Ira Nicodemus

Stewardship. Leadership. Faith.

Category: Stewardship

The Coming Crisis: Will 2017 See Another Housing Crash?

I haven’t posted much here lately as I’ve been working a lot on preparing Propsee for launch. However, today I felt prompted through to take a break from all the other things I’m working on to write about what I feel is an impending crisis for the housing market and US Economy that may begin in 2017. Please take the time to prayerfully read this and take time to consider your own personal situation in preparation.

Executive Summary

Housing prices are not only inflated, but supported by a weak consumer base that is borrowing more than they can afford. Demographics are a ticking time bomb with baby boomers aging out of the workforce and millennials in dismal shape. Consumer debt exceeds pre-2008 levels and the default rates are increasing on the two highest growth sectors (auto and student loans). The “recovery” is a house of cards and a correction is overdue.

Wise consumers will prepare now by reducing debt loads and diversifying incomes and investments as much as possible to weather the storm.

Introduction

Our last financial crisis in 2008 had its roots in a massively overvalued and poorly underwritten housing market. Housing values in 2006 hit a peak of $23.9 trillion, which was accompanied by mortgage debt of $10.3 trillion, yielding equity of just under $14 trillion. Surprisingly, 2017 looks very similar with total housing value exceeding 2006 levels at $24.3T, debt holding steady around $10.3T, and equity rising to just over $14T with the positive difference.  (Source: Urban.org)

 

While this data alone seems eerily similar to pre-2008 levels, it is often dismissed as signs of a healthy recovery. It is not till other factors are considered that the gravity of the situation is fully realized. Let’s discuss some of these here:

What is driving home values?

Housing has long been seen as a fundamental growth engine of the economy. In efforts to spur recovery following the 2008 crash, the Federal Reserve lowered interest rates to record levels. Below is a graph that shows rates over the past 10 years (Source: Trading Economics)

Low interest rates have encouraged people to buy homes, which is why we saw the bottom of housing values around 2011-2012 with a phenomenal recovery since then (see first graph). In addition, they have increased home prices substantially.

There are four main factors on the market side and three main factors on in the buyers side that go in to the value of a home in a given market. These are based on the assumption that people buy homes based on the monthly payment they can “afford” (read, “be approved for”). Let’s start with the market factors.

Market Factors

  • Taxes
  • Insurance
  • Interest
  • Home Value

Taxes

Depending on the state, municipality, etc., taxes will represent a varying level of burden on the homeowners monthly payment. Areas with high property tax rates, such as NY state, traditionally see less volatility in home prices as this proportion of monthly payment acts as a buffer against the other three factors’ impact. Areas with low taxes tend to see more impact on home value, but we’re jumping ahead.

Insurance

This remains fairly steady but does have an impact to a lesser degree. If an area has low insurance premiums, less of the payment is based on this “fixed” factor, leading to more impact when the other factors change.

Interest

This is a big one. When interest rates are low, the buyer can afford more home for the same monthly payment. This is perhaps the biggest single driver in starting the run in housing prices seen from 2011-2017. (Note I said starting, because eventually other factors, such as speculation, take over).

Home Value

The output of the other three factors is home value. When you consider the equation, if taxes and insurance are low, then interest rates drop, the home value will increase to accommodate the same monthly payment from a buyer.

Buyer Factors

The above factors are predicated on a buyer with a certain amount of money to spend each month on housing. Unfortunately this is based less on good personal budgeting and more on what banks will approve. The factors here are pretty simple, as it is based primarily on debt to income ratio and lending viability.

  • Income
  • Debt
  • Lending Viability

Income

How much a household makes is fundamental to everything else. So what has happened to incomes since 2008?

Much of the growth in incomes has been unevenly distributed among classes. This is not an article on the value or injustice of income inequality, but the reality remains that actual wage growth of the middle and lower class has been stagnant over time.

Debt

Banks loan based on debt to income ratios. We’ll talk about how lending practices can influence this in a moment, but for now suffice to say that income alone isn’t a great indicator of lending viability but rather income after paying other consumer debts.

We started by referencing the mortgage debt and showed that it is essentially at the same level as pre-2008. What this doesn’t take in to account is the rise of other consumer debt, specifically auto debt and student loan debt. Viewed holistically, you see that the American economy is under as much debt load as pre-2008 levels, just in different areas.  (Source: MarketWatch)

Household debt has surpass pre-2008 levels, and consumers are defaulting more and more on the two areas that have seen the biggest increase of debt growth, student and auto loans.

Student Loan Defaults

The WSJ recently reported that student loan repayment rates are far worse than recently reported, with half of students either defaulting or not paying a single dollar toward their loan balances 7 years following graduation. This is bad, really bad. Student loan debt far surpasses credit card debt at $1.4T and the default rates are about to go through the roof.

The growth in student loan debt is especially disturbing, given how it impacts that portion of a vital demographic, as we’ll discuss soon.

Auto Loans

The auto industry has been doing great since 2008. As with everything, what is driving that? Debt. Lots of it. Auto loans are much higher than 2008 and default rates are on the rise. 17% of borrowers are likely to default in the next year. This is on another ~$1T in outstanding debt. (Source: 247wallst). The worst portion of this is sub-prime auto lending, which is nearing 20% of total lending and experiencing default rates over 5%,

Lending Viability

All of the above items are great, but the other big factor is what the banks will (or are allowed to) lend. Credit scores are a big factor here as well as debt to income ratios. Government programs and how these factors are calculated also play in to the mix.

In 2015, Fannie Mae rebooted the HomePath program (Source: Fox Business), which not only allows buyers to purchase a home with little documentation and only 3% down, but allows multiple income sources to be counted on the application (aka. multiple family members). This was an effort by the Obama administration to help recent immigrants buy homes. What this has done is increase values of entry level homes to unsustainable levels for the actual population buying them, and little data is known on the actual viability of these borrowers.

Debt to income ratios are also being relaxed in several areas in the past few years. A key one to watch is around student loan treatment. Fannie Mae is now allowing people who are in adjusted repayment programs count the lowered payment toward their debt ratio without consideration to the total outstanding balance. In addition, they are encouraging people to refinance to pay off student loans, which will only shift debt from student loans to housing. Lastly, people that have parents helping them on debt or repayment do not have to count that toward their qualifications. (Source: Chicago Tribune).

So in an effort to spur growth in the entry level and middle class segments of the population, we are just taking new tactics to bring in unqualified borrowers, which is inflating prices and encouraging poor financial stewardship.

Has there been a real recovery?

“But what about unemployment?!”, you say. “Haven’t we seen job growth?”. Yes and no. The reason that the federal reserve had a slight interest rate hike this Spring and is expected to increase rates again in June 2017 is based on this metric. Here’s a chart to give basis to their thinking:

 

What this doesn’t take in to account is the labor force participation and employment rates.

 

You can see here that while unemployment has decreased, so has the overall % of people in the workforce. What is happening to all of those who are no longer seeking employment and how do they impact the unemployment values?

Another way to look at this is the overall employment rate, which has not recovered to pre-2008 levels even as unemployment has dropped.

Demographics

The population is aging. Baby boomers are aging out of the workforce in record numbers. Rather than being replaced with a strong generation of workers, we are seeing a very weak segment of millennials struggling to get a start on life as they are crippled with student loan debt.

Based on the most recent census data, over a third of people from ages 18-34 are living at home with their parents. This is up from 25% in 2005. In addition, real wages have dropped for men in this demographic since the 1970’s. (Source: The Hill). To make matters worse, about a third of those living at home aren’t even working or in school.

While more people have college educations, the value of these degrees is dropping. Here’s a chart that shows earning for recent college graduates (Source: EPI):

An entire generation that should be coming in to the workforce, buying homes, starting families, etc. are living at home, burdened with debt, struggling to find jobs, taking bad jobs when they can find them, buying homes they can’t afford, and being subsidized by their parents in countless ways.

Speculation

All of this artificial demand and price increases have led to speculators seizing the opportunity and artificially driving prices even higher. When people buy at high prices with anticipation to sell to someone else at even higher prices, prices are no longer an indicator of actual value. This is why average home price to income (PTI) ratios has increased to record levels in many markets. A “normal” national PTI is expected to be 3.5, which means the average house cost 3.5 the average income. In 2005-2006, national PTI was up around 4.7, just before the bubble burst. Where are we headed now? North of 4, which is dangerous territory. (Source: Freddie Mac).

When values get too out of line with incomes, it is usually driven by speculation (investors aren’t real buyers), dangerous lending practices (see above), or a combination of both. In the current case, it is likely the latter.

Another metric that is interesting to watch as an indicator of investor activity is the % of homes being flipped. In 2006 it had risen to 7.3%. Now it is over 6% and climbing. (Source: ZeroHedge)

“A rising tide carries all boats” is an appropriate axiom here, as everyone is making money on flips. Heck, by the time a property undergoes a 3mo flip, it has probably already appreciated 5% these days! People are paying not only over asking, but over appraisal as there’s a mad scurry to pick up houses and make a quick buck.

So what’s going to happen?

Another tide saying that bears repeating is “When the tide goes out, you can tell who’s skinny dipping” (Warren Buffett). Based on all of the evidence above, there is a very good chance that the tide is soon going to go out, and unfortunately there’s a lot of people skinny dipping. So what’s going to trigger a correction?

Rising Interest Rates

We’ve already talked about how the Fed’s low interest rates have been a primary driver in growth. So what happens when those rates go up? Since incomes are already strained with high PTI ratios and consumer debt, there is no room for monthly payments to increase to accommodate a higher interest portion. This means that home values will need to come down for a real buyer to afford a purchase. While this won’t impact current home owners who have fixed rate mortgages (thankfully ARMs are not as prevalent as they were in pre-2008), it will cool the market. This cooling will start to slow investor activity as well as demand slows down. If all goes well, then we will simply see a reduction to normal appreciation from the 10-20% annual increases we’ve been seeing. This is the plan and why the Fed has been so slow to raise rates.

Of course, it is possible that a big rate increase is enough to send housing prices in to negative territory. This alone likely won’t be enough to cause a 2008 level event, but it will be rough for people who purchased with low equity.

Other Consumer Debt Defaults

As referenced earlier, people are already starting to default on some types of consumer debt, such as student and auto loans. Even though these segments have grown to $2.4T total, they are still not big enough to singlehandedly cause a 2008 level event, when over $10T in mortgage debt was suddenly exposed by a 25% drop in housing values. If consumer debt is to be the culprit, it is because it triggers a series of events and defaults in the mortgage debt.

The demographic issue comes in to play here, as a big question remains of how the Baby Boomer and Millennial generations will interact. Since so many millennials are subsidized by baby boomers, there fates are likely inextricably linked. If a baby boomer wants to sell their home, but there is no millennial to buy it, how will that impact housing prices? If that baby boomer can’t cash our or downsize, how will they retire? What happens to the millennial at home when the baby boomer does retire, if they are able? What happens if the millennial tanks the economy with their student loan debt and now the baby boomer can’t retire?!?

A combination of many factors

Almost 10 years later, there is still much debate of what led to the crash in 2008. Housing was definitely the large part of it, but these things are complicated and it is rarely one factor. Usually it is a combination of poor practices and then someone gets spooked, causing a panicked selloff.

So what should you do?

“So if you’re right, what do I do?!”. Don’t get scared, just get prepared. Pray about some of these things.

Get Rock Solid

Cut or avoid debt as much as possible. Start with simple consumer debt like credit cards, student loans, or auto loans. Do everything you can to drop these or avoid them. Sell the BMW, go to community college, or take a part time job. Get rock solid so you can survive the storm.

Evaluate Your Housing

Are you renting? Consider staying that way. It may seem scary watching prices go up and wondering if you will ever be able to afford a home, but even if I’m wrong about a major price correction (5-20%), it is very unlikely that you’re going to see 10-20% appreciation in 2018 and 2019. Don’t make the mistake of jumping in at the top of the market with a low down payment out of FOMO.

Do you own? Consider selling. This isn’t for everyone, but if you are in a position where you can downsize for a while, either to rent or buy a lower price home, consider doing so. This may not be for everyone depending on your family situation.

If you already have substantial equity in your home, you’re probably ok to stay. It might suck if prices go down and you missed the timing, but at least you aren’t going to get foreclosed on if you already have 30-50% equity in your home at current values. Just stay where you’re at and focus on paying off any consumer debt and/or building your savings.

Diversify

This is typically used when talking about investing, and that applies here as well, but also consider diversifying your income streams.

From an investment standpoint, there is no one right answer. Someone who is in their 20’s could stay in a high stock’s ratio and even if we do have another 2008 will have plenty of time to recover. However, I’d encourage even this person to consider shifting at least some of their assets to safer investments to counter or buffer a stock market correction.

Income diversification is more here and now than your investment portfolio. If you are like most people and get all of your income from 1-2 sources, consider adding a little to that. Can you pick up freelance work or start a side business? Even if you don’t get to where this is a major contribution right now, at least it is available so that if you lose your primary income you have something else you can ramp up to replace it.

Summary

My intent with writing this was not to instill fear in anyone. I could be wrong about all of this, as there are people smarter then me that could easily dispute all of my points and data. However, from my view as a Stewardship junkie, I feel strongly that we are not able to survive as a nation addicted to debt forever. It is like someone who lost their job but just kept living it up on credit cards for a few years…eventually the party has to stop. I simply advise you to prayerfully consider what I’ve said and perhaps take some steps to prepare for the possibility that I’m right.

Blessings,

Ira

Pursuing Less, Stewarding More

Growing up in rural Western NY where the average income was less than $40k a year was a great place to start my life. In this beautiful country of backroads and family farms, a BMW 3-series turns head. Here, a 7-series won’t get a second glance. Going to college isn’t a given back there, and those that do often end up leaving to pursue opportunities elsewhere. If you’ve wondered at all why Trump won, I can give you some good perspective….but that’s a post for another day.

By contrast, Texas is a veritable sea of comparison! Looks seem to be everything and the parade of big homes and expensive cars never end. You can be an up and coming manager with a 6-figure salary, slightly used car, and decent home and still feel like a failure as soon as you step out the door. The bar is set so high that it can feel like a constant struggle just trying to keep up.

Given this backdrop of two worlds, I often find myself torn between being a simple country boy and an up and coming Fortune 500 executive. I am concerned about how I will ever reach the level of success I see all around me. While I am doing extremely well by almost any measure, I see the end of my 20’s fast approaching and wonder if I could have made “Millionaire by 30” status if I had done some things differently over the last 10 years. Many will point to my mild successes and encourage me by comparison, saying that very few are the true wunderkinds and all in all things are going well.

I am grateful for what I have, but I feel a constant self-imposed pressure to do more, achieve more, and find a way come hell or high water to achieve the grand destiny I have pictured in my mind….

…but what if the only way to get true success is to pursue “less”? Tweet This

Matthew 6:33 says “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”. What are the things Jesus is talking about here? Backing up to verses 31 & 32 shows that He is talking about our needs. Now, what is referenced is the basic needs of food, clothing, and shelter. However, don’t you think that God has more than that in mind for us and that He will provide everything we need to accomplish that as well?

God designed us to be partners with Him on earth. John 14:12 says “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in Me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.”. He left us here on earth with the work just beginning. He came down and patiently waited 30 years before starting a 3 year ministry. That time was enough for Him to accomplish everything needed to put the Church in motion. After His ascension, there were only 120 believers gathered in the Upper Room, waiting to receive the Power promised to expand the Church. It was this power that grew the Church by 3,000 in a single day, and continued to take it to literally every part of the known world.

Imagine if the disciples and the rest of those gathered that day had decided to pursue “more”? What if in their zeal they headed out to far away cities to spread the news of Jesus’ glorious resurrection, rather than waiting as He had commanded (Luke 24:49)? I have to admit that I’d have been tempted to do just that. I’d have dusted off my MBA, put together a team, and built a strategy for reaching the world with a 5-year plan. I’d have been so focused on the future, I’d have missed the present. I’d be so busy seeking the promise, that I’d have missed the Presence.

The work that God called us to is far greater than anything we could do on our own. On our own we may accomplish some good things, but we will not accomplish Good things. Satan loves to use this trick, lulling people in to a false sense of success by having them do just enough good that they miss the big picture. He allows them to go unharmed as they seek everything but the One who gives it all.

Proverbs 9:10 says “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” We often ask God to give us wisdom, and it is right that we do (James 1:5), but how many who lack wisdom have gone back to its beginning; the fear of the LORD? What if we chose to pursue the fear of the Lord alone? How do we come to fear Him? Simply by knowing Him! Paul writes in Ephesians 3 that his heart’s desire is simply that the Church would come to understand the “breadth and height and length and depth” (v.18) of God’s love. It is remarkable that he didn’t pray that they would bring more to Christ, baptize more, or pray more. Paul knew that all of those things would follow if people would just begin to understand who God is.

Lately I have been trying to focus on simply knowing God more. Worshiping Him, hearing His voice, obeying His commands. These are simple things that anyone can do, but they are so much harder than the “great” things. In this, God gave me a picture recently that I believe applies to my own life.

Hiram was king of Tyre and a friend and ally of David prior to Solomon’s reign. In 1 Kings 5 we see that he congratulated Solomon on his kingship and Solomon replied by asking for timber to build the Temple. Hiram was able to gladly supply the cedars of Lebanon to allow Solomon to complete the Lord’s work.

What struck me about this story is that Hiram did not plant the cedars. These massive trees had likely lived hundreds of years before he entered the picture. God had taken care of the planting, watering, and growth of the forests, but Hiram was the one who was stewarding them and able to deliver them for this project at that time. In the same way, I realized that the work God has called me to is much greater than what could be accomplished with things that I could plant and grow in my own lifetime. He has been preparing and growing something for me to steward long before I came on the scene. My role now is simply to hear and obey, rather than seek to build and grow.

He has the same things for you. If you have felt overwhelmed by a desire to do good works, I encourage you in this: God has not called you to accomplish Good things alone. Tweet This He has called you to seek the Kingdom. Knowing Him is the wellspring from which every Good thing flows. I implore you to stop seeking the promise and to start seeking the Presence. You don’t want the promise anyhow if you don’t have Him

As I’ve though about what is most important in life, I’ve realized that the only thing I really want is to know Christ and be known by Christ. If at the end of my life I put all of myself in to this one task and fail at everything else, I will have been a success. If I succeed in the world’s eyes, I will know it is because of Him, not me. I am not perfect in my pursuit, but I am pursuing. I encourage you to do the same. Take your eyes off of the good things around you, and seek His presence. He’s worth it.

Is a lack of Faith limiting your Ability?

I stood on the edge of a 300′ canyon, palms clammy and heart racing as I looked down through the narrow walls and in to the raging river below. Hesitant, I visualized the steps needed to make a successful jump, thinking through each piece to make sure I wouldn’t mess it up. After a few long seconds, there could be no more delay. I stepped off the edge in to free fall…..

My younger brother, Benjamin, and I took a trip of a lifetime through Europe this Summer (2016). We began in Italy, spending time in the Tuscan mountains and Ligurian coast, before a short weekend in the French Alps, followed by several days in Switzerland. It was here in a land of surreal alpine views, countless waterfalls, and pristine lakes that the above adventure played out.

Benjamin has always been more of a risk taker and adrenaline junkie than I. The one thing he wanted to do more than anything while in Switzerland was a canyon swing. This is certainly the place to do it, with one of the highest and most daring swings in the world. Canyon swings differ from bungee jumping in that they allow for true free fall for a long distance before catching the arc of the swing and rushing along the ground and back up, before eventually coming to a stop. The proximity of walls on either side, combined with the unrestricted free fall leave most people saying it is more of a thrill than a bungee jump.

After thankfully surviving the canyon swing, the next day led us to an even more challenging adventure of canyoning one of the most intense and difficult commercial canyons available. Canyoning sounds simple in that it is essentially working your way down a canyon through a series of jumps, slides (think a natural water slide carved in to the rock), and rappels. Sounds easy until you’re standing on the edge of a 40′ waterfall being told to jump in to a tiny pool of water below, this time with no rope attached. O, by the way, make sure you swim out of the pool as soon as you land or you may get swept over an even bigger drop….

Opposed to the canyon swing, which was a big thrill that lasted mere minutes, canyoning was 2 1/2 hours of frigid water, rushing slides, and those big jumps over waterfalls and rock ledges. Physically it was a challenge, but mustering the courage to face each feature left me pushing the boundaries of my comfort zone again and again.

Swiss Waterfall

I am naturally very risk adverse. I tend to only take very calculated risks after weighing the options and risk/reward for a long time. When I do embark, I tend to proceed cautiously, feeling for a secure foothold before I release my last one. I saw this on the edge of the canyon as I carefully visualized each step, holding on to the rope and taking the least risky position for the plunge. By comparison, some of my fellow adventures took flying leaps, headfirst and spread eagle, with seemingly no concern for the consequences. One canyon swing participant ended up with a close call as he did a full 360 rotation on the way down, narrowly missing the rope entangling him and leading to a nasty end. The canyoning was similar, although more controlled, as I saw my careful visualization before each challenging jump, compared to the other’s carefree jumps.

Taking a risk that requires you to get outside of your comfort zone shows you a lot about yourself. The same way you approach the edge of a cliff is likely the way you approach a business deal, or new relationship. When you come through one of these experiences unscathed, it also teaches you that getting out of your comfort zone likely isn’t going to kill you, and instead you’ll have a great story and memory! After the trip I found myself thinking a lot about these concepts. In hindsight, these were some of the best memories we made, and I wouldn’t have done them if not for my brother’s prompting.

God spoke to me clearly in the days following our time in Switzerland that my fear of risk is holding me back from achieving the potential He has placed inside of me. He has given me gifts and talents that are currently being invested for a meager return due to my hesitancy and fear (lack of faith) to step out in to the unknown. For example, I know I have abilities in business, speaking, and leadership that are best in class, but currently they are used in exchange for a comfortable salary rather than launching out with my own business and potentially limitless returns in finances and influence.

It isn’t pride to acknowledge that through God’s grace He has placed certain talents within you that must be carefully stewarded. God expects us to fully use our ability. Even demands it! The Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-30 talks about how the Master (God) gave each servant in accordance with his ability (v.15). Upon His return, He was not upset that they had varying levels of ability, but that they did not all invest in accordance with the ability they had. The servant who had buried his talent was severely punished for not at least taking a level of risk in giving it to the bank to earn some interest! Note that the Master didn’t expect that servant to go out and start a business, invest in futures, or undertake some other type of daring, high risk investment. He just asked him to do something in accordance with his faith. At the end of the story we see that the servant who had the most received the talent that the other servant didn’t invest wisely. I imagine that the other two servants weren’t born with a level of ability where they could be trusted with their two and five talents, but rather it came through a series of tests that challenged and built their own faith.

In the Kingdom, faith is the currency of ability. God isn’t just looking for those with the most natural talent, but those who trust Him enough to let Him use them fully. God can do more with someone with seemingly small talent but tremendous faith than someone with the reverse. Faith is the ability we need to do great things for God, not natural talent. Yes, God gives us that too, but it is through faith that we can exercise those muscles of talent. Talent without faith is not ability.

How often do you get outside of your comfort zone? Is your return being limited by your lack of risk? I encourage you to embrace things that challenge your fear and build your faith. It is only by pushing those boundaries that our faith is grown to the point that we can do all that God has planned for us.

The Distraction Addict’s 5 Step Guide to Freedom

We live in an era of distraction. Never before has so much stimuli been so readily available and constantly present. Thousands of advertisements pass our eyes and ears every day. We impulsively check Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, the news….try to focus for 10 minutes, then do it all over again. We can no longer stand to be alone with our thoughts for even the shortest moment. We’ve become addicted to the rush of constant information. Our phones are the needle and we are the junkie.

This is the paradox of our modern age. We have access to more information than ever, yet we rarely think deeply and creatively enough to utilize it. “Big Data” has become the buzzword, when deep thought would likely accomplish much more. Our ability to think clearly and deeply has been undermined by distractions.

When you look at the incredible advances made in centuries past, it is humbling to think how many were done with relatively little information and communication. Some of the world’s greatest discoveries and achievements were the product of great minds thinking long and hard on creative solutions. I’m willing to bet that if some of these minds were here today, they’d be too muddled and confused by the barrage of stimuli to accomplish much of lasting good.

We think that we can manages our distractions. We tell ourselves that information is power. We try to quickly jump between short bursts of focus and distraction. We fail to be fully present as our ragged minds fight the FOMO (Fear of missing out). We feel busy, but we accomplish little.

What are we to do? Here’s a simple 5 step recovery plan for the information addict!

  1. Like any addiction, first you need to admit you have a problem. I know I do. I constantly struggle against the tendency to distract myself with random thoughts. I’m not saying you need to make a full time log. Rather, just commit to taking action and take the next step. This step is perhaps the easiest one.
  2. Once you come to grips with how real the issue is, it is time to quit cold turkey. Find the biggest time wasters in your life, be they social media, news websites, Youtube, etc. and limit your access to those. Here’s a few helpful tips:
    • For many of us, our phones are our primary medium for distractions. Simply deleting an app from your phone may be enough to curb your habit. Not being able to habitually click on that familiar icon will be enough to make you think about the next time you start to waste time. I’m not saying you need to make one of those dramatic Facebook exits(I just distracted you….), just delete the app.
    • If it is your web browser (preferably Chrome), install the StayFocused Chrome extension. This extension allows you to block certain sites during periods of the day and/or limit your visits for a certain time. As with any tool, it will help but ultimately the decision is up to you! This will make you think twice before you disable and go to that favorite time waster….
  3. Now that you’ve limited your access through practical ways, you need to make it through one week of withdrawals.  Sound easy? Not so fast. You will suddenly be acutely aware of how often you hit up those  time waster apps and sites. You’ll feel very uncomfortable all of the sudden while standing in line at the grocery store, or sitting at the doctor’s office. You will stare blankly at your screen at work trying to muster up the will to continue working on that spreadsheet or presentation while your brain cries for stimulus. It isn’t easy, but stick with it through one week!
  4. Once you make it through one week, something starts to shift. Now is your time to start thinking deeply. Suddenly, you won’t miss those apps and websites anymore. You’ll start being able to work for long stretches and accomplish more in an hour than you used to in a day. You’ll sit down to read a book and get thoroughly engrossed, enjoying and absorbing every page. Solutions will come to you as you ponder deeply, rather than Googling the quick fix. People will notice that you are more present and your relationships and charisma will improve because of it. The fog is lifting, and your life is changing.
  5. After two weeks, you should have pretty much detoxed from your distraction addiction. Now you need to decide what you want to do with your found time. With a clear mind, get quiet with a journal and a pen to think and pray about what is most important. This exercise itself would have been nearly impossible a few weeks ago, but the results are what will really change your time. Do you want to read two books a month? Have a daily quiet time with the Lord? Spend an hour each night alone with your spouse? Not only are you applying the time you were previously wasting, but your mind is going to be clear enough to fully engage and benefit from whatever you choose. This is where real change happens.

The areas of my life that have seen the most success are the areas where I have been forced to focus fully. School and work are perhaps the best examples. Being accountable to grades and objectives and applying the steady time will yield strong results. Other areas of my life that are left purely up to my discretion don’t always fare so well, but with God’s help I’m getting better!

We are tremendously blessed to live in this modern age. However, don’t let the much get in the way of the most. The rest of the world will keep spinning if you don’t read the news or scroll the ‘gram, and your world will only get that much better.

© 2017 Ira Nicodemus

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