‘Guard Your Heart’ Has Never Been A More Timely Advice

Computer security expert, Bruce Schneier, once stated that ‘we’re entering an era of unprecedented psychological manipulation’. I believe we are already in that era. Guarding your heart has never been more important in this day and age. My husband and I were browsing the aisles at a store for dishwashing liquid the other day when he chose a new brand. I was surprised and asked him why that one, to which he replied that he didn’t know, it simply seemed right. Upon closer inspection, I realised that the brand was heavily promoted on various platforms and even had a giant poster near our house.

‘Aha! ‘You’ve been gotten,’ I said, suggesting how, after seeing their advertisements several times, the brand had found its way into his mind, dictating his actions in a seemingly natural way. Because why else would he choose an unknown brand over one he has tested and proven over the years? How about you? Which decisions have you made recently that was entirely your own? What if you’re being manipulated by well-researched and well-presented media? How can you have control over your actions and behaviour, or at the very least be influenced by the right things? 

You and Your Heart

Proverbs 4:23 (NLT) is a popular passage among Christians that instructs us to  ‘guard [our] heart[s] above all else, for it determines the course of [our] li[ves].’ Here, the word ‘heart’ is known as ‘leb’ or ‘lev’  in ancient Hebrew, and is used very widely to refer to feelings, the will and even the intellect.

Also, the heart is sometimes referred to as ‘the centre of your intellectual and emotional life’. It is the seat of reasoning, where our desires and actions are formed. All of the aforementioned have been attributed to the brain in recent times. Some call it the mind or the soul. When I talk about the heart, I mean all of the above, an essential part of our being that should be guarded. 

Why Guard Your Heart? The Dangers of Social Media 

According to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, ‘guard’ is the Hebrew word ‘nâtsar,’ which can be taken positively or negatively. In the positive sense, it means to ‘protect’, ‘maintain’ or ‘obey’. In the negative sense, it means ‘to conceal’, ‘keep’, ‘observe’, ‘preserve’ or ‘be a watcher’.

Guy P. Harrison, author of  Think Before You Like: Social Media Effects on the Brain and the Tools You Need to Navigate Your Newsfeed, has this to say on the effects of social media on the brain: 

‘Most social media users are not aware of the natural and standard human cognitive biases, mental shortcuts, perception problems, and emotional weak spots that can and do trip them up online.’

This is not to suggest that social media has no benefits; in fact, it may have many, but the threat it poses to our hearts and well-being is the emphasis of this piece.

  1. Time Wastage 

Based on how much time we spend on social media platforms, it is safe to argue that the makers have broken the code of keeping us entertained even though we have other, more essential tasks to do! Work, relationships, study, and other activities require us to keep ourselves available. Instead, we find ourselves scrolling (which has cognitive consequences), looking for appealing content to binge them, only to realise that we have squandered significant time that could have been better spent on other worthwhile activities. 

To obtain a better picture, track how much time you spend on specific apps on your phone over time. Most smartphones include an app that allows you to track this. After the results are in, hopefully, you will be proud of how well you have used your time online.  

  1. Inability to Concentrate or Focus

Another component of social media time waste is time fragmentation. Because you are constantly monitoring every notification on your phone, your productive time is divided into multiple segments where you are unable to complete work or even simple chores effectively. Baratunde Thurston, dubbed ‘the most connected man’ by friends, realised that ‘it’s easier to ride [a bike] when you’re not trying to simultaneously check your Twitter’ when he disconnected from social media for about a month.

Of course, it is easier to work without these notifications, but we must ensure that we are aware of everything that is going on in the online world. It’s almost like an obsessive urge that we must please or else we would be deprived of the existential joy of being in the know. 

  1. Information Overload 

Having access to knowledge is undoubtedly beneficial, but when does it become excessive? When it comes to information regarding a variety of topics, social media is a gift that keeps on giving. But how can you sift through the sea of material to identify which is useful for you? Are you even aware that certain information is irrelevant and harmful to you?

To be honest, it takes curiosity, data, concentration, and time to consider every piece of information accessible about a specific topic, but combine that with an addiction to getting online and algorithms that will keep displaying more results based on your search history, and you’re dealing with an information overload. Confusion, inability to process information effectively, reduced critical thinking, and poor judgment are all symptoms of information overload in the brain. 

  1. Heightened Unhealthy Comparison

Comparison can lead to positive outcomes such as self-improvement, enlightenment, inspiration, goal setting, and so on, but there is an issue when it becomes unhealthy. The undesirable aspects of comparison that certain social media apps intensify may be associated with the frequent advertising of highs rather than lows (which everyone suffers). 

If you already suffer from negative feelings such as poor self-esteem, anxiety, or depression and spend time on social media, you may believe that you are alone in your suffering. Never mind that, somewhere in the back of your mind, you know that the object of your comparison is not going to always have it easy in this fallen world.

Another way social media promotes unhealthy comparison is through the wealth of connectivity it provides. Rule 4 of Jordan Peterson’s book 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos offers a good image of how someone else will always be better than you at something, and how you can’t avoid that if you’re connected digitally to others.  While admitting our shortcomings is not a terrible thing in and of itself, some of us cannot handle the thought of being bested by others. 

  1. Influence 

Everyone has access to social media, and anyone who believes in the veracity of his thoughts or has an agenda can use it to further them. And if they continuously produce stuff and you grow addicted, you become vulnerable to their influence, whether good or harmful. This vulnerability is also determined by your predisposition to certain issues, your capacity to discern, your awareness of the world and your place in it, and your ability to think. You may also become entangled in these people’s web of influence thanks to algorithms. 

  1. Severed Connections

We hadn’t seen each other in a while, so I spent the night at her apartment to catch up, but she spent the entire time online! Who else has a similar story? We overlook our real-life relationships in order not to lose out on what is going on in the virtual world. Scrolling endlessly on Twitter at the dinner table, watching YouTube videos as our spouses try to gain our attention before bedtime, and going to lunch with friends but everyone is buried deep in their phones. Something isn’t right. We’ve gotten more connected but less social.  

  1. Miscommunication and Misconceptions

They are common on social media (and even in traditional media), and you should be aware of them. For example, some news sites (not to mention social media users) allegedly claimed that Hilda Baci had broken the world record for the longest cooking period by cooking for 100 hours and 40 minutes. The problem is that the Guinness World Record is the organization that validates if she has done so by taking into account and reviewing the information given to them. 

As a result, the correct word to describe her feat is ‘attempts’ and its various versions, which is the phrase used by the awarding organization to describe the scenario. This would not have occurred to me unless someone had queried the awarding authority why Hilda had not been named the new world record holder. Thank God for that person’s ability to think critically. 

I hope she wins the award, but the point is that, no matter how minor the miscommunication is, it can contribute to a lot of resentment if the award-giving organization concludes that something went wrong with the entire process.  

  1.  Manipulations

We humans are naturally biased, so bear that in mind before you believe anything you read on social media. Before accepting any assertion, especially one that is contentious, ask questions. This also applies to any advertisements you come across. Is the product as amazing as they claim, or is it just like the others that came before it with a different name? 

  1. Critical Thinking 

Guy P. Harrison opines in his aforementioned book that: 

Elevators would not work, planes will not fly, and microwave ovens will not cook food by the snapping of our fingers and wishful thinking. No! They work because of science and engineering which is a result of critical thinking.’ 

According to his research, very few people value critical thinking in their life. To make matters worse, we have the internet and social media, and into this absence of knowledge enters what may be the ultimate playground for cognitive bias, delusion, fraud, and breathtaking idiocy. Just look at Twitter to see how people believe lies despite contradictory factual facts and circumstances, all because they validate a previously held view. Critical thinking, as noted by Guy P. Harrison, is a threat to lies and blunders, and it is often not displayed online. 

How To Guard Your Heart

  1. Prayer

Nothing beats prayer for refocusing your attention on what is important. Instead of drowning yourself in YouTube skits to escape reality, you can pray your challenges away. It is more efficient and less expensive in terms of producing results. You do not need to spend money to communicate with God. You can even ask Him to help you guard your heart against potentially harmful things. Yes, your thoughts may wander, but as you continue to pray, your desire to concentrate grows greater.  

*Please keep in mind that I’ve talked about prayer from a Christian perspective.

  1. Meditation 

I’m not talking about pantheist meditation or mindfulness or anything like that. I advocate the Jewish form of meditation, as advised by the Bible, in which you meditate on a subject (e.g., scripture) to grasp what it means and how you might apply it to your life. Such activity does not lend itself well to shallowness. 

  1. Reflection

Take a step back now and again to assess your choices, actions, and behaviour. Give them serious consideration. Ask yourself why you act the way you do, what influences you’ve allowed into your life, and what drives your thought processes and preferences. Do you despise particular types of individuals because you’ve been taught to dislike them? Are you modelling your life after Instagram or YouTube celebrities? Are these influences benefiting you in any way? Take a seat and consider your options. Realign yourself with what is important.  

  1. Deep Work 

Cal Newport advises everyone interested in creating good products to set aside time free of interruptions. After listing examples of three high-value and performance persons, Cal goes on to explain to his readers that the reasons for their rapid growth in their chosen area are reliant on their capacity for performing deep work. If you want to flourish in your endeavours and learn abilities that will put you in demand for lucrative jobs, do deep work. This requires concentration and focus, which social media does not provide. 

  1. Use Technology Wisely 

In a way, our social media technologies have made us slaves. You can only muster so much willpower to get out of its rabbit hole. As Cal Newport, author of Deep Work: Rules for Focused Sucess in a Distracted World, puts it, ‘Willpower is limited, and therefore the more enticing tools you have pulling at your attention, the harder it’ll be to maintain focus on something important’.  Beware. 

Many smartphones have a timer feature that alerts you after you have spent a certain amount of time on social media apps such as Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. Some apps can help you control your screen time on specific apps more wisely. 

  1. Quit or Manage

It is all up to you. You could be better off avoiding social media entirely. However, if you can find some advantages to using social media in your life, you may need to limit your usage of the tool. You can limit yourself to an ‘essential few,’ as Cal Newport suggests. Determine how much time you truly need to spend on social networking. Checking whether it is a key instrument in obtaining success in your business and personal life is one approach to determine this. Give it up if the advantages outweigh the drawbacks. The goal is to keep it from taking over your life and permanently altering your way of life. Cut back in any case. 

  1. Practice Selected Viewing/Listening 

Using social media can be beneficial for you, but you do not have to view every video you come across, no matter how appealing. You don’t have to follow accounts that post irrelevant content. Focus on your interests. It is not a crime to shift your followership from time to time. Only pay attention to content that has earned your attention; “Think before you like”, share, follow, or view. 

  1. Don’t Multitask

Strength: Multitasking.

Er, you might want to review the above. Multitasking is not only inefficient, but it is also harmful. Your brain needs some time to focus before beginning a task, but the longer you persevere, the greater the results you may coerce from it. Multitasking, on the other hand, reduces its ability to focus. You may be proud of yourself for managing to browse Instagram while working on an assignment, but the truth is that you are not producing your best work during those moments. According to studies, it is best to complete a task one at a time for better outcomes than to split oneself across multiple projects at once.

  1. Beware of Blind Spots, Biases, and Emotional Thinking

We all have them as a result of our experiences. If you have faced discrimination from a specific group of people, it is easy to form the impression that anyone from that group is constantly out to discriminate against you or people like you. You might not question similar stories before concluding that they indeed occur. You may recall the emotions you felt during your encounter and channel them in this new direction, only to discover that things are not as they appear. 

  1. Read More 

Reading, in my opinion, occupies our entire attention more than audiovisuals (e.g., videos) and auditory media (e.g., podcasts). As a result, if you want to combat social media distractions, it makes sense to read more. Of course, not all written material will make you clever; in fact, some will dull your senses, so choose your material carefully. Read materials that will help you make sense of your surroundings, educate you, or perhaps entertain you. Do not rely on social media for all your entertainment. 

  1. Love the Truth

If you love the truth in an age of ‘my truth and your truth,’ your intellect will be a lot safer online and everywhere else. You may not have to worry about the truth when it comes to small topics, whichever one you deem so. Your goal is to be discerning rather than suspicious. However, when it comes to significant concerns, matters that can cause great harm, matters of life and death—such as salvation, politics, personal sanity, and health—opinions that can lead to public suffering and disorder, the truth is critical. In this day and age, you must cherish the truth.

  1. Remember, you may be intelligent, but you can be gullible too

‘You are more impressionable than you think,’ says my pastor, Emmanuel Iren, whenever he warns his audience not to have faith in their capacity to do the right thing in the face of overwhelming bad influences. Be careful now. Do not underestimate the influence of social media on you. Take the necessary steps to put it in its rightful place. This is your life, and you should be able to direct how it is lived. Of course, as a Christian, God, not algorithms, should have the final say. 

After all is said and done, you must acknowledge that you will never be completely devoid of biases, presumptions, and prejudices, but you can be aware of them and take steps to manage them through good judgment. So, keep an eye on your heart. Because there are numerous voices (noises) out there, make sure your heart is only receptive to the right influences. May you always be able to identify and act on the appropriate ones.

Which of these social media dangers do you notice in your life? Share your thoughts in the comments section below. 

Have you read ‘Introverted, Christian, and Interested in Shaping Culture. Help!’?

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