My New Book Living More Than OK

My New Book Living More Than OK
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Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Critical Thinking Important in Every Area of Life



As I am at the beginning of another semester of teaching my College Success classes to new students I presented my lecture on critical and creative thinking. I always give my students an assignment to go to www.criticalthinking.org and choose an article in their library to read and reflect on the article’s message. I always during the same time wind up reading a few articles myself. One that touched my thinking this semester was “Critical Thinking in Every Domain of Knowledge and Belief”. It was a keynote address Richard Paul did back in 2007. The meaning still rings true today.

His main focus of the keynote Paul stated, “Intellectual work, deeply conceived, conduces to significant changes in intellectual skill and understanding. Critical thinking, if somehow it became generalized in the world, would produce a new and very different world, a world which increasingly is not only in our interest but is necessary to our survival.” I encourage my students to grow in their thinking to help reach the potential that is in each of them. Richard Paul’s thought at the beginning of the speech points to how sound critical thinking can bring new changes to our world.

With my college students I often begin the discussion using a simple definition of critical thinking that I have seen in many of Paul’s articles and it is partly stipulated in the speech I read, “Critical thinking is thinking about your thinking, while you are thinking in order to make your thinking better.” I will ask them what is going on in your mind when you are thinking about your thinking. The students even at 8:00 am will start speaking out with: “analyzing”, “rationalizing”, “reasoning”, and “questioning”. We then move on to describe that the purpose is not to just build up new factoids to memorize and show off, but to continually improve our thinking to better handle problems and relationships we face in life.

Richard Paul goes on to discuss some of the barriers of growth in critical thinking. One he doesn’t mention but I see as an issue is that growing in critical thinking takes work and too many in our culture want the easy way of living in the routines of passive thinking. Too often people keep their minds on autopilot as I discuss it in my book, Living More Than OK. Then instead of thinking people react emotionally which causes problems instead of solutions.

Paul presents an important charge: “We need hundreds of millions of people around the world who have learned to take and internalize the foundations of critical thought. This can be done only person-by-person through a process, which we call intellectual work. Think of the "Elements of Thought:" Each element plays a crucial role in thought. What is our purpose? What questions are we raising? What information are we using? What assumptions are we making? What data are we gathering? What data do we not have? Given the data that we have, what is it telling us? And, when we come to conclusions about the data, what do those conclusions imply? Within what point of view are we thinking? Do we need to consider another point of view? Where can we get access to such points of view? Questions like this are questions that embody the elements in very important ways. They are crucial questions. But, are we in the habit of asking them?” He uses these questions to force thinking about the elements that make up critical thinking. Think about the questions do you ever think of your own thinking in the same manner.

Another important point that stood out to me is how he presents a challenge to think critically about our personal beliefs. He mentions the context of religious belief for example. I would agree with him that many people follow religious beliefs just because they are passed down and they do not think through why they believe. I am open in my book and blog that I look at life from a Christian world view. I follow that system not because of family background. Instead it is because I have thought through the various belief options and that is the one that has made the most sense to me personally. I encourage in my book for people to think through the whys of their worldviews.


Reflection: Check out the article I read and see what you felt was the most important thoughts to you? Here is the link : http://www.criticalthinking.org/pages/critical-thinking-in-every-domain-of-knowledge-and-belief/698
Look at another article of your choosing at their library link (http://www.criticalthinking.org/pages/index-of-articles/1021/ ) and reflect over what you learned from it to improve your thinking.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Make Time To Be Blown Away



I recently heard a song by singer/songwriter Josh Wilson which captures what I try to get across in my book, Living More Than OK and this blog. Our life is to not be settled or stuck in ordinary okness or stuck in a serious frenzy of hectic mundane activity. We are meant to live in a continual growth cycle of moving higher up into new levels of abundant living. We are to be refreshed by mindfully appreciating the little miracles and beautiful moments God brings into our pathways but we are often too busy to notice.

The song reminded me of years ago when I was listening to lectures on Positive Psychology by Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar. There was one lecture where he was reminding the importance of slowing down to notice the little beauties in life, “stop and smell the roses”. The thought is simple and in reality; taking note of the little treasures in life would add so much in relieving the stress in our days but we choose not to break out of our hectic rush mode.

Take a few moments to listen to Josh’s song and read my reflection on what I felt was important in the song.

Blown Away by Josh Wilson (click on title for song video)

She's dancing like a crazy fool
From the kitchen to the dining room
And she tells me, 'Baby, life is way too short to be too cool.'
She says, 'When did we get so serious?
Can we just all stop acting unimpressed?'
There's a hundred million miracles in front of us passing by

God open my eyes
I wanna be blown away!
By your extraordinary grace every ordinary day
Blown away!
By your great big love in every little place
I wanna slow down look around
God please show me how to stop and be amazed

I wanna be blown away!
Blown away!
I want to see a sunset
And have to stop and catch my breath
O I never want to forget
How you take a dead heart and bring back to life again
When did we get so serious?
Can we just all stop acting unimpressed?
There's a hundred million miracles in front of us passing by

God open my eyes
I wanna be blown away!
By your extraordinary grace every ordinary day
Blown away!
By your great big love in every little place
I wanna slow down look around
God please show me how to stop and be amazed

I wanna be blown away!
Blown away!
The Earth is full of heaven
Cause you're always breaking through
Put the wonder back inside these eyes
God, I don't want to miss you
When did we get so serious?
Can we just all stop acting unimpressed?'
I wanna be blown away!
By your extraordinary grace every ordinary day

Blown away!
By your great big love in every little place
I wanna slow down look around God please show me how to stop and be amazed
I wanna be blown away!
Blown away!
I wanna be blown away! Blown away! Yeah!
I wanna be, I wanna be blown away.



The first set of lines in the lyrics catch my attention where we are challenged with the shortness of life so why do we spend so much time being serious and unimpressed instead of enjoying the journey. That hit home to me with my health, as I just took a heart scan the other day that reminds me of high calcium buildup in my heart arteries. So I am reminded of the shortness of life. So why just keep moving in OK mode of just getting by. The time I have left on this earth I should listen to the call of the song to be blown away with enjoying life.

The question I think of is how can I be blown away? One important way for me came in the lines, “I wanna slow down look around, God please show me how to stop and be amazed.” Take a mindful approach to life of being aware of the miracles in each day, the beauty of creation, loving acts of grace in relations with people around me. The song writer is calling out to God to help him with this. That is actually a good prayer to pray each day. If we are mindfully aware throughout the day we will be impressed and amazed with all that has happened instead of unimpressed and stressed out.

Consider the savoring of enjoying God’s creation in the lines, “I want to see a sunset, And have to stop and catch my breath.” Sometimes if I have finished seeing clients for counseling and am driving home when there is a beautiful sunset I will get off the highway and take the backroads. That way I can drive and enjoy the sunset as it helps with the commute home.

Those are just a few thoughts that stand out to me in the song. Now it is your turn to think through what were the important points that touched your heart and mind in the song lyrics. How do you want to wake up each day? Do you want to wake up unimpressed with a sense of dread “Oh, another day!”? Or do you want to wake up with a “I wanna be blown away” attitude looking at your day with a sense of amazement and wonder? The choice is there for each of us!

Reflection: What parts of the song stood out to you? What does it mean to you to be “blown away”? I mentioned Dr. Tal Ben-shahar in the beginning of the article – take time to go to his website www.talbenshahar.com on the home page click on videos and watch one of his videos. Think through what he says about happiness and positive psychology. What do you think about it?

Monday, January 11, 2016

Growing to Become a Critical Reader


Last week I discussed the benefits of reading fiction. This week I continue to consider reading by considering the idea of critical reading. This is making use of our critical thinking skills in our reading. This came to mind as I was thinking about a book I read some time ago titled, Preface to Critical Reading by Richard D. Altick published in 1947. It was another great find from a used bookstore. The author was an American literary scholar, known for his pioneering contributions to studies on Victorian literature and was an American literary scholar, known for his pioneering contributions. From 1945 until his retirement in 1982 he was a professor of English at Ohio State University.

In the book whose purpose is a primer for college freshmen students to improve their reading skills; he discusses topics such as denotation and connotation, diction, the use of logic, grammar in writing and understanding tone of an author in a work of writing. The emphasis on what appears to be English grammar is for the purpose of moving from ok reading to the art of intelligent reading and how to read beyond the mechanical process of just reading the words and getting through the book. Which is a pitfall of many students who read simply because the professor told them to. The book reminds me of a author I heard at a book fair who mentioned, to be a good writer one needs to be well read. Altick’s emphasis on reading and understanding all aspects of the writing process underscores this.

Altick brings out in the Foreword what the critical thinking reader should desire to move his reading level to: “True reading involves comprehension of material – comprehension far more penetrating and detailed than that of required for a brief report on subject matter. True reading means digging down beneath the surface, attempting to find out not only the whole truth about what is being said, but also ( and this in the long run is more important) the hidden implications and motives of the writer. When a reader finds out not only what is being said, but also why it is said, he is on the way to being a critical reader as well as a comprehending one.” (page xi). If we add this mindset to our reading that of a critical thinking investigator it can add to gain from our non-fiction and magazine reading. The learning process can be broadened when we are digging for gems in the reading material rather than just finishing the material to say we finished another book.

He brings out in the Foreword as well that it is important for modern civilization for the average citizen understand the issues of the day. They need to be critical readers and listeners who can weigh facts over opinions and falsehoods. He spoke of this being a critical matter in the late 1940’s. How much more of importance is it to be critical readers of what we read on the web, newspapers, and magazines in our ever changing era.


In being a critical reader by having a mindset to dig into the purpose of the author and investigating the information of the reading material we read the purpose is to gain more personal reward in reading. Altick brings out that of course close critical reading is not possible for every reading session. He states, “We do not imply that henceforth, to the end of your days, you must read everything so minutely, but you must get in the habit of watching for certain tricks of style, rhythm and logic, and the only way to develop that habit is to practice it intensively for a while.” (page xix). For example fiction novels for pleasure a person would not want to go into that material with close critical reading. That level of scrutiny would take the joy of the story away. So understand the purpose of the reading you are doing. But as Altick says do practice some close critical reading and see how much more you gain from that type of reading.

Critical reading makes use of our critical thinking skills. Be a questioner when you are reading material where you find critical reading is important. One way to improve in critical thinking for being a critical reader is to read up on critical thinking. My favorite website to find information on critical thinking is www.criticalthinking.org where I can read the writings of Richard Paul, Linda Elder and their associates in the critical thinking community. Check out their website to grow in your critical thinking.


Reflection: Do you ever read as a critical reader? Do you think being a close critical reader may help you gain more gems and gold from your reading material? Choose a magazine article and first quickly peruse it and then go back as a critical reader. What was the difference between the two readings?

Sunday, January 3, 2016

What We Gain From Reading Fiction



As the New Year begins I want to focus on an emphasis on reading. This week I wish to consider the importance of what we gain from reading works of fiction. Recently I was reading a book I found at a used bookstore, Storytelling: The Art and The Purpose by Laura S. Emerson published back in 1959. Her thoughts on storytelling made me think of how fiction writers know the art of storytelling. They write the kind of books that you don’t want to put down as their stories capture the mind and spirit inside us as we read.

In one of the chapters she focused on the purpose of storytelling and the importance of it. I will apply some of her thoughts on storytelling, over to the importance of reading fiction. She explains why stories relate to us, “Since we are creatures of emotion, intellect, and will or personality, we tell stories that will appeal to, satisfy and influence those three characteristics.” (p.25). Fiction novels tap into those aspects of our being. Through reading we can grow in a positive manner in our emotion, intellect and our overall well-being.


Reading adds personal enjoyment to life. I know for myself as a Bookhead, reading is one of my favorite personal pastimes. To this point Emerson points to children. “Stories give pleasure. ‘A good story,’ Dr. Henry Van Dyke, ‘ is it’s own excuse for being.’ The child who begs, ‘Tell me another story.’ Reveals that the story has made him happy and has satisfied his emotional hunger… A good story feeds the life of the spirit often emaciated by materialistic influences. All great art appeals to the spirit. G. Stanley Hall, the great educator wrote,’ Stories are the natural soul-food of children, their native air and vital breath.” (p.25). I would say books are soul-food for children of all ages.

Her pointing to children remind me of times growing up when during the Summer reading programs there would be times of being involved in group reading times. For me there was an emotional enjoyment of hearing a story read. That is why as I have mentioned prior, that it is important for parents to encourage book reading by verbally reading to their children. In reading books to them and by the children seeing parents read that encourages a viewpoint that reading is an enjoyable pastime instead of something just required for school work. I sadly see in counseling sessions, where parents unaware are using reading as a form of punishment. Parents tell me; they will take the video game away and “make the child read”. That is counterproductive to show that reading can be an enjoyable activity.

Emerson brings out in her thoughts how Fiction stories can help improve the imagination in children and I would argue keeps the imagination growing in our adult years. Reading and storytelling is a powerful means in improving the imagination. Through the story the world of make believe can aid in building the creativity of a young person. I remember an older student in one of my classes who told me after we discussed the importance of reading how she and her husband, an artist, and she purposely limited their children’s television and video game time to encourage reading and hands on art. They wanted to strengthen their imagination. This reminds me as well in Dr. Ben Carson’s story of his life, Gifted Hands, he shares how reading helped build his imagination which aided him in coming up with solutions to problems when he was older as a neurosurgeon.

Emerson also points to how fictional stories build our intellect and understanding of life truths. She quotes Friedrich Froebel, “The telling of stories refreshes the mind as a bath refreshes the body; it gives exercise to the intellect and its powers; it tests the judgment of the feelings.” (p. 27). Keeping our mental powers strong and growing can be helped through reading of fiction and learning from biographies of people which is learning from other’s life stories.

Another important thought is how reading of good fiction can have an effect on our growing in our ethics and personal growth of how we choose to live our lives. She mentions a thought from John Wesley, “We are what we read” (p. 29). She then explains how the early McGuffy readers used in early schools used stories to teach young students moral truths for living. A quote from Socrates again shows the importance for parents to be involved in what young people read, “ shall we carelessly allow children to hear any casual tales which may be devised by casual persons to receive into their minds for the most part the very opposite of those which we should wish them to have when they are grown up.” What we read can have an effect for the positive or negative on children and even when we are older, so we need to use discernment in what we read.

Two other points I felt that were important in relation to reading fiction stories that stood out to my mind in reading Emerson’s book is stories can have a relaxing effect on a person. This is so true and one reason I enjoy reading. When I am stressed a reading session of a book I am interested in is a wonderful way to reduce stress. Even though it allows for relaxation, at the same time, reading builds up the powers of the mind’s concentration. Through learning new words, visualizing the story, and understanding the author’s ideas the brain is being built up stronger. As a reader we benefit from this in keeping our minds active.



Reflection: What is one of your favorite works of fiction? How does reading refresh you? What is your favorite reason for reading?

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Awaken Into The New Year



As I was thinking about closing out another year on my life journey and moving forward into 2016 I was in my office listening to a P.O.D. cd The Awakening. Listening to them I always think back to a college student, Heath, I had when I taught at the TSTC Harlingen, Texas campus. He would come into my College Success class wearing a P.O.D. T-shirt. They were his favorite band he told me. Heath carried a positive energy in wanting to be a welder to help out his mother and younger brother in Rockport, Texas. His life was cut short by a young girl driver who was more interested in driving and talking on her phone than driving.

Listening to the title cut on the CD, I felt the song has a great message for preparing for the New Year. Each New Year can be a great awakening in moving forward to new growth and possibilities. To do so we need to take the moment mindfully to reflect and make the right choices in moving forward. Take a moment and listen to the song and reflect on the lyrics.

The Awakening by P.O.D. (Click on the title to hear music video)

I, I'll take this moment
to make up my mind and decide
If I want to stay broken
Or leave all these feelings behind
(Leave these things behind)

My, my eyes are open
So I can't deny
Say goodbye to all this commotion
And try and find your way so you can shine
(find your way to shine)

[Chorus]
I'll stand unbroken
My eyes are open
My great awakening
The truth is spoken
My eyes are open
To this great awakening

I, I can feel the changes
It's how I want to be
And now I gotta keep it moving
If I really want to be free
(If I want to be free)

I, Still I will follow
Even if there's no one else but me
So let's live like there's no tomorrow
And love like if everyone believed
(If everyone believed)

[Chorus]

My eyes are open
And now I can see
Everything before me
I'm right where I should be


The song to me brings about a reality about our lives that if we are open to the spiritual, mental and emotional struggles we face each year we each deal with areas of brokenness in our lives. As we move forward we each have the choice is we “If I want to stay broken, Or leave all these feelings behind.” The choice is ours to stay broken or grow to where our lives can shine as we are meant to shine. We are not meant to live stuck in brokenness. Often we are stuck by the brokenness or letting the commotion of life cloud our vision. In living a purposeful abundant life we are in an upward growth spiral of growth and shining a light to others to move upward in their lives as well.

The lines in the song “My eyes are open, My great awakening” remind me that for a personal awakening we need to be mindful of having our eyes open to our true selves. We can be blind to our brokenness if we are not willing to open our eyes. In the Bible Psalm 119:18 reminds us, “Open my eyes, that I may behold Wonderful things from Your law.” In Ephesians 1:18 the Apostle Paul prays for people “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people”. So it is not the physical eyes that need to be opened but our spiritual insight that needs opened. This goes back to a personal choice to be open to having open eyes.

Another phrase that stands out to me is “And now I gotta keep it moving, If I really want to be free”. Keep moving is a reminder to not be stuck in brokenness or just the blasé attitude of just getting by ok. Make a positive choice to be free of okness and move to Living More Than OK by having a continual growth mindset. Our open eyes with the right choices can be fixed on a future of shining new opportunities. That is what I hope for people in the New Year of 2016.



Reflection: What particular phrases in the song “The Awakening” stood out to you? What brokenness have you experienced that may be holding you back from shining? In what ways do you want to shine in the New Year?

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

What Does Christmas Mean To You?



This Christmas I want to pose a question of What Does Christmas Mean To You? For each of us we carry differing memories of Christmas from our histories and family systems. I remember simple Christmas times growing up in a single parent home due to my father’s death when I was only two. My mother was a simple giving person. She would always remember missionaries she prayed for and at Christmas time send them Christmas calendars. She would also make up simple littles gifts to give to her friends. So Christmas was a time of giving and thinking of others.

Christmas was also a time of enjoying the Ohio snow with sledding on one of the local big hills. Building snow men and snow forts was fun as a child. Of course I appreciate more now the lack of snow, and warmer temperatures of our Christmases here near the Hill Country of Texas. I can always go back to the memories of enjoying the snow as a child.

I came across a Christmas CD recently that has been out for a few years, The Christmas Project by John Schlitt. It puts a harder rock edge on a number of the Christmas classics. I always enjoyed his singing with Petra, so I thought I would check it out. On the CD there was a song I had never heard of, What Christmas Needs To Be. I have the words printed here and a link to the actual song on Youtube. Give it a listen and think over What Does Christmas Mean To You?

What Christmas Needs To Be (click on title to hear song)

Whatever happened to this place I used to know so well.
I remember simpler times where did they go? Farewell.
Didn’t matter ‘bout the “how we make its”
We were happy just to celebrate it.
It’s Christmas now, The Gift of Heaven given.
Love can be found in every heart that hears it.
A Baby crowned, the Hope of our salvation.
He is what Christmas needs to be.
What would Christmas be without the things we dread.
What would happen if we chose to give ourselves instead.
It’s not about the gift we’re bringing.
It’s’ more about the song we’re singing
It’s Christmas now, The Gift of Heaven given.
Love can be found in every heart that hears it.
A Baby crowned, the Hope of our salvation.
He is what Christmas needs to be.
With just one life all things were changed.
A Child is born to light the way.
Didn’t matter ‘bout the “how we make its”
Just remember why we celebrate it.

As someone who comes to life from a Christian worldview the song helps capture what Christmas means to me. The message of the song points to how for me, Christmas is the hope and love of God that comes to us through His Son Jesus. An important phrase is “Love can be found in every heart that hears it.” We need to hear God’s message with anintent on believing it. The simple truth from John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son so that whosoever believes in Him has eternal life.”.

Another important phrase for me is “What would happen if we chose to give ourselves instead.” This makes me think back to how my own mother was a giving person. The idea is to move beyond the idea that Christmas is all about the gifts and the stuff or as the song says the “how we make its”. Move more towards enjoying the simple moments of love and caring about those around us.

Christmas can be a stressful time. Take a break from the stress with a cup of hot tea, coffee, or chocolate and think through mindfully what actually Christmas means to you.


Reflection: What stood out to you personally as an important phrase in the song, What Christmas Needs To Be. Write down three of your most favorite Christmas memories from the past. Think over how you can make this Christmas more meaningful?

Monday, December 14, 2015

Growth Reminders From The 7 Habits



A friend sent me an email just the other day, wondering if I was alright since I had not posted a blog since mid-November. The ongoing saga of trying to complete my PhD Comps Exam has continued to wear me out but I am not down and out yet. A timely help of mental refreshment came in the form of a training workshop for my work as an adjunct professor for the Alamo Colleges in San Antonio. I had the privilege for the past two Saturdays to do all day training on the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People based on the philosophy of Stephen R. Covey.

The two trainers from the Alamo Colleges made the trainings an enjoyable time due to their passion for the 7 Habits and their passion for instruction. It is always uplifting to see people doing what they love.

The 7 habits of highly effective people are as follows:

1 - Be Proactive
2 - Begin with the End in Mind
3 - Put First Things First
4 - Think Win-Win
5 - Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood
6 – Synergize
7 - Sharpen the Saw

As I reflect on the training time, my favorites of the habits are 1 and 7. Of course to be the best you can in habit 7 you need to be establishing habits 1-6 in your life. There are principles behind each habit that help us in living the best life possible and being the best we can be. Covey’s writings were one inspiration behind my book, Living More Than OK, as in that book my desire is for people to live the best life possible of abundant living.

In this blogpost I will share some of the reasons I find inspiration from my favorites of the habits; starting off with the habit 1 theme of “be proactive” which is the habit of choice. The principle behind this theme is, “I am free to choose and am responsible for my choices.” (Stephen Covey). We have unlimited opportunities when we understand that we are not victims but have the ability to make choices for the good in our lives. Too many people have bought into the myth that we are mere animals that respond to the stimuli around us and we can’t help the negativity that comes into our lives. We are victims the lies tell us. The first habit principle awakens us to the reality that within each stimulus that touches our lives we have the freedom to choose how to respond.

For example within this principle there is the concept “carry your own weather”. On cloudy days or rainy days it is easy to fall into the stimulus- response trap of being down and sad. But when you carry your own weather you can choose to live like a sunny day on a cloudy day. Choose to carry a smile and cheerful attitude on a cloudy day and see how your response to the day changes. There is power in the freedom to choose to move up from living ok, to Living More Than OK.

Looking at habit 7 the theme is “Sharpen the Saw” the habit of renewal. This habit reminded me of a time I tried to cut tree limbs with an old dull saw. Not very effective. Our lives are not effective either when we do not sharpen the saw. What is the saw in our life? It is -- our life—our inner being. The principle behind this habit is, “To maintain and increase effectiveness, we must renew ourselves in body, heart, mind and soul.” This habit speaks to the important need of lifelong learning and taking care of ourselves in all spheres of our lives: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. To be effective and live an abundant life there is a need to be balanced in each of these spheres of living.



I try to drive home to my college students and in my blog writings here, the importance of our personal choices. Our choices either move us in positive directions or negative ways so we need to choose with wisdom. Then we need to remember to never stop growing so as to stay sharp in responding to all the possibilities and opportunities that come across our life journey.


Reflection: How can you make wise choices in your life? Write down a few ways you can grow in the mental, physical, social/emotional and spiritual spheres of your life.