Seek first to understand, then to be understood. James commands Christians: “be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger.” Even in someone’s misbehaviour, I think these rules apply. Respect the person, reject bad behaviour, hear their ideas. 

And we may be surprised: showing respect often yields respect. It could perhaps change a mind.

This was behind Jesus’ words: “love your enemies.” What’s the hope? That you would be enemies no more; that eventually you and they would come to a place of respect because of your common humanity and pursuit of truth; that you would acknowledge that before God you both fall short. That you can both be wrong. But that you are both valuable even if you are wrong, and so you must seek to understand one another.

Being correct is not enough; nor is simply being respectful or kind. Both truth and virtue must be held in tension, pursued with equal rigour. Only then are we treating a person as they should be treated.

Keep thinking friends. But keep respecting, too.

Should people be fired for things they said 10 years ago?

Not long ago James Gunn, director of the Guardians of the Galaxy series, was fired by Disney after a blogger exposed tweets that Gunn made in the last 10 years. The resulting backlash from fans and cast has led to speculations of his (unlikely) rehiring.

Initially, I was upset. Not for what the man tweeted (though they were sad attempts at humour, I think), but for the fact that a movie I was very much looking forward to was not going to have it’s mastermind anymore. I soon learned that he was actually a significant part of the creative direction, alongside Kevin Feige, as to the next 10 years of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Cue the nerdiest tears I have ever cried.

I’m a big Marvel fan, so that was a huge disappointment. I was disappointed not only by the potential impact this could have on my beloved movie franchise, but also in the fact that a man was being fired for tweets that he made years ago. And this is considering that Disney apparently knew about these tweets when they hired Gunn. It’s understandable that Disney would make the firing once there was some public heat over the tweets, but I still couldn’t help but wonder: how should we approach this? Where do we draw the line? Can internet posts I made as a joke or in a moment of flippancy really come back to haunt me? Should they? Should I be fired for it? Should I be judged eternally (figuratively or literally) on some careless words I’ve said? Even if it was a joke?

After all, even good people say dumb things or make jokes in bad taste. Furthermore, what is today’s hilarious is tomorrow’s bad taste. Or with how some people think nowadays, today’s funny is tomorrow’s racist, bigoted, etc. What’s more, there’s a lot of subjectivity when it comes to humour. Just because you happen to be offended, doesn’t mean Joe Blow next to you is. But an important question still remains: should we punish people years later for legitimate mistakes or foolish remarks they’ve made?

Words cut… so be careful

On the other hand, we can’t underestimate the power of words. The tongue is a small organ but a powerful weapon. Words cut, and can be used for great evil. And we should never be careless with them, considering the great power they have (and especially when they are spoken by those with influence). I believe God will judge us for our carelessness (Matt. 12:36). 

Nonetheless, all things considered, I think we are all failures here, and in many areas of life. Therefore, I think there needs to be some caution exercised when we demand ramifications of peoples’ past.

Let’s be honest: if we held everyone up to the standard that James Gunn was being held up to, there would be few of us left to direct Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 3. I’ve sure made some careless Facebook posts in the past, and while some consider me a pretty stand up guy relatively speaking, Disney would have probably fired me too.

And whether or not you’ve made social media posts that could get you fired, consider your own thought life or the things you’ve said behind closed doors. Are you so innocent? I think you’d admit with me that you aren’t.

We’re just not that great as a species. We all need the forgiveness and grace of others.

Grace understands that we’re all ill-deserved of the goodness of this life and the privileges it offers us. Like directing a dope movie series.

Our social media age is full of those who eviscerate everyone for anything that smells immoral (note: immoral by their specifications). Such people perhaps do not understand grace. They do not understand what it means to be human, and treat anyone even with a few immoral tweets like a leper to be cast out (another note: that wasn’t necessarily the goal of the blogger who highlighted Gunn’s old tweets).

So let’s try and find some balance. Let’s hold people to high standards, especially those who are role models, for sure. But let’s show them the same grace we’d expect ourselves to be shown. Let’s treat each other like humans. 

I respected Disney’s decision to fire James Gunn, as disappointed as the nerd in me was. I’m still kinda holding on to hope that they’ll bring him back. What Gunn said was not OK, but I hope we can take steps toward a healthier, grace-based approach to these sorts of things.

 

What do you think?

Should we even date?

Promise not to judge me?

I used to have pretty strict views on dating.

But give me a break: I was in leadership of a Christian student ministry and felt like I had to play the big bro. I wanted to protect the girls and make sure the guys were acting honourably. Good things, right?

Add to that one case of a dude wheeling a few girls who eventually got hurt, and you can understand why I took a skeptical and conservative approach to the whole dating thing.

Suffice it to say, those views changed after I got hurt by them.

Basically, I used to think that you had to be super serious before you made any kind of move. You better know your intentions and be clear about them. And in the Christian subculture where romance is inevitably tied to impending nuptials, this can lead to either hasty confusion or paralysis. Things happen too quickly or not at all.

This uptightness doesn’t work, however. Relationships are messy, after all. Am I really going to know what I want early on?

Combine that with the fact that the non-Christian world takes dating so flippantly. Casual sex, Netflix & chill… these are par for the course, and really not options for the Christian who is in search of a monogamous long term partnership. Hearts are not to be played with, nor should dating be treated with frivolity.

So… Should we?

So I understood when a friend asked me recently, amidst my dating blog posts: Should people (perhaps Christians in particular) even date at all? Is it the best way of doing things?

Perhaps we can’t know if it’s the best way or not. But I think we can assess whether the concept is helpful or unhelpful.

Christian psychologists and psychotherapists Henry Cloud and John Townsend point out in their book “Boundaries in Dating” that it is not the general concept of dating that is flawed, but rather our poor use of the concept. Being human, we take what could be a helpful process of discernment and screw it up royally.

Here are some things they like about dating: 

Dating lets someone learn what he or she likes in the opposite sex.
For me, this is perhaps the biggest benefit. In looking for a spouse, I’m not just looking for a good person who shares my deepest values (though those are top of the list). I’m looking for a friend who I just plain enjoy.

But it actually took a healthy (or at least improving) dating process for me to even realize how important that kind of friendship was to me. Without having gone through a thoughtful process here, I think I’d be missing out on some important information regarding mate selection.   

Dating gives people a context to meet and spend time with a wide variety of people. They can find out what they like, what they need, and what is good for them.
This is one of the tougher parts for some Christians (like the old me) to accept. “Dating multiple people??? Gross!!” some will say. But hold up – when we say “dating” we need to define our terms since the word can be used in different ways.

Here, we mean a casual “getting to know people” kind of dating. Taking someone out for a coffee, no strings attached. Going for a walk. You’re not yet in a more committed or intentional phase that you would label “in a relationship”. Here, commitment is low and discernment is high, and you can learn about yourself and what you want in a partner.

This variety of experience has a few benefits. For one, it helps you keep from committing all at once to one person. I’ve found it can keep me from becoming infatuated too much with one person when I am intentionally taking it slow and exploring my options.

Second, as Cloud & Townsend say, it helps you find out what you like, need, and what is good for you. Some people get lucky with the first person they are in a relationship with. But it can often happen that that first person is not a great fit at all, so it is best to move on.

Dating gives a context to learn sexual self-control and other delays of gratification.
You might find this one interesting. Some Christians argue against dating because they think it will lead to premature sexual intimacy. But two mature people who share the value of chastity (or other physical boundaries) can still get to know one another without succumbing to temptation. In fact, Cloud & Townsend argue, this context provides the opportunity for growth in self-control.

Does the risk mean we take away the method? Only if there’s a better way, since risk is inherent to any method, and no method means we never accomplish our goal. In this case: no dating may mean no marriage.

Sometimes in the church people are told to stay far away from temptation, and that is a good, biblical thing. Yet, like the Pharisees in Jesus’ time, some people make rules that miss the point and do more harm than good.

We could throw the baby out with the bathwater and say “don’t date at all”. Don’t ask someone out to coffee, because you could lead them on and hurt them. Don’t spend any time 1 on 1 because that could lead to early physical intimacy.

But these rules assume two people can’t take responsibility for themselves or their actions, or that they can’t practice any self-control. It also assumes that they can’t employ precautions, like spending 1 on 1 time in public places. Sure, it’s wise at times to put up healthy boundaries, even in some cases extreme ones. But building the walls too close means you’re going to get paralyzed.

Instead, perhaps two mature people can practice delaying gratification as they go through the hard work of getting to know each other and discerning. With the help of family and friends and mentors, they can go through a healthy process that gives context to practicing self-control and helps inform them thoroughly regarding one of the most important decisions they’ll ever make.

Keep calm and date on

So what about the original case that had led me to my old views? Once more, I think it is how we date that is the issue. Take it seriously. Learn to know when a relationship has run its course. If you aren’t feeling it, end it. Don’t let things run on. Hold back on promises and commitments until you know you want to move forward – and then do so deliberately.

So I say go ahead and date, wherever you’re coming from. But be intentional and keep a close watch on yourself. Hearts are not to be played with. And while you’re at it, have some friends and others who can be giving you some input in the process. Sometimes it’s your own heart that can play with you.

 

 

3 Hard but Helpful Questions to Ask About Your Relationship

So you’re dating. Great. All those feels, am I right?

Seriously though. Those feels. They make you crazy. Like actually: neurochemistry goes wack for a while when you’re with a new person. For over a year sometimes.

There are probably a million questions you should ask (if you’re a perfectionist) to really get to know someone and figure out if they’re for you. If you’re wise, at least some of those should be hard questions about the quality of the relationship.

Here are 3 to ask yourself. They might sound simple at first, but try and let them sink in, and be very honest with the answers.

1) Do you like your significant other?

I’m sure you feel like you love them, but do you like them? I mean, do you genuinely enjoy them like a friend and like someone you just plain like to have around? Do they make everything in life better, or would you kinda rather they stay home sometimes?

Someone shared recently that they were dating someone who was great on paper, but after a little while they realized that they never wanted to be around this person alone. In fact, they dreaded it.

Is that you? Are you eager for a date to finish? Are you sometimes wishing you could have some other company with you so that things would be more “fun”?

Consider that a lot of marriage will be just the two of you. How much would marriage suck if you didn’t really enjoy the plain old company of your partner?

2) Do you find yourself embarrassed by them?

Are you proud to show them off to your friends (I’m not talking physically)? Do you genuinely like the idea of being seen by their side? Or do you cringe when they open their mouths when you’re with company?

This is going to be a lot of your life. People will see you with this person. It will be awkward for you, not to mention mentally and emotionally stressful, if you generally don’t feel happy that people think of them when they think of you.

Furthermore, consider that “birds of a similar feather fly together”. If your friends don’t get along with them or seem out of place, or vice-versa with their friends, that may be a clue that the two of you will want to hang out with different people. That’s no fun. You may end up with entirely different friend groups and will find yourselves apart during times when best friends should be together. Food for thought.

3) Do you make the 5:1 ratio?

Researcher John Gottman has shown that a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative interactions is a minimum requirement for a successful marriage. If you’re lower than that, you’re in trouble.

Some of this ratio is likely within your control, but you might also think back to question #1. If you don’t like and respect your partner, it’s going to be a lot harder for the two of you to have the positive interactions you’ll need for emotional and relational health.

This doesn’t mean there isn’t hope for such marriages – I’m a firm believer there is (see the Gottman Institute article for some help). But if you’re dating, it may be unwise to knowingly jump (or slip!) into a marriage with a bad outlook. Even if your current partner is the one for you, it would be better to start off on the right foot.

Gary Thomas writes that “…people marry people they don’t like all the time” (The Sacred Search, emphasis mine). Why might this be? Perhaps some are insecure about breaking up. Others might not want to make a scene. This is especially true the more attached you are or the further along you are in the relationship.

Don’t let that be you, friends. Take heart, get help, and act; you’ll be fine. In fact, you (and they) will be better off going through a tough break up now than a divorce (or contemptuous marriage) down the line.

I’ve been there. It took me way too long to end a relationship that should have finished much earlier. I’m thankful I made the call I did, for both my sake and hers. And I’ll end there: consider that your partner may even have the harder time being in a relationship with someone who doesn’t like or respect them for who they are. Ending things may be as much a favour to them as it is the right choice for yourself.

Keep thinking friends. Even if you’re completely crazy for someone!