Losing to a Goldfish

Photo by Kyaw Tun on Unsplash

Pop Quiz: which of these relate to you….

  • Moving from one check-out line to another because it looks shorter/faster.
  • Counting the cars in front of you and either getting in the lane that has the least or is going the fastest.
  • Multi-tasking to the point of forgetting one of the tasks.


These are what authors Rosemary Sword and Philip Zimbardo offer as ‘symptoms of hurry sickness’.

Hurry Sickness: defined as…

“A behaviour pattern charactersied by continual rushing and anxiousness”

“A malaise in which a person feels chronically short of time, and so tends to perform every task faster and to get flustered when encountering any kind of delay.”

Or a final one from Meyer Friedman – a top-of-his-field cardiologist – who coined the phrase hurry sickness after recognizing that most patients at risk of heart attacks display a harrying “sense of urgency”…

“A continuous struggle and unremitting attempt to accomplish or achieve more and more things or participate in more and more events in less and less time.”

It’s fairly likely that almost all of us suffer from Hurry Sickness to one extent or another.  And it’s not surprising.  Before quoting these symptoms, John Mark Comer takes a chapter to give a ‘brief history of time’.

He describes 1370 as a turning point of history when the first public clock was raised in Cologne, Germany.  Before then people were governed by the natural rhythms of day, night, seasons….but this moment marked humanity’s independence from the Sun….and submission to the dominion of a far more insatiable and demanding machine.

Jumping several centuries, Comer describes how labour saving devices (e.g. thermostats instead of chopping our own fire wood) were expected to leave us with a major problem of too much free time (seriously!)….but instead we have seen a shift in our society’s values.  In days gone by, leisure time was a sign of wealth and status – only the rich and powerful could afford to rest or have a hobby.  But today busyness marks you out as important and successful, that’s why adverts for luxury items like Rolex or Maserati are far more likely to show people in high flying business meetings or out drinking in the early hours than lounging by a pool in the sun.

Yet arguably the most dramatic moment came in 2007.

This was the year when the iphone was first launched; Facebook became open to anyone with an email address; Twitter became  its own platform; year one of the cloud and the App Store; plus more besides….. In short: the Dawn of the Digital Age.

In living memory smartphones did not even exist, and yet now we cannot imagine living without them.

Studies show that the average iphone user touches their phone 2617 times a day, using the phone for a total of 2.5 hours each day; that even having a smartphone in the same room even switched off reduces our working memory and problem solving skills; that since 2000 our concentration span has reduced from 12 seconds (not that impressive to start with!) to 8 seconds…with a Goldfish coming in at 9 seconds…..Concerning, anyone?

This isn’t even mentioning streaming TV or other internet use.

What is perhaps more concerning, is that this is by design.  It’s what these phones are made for.  In fact, it’s what large chunks of our economy is based on.

Many of us will be aware that social media is designed to be addictive.  Comer quotes Sean Parker, the first President of Facebook and now a self-described ‘conscientious objector’ to social media.  Parker writes:

“God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.  The thought process that went into building these applications…..was all about “How can we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?” And that means that we need to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while, because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever…..you’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology.

This is being described as ‘attention economy‘ and an ‘arms race for people’s attention‘.  The point is that company’s can make money only if they can grab our attention, as much as possible and for as long as possible.

Which means that our smartphones don’t work for us.  They work for multi-million dollar corporations in America and China.  We are not the customer’s but the product, and our attention is for sale.

And they’re pretty good at it. 

Let me ask you a question: have you ever found yourself at the dinner table or out with friends and, even though you’ve been looking forward to hanging out, you’re distracted looking at your phone?

Be honest.

Tony Schwartz wrote for the New York Times: “Addiction is the relentless pull to a substance or an activity that becomes so compulsive it ultimately interferes with everyday life.  By that definition, nearly everyone I know is addicted in some measure to the Internet.”

Everyone. Addicted.

Right.  The purpose of describing all of this, from Comer in his book and me in this blog, is not to make us feel guilty or to call for all technology to be thrown away….that’s not helpful nor possible.  The purpose is to get us to stop and think.  To recognise that technology is not simply natural progression, faster is not always better, and that these changes and things have an affect on us. 

We need to stop and ask the question: what is this doing to my soul?

And the answer, for many of us at least, myself included, is that it is making me sick.  Hurry sick.

Back to the symptoms at the start.  Comer goes on to describe ten more that I mention briefly here, and I have to be honest, these hit me to the core…I scored about 8 when I first read these….and that might be generous to myself….

Irritability: you get mad, frustrated, annoyed, way too easily.

Hypersensitivity: All it takes is a minor comment to hurt your feelings….

Restlessness: When you actually do try to slow down and rest, you can’t relax.

Workaholism (or just non stop activity): You just don’t know when to stop. Or worse: can’t stop.

Emotional Numbness: You just don’t have the capacity to feel another’s pain.

Out-of-Order Priorities: You’re always getting sucked into the tyranny of the urgent…Your life is reactive not proactive.

Lack of care for your Body: You don’t have time for the basics – healthy eating, exercise, 8 hours of sleep.

Escapist Behaviours: When you’re too tired to do what is actually life giving for our souls you turn to distraction of choice – Netflix, social media, surfing the web, looking at porn.

Slippage in Spiritual Disciplines: You know these are good for your soul, but simply don’t have the energy or will.

Isolation: You feel disconnected from God, others, your own soul.

ten signs of a hurry sick soul

As we described last post, hurry kills things. It kills love because love takes time, it kills joy because that requires being present in the moment, it kills peace because it induces stress, it kills relationships because we have to invest, and it downgrades the whole of life to the point that we begin skimming through rather than truly living. And on top of all this Hurry kills our spiritual life.

At its core being a disciple is to fix our attention on Jesus, to cultivate an awareness of his presence every moment of every day. It’s as we do this that we begin to live like him and for him, to see where he is moving in our life, and to reflect him in the way we act and think. Attention leads to awareness and that is the beginning of worship.

Jesus wisely said that where our treasure is, there our heart will be also. We often think of that verse as describing time or money, but attention may be an even more basic and scarce treasure in our lives. A number of contemporary writers echo these words in pointing out that what we give our attention to is who we eventually become.

This won’t have been the easiest blog to read for some of us. I was deeply challenged as I read Comer’s book for the first time. But there is hope. Comer writes:

“Has anybody lost their soul? Or at least part of it?

Want to get it back?

Keep reading.”

In the blogs to come we’ll explore four key practices – simple habits – Comer draws from Jesus and the lived wisdom of generations of the church – that set our attention on Jesus and open our lives for him to heal and restore. Silence and Solitude. Sabbath. Simplicity. Slowing.

This is the heart of our calling as a church family – to create space for Jesus in our daily lives, with others and for others. If you want to get a head start you can check out our resources here or start to explore a wealth of practical teaching at John Mark Comer’s site – practicingtheway.org.

And you don’t have to travel the journey alone. Everyone is welcome to our hubs and celebrations – currently on Sundays and Mondays, you can see the calendar here – and we always have time to listen, to pray, to thrash things through online or in person so do get in touch. We’re not in a hurry.

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