Monday, July 17, 2017
Last week my wife and I enjoyed a mini-vacation in Montreal Canada. My primary purpose was to enjoy learning at the International Positive Psychology World Congress. I was thankful for the opportunity to share in a roundtable discussion time my dissertation research on flow activities and at-risk college students. My wife’s main purpose was to rest and relax from her work. The IPPA congress provided a wide range of topics on how to help people flourish in their life journey and how to help individuals focus in on well-being. These are topics that I focus on in my book, Living More Than OK. It was my first time to attend one of their World Congress’s.
This week’s post I will share just a few points that meant much to me from the congress. Several of the initial speakers I listened to spoke of the research that shows the importance of acts of kindness for our well-being. An important happenstance event happened the second day to illuminate what I had heard. My wife and I in the afternoon planned to take the metro train to Montreal’s Botanical garden. We went to the Metro station near our hotel and bought tickets. As we went to the turnstile my wife went through without a hitch. I went through then and the metal bar would not move. We tried the ticket several times. Several people passed by and then a man our age came over and asked in a thick French Canadian accent what was wrong. We explained the situation and he tried that ticket as well. He then told my wife to go down to the train platform and wait for me. He then told me to follow him. We walked down a separate stairwell and he took me to another entry point in the same station where there was a worker in the ticket booth. He explained in French what had happened to my wife and I, visitors from the US. The agent apologized for our inconvenience and let me through and I reconnected with my wife. I thanked the gentleman for his help and he went his way.
The other pictures here are from the Botanical Garden green houses. It was a rainy afternoon but their Garden had the best greenhouses we had ever experienced. Looking back at the event the man’s act of kindness was a true life example of what I had heard from several of the initial speakers at the conference. That kindness towards others is helpful in a meaningful way to all parties in the experience. The man did not have to stop as he could have acted, just as others, who had passed us by. Instead he went out of his way to take me to a ticket agent, who could help with my ticket problem and explain our problem in French. We were thankful to find people like that in Montreal.
Back to other meaningful learning points from the IPPA Congress. One of the more enjoyable sessions was a presenter in one of the round table sessions I attended. There were two presenters at the table and both did admirable jobs on their research presentations. The one I preferred was Annie Norman, who is the State Librarian for the State of Delaware. She was sharing about her state library’s research on the study of lifelong learning of readers in their libraries through a tracking system they have created. They provide useful journals that patrons can use to reflect on their reading. Since, I emphasize being a Bookhead in my book, Living More Than OK, when I saw her presentation listed on-line I could not pass it up. Being an avid supporter of libraries and reading programs I could not pass up her presentation. Her information did not disappoint. It was wonderful to hear from a librarian who understands how the services of libraries can inculcate human flourishing in the lives of the communities they serve.
My favorite session of the ones I attended was Saturday listening to Drs. Steger of Colorado State University & Russo-Netzer of University of Haifa, Israel, speak to the issue of purpose and meaning in their session, “More Than Skin Deep”. They pointed out the reality too often people are busy being busy or live in a survival mode instead of being truly alive. This connected with me, since I emphasize to people to move beyond being just OK to be Living More Than OK.
Their focus from what I picked up focuses in on being mindfully aware of searching and finding meaning in your life. This reminded me of Dr. Seligman of University of Pennsylvania in his keynote discussion where he shared research on the importance of meaning in having a flourishing life. I appreciated their emphasizing being intentional in your life as too many clients I have helped are too often just running on a negative autopilot through life and not being intentional about the choices they make in life. I see this in college students I work with as well. Another important point was encouraging us to take reflection time to visualize and draw out an icon or poster in response to the question “Know your Why?”. We add significance to our lives when we take time to understand the why force in our lives. The presenters made good use of group interaction even though it was a packed room.
Another important point they brought to light was in a discussion to the question “What is being fully alive?”. They helped with the myth on positive psychology that it is about being happy all the time. Some of our life highlights that lead to learning are not always happy. My parents’ deaths were not happy, my job loss in Chicago was not happy, other struggles on my journey have not been happy but finding the meaning in the 20/20 of hindsight adds to the meaning of life.
It was a great vacation to see the beautiful city of Montreal and for my wife to have a much needed break from her work. The congress time also added more lifelong learning to my life experience.
Reflection: What does being “fully alive” mean to you? Take a day sometime just to think through and reflect on “knowing your Why” – draw of a poster or icon about it.
Tuesday, July 11, 2017
I always enjoy having the opportunity to hear an author speak about their work. This past Sunday evening my wife, daughter, and I heard author, Laurie Short, present at the Author Series at the Gateway Church South Campus in Austin Texas. Her focus was on her new book, When Changing Nothing Changes Everything. We all had read her previous book, Finding Faith in the Dark. The women’s Bible study my wife goes to used it as a study, then my daughter read it and enjoyed it. I read it last which is odd as usually I read a book first and the other two read it. The time hearing her at Gateway Church was an insightful evening listening to Laurie. In person she is as honest and open as she is in her writings.
In my blog this week I want to share a couple of reflections on her book Finding Faith in Dark Places. In our life journey we have bright and cheerful times as well as dark and bleak times. The bright times are full of happiness and joy while the dark times fill our hearts and minds with despair, sadness and questioning. Unless your purpose in life is to out-gloom Eeyore of Winnie-the-Pooh fame, we all prefer and enjoy the bright and cheery times. But the reality of life brings to each of us dark times. How do we react to them? Do we cave in to despair or rise up to victorious faith?
Laurie in Finding Faith shares multiple stories of people’s times of traveling through their dark times. She also shares throughout the book her own dark faith journey. I won’t say what it is to keep you in suspense to read her book.
One of my favorite portions of the book was the chapter “God of the Present Tense”. Her thoughts here were a positive reminder that we too often neglect being attentive to the present moment. We dwell on the past that we cannot change or spend too much time wishing about the future. It is making wise choices in the present that help us obtain the future we want. I emphasize that often in my book, Living More Than OK. I like how she says it on page 57 “Most of our emotions are tied to something that was or will be—until that rare moment when something demands all our attention, propelling us to live in the now. These can be the most promising moments, for it is in the now that God can be found.”
She illustrates this with the story of Moses and the burning bush in Exodus 3. Moses finds himself in a wilderness time as a shepherd when in his past he was in the palace of Egypt. I wonder how often he thought back as to why he was out in a nowhere land of wilderness when in the past he enjoyed the glories of the palace. In this Exodus passage Moses is forced to be in the present as he hears his name called out from the burning bush. “Moses! Moses!” And Moses said “Here I am”. “Do not come any closer.” God said. “Take off your sandals you are on holy ground.” (verses 4 & 5). In that moment God was calling him while he was in his wilderness experience. In that time God was with him and came to him with new direction for his life. The passage reminds me as many other parts of Laurie’s book – that God is with us in our dry desert experiences of life when we feel all alone.
Further in the book she brings out a thought from Henri Nouwen. She brings to light Nouwen’s thought “that at every turn, we must open our hearts to the voice of God. This is the voice that whispers to us in the dark,’I have a gift for you, and I can’t wait for you to see it’. When we listen for that voice… every choice becomes an opportunity to discover the new life hidden in every moment, waiting to be born.” (pg 86). If we are mindfully aware we will be ready to hear God when he speaks.
There is so much more in the book to learn from for those who look at life from a Christian perspective. If you have stopped by this blog and you are not of a Christian worldview there are still principles in her book that points to what we can learn by mindfully being aware of the dark times in our lives. Every person no matter their worldview has dark times and the important thing is to not cave in from the darkness. Instead we can have the faith to keep on keeping on and resiliently move into brighter times in our lives.
Reflection: Reflect over a dark and dry time in your life. What did you learn from the experience. Who or what helped you bounce back into a brighter movement in your journey?
Friday, July 7, 2017
I am a big believer in encouraging people to follow their dreams. The thought comes across in my book, Living More Than OK, in the chapter on Goal Setting. I also promote following dreams to students that I teach. So the book, Live Your Dreams, by Jean Criss caught my attention easily and I had to read it.
Jean Criss exudes the entrepreneurial spirit in her life and in her book. According to her website, jeancrissmedia.com she has over 25 years in the career of media services. She lives in New Jersey and works in New York City.
Her book Live Your Dreams is a third book in her My Pain Woke Me Up Trilogy. I have not read the first two books but I am sure they are as enjoyable and insightful as this one. This title focused in on entrepreneurship, creativity, dreaming Big and living out your dreams. An important few phrases that stood out to me were found on page 36, “Believe that no matter how well you do something, you can always do it better. And chances are you will! Make change happen and believe in your dreams.”
Those are powerful thoughts. To live your dreams you need to really believe in them. Then in living the dream there is the reminder in her thought to keep growing and improving so that you are always spiraling up to new heights in your life. If you are living a dream filled life you do not settle for plateaus but keep spiraling up. I speak much about that in Living More Than OK.
In Jean’s book she is refreshingly honest that to Live Your Dreams does not mean that you have an easy life. She is transparent about her past struggles with relationships, her battles with health problems in battling cancer and her winding road of her career journey. You read of her initial passion in starting a jewelry business and then the progression into work in media. She provides useful resources for Business and Women’s Entrepreneur Organizations for readers with that interest for follow up.
Her emphasis in Live Your Dreams is found in the doing not just keeping the dream a wish inside that never comes to fruition. On page 71 her doing spirit shares, “In life, we need to make the magic happen, remember. What you are doing is most likely for your family or a loved one. … We live our lives to their fullest. We stop to smell the roses. We live our dreams. Don’t let anyone tell you, you can’t live your dreams. If they do, run the other way. Don’t look back.” My thoughts on this is we have to be active in living out our dreams. They are not going to happen just sitting in the recliner flipping through channels. She is also reminding us to not listen to the negativity. That is not to say, if a concerned person has an honest critique -- do listen and grow from it, but her focus seems to be on the “You Can’t” people who try to pull us away from dreams we are following. Run from them.
Live Your Dreams is an inspiring story that can help motivate and encourage you to dream big and live out the dream that is in your heart.
Reflection: What are a couple of dreams that are inside your heart that you want to move forward living them out? Is there any negativity coming at your dream life that you need to move away from to move towards living your dreams? What was the last rose in life that you took time to smell?
Monday, June 12, 2017
Many of the clients I work with struggle with anxiety. Of these, many of them struggle with excessive worry. I have had my share of excessive worry moments that have interfered with my life over the years. I am always looking for new resources on various mental health topics so I was glad to come across Worry No More! 4 Steps to Stop Worrying and Start Living, by Bruce Van Horn. Bruce is a writer, speaker and life coach. You can learn more about him at www.brucevanhorn.com.
Bruce in his book openly shares in a transparent manner his own personal struggles in life in relation to worry and anxiety. He rightly points out that if we are honest we all worry as it is natural. Worry in the best light can be seen as a built in thought warning system. The problem is when we let worry take over and we lose control over the thought process. We then let worry get us stuck in passive anxiety mode instead of actively moving in a positive problem solving mode. He encourages the reader to move towards really living in life instead of being stuck in worries.
One main emphasis in the book is how our thoughts are so important in guiding us into a life worth living. As he states on page 32, “Because our thoughts guide our behavior, and it is through our behavior that we create things, it reasons to say ‘thoughts become things’”. When we let worries get out of control and move to anxiety we need to understand as Bruce did in his life that our main problem is a thought problem.
One major turning point in his life was when he decided to move from negative thinking to a gratitude thinking by using a gratitude journal. I speak of this idea in my book, Living More Than OK, when I discuss the research on gratitude in my chapter on Thankfulness. He found that the simple move from negative worry thoughts to positive gratitude thoughts created a positive gain and benefit in his behaviors and building of further sound thinking. So he found it was possible to move from excessive worry to a more balanced positive outlook on life. A positive outlook does not stop devastating events from occurring. The bad things in life still occur and Bruce honestly shares some tough difficulties he faced even after his awareness of changing his thoughts. What he found was that devastating events do not have to devastate our future. We have with our mind and inner spirit great ability to rebound and create new possibilities.
In the book he provides a number of other book resources and tips to make use of, to really start living in your life. One tip that stood out to me was to stop being a negative critic of yourself and become your own best encouraging coach. Build up uplifting positive self-talk. Of course make it realistic but make sure the positives you say to yourself outweigh the negatives. Bruce speaks to this on page 59, “If you will constantly practice speaking kind, uplifting, encouraging, and motivating words to yourself, you will begin to develop an inner-strength and self-love that will allow you to endure hardships with more confidence…” Think through what he is saying in that statement. Be honest and reflect what kind of self-talk is programing your thought life? Are you tearing yourself down or building yourself up?
In his discussion of exercise he presents a helpful tie-in of exercise with mindfulness with the idea of “observation walks”. He says use some of your walking time not to plan out things in our life. Instead use the walking time to clear the mind by intentionally noticing what is in your environment while you are walking. Take note of the flowers and nature around you as you walk. What he is describing is the essence of mindfulness in being mindful of the present moments in your walk.
Bruce has numerous other ideas in his book. The final one that stood out to me is when he was sharing about his faith in a Creator God he shared a verse from Proverbs 29:18 “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” He speaks in this section how he believes we are each created by a Creator to live a life of purpose. I happen to share the same worldview concept. If we stay focused on discovering and following the purpose we are on this life journey for, we will find fewer reasons to allow worry to conquer our lives. As we let the worries go we can be freed up to enjoy Living More Than OK and Start Living.
As I stated I was in this post, just touching on a few of his ideas that stood out to me. Get a copy of his Worry No More! To find out other ideas he shares.
Reflection: What have been some of your worries that in retrospect you can laugh at yourself over them? How can you be a better encouraging coach to yourself? Go to a park or lake and try an “Observation Walk”. How did it feel and what did you learn?
Wednesday, June 7, 2017
Each June I usually focus one blog post on library Summer reading programs. Last week I was at my local New Braunfels Public Library and noticed on their Children’s calendar they were having a Kick Off Party for their Summer Reading Program on June 3rd. I would have liked to have stopped by to see the turn out but that was my Saturday to see therapy clients at the office.
Their theme for the Summer is “Build a Better World”. Here is the link to their reading program page - http://nbtexas.readsquared.com. As I have stated in the past and in my book Living More Than OK it was library reading programs where I began my Bookhead journey as a lover of reading. That was in my hometown library in Barberton, Ohio. Here is the link to the Barberton Public Library Summer reading program - http://www.barberton.lib.oh.us/SummerReadingClub
I noticed that the Barberton library had the same theme of “Build a Better World” so it must be a national theme. I took time to reflect on that theme as to how reading can help build a better world. If you think about it reading is an important tool in improving our world. If we want to build a better world it has to begin with each of us as individuals. The Power of One is very important. We need to understand that in our own personal spheres we can make an impact on bettering the world around us. This is why I am glad when I see the Summer reading programs libraries promote they reach out to all age groups.
How does reading improve us as individuals? Through reading our critical thinking skills are challenged and improved. Our world is not improved through lazy passive thoughts but through active constructive thinking. As our thinking improves we become better problem solvers on the personal level and then we can possibly move on to use our problem solving skills to constructively improve problems we see in society.
Reading also taps into our creative mind and grows the creative mind. Much of stagnated living stems from boredom and passivity. When we are building creativity through our reading it may spur us into opening new doors of creative possibilities in our lives. We may read stories of people’s journeys to other parts of the world and realize why not try doing a vacation there as well. We read a story of someone helping out others and that may spur us personally to move into helping with a local or national nonprofit cause. Creativity opens possibilities to new growth in life.
The library reading programs can be a way as well to build a better world by building up the next generation. So many young children I counsel have a lack of interest in reading as they say the schools just give them boring reading material. One boy called it "old people reading". A library reading program allows the children to find books they are interested in and can then build that love for reading. Most librarians are happy to help a child or teen find books that fit their interests. So if you have children or grandchildren challenge them to be involved with their local library Summer reading program. This is another way you can help in building a better world by building into the lives and minds of children and teens for whom you care.
I also want to mention that in Summers Barnes and Noble stores do an incentive for reading. You can find information about it at their website https://www.barnesandnoble.com/blog/kids/get-ready-for-bns-summer-reading-triathlon/ Children can pick up a journal at their stores and after reading 8 books they can choose a free book. You can say that is a business gimmick but they still are encouraging reading. I also appreciate Barnes and Noble as they are still out there as a walk in store for books giving another presence in society about the importance of books.
The main emphasis here today is the local library. Another important reason for encouraging the young children and teens in your life to do these reading programs is that it gets them involved in hopefully a lifetime relationship to the local library. Since my early years when my mother took me to the Barberton library for the Summer reading program libraries have been a vital part of my life. So be involved this Summer with your local library reading program and start in helping to “Build a Better World”.
Reflection: In your opinion how can reading help in building a better world? What is one of your favorite library memories?
Monday, May 29, 2017
Many of us if we are honest as we look back at our past, have hardships and traumas in our early life history. At a conference I was attending in South Texas a therapist friend of mine, Dr. Marsha Nelson, from Edinberg, Texas encouraged my family to read the book, Childhood Disrupted authored by Donna Jackson Nakazawa (if you want more information on the author click on the hyperlink to her webpage). We spent several weeks with our daughter each evening reading through the book aloud to us until the end (by the way this is a digression but reading aloud a book together as a family is a great way to encourage reading and to build discussions about a book).
Nakazawa’s book delves into neuroscience studies on how early traumas in our lives can negatively affect not only our mental and emotional aspects of our lives. She reveals how these traumas can imprint into the brain with aftereffects of physical problems such as heart disease, fibromyalgia, cancer, autoimmune diseases and other physical maladies. The first half of the book are true case studies of abuse and traumas that have happened in the lives of individuals. The trauma events differed from physical, sexual abuse or being involved in tragic accidents in the various cases presented. Early on obvious depression and anxiety based problems occurred in their lives but an interesting point was the amount of physical maladies that began to form in the various people whose stories were listed.
The book is research rich as the author goes beyond the particular cases to medical research studies that reveal thousands of cases of various physical problems seem to have a connection to early childhood trauma. As my daughter read through the book it allowed each of us to think through the problems we have each faced in our past. I thought over my life where my father died right after my second birthday. His sudden absence placed me into a 2 year period of shock where I expressed no emotion nor did I speak until after I was 4 years old. Understanding what the author was saying allowed me to make more sense of many of my problems I had as I grew up in my small town. It also made sense as to negative tendencies that still give me trouble in the present.
We were glad when we reached to part 2 of the book that looked at solutions. Many of the cases presented were very difficult. Even as a therapist, I was deeply saddened at hearing some of the major trauma that the people in the book were faced with as young children from physical and sexual abuse. Sometimes hearing other people’s stories helps to put life in perspective as we often think of how bad we had it in life. When we hear another’s stories we often realize maybe we did not have it so bad.
I will list some of the tips and ideas to help with the healing process that are listed in the later chapters. The first one that is important to me is “writing to heal”. Keeping a diary or a journal is a way to write out some of the pain and emotion from the past. Some authors and bloggers I have read share they started their writing journey as a healing process. There are exercises where people can write their traumas out in a letter maybe to send to the abuser or some gain relief by burning the letter afterwards. Writing can be a healing enterprise. As I mentioned research is important in this book and she shares researcher’s thoughts on writing as healing.
Nakazawa also discusses drawing as art therapy. Art is an effective way to grow in touch with your creativity and to express your emotions. My therapist friend I mentioned at the beginning, Dr. Marsha Nelson does amazing work with her Creative Expression workshops. Dr. Nelson was trained by Dr. Lucia Capacchione and her books are some of the best in using art as healing. A few of her books I would recommend are: The Creative Journal, The Power of Your Other Hand, and Visioning: Ten Steps to Designing the Life of Your Dreams.
Some of her other recommendations are mindfulness meditation which I often recommend to clients and as a family we have been helped by mindfulness body scan meditations. Other ideas are loving-kindness, forgiveness, yoga and healthy relationships.
As a Licensed Professional Counselor I also appreciate her chapter on seeking professional therapeutic help. It is good to try ideas for self-growth that were mentioned but if the trauma issues are difficult with the burden of emotional and psychological pain it is important to seek professional help. I was grateful that she emphasizes this important issue. There is a stigma still about seeking emotional help so it is great to see an author show how the therapeutic relationship with a caring and objective therapist can help through the difficulties individuals face in overcoming personal pain and traumas of the past.
If you are struggling with a painful past I highly recommend this book as part of the healing process. I also recommend this book just as it was recommended to me, for therapists to learn a variety of ways to help people in the healing process as they deal with the pains of the past.
Reflection: Think through your life journey have there been painful traumatic experiences in your life? What helped you through that time? If you are still struggling with problems from the past look beyond pride and fear and seek out a professional therapist in your area who can come along side you to overcome the pain.
Sunday, May 14, 2017
As we near the mid-point of the year, Spring can be a positive time to re-evaluate your goals for the year. A helpful book to guide you through the process is Achieve Any Goal by Brian Tracy. Just the other day I was reading in Psalms 119:59 “I pondered the direction of my life, and I turned to follow your laws.” (NLT) and that reminded me of the need to slow down and ponder, think through, and evaluate how the direction of my life is going. Brian Tracy’s book helps in this process. I have looked at a couple of his books in past blog posts. I have reflected on his books – The Power of Discipline as well as Bull’s Eye: The Power of Focus.
One reason I am a big believer in creating personal goals in living the Living More Than OK life, is that they aid in giving direction to our life purpose. Brian Tracey near the beginning of his book describes the power of goals: “Living without clear goals is like driving in a fog. No matter how powerful or well-engineered your car, you drive slowly, hesitantly, making little progress on even the smoothest road. Deciding upon your goals clears the fog immediately and allows you to focus and channel your energies and abilities toward what you really want.” (pg. 20) It is a choice we must make do we want a bumpy and choppy life journey or a smooth life journey? With the chaos of life no one can be guaranteed a perfectly smooth life but with clearly established goals our life can be smoother. In this book Achieve Any Goal he provides 12 steps to help in the achievement process. This week in my blog I will focus on a few that stood out to me.
His step 2 jumped out at me in which Mr. Tracy says, “Believe that your goal is achievable”. If you have created a clearly stated realistic goal throw out the “I can’t” thinking and have faith in yourself. High achieving, successful people believe they can reach what they are reaching for in their goals. Have an inner conviction that you will reach the goal you created. He includes in this section one of my favorite Napoleon Hill quotes: “Whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve.” (pg 47). Negativity in our mindset will limit our success in our goals. Of course we need to keep our eyes open as I said last week, to life changes in which we may have to tweak the goals but the goal keeps us moving forward.
The second thought from his book I would like to share is step 3 “Write Your Goal Down”. I have read other books on goals and research articles on goals and there is just something about taking the step to write down you goals. He points out that putting the goal down on paper makes use of our visual, auditory and kinesthetic senses. We can then place that written goal someplace where we will regular see it and the process then works in our subconscious mind to help us achieve it. I encourage creative people to even go so far as to make a poster with creative graphics that relate to the goal. This activates the imagination to think big with the goal.
In his step 5 section “Determine Why You Want It” Mr. Tracy’s thoughts on “Blue-Sky Thinking” was enlightening. This is the third thought from the book I would like to share. He says of this: “In blue-sky thinking you imagine that all things are possible for you, just like looking up into a clear blue sky with no limits. You project forward with several years and imagine that your life is perfect in every respect. You then come back to where you are in the present in your own mind, and you ask. ‘What would have to happen from this point forward for me to achieve all my goals sometime in the future?’” (pg. 74). I have done this for myself in the past and with clients in the form of having them write out what their life looks like 5 years from today. It is a helpful visualization process.
The other steps of the 12 in the book are important as well, but I hope if you are interested in finding them you will check at your local library or you can purchase the book from Simple Truths website or other book sellers. The important thing beyond the book is take time to create clear, concrete, and specific goals for the different areas of your life where you want to see growth and success.
Reflection: What are important areas in your life you could write a goal about to achieve? Are you working on a goal right now? What is it? Maybe this is a good time to review the goal. Try out some blue-sky thinking with a couple of your important goals.