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How to Assess and Overcome Tech Addiction

Sometimes our tech is just a little too far for fun. Instead of using it because we’re ok, we find we need it to be ok. In today’s conversation we’ll learn from the work of Anna Lembke, professor of psychiatry at Stanford University School of Medicine and chief of the Stanford Addiction Medicine Dual Diagnosis Clinic. Her book Dopamine Nation has been an encouragement and reminder, and in today’s conversation we’ll discuss how tech can become unhealthy, how we can fix it, and what we can do to create healthful tech habits in our own lives and homes.

Show Notes:

Find Anna Lembke Online
Book: Dopamine Nation: Finding Balance in the Age of Indulgence

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Hello everyone and welcome to The Gospel Tech Podcast. My name is Nathan Sutherland and this podcast is dedicated to helping families love God and use tech.

Today we are talking about dopamine and technology addiction. We are specifically using the book, Anna Lembke’s, Dopamine Nation to talk about this. It’s a book that I’ve referenced before and just reread and it’s awesome. Please, if you’re interested in the subject, give yourself the time to read it. It’s a quick read, but today I’m going to give you the three major takeaways that you need to know from this. And we’re going to use this to then reinforce what we’re doing, sometimes I’ve found that I myself as a speaker need to know that I’m not just speaking from a soapbox that I picked, but I’m actually speaking truth to help families. And I found that families need to hear the same thing, that parents need to know that they’re parenting from truth, they’re parenting from good solid foundation that is loving, not just, they don’t understand what’s happening with technology or this is different and therefore I don’t like it.

In fact, I just read a different book last night that was very different from this book that was misplaced, it was misguided and it was someone kind of speaking from a position of what he hopes is true about reality but not grounded in said reality. And that’s the whole thing with truth is what best corresponds with reality and reality is what happens when we’re wrong. And that’s what I really like about this book is it talks a lot about what we need to understand about what our technology is doing to us. The book talks more about big picture addiction, but we’re going to talk about it in reference to technology, the gospel and how we compare it from hope for it. So that’s what we’re doing today.

To get started, three things we’re going to be talking about. We’re going to talk about, one, how our brains can overstimulate. Two, how we can recover from said overstimulation. And three, what we can put in place to begin moving forward in a more healthful way or keeping it healthy if it already is. If we’re doing well, then how to keep it that way.

All right, so with those three in mind, first, Dopamine Nation, Anna Lembke, if you’re watching the video, this is the book. I lost the shiny cover, it’s all tie-dye, explosion cover looking. But Anna Lembke, she is the head… Wait, I wrote it down so I can make sure I say this right. She’s a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University School of Medicine and chief of the Stanford Addiction Medicine Dual Diagnosis Clinic. That’s why I had to write that down. She’s smart, she’s capable, she’s in this field a lot, and this book is specifically looking at really what is causing a lot of addiction in our current culture and climate and what can we do about it.

There’s a little bit of reference to the digital piece in here. A lot of it is just really, really far advanced addictions to drugs, to behaviors to relationships. So I’m not going to specifically reference the tech parts necessarily out of this, but I want to start with this idea that when we get unhealthy in terms of addiction, it’s because we pursue pleasure wrongly.

And in this case, right out of the first two pages, Anna Lembke references, “We live in a world of overwhelming abundance and the smartphone is our hypodermic needle delivering digital dopamine.” And I love those two quotes, that we live in a world of overwhelming abundance and then that focus on our digital world, we often use to just make ourselves feel better now. It’s the new hypodermic needle to give ourselves digital dopamine. And we’ll talk about dopamine in a minute, but first I want to pause on this idea that we live in a world of abundance and in theory we should be extremely happy and yet a larger percentage of our population is taking medication to feel okay, we’re talking a third of the population taking something along the lines of an antidepressant. And while those can be amazing, Anna Lembke’s question is why, why are we taking so much more now and then getting feedback that we’re not feeling any better than previous generations? What has pivoted?

And she says, first and foremost, we overstimulate our brains. We pursue pleasure at the cost of everything else, which does two things. One, the more pleasure we get if there’s no pain to counterbalance it, the pleasure quits feeling like pleasure. And she gives multiple examples of this. The first piece she points out is, “Dopamine,” she said “isn’t actually about so much liking as it is about wanting.” Now she notes that this is kind of controversial, so if you’re in the field, I do apologize if that’s not exactly right, but that is a quote, page 49 if you want to go find it.

The idea being though that there were rats that were bred, or actually they weren’t even bread, they were genetically engineered to not produce dopamine and these rats would not eat food. You could put food directly in front of them and they wouldn’t eat it. You could put it in their mouth and they would chew it and swallow it, they wouldn’t spit it out, but they would not pursue food. They had no dopamine, they had no motivation and they would just lay there until they would starve to death, which is horrible and a terrible outcome.

But to think about what that means then is okay, dopamine isn’t just about the reward one might get for accomplishing something. It’s the motivation to go out and accomplish the thing. Another example she used is rats were given, this is extreme, but rats were given cocaine. And so a light would go off and the rat would press a button and then the rat would receive the cocaine. And then watching the rat’s dopamine levels, the rat would actually get a spike of dopamine when the light went off, or in this case, light would turn on.

The light would turn on, a massive spike in dopamine, it would go back down to base level and then as the rat would approach the button and start sniffing it and getting closer and anticipating, dopamine would slowly rise and slowly rise until it presses the button and it rises faster and more until it receives the reward and now it gets the massive huge spike. But the second-high spike was seeing the light, it was getting… The dopamine reward would be in anticipation of what is about to happen and that’s what we do. Think about that, those things that you most enjoy. Yes, doing this thing is fun. And by the way, I’m not talking about illicit drugs or any of those things, just the things that we like in life, hanging out with our family, watching a good movie, playing a good game, listening to good music or going and playing a sport, anticipation, vacations, anticipation is a huge part of our enjoyment.

And her point is we can get that anticipation feeling, which normally comes in real life pretty slowly, but we can get it instantly. We can get it right now in our pocket any time of day on demand as often as we want it. And that so many of the apps and the games and the services provided specifically through smartphones are built to make us feel good right now. And then there’s the second part of it. So that’s dopamine, it’s this reward piece. We need to understand that because in a world of overwhelming abundance, if this is a reward that’s supposed to motivate us, I’m supposed to go out and accomplish things so that I can feel this. But if I can get it with no effort, well then I’m like the rat that’s just going to lay here until I starve to death and I start dying on the vine and anxiety and depression and a lot of these other social ills come in because it’s all pursuit of pleasure and now I don’t feel any because that’s all I’m pursuing.

And that’s where she goes with this point when it comes to digital pieces is that one of the biggest forms of addiction, she says on page 18, is easy access to the drug and that smartphones are the easiest access we get to dopamine, that you can get it at any moment for as long as you want, and if it doesn’t work, then you just up the ante, which she says brings in the second problem. So in doing this, she references Dr. Volko and colleagues who did research on the drug addicted brain and they had people who were heavy drug users, they were drug addicted, and then they went two weeks without their drugs and then they did an MRI of the brain and they watched the part of the brain that is supposed to release dopamine and they found that two weeks out, their brains are releasing almost no dopamine.

That means two things. One, the actual creation of dopamine has been lowered to almost zero. It’s entirely relying on this drug to make the brain feel good to give this motivational piece. It needs the drug to be able to be motivated and get stuff done, but also the dopamine receptors were also shut off. So brains can get so overwhelmed with stimuli that they actually start to shut off the receptors, Lembke uses the example and in the book of baseballs being like dopamine. So you have this neurotransmitter that kicks back and forth and it needs receptors to be able to be received and felt and activated. And so basically if you overstimulate your brain with just tons and tons and tons of pleasure with constantly being online and constantly playing games and constantly on social media and constantly being overstimulated, your brain basically takes its ball and goes home.

At first it’ll stop having so many people catching, like, “Great, we can’t have 10 of you, we need three of you.” And so that’s problematic in real life because there’s just not enough stimulation in real life to make those three count all the time. But then there’s also the fact that just at some point the balls quit being thrown because it’s overwhelmed. It’s like people from the stands are just throwing thousands of balls onto the field and the players are like, “We’re done here. We don’t need to be here.” And so then if the outside dopamine reward trigger goes away, so you quit playing video games or you quit listening to music or you quit watching the show or you walk away from social media or you don’t have your smartphone on you this week or whatever it is and your brain isn’t producing enough and doesn’t receive enough, then you get a two-week lull.

The good news though is that after four weeks, the brain can learn to receive and send dopamine at healthy levels again, for most people, obviously she’s working in cases where there’s extreme addiction being used here, we’re talking like cocaine for years, some of those brains don’t recover the same and there are other interventions that are needed to allow that brain to feel happy and successful and just the joy of normal life, like seeing the sunrise again the same way that a healthy brain would. But that isn’t the case, as far as we can tell right now, with video games and with social media and with a lot of our digital overstimulation, we can simply take a break. But listen to that number, she said four weeks and that two weeks with the two dead spots in the brain that aren’t producing and receiving anymore the normal amounts of dopamine, that means that life feels lame.

So if you have a child, we talk about reset before. How do I know if tech is healthy? I look at relationships and responsibilities, emotions, sleep, enjoyment and time. This is the emotions enjoyment piece. This is emotionally, I need this thing to be okay and enjoyment, nothing else is fun, this is the only thing that gets me to a 10 out of 10 anymore. Everything else wilts. It’s not that I do this because I like life and I happen to do this as part of me liking life, this is what I enjoy and that other stuff is just stuff I get through.

So Lembke is saying we need four solid weeks of recovery. If you’ve gotten to the point where you’re like, “This is bad enough,” we’re trying to modify it, we’re trying to just adjust it, which we’ll talk about that in a minute too, but we’ve adjusted, sometimes though it just needs four weeks away. And if you’re not sure if it needs four weeks away, try taking them. Go two weeks. Set a two-week goal. Say, “Hey, we’re going 14 days as a family, here we go, this thing’s getting cut out. We’re putting the tablet away, we’re putting the screen away, we’re turning off our TV, we’re disconnecting our internet.” Whatever it is for your family, “We’re not going to use smartphones.” Or your specific child, “Hey, you don’t get a smartphone, you’re just going to use the family resources.”

Okay, then what happens? At two weeks, if life is about as bad as it gets, that’s our sign. Yes, there was something going on at an actual neural level inside the brain that was being impacted by this form of stimulation and now we need a plan to do that. And the plan would be a slow rollout, we’ll get to that in section three, the being radically honest and how pain is in relation to pleasure.

But in this case, just know that we pursue pleasure at an incredible rate and… I mean, I mentioned video games, social media, streaming, favorite music, but we also get into things like checking the news or things that we know are unhealthy but we do anyways like looking at pornography, which is specifically referenced in this book, frequently. Email can even do this, and yes, drugs can do that, even those things like cannabis that we try to convince ourselves are not addictive, specifically I reference as being addictive because it’s an easy way to feel good as soon as I want, but it’s known to cause anxiety. And oftentimes when used to deal with anxiety, cannabis can actually just be fixing the last hit of cannabis we took. At which point the two to four weeks still applies, so not related to our tech, but it’s in the book, so I thought I’d bring it.

I love this point, pursuing pleasure for its own sake, hedonism, and her quote is, “Leads to anhedonia, which is the inability to enjoy pleasure of any kind,” from page 57. In referencing this, she references Dr. Tom Finucane, wow, I’m sorry, F-I-N-U-cane, Finucane, and he says, “We are cacti in the rainforest when it comes to the digital stimuli we’re around and living in a culture that pursues pleasure with everything it has.” We are designed for a certain amount of enjoyment, that’s the way our brains are set up, it’s the way relationally we’re set up, and we are watching our culture pursue pleasure with everything it’s got and it’s killing us. We are trying to feel good every second of every single day to the point where we’ll pursue that over things we need, and in doing that, we’re swamped.

And there’s only really two options, we either need to turn off the faucet, we need to get covered, we need to redirect the flow of all of this pleasure that is overwhelming us or we’re going to drown in it. It’s not simply something that we can adapt to, we are not seeing brains adapt to this level of overstimulation. And when they do adapt, they adapt by doing things like what the addicts brain does, it adapts, but just shutting down parts of itself because it doesn’t know what else to do.

So this is what we’re working on. We adapt to our choices and it is very loving and deliberate to recognize using a reset if this technology is helpful and to build hedges. Hedges are perfectly reasonable. Put a barrier between yourself, your family, not yourself and your family, yourself and family, and those digital stimuli. Create a hedge around your network. Go back and listen to the Start Here on building a hedge, but around your devices and around your family. The conversation needs to happen because, well, we know that technology and overstimulation causes problems with sleep, academics, friendships, anxiety, depression, motivation, and all of this is related to the technology that we’re ingesting.

It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s causal, it might be symptomatic, something else could be wrong, therefore we go to technology and therefore these things happen, but the tech isn’t helping, that’s the point. I feel anxiety, I feel good when I’m on social media, but I feel worse when I walk away. There’s a article, I guess not an article, it was a announcement, a research piece that came out from Vivek Murthy’s department, the US Surgeon General who said this last year, that very thing. He’s like, “When we research, when we talk to kids, we are hearing that they like social media. There are positives to it, connect with friends, enjoy yourself, learn news and information, what’s going on in the world, and they’re coming away overstimulated, they’re coming away anxious, and it’s driving a cycle where they keep going back to it.” So the best thing we can do, build a hedge, open the conversation and recognize that this could be an issue and sometimes we need to take a step back.

Which is the second thing, recovery… If the first thing is we can get overstimulated, the second thing is that recovery starts with abstinence. We reset the brain’s reward pathways. Abstinence can be kind of a bad word in certain parts of modern culture, especially when it comes to technology because it starts to sound like, “Hey, you’re just hiding your head in the sand. You’re not dealing with the real world. We have to prepare our children to go out there and to live in this digital space.” And I’m saying, exactly, we have to teach our children how to live in this digital space, how to redirect some of this torrent of overstimulation or stimulation that can be overstimulating of just constant reward and pleasure that our culture puts out there, and that is considered just part of how people live life.

How do we raise up our children in the way they should go in this? We train them that when it gets unhealthy, how to spot it, we have tools to help us and abstinence is one of them. This is where hedges come in. In this book though, she calls it self-binding, and I love this because it literally is building the hedges.

So self-binding, she goes with three, the first version of self-binding, this is what you will use for any amount of time but can be used for four weeks. The first is you’re going to self-bind yourself in terms of space, just give yourself physical distance. So with our family, this would be when we’re using devices, this would be like a device hedge. Hey, this particular object, we’re just not going to use it for the next four weeks. We’re going to put it away in a closet, in a box, sell it, whatever it is. We’re just not going to have it around so we don’t have the visual trigger, we don’t have the emotional triggers, we don’t have other people using it, and you have to see it. We’re going to remove this thing, this is number one to practice self-binding in this abstinence and reset of the mind, not reset the acronym, but rebooting the mind, let’s call it that. And allowing ourselves to come down from our need for outside stimulation to feel happy and okay in life.

So I like that self-binding, make yourself a space limitation. Or another way to limit it is just to a physical space. This is only going to be used in this space, so we’re going to only use devices in a public space in our room. The living room, the kitchen, this is the only spot where this device can be used. We’re going to bind it to that spot so that when you walk away, you’re not constantly thinking about it, another way to do that.

The second is you can bind it to time. So we talk about time in a reset, we talk about time in the family part of building a hedge, that you need to talk about content, you need to talk about time, you need to talk about priorities. In hers, she talks about time limits and time, oh my goodness, I forgot it, time limits and oh, finish lines. Time limits being, set a time limit. You can play this game, but it needs to be for 30 minutes or it needs to be an hour, but it’s an hour on these particular days. Or finish lines, you can do it when you’re done with these things or we can do this as a reward for X amount of activity completed in some other way.

I will say, and she notes this in the book, that doing the finish line piece does elevate games or whatever your reward is as kind of the thing you’re getting back to, and I don’t love it. So I absolutely believe in the time limits. I would strongly caution using the finish line piece. I think it’s reasonable, especially as an adult like, “Oh, I’m not going to watch the show I want to watch until I get this project done.” Okay, you’re prioritizing, you’re still going to allow yourself to do it, but there’s other things that are important. I get that. I do like with young people the idea of using it… I mean, I guess kind of like if you’re going to give money as an allowance, you give this as a, you have a tech allowance.

And certainly there’s things you can do that can lose you some of this allowance because it’s not safe, it’s not a good decision for you when you’re being unkind or unsafe and making poor decisions in other areas, but we’re going to give this to you and we’re going to watch as you continue to grow and develop, and if it gets unhealthy, we’re going to remove it because you don’t deserve this thing, it’s something you like and we like to give you, but not if it’s going to hurt you or others. And that’s the time piece, that we can set a time limit and it needs to come in priority.

Which is the third piece then, is categorical, she calls, it or meaning. Basically you put rewards into categories and those categories have meaning for you. And so for my life, this would be the difference between video games and board games. They can be the exact same sort of content, they can be fantastical and involve dragons and colorful pictures and worlds that don’t exist and even have levels involved. And there can be a lot of similarity, but I can play a board game and I can’t play a video game and stay healthful. I know that about myself. It’s been enough years. I understand where my limits are. So board games are my thing.

And even with board games, there’s subcategories. There are a couple games where I’m like, “You know what? That’s a little too much and it draws me in too much and I spend too much time planning it and thinking about it and wanting to get back to it, and so I’m going to stick with these games over here.” And so categories are another helpful way to practice abstaining from unhealthy tech as we give ourselves a chance to reset.

Sometimes at the end of four weeks, we go, “You know what? My brain’s better, but I know for a fact that would still be a bad choice.” That’s perfectly reasonable to indefinitely have some self-binding in space, in time and categories and say, “You know what? This technology, this outlet for us, this form of fun, is just too much.” I know a lot of people who’ve stepped away from certain types of social media, they go, “You know what? This one’s useful, I connect with people and I can manage this, but this one’s just toxic to me and I can’t be on there and live with my mindset on Christ. My mind goes to dark, angry, mad, lustful, selfish, greedy, whatever, bad places really quick and it stays there and affects the rest of my life. I’m cutting this thing out. I’m gouging it out. I’m cutting it off.”

We’re doing the Matthew 5:28-30, there is sometimes a real action in faithfulness, not because we’re trying to prove anything to anybody, but because we know it’s not helpful, so we’re going to kick it out. And that is something that Dr. Lembke absolutely supports.

So in conclusion, on the second piece of abstinence, build hedges, build it around your family, your network, and your devices. If you need help on that, check out the Start Here episode of this podcast on building hedges. Go to, you can check out the, it’s a two-hour course I’ve made there, and you can do it in little chunks, you could do it all in once. But it’s two hours if you were to sit down and answer all the questions yourself, it comes with a PDF handout and it’s actually not even a handout, it’s a hundred-page workbook, but about 40 pages is the actual work of the two hours that you’ll go through and it has lots of examples and prompting questions, and then the rest of its resources and talking about video games and some conversation talking point stuff. So that’s if you want a resource on how to build those hedges. Content, time, priorities are the three areas that we set hedges around specifically. There’s more to do if you do the workshop, but that’s where you need to start.

What are we going to enjoy? The content. When are we going to enjoy it? The time. And for how long? And what order should this come in? What do we need to finish first? What’s the priority for when we watch shows versus when we don’t? Make sure you’ve talked that out with your family. And then continue the conversation as you go. Is it working? Ask your kids, “Is this enough time? Are you satisfied? Are you enjoying it? What are you enjoying when you go on there and watch or when you go on there and play, when you go on there and listen? And then what feels difficult,” or another way to say it for younger teenagers would be, “What feels unfair? What about these rules just chafes you?” It doesn’t mean you’re going to change the rule, it means you want to know that. You care because it bothers your child and you want to know why.

The third section then, in talking about Dopamine Nation by Anna Lembke, a Stanford psychiatrist and a leading researcher in the area of addiction, specifically when it comes to how then do we… We’ve done our abstinence because we recognized there was a problem. We were overstimulated, we weren’t feeling joy in real life. Our RESET, Relationships and responsibilities, Emotion, Sleep, Enjoyment, Time, was off kilter in one or more areas. How do we keep it healthful in the future? And there’s two parts.

First is pain. And this isn’t sadistic, don’t hear me wrong, that pain is somehow good in too great a sense. Certainly actually she points out, some people get connected to the pain, and this is where you get extreme sport people or even extreme endurance athletes who will run or bike or swim so far that they end up hurting their own bodies from stress injuries, but they can’t give themselves enough time to heal because they need the pain of training to be okay. So we’re not saying, “Well, just exercise and everything will be fine.” But we are saying, “Pain is important.” And the example she uses is that, “We can inhibit great pain with little pain,” page 170, this is a quote from Hippocrates, but this idea that two pains can exist at the same time in different parts of the body, that the greater one will block the lower one, or as my father used to call it, the gait theory of pain.

Never complain around my dad that something hurts because he’ll find a way to fix it. He’s like, “Oh, really? Your foot hurts, give me your hand.” I’m like, “No, no, no, no, no, I’m fine. I’m fine. Don’t do it.” And this idea though is real that… I mean, even to the point where she references that there’s a fascinating study using an opioid blocker to treat pain. So opioids are normally what we give people when they’re in pain, but what they found is that especially when dealing with chronic pain, you would start needing more opioids because the pleasure that the opioid brings plateaus. And so whatever pain you were feeling now escalates, the drugs no longer work and the pain is still there. It’s now felt like it’s heavier and more intense even though it hasn’t technically increased. Your injuries isn’t worse, but the constant influx of opioids has caused your body to get off balance. So what they’ve done is just block the opioids and it tricks your body into actually producing more of them.

And so even though you don’t have any in your system, your body feels less pain because it’s creating more of them to try to overcome the blocker that’s in place. It’s like the reverse of what happens when you give it too much pleasure, you block the pleasure and it creates more of it to try to counteract. Fascinating, interesting idea.

The best way to fight and imbalance in the pursuit of pleasure, abstinence is the first, the second though is exercise, is the introduction of a small amount of pain. And her quote is, “The evidence is indisputable, exercise has a more profound and sustained positive effect on mood, anxiety, cognition, energy, and sleep than any pill I can prescribe,” from page 152.

So she’s not talking about becoming a marathon runner, although if that’s your thing, please begin training. She’s saying go for a walk, get outside, maybe bring a friend with you and tie two positive things together. Maybe go walk a park. Maybe it’s go for a hike and maybe even bring a camera and take pictures of nature and cause yourself to be quiet, bring a notebook and journal. But the idea is getting out into nature and experiencing the pain of exercise, of movement, of being alive in the real world and how slow and mortal we are is really important when recalibrating ourselves in a world that is overstimulating, especially when we’ve been pursuing happiness in escape, happiness in our smartphone and in our digital escapes and in our work.

This reminds me of the Calvin and Hobbes cartoon that Anna gave me one day, and it’s Calvin’s dad and it shows him going out on a bike ride and he’s all happy and he is out in traffic and he’s falling down a hill and he has a flat tire and he’s just generally having a terrible day. And he comes back home and he’s in the bathtub, oh, and partway through Calvin is laughing at him, leaving in his shorts and is laughing at him coming back all scratched up. And then he is in the bathtub and he says, “The secret to enjoying your job is to have a hobby that’s worse.” And there is some truth in that. As a cyclist, I can acknowledge that. My job, if it ever feels too stressful, man, go jump in the pain cave during the winter and pedal away and suddenly life feels awesome.

So there is some reality to exercise, whatever your exercise might be. It is an important part, but it’s not enough. The second part that Lembke points out, and this is our final point for this conversation today, is that we will not get better without radical honesty, as she calls it. Radical honesty, she points out specifically, social media as something that encourages us to make what she calls curative narratives. This idea that we are going to curate the perfect life and only show that to other people.

And she said, “One of my patients online, he was a successful photographer. He was working his days doing creative projects and lots of artistic investment. He was running every morning, he had lots of awards, but in actual life he couldn’t get out of bed in the morning. He was heavily depressed. He was chronically searching pornography and he was depressed, anxious, and suicidal,” in real life. But while projecting to the world, feeling like, “Well, this must be true, and if I just say it enough, maybe it’ll become true.” And in fact, the opposite happened, he recognized the lie and he didn’t know how to be honest about it. And that’s where seeking professional care for him was valuable and important.

And that’s I think what we need to think about is we wrap this up thinking about, all right, three things are true, we can be overstimulated. Dopamine as a motivator/reward is key, and it’s so easy to get. When we play a video game, that’s the sound effects, that’s the leveling up, that’s the flashing lights. It’s the, when all the little jewels or candies pop at the same time and it makes a great sound and you watch your points rack up. That feeling is what keeps you going for the next time you get that feeling. Yes, there’s a reward there, but it’s the motivator. It’s the carrot that keeps you going out. The problem being sometimes the rest of life feels less awesome.

So what do we do? Abstinence. First, we put hedges up to keep unhealthful tech at bay to allow our children to have a childhood to recognize what healthy life looks like. You’re not going to mess your child up by giving him or her a childhood. There are absolutely wrong ways to do it. Locking them away in a castle won’t help. So letting them recognize this is a technological world, I’m going to introduce you to that in healthful ways. I’m going to make sure that you’re healthful first, that the tech is right. Go listen to the Start Here series on how to know if our tech is healthy and what tech to use for more on those.

But then after we go, “Okay, I’m going to give you some tech, but not right now.” We’ve built hedges, we’ve kept it at bay, we’re going to then have to reboot our brains. It’s with abstinence. And in that abstinence, we get some space away from the tech and we begin introducing things that will help us. We can self-bind. That’s where the hedges come in. We can make sure that we give ourselves opportunities that pleasure that is going to be helpful resetting the brain’s reward pathways. It’s going to take space and conversation and relationship.

Third and finally, pain is part of that process, introducing things like exercise. She goes into things like ice baths and doing anything that might cause fasting and things like that, certainly. But exercise is the one I’m emphasizing on because I think it’s something everyone can do from six years old on up to 66 to 96, we can all exercise in some form, and then mixed with the radical honesty.

Paul encourages us in 1 John 1:7-9, or excuse me, Ephesians 5. Paul didn’t write 1 John. Ephesians 5:8-11. There it is. “For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the world. Walk as children of light, for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true. And try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” This idea that it is incredibly loving to say out loud what we’ve done wrong and to expect our children to do the same, to draw them out, to encourage them, to model it, to teach them that, to set up accountability in your home along with those hedges, not to catch them doing wrong, but to promote the conversation. When this goes wrong, we’re going to talk about it.

Yes, there’s that pro-social piece of like, “Oh man, my parents are going to find out. I don’t want to make a mistake.” Sure, there’s that. But when the stuff happens, we want to make sure we’re there to love them and to talk it out and to make sure that it’s healthful and that there is a solution and that this is the only thing that’s going wrong and not something else. Radical honesty is really, really important. For our hearts and recovery, as Lembke points out, it’s key in overcoming any kind of addiction. If someone is lying to themselves and saying, “Hey, this is other people’s fault. It never would’ve happened if A, B, C, or D. I would do better if these people just helped me more,” that those people don’t get better.

That the people who get better say, “I have a problem. I need help, and I’m going to be the one taking responsibility for my actions from here on out. I’m going to admit when I made a mistake and I’m going to admit it because I know these people are here to love me and help me. They’re not here to shame me. They’re not here to mock me. They’re not here to prove that I made a mistake. They’re here to help me not be a mistake. I know that this doesn’t define me, this describes me, and therefore, I’m going to bring it to my mom and dad. I’m going to bring it to my friends, my family. I’m going to bring it to this group who’s agreed to love and care for me, my church members, my community group,” whatever it is. That’s key.

And then the second verse, this is 1 John this time, from John, not Paul, but, “If we walk in the light, as he’s in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus, his son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he’s faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Again, I love that radical honesty piece because it’s the Christian walk. It is the process of having been a sinner of walking in broken flesh and recognizing that yet I am a new creation and each time I mess up, I’m going to repent. Each time I mess up, I’m going to turn away, bring that back before the Lord and call it what it is, this is a sin, this was wrong and I did it, and I need help. And that’s the only way we’re going to be able to reset our brains to live healthy in a tech world or to raise kids that can do that as well.

So I hope that this is encouraging. As a quick reminder, the three parts we talked about, your brain can get overstimulated because of dopamine, and digital technology is massive in giving us quick hits of feel good wherever you want. The way we recover starts with abstinence. Four weeks, it takes two to begin to open things up again and start to feel life is happy.

Oh, and by the way, I actually forgot to read this quote, but I’ll just reference it here. Dr. Lembke is very gracious in basically saying there is no easy way to get through those first two weeks. Your brain literally doesn’t feel happiness like it’s supposed to, and it’s going to feel bad. And just leaning into that, acknowledging this feels bad, telling people, radically honestly, “I feel bad.” And then pressing into the work of getting better, adding some exercise, adding some activities. Knowing that, in two to three weeks it’s going to start feeling better, in four weeks, you should be back to your baseline normal, how those technological pieces were making you feel, but now you can feel it on a regular basis without that outside artificial stimulation. Recovery begins with abstinence. And third, little pains, being in real life, exercise mixed with radical honesty is the road to continued recovery in health, [inaudible] technology and a lot of other things.

So I hope this is encouraging to you. I hope that you heard something from this that will help you, that again, my goal here is to empower you as parents, as teachers, as administrators, as young people to hear that this is reality that we’re living in right now, that some of this tech is just too much for us, and that if we have that feeling about ourselves or someone we care about, we can step boldly into those knowing that what needs to happen on a spiritual level is bringing those hurt areas into the light.

That God’s not scared of them. He’s not mad that we somehow managed to sin. He’s not surprised, but he’s also not okay with it. And his goal for us is to be made to look like Jesus, and that can only happen when we repent, set it down and allow him to make us new. So I hope that this is encouraging. If it was, would you consider sharing it with someone that you think could benefit from this? Would you reach out with any questions you’ve got? You can reach me directly, [email protected]. You can check out the book, Anna Lembke’s book, Dopamine Nation, and join us next week as we continue this conversation about how we can love God and use tech.

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