"We have this huge brain stocked full of pleasant memories and the ability to generate fantasies—surely it can't be that hard to spend a few minutes enjoying yourself with your thoughts."“So we started out just kind of by the seat of our pants trying stuff to see how easy it was for people to entertain themselves with their own thoughts,” he went on. “With the expectation, to be honest, that it wouldn’t be that hard. We kind of thought, well, we have this huge brain that’s stocked full of pleasant memories and has the ability to generate fantasies, and surely it can’t be that hard to spend a few minutes enjoying yourself with your thoughts. And we just kept doing study after study finding that—for many people, anyway—not so much.”
The people were asked to sit still in a room without any distractions for 6-15 minutes depending on the study. They were asked only to meditate on their thoughts for that length of time. Many found it quite difficult. In fact, in one study people were given the ability to shock themselves rather than sit quietly. (They had earlier said they would pay not to have that shock again.) But guess what? You are right, people could not sit quietly. Two thirds of men shocked themselves and a quarter of the women shocked themselves.
The article goes on:
Why is entertaining ourselves so hard? Maybe subjects just couldn’t decide where to steer their thoughts? Nope. In several studies, some were offered topics to fantasize about (going on a beautiful hike, etc.), but that tweak had no effect on difficulty or enjoyment.
Maybe modern technology is rotting our brains? Nope. Enjoyment was unrelated to age or the use of smart phones or social media. Wilson says if anything, use of technology is more a symptom than a cause of our difficulty with entertaining ourselves, although there could be circular effects.
As a pastor, I can talk about prayer, but how can "I get them" to do it? People don't like being still, and as we see in these studies, this is especially harder for men. Connecting with God through prayer is so vital for the spiritual life. The psalmist writes:
"Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him" (Psalm 37:7 NIV).
"Be still, and know that I am God" (Psalm 46:10 NIV).
"Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord" (Psalm 27:14 NIV).
Plus, Jesus himself set the example for us: "But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed" (Luke 5:16 NIV).
"Being still" and "waiting" are so foreign to us. "Withdrawing" as Jesus did on a regular basis seems appalling to many. Yet, these are important aspects of the spiritual life. By the way, we love to be anxious because it feels like our worrying is doing something, rather than finding peace with God through prayer. That doesn't seem like we are doing anything.
I have thought much about habits lately, because I read the book by Charles Duhigg "The Power of Habit." Is "being still" and praying a habit we can learn? Maybe, I should approach it that way, I don't know.
Prayer and silence are "hated" by many people, yet they are necessary for our spiritual life in Christ. How can I get people to pray and meditate when it goes against our very nature? I don't know. If you have an answer, let me know. I guess I need to be still and pray about it. Of course, how long would that last unless I have an electric shock?