My New Book Living More Than OK

My New Book Living More Than OK
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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Savoring Life as Part of Living More Than OK

Before Christmas as I was baking Snicker doodles and listening to a Bruce Cockburn Christmas CD, I reminisced over my times of baking Christmas cookies for friends in the past years back when I was in Chicago. I also turned my mind to the importance of savoring memories and savoring in general. Some months ago I read the book Savoring: A New Model of Positive Experience, by Fred B. Bryant and Joseph Veroff. Their book looks at their 20 years of research on the subject of savoring and its benefits for daily life and enjoyment of life.

Their basic definition of savoring is that people have the “capacities to attend to , appreciate and enhance the positive experiences in their lives." Looking at Merriam Websters definition of Savor it is to season , to taste, to relish or delight in, to enjoy. This is such a great term in considering living more than an ok existence. In savoring life we are enjoying and delighting in tasting our life journey. Savoring is similar to mindfulness in being aware of the present moment but more broad as it encompassed reflections over the past and enjoyment of present activities. It is also similar to flow in that savoring has a timelessness quality to it in that you slow down and just enjoy the sunset or watch the birds at the bird feeder while you are enjoying your morning cup of coffee without thinking about what should come next in your time schedule. Savoring of memories or situations can be done individually or you can have a savoring time with close friends or family.

Of course the stress and hurry of life keeps us looking at the clock instead of the sunset. With the hustle and bustle of the Christmas holiday season I am glad while baking I thought of savoring. Even though the baking for 5 hours was a lot of work in mixing ingredients spooning out cookie dough, with the Christmas music in the background and the smell of finished cookies, I could think back of memories of years ago. Even back to when as a boy I looked forward to a neighbor who would drop by her freshly baked cookies to our home. Weeks ago someone at the grocery store I met talked about how busy she was and since cookie tins are so cheap and time is so lacking buying Christmas cookies is the best way to go. If that gives her more time to savor the Christmas season with her friends and family great but that afternoon of baking helped me think through memories of past Christmas times and gave some fresh baked gifts to give to dear friends.

The benefits of taking time for moments of savoring has been shown to lower stress as you are slowing down for times of reflection on the present experience-- such as the awesomeness of enjoying God’s creation or even savoring the taste of a delicious home made brownie. Both are savoring moments. The positive feelings that occur through savoring helps build positive emotions and increases happiness levels. Having a savoring mindset also helps us enjoy the journey of life. Too often we are busy getting to the destination which is important; but when I am driving for example I like to point out beautiful gardens or check out the cows grazing in the fields along the way, instead of just staring at the road ahead. Savoring helps us enjoy the journey.

Drs. Bryant and Veroff in their book have an exercise which can help in building a savoring mindset. They encourage for a week to try out a daily vacation of 20 minutes a day. Do something you enjoy -- a walk on the beach, reading a favorite book, drinking coffee while listening to music. Try a few different activities during the week not the same thing each day. During this time make a commitment to enjoy yourself -- make sure to say no to interruptions. Be totally free and just focus on what you are doing on your daily vacation. As you do your vacation activity take note of feelings you feel and build memories of the experience. Especially take note of positive emotions. After your 20 minute daily vacation experience plan the next vacation experience for the next day. Take a few moments to savor the vacation and reflect over the positive feelings from the previous days vacations. This can be done verbally or in a journal. At the end of the week reflect over and savor each of the daily vacations. Think over the positive feelings you experienced each day. Compare how you feel now over how you feel on a normal week of your life.

Another creative exercise to build up savoring skills in your life is their Camera Exercise. On a sunny day take your camera to a secluded area like a park, beach or a place in the country. Then find an object that catches your attention. It could be a flower, a tree, a building, the waves crashing onto the beach. Now start taking pictures at various angles. Get into a flowing mindset of shooting various pictures of the object. Don’t think and judge, just look at alternative shots to take with your camera. Feel the shots that you enjoy taking and don’t worry about balance. Try to take 30-40 pictures this way. Finally, as I assume in this digital age and you are using a digital camera; download the pictures to your computer and savor the experience, take time to reflect over the pictures . Ponder how you feel about the pictures and the object you were shooting. If you journal you may want to right down some memories of this experience.

Savoring our journey in this life can help us appreciate the goodness of God in our daily life. We can be more observant of the details that make up our day. Slowing down to notice the roses or another person’s smile may help in combating a grumbling attitude. As when we rush through the day, we usually just notice the negative things that occur to us.

Reflect on this:
“The aim of life is appreciation. “ G.K.Chesterton (1936) Make a list of 10 things you are appreciative of in your life. Take time to savor over the list as to memories of why these are important to you. How can you be more appreciative in your daily life? Can you slow down your life to savor and enjoy the journey more?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Going With Flow In the Workplace

With my last posting I introduced incorporating awareness of flow in our interest activities we enjoy doing, as a way of growing in Living More Than OK. In this I mean activities with the emphasis on active, something where you are an active participant – painting, sewing, fishing, or gardening. Television is not a flow activity as we just sit there passively absorbed into the screen.

I would like to continue thinking of Dr. Csikzenmihalyi’s thoughts on flow in the context of flow and work. With flow the focus is often in doing activities we have a passion and interest in doing. Work often has a negative connotation -- something we have to do. I remember one warehouse where I worked in shipping, one worker had a saying, “I owe, I owe, It’s off to work we go”. That is so true of many people in their work lives. It is a duty they do not enjoy and often go home full of frustration which affects their personal life. So is it possible to make work a flow experience? And why is flow important in the work setting? In his research on flow, Dr. Csikzenmihalyi reveals how it helps improve our creativity and helps people be more engaged in what they are doing. SO there is a better chance of having a more satisfying work experience. Since we spend about 85,000 hours of our life in the workplace it makes sense to utilize techniques that will help us enjoy our work time.

In Dr. Csikzenmihalyi’s Beyond Boredom and Anxiety he studies the issue of work and flow. He used Surgeons as his main example. Many would think the main reason to be a surgeon is the money . Interviewing surgeons he found that the primary reasons were intrinsic as to the challenge in defeating a disease and helping patients be cured. These are intrinsic factors that can bring flow into their work. Also increasing competence keeps them growing to meet the challenges they face in their work. So elements of flow can be brought into the workplace to enhance our work experience.

Here are some ideas. Part of the flow process is having a goal orientation. In your work do you have set clear specific goals you are aiming for.? These give you a sense of direction to focus on in guiding your work energy. Being in flow relates to being absorbed and focused so the goals give you a basis for your focus which builds your concentration powers.

A balance of challenge and ability helps with flow in your work. If you are not challenging yourself in your work and settled for just doing enough to get by you get in to a rut of routine which creates boredom and not flow. So within the goal creations in your work set the level high enough to make your work challenging. Place time in your schedule to grow in your knowledge and ability for your work. This is the importance of lifelong learning. If you are not growing in knowledge for your work and work is getting more challenging then frustration and stress occurs instead of flow.

As to increasing your abilities and opening up opportunities for flow in your work ask yourself these questions and reflect over ideas to improve your work.:

In looking at your work activities can they be done better, more efficiently?
What steps will make my work contribution more valuable?
How can I make my work personally meaningful?
Are there tasks where I feel incompetent?
How can I learn and improve the needed skills?

Here are some examples of flow in the workplace. Consider a Supermarket clerk who makes it his purpose to instead of just bagging the groceries to pay special attention to the customers in giving a cheery hello and offering to be of help in taking groceries to the cars if need be. A physician who cares about his patients in a holistic manner. Being concerned about their total well being is more important then rushing through as many patients as possible. Or a reporter who is interested in reporting from the standpoint of truth and not just sensationalism to make a name for himself.

Take some quiet time to reflect over the previous questions and see what areas of your work you can turn into flow time. Brainstorm ideas and possible new ideas to use in your work.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Living More than Ok with Flow

In considering overcoming the boredom in life which is part of Living More than OK, we can move to more than OK by becoming aware of Flow moments and activities in our lives. Writings and research such as Finding Flow and Beyond Boredom and Anxiety; fully describe the Flow process and importance of it by the author, Dr. Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi, a professor of Positive Psychology and Creativity now at Claremont Graduate University.

Flow is that experience where you are totally absorbed in what you are doing? It occurs most often when we are doing things we enjoy. One definition of it is , “The state of complete absorption and interest in a task occurring when ability/skill and challenge are high” (LeFevre & Csikszenmihalyi”). Have you ever been involved in a favorite activity and it felt like time stopped and you were able to accomplish more than you imagined you could? You were in a Flow state. Much of Dr. Csikszentmihalyi’s research initially was on sports and musicians -- studying their flow states as Flow in seen easily in these activities.

One may think if Flow just happens why study it? I appreciated in Dr. Csikszentmihalyi’s books how in his research of the issue his main concern is for people to live living happier and more complete lives. People living more fulfilling lives and moving beyond the mundaneness of boredom is one main reason I started this blog. If being aware of Flow helps people live more fulfilled then a thought that comes to my mind is how can we increase the amount of time we are experiencing flow? Of course we can’t live in complete absorption all of the time. Dr Csikszenmihalyi points out that we can’t be in flow all of the time. If we were we would be like a world of Energizer Bunnies or Flow itself would become boring.
Flow is often found in the activities you really enjoy doing. Next time you are doing your favorite activity, photography, writing, fishing, quilting, or gardening see afterwards if you felt re-energized by the activity. Ask yourself is you felt like time just flew by. Did you feel a deeper sense of concentration? Most likely you were in Flow.

In the studies on Flow, there were common aspects of those who experienced flow. Here are some of the main aspects. One is having Goals. Clear specific concrete goals can help us improve in our lives and enhance our opportunities of flow experiences. The goals are guides often for the activities we enjoy doing and desire to excel in them. Again the example of sports comes to mind. Coaches and athletes often make use of goals in their practice and competition.
Concentration and focus are helpful in attaining flow. I have observed artists at their canvas and they don’t distractingly look around but are absorbed in their work on the canvas. If you watch Sport stars in gymnastics and ice skating you can see intensity in their eyes as they are mentally focusing at the task at hand. Some sports stars will mention in interviews that they are often visualizing their performance in their split seconds before the game or sports activity. We have great power given to us to focus on our tasks if we tap into that power God has given us in our minds.

Importance of having a balance of ability and challenge is another aid to flow. Dr. Mihalyi C. in his research looked at ability levels. Flow occurs when we feel challenged yet we have enough knowledge and ability to have confidence in that we can meet the challenge. If we don’t have the ability to do the activity then frustration occurs which is definitely not a flow experience. We can continue to improve as we grow in our abilities to reach higher levels of expertise on those things we enjoy doing.

Another main aspect I would like to point out is then merging our awareness and action together. With the goals and focus in place we then move into doing the activity. Here we do the activity and we simply enjoy doing it. Mental activity and physical action merge into oneness as we paint, swim, jog, write or sew. Now flow occurs and we don’t overanalyze. What stops the flow is if we start to judge ourselves –“what are others thinking of me?” “Am I doing this right?” Leave the questions for a later reflection time simply do it! For example a swimmer in a race doesn’t have the opportunity mid-race to stop and reflect on his progress. Reflection on performance has its place after the activity but to win the race the swimmer must stay in the flow of the race experience trusting his talents.
By making use of flow activities in our lives we can enjoy our daily life more. We can continue to improve and find delight is our favorite activities. Also since focus and concentration are part of the Flow experience we can build up our ability to focus better in other activities by replicating the power of focus in our flow activity. Other benefit to flow is that we are exercising our mind so our mental facilities are strengthened. As we increase our ability level our ability to reach new challenges grows. This can aid in improvement in creativity as we consider new ways to engage in our favorite activities. The more we make use of flow in life the more we have opportunities to enjoy the life journey we are on.

Reflection –
What are some of your favorite flow activities? Are you learning more about that activity to keep increasing your challenge level? What one new activity would you like to add in your life schedule?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Gratitude in the Workplace

Work and thoughts of thanksgiving often do not go together. Work and complaining is usually the common duo. I have done my share of complaining about work. It usually leaves me more depressed and agitated. As I have been learning more about the importance of gratitude and the importance of a thankful spirit, in the Positive Psychology course I am taking, it has challenged my thoughts on workplace attitudes.

Does all the complaining about work ever help? Usually it spirals into deeper negativity and turns our work into drudgery and exacerbates the difficulties and levels of boredom in our work. I have read and tried the calculation out with a calculator; that we work about 85,000 hours in our lifetime from age 21-65. The big question is how do we want to spend that amount of time? Do we want to spend it in a negative manner of boredom and long-term complaining? Or do we want a work life with a sense of fulfillment and positive feelings of enjoying our work settings? There are several topics that relate to this such as finding our calling, using flow in the workplace, and utilizing our personal strengths in our work. These will be discussed on a later date. With Thanksgiving this week I thought I would focus on using Gratitude in the workplace.

You would think in our present economic circumstances of over 10% unemployment and most likely 17% real unemployment in the country just having a job would be a cause for thanksgiving. That doesn’t seem to be enough to halt the complaining about work.

First let’s look at what causes the negativity to set in. Each job has its routines. As we begin a new job we are in learning mode and everything seems fresh and new. The learning is a challenge. Then as we get into the groove we start doing everything the same way. The client interaction and paperwork starts moving in a circular cycle and becomes routine. If we focus on the routine then boredom begins to set in. The boredom can then create a sense of restlessness about our work. Negativity begins to be the lens through which we start to look at our work. Day in and day out the negativity can spiral into complaining about the boredom.
A loss of purpose also occurs when letting negativity about our work take over. When we start a new job there is a sense of learning how our work fits into the whole of the company, whether it is a shipping clerk sending finished orders to clients; a customer service representative helping a customer with a problem; or a career counselor helping a college students open their eyes to a major possibility that connects with a personality strength. Becoming more competent in our work then helps increase our purposefulness in serving our customers. If we lose focus on our work purpose and begin to focus on the negatives such as letting ourselves become overcome with boredom or petty comparisons of how other workers are doing their jobs in a complaining manner; what started out as an enjoyable dream job can turn into a hellish nightmare.

What can be done to turn the negativity around? I will discuss a couple of ideas for you to try out. These are ideas I have stumbled upon that have helped me and I am just passing them on. First of all write down a list of 5 workplace duties that are routine to you. These may be reports that you have to do; regular assessments that you perform; or certain work activities you do in a regular manner. It is often these routines that start us complaining. “Oh no, I have to do that again!” That complaining then compounds into other complaints. So find some time to brainstorm new ways of doing your routine activities. If you work with a teammate, brainstorm with them to increase the creativity. Even a small change may be enough to add a positive lift to your work setting. As a Career Counselor I can get into a routine of doing our career assessment with students and the temptation could be to just test and tell the student quickly what to major in to just get the session over with and back to my desk. To fight that I make a commitment to see each student as unique and remembering the importance to opening their eyes to the possibilities in their futures.

Another idea is to make a list at the beginning of the workweek of 5 things you are thankful about concerning your work. One may be as simple as just being grateful to have a job in bad economic times. By building up a list you are thankful for about your work, will be a natural positive arsenal against the negativity of complaining. In regularly building up a list of gratefulness about your work it may also help when you are tempted by co-workers to jump into gripe sessions which just add to workplace negativity.

Then finally renew your passion to be the best in moving towards excellence in your work. Boredom can not overtake you if you are constantly challenging yourself to be your best. If you are trying to promote excellence in the workplace a positive attitude will follow and help diminish negativity in the workplace. Try these ideas out each Monday in your work to try to beat the Monday work blues.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Being Thankful Each Day

My wife and I noticed while shopping in mid-October there were Halloween decorations in one section of the store and Christmas decorations in another. Most stores are the same way. Thanksgiving is squeezed out we felt by commercialization. We spoke to each other how Thanksgiving is too often forgotten as a holiday and in our practice of daily living.

I would like to continue the thoughts from the previous post on gratefulness, by reflecting on a song about thankfulness. It is a song called Thank You For Today on Phil Keaggy’s Dream Again CD. Read over the lyrics here and then click on the You tube link below hear Phil sing the song:

Thank You For Today
Thank You for today. I am Grateful, for today is all I have.
The past is much too heavy for me to carry
If I hold on to it for too long, You know it will crush me.
The future’s far too fragile for me to worry
If I hold on to it for too long, You know it will rush me.
Right now is where you live, Right now is where I want to live.
Thank You for today. I am Grateful, for today is all I have.
In the past I am a fool, I play the fool, if I stay in that place for too long.
Dreams surrender to regret.
In the future I’m a clown, a selfish clown
If I stay in that place for too long, to love another I neglect
Right now there is no temptation Right now there is only faith.
Thank You for today. I am Grateful, for today is all I have.
Right now is where you live, Right now is where I want to live.
Thank You for today. I am Grateful, for today is all I have.

Click here to see a You tube video of Phil singing this song.

The song to me is a positive reminder to live each day and even in each moment with a thankful heart. In the Positive Psychology class I am taking online with lecturer Dr. Tal Ben Shahar, the past couple weeks has focused on the importance of gratitude. Phil is reminding us in this song that the main focus of our time orientation should be living in the present with a spirit of thankfulness.

It is not that the past or future is not important. The past is helpful so we can learn from previous failures in our lives. The past also relates to thankfulness, as I look back, I can be thankful for a mother who encouraged me to read and focus on my education. I am thankful for teachers, friends and ministers who were influential in my life journey. But if we allow hurts and hardships of the past to gain a hold on our hearts the past can crush our spirits into complaining and regret.

As for the future, I am very goal oriented, and I do believe future dreaming has a place. But is that where most of our focus should be? Focusing on the future too much can bring us to a state of continual worry of ‘what is going to happen?” A constant focus on the future can foolishly cost us by neglecting those who should be most important in the present -- our family and friends. It can also cost us by our not doing our best in each present moment which can hinder our future potential. So Phil’s song is right on the money in that right now, is where I am really living. I am learning to be mindful of keeping my focus on living each day to my best ability. As Thanksgiving day, the forgotten holiday comes near, it is a reminder that each day can be a day of thanksgiving.

What is your daily time orientation? Do you live in the past? Do you live for the future? Or are you living thankfully mindful of each present moment? Take a short time to write down three things in your past you are thankful for and three things you are thankful for today!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Living With a Grateful Heart

When we are caught up in the malaise of okness it is easy to focus on complaining how boring life is. We then spiral into more negativity and get caught up in a cycle of just existing and the habit of complaining. Some complaining can be useful if it realistically is discovering a problem to solve, or providing an impetus to improve. Yet all too often we keep on with the complaining, and habitually gripe -- that mires our thought lives with negativity. A positive way of breaking this cycle is to look at life with a grateful heart of thankfulness.

"He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has." - Epictetus

“Appreciation can make a day, even change a life. Your willingness to put it into words is all that is necessary.” -Margaret Cousins

"I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder." - G.K. Chesterton

The above quotes relate to having a grateful heart. Being grateful in our daily attitude is to focus on being thankful concerning what we have and the good things in our past that have helped mold us to who we are at this present point in time. Being thankful for parents, teachers, friends, and influential heroes that have shaped our present brings inner joy. This helps to counter the blame game of victimhood. Gratefulness for our present situation is a contentment that guards against complaining about what we don’t have.

The sense of appreciation that comes from a grateful heart changes our life for the better. It can break the cycle of negativity if we are in the habit of complaining. Building the habit of a grateful heart will also affect the lives of those around us. For example, when you smile or say “have a nice day”, to a tired sales clerk you can see an immediate body language change as they return a smile and say thanks. Try it on your next shopping trip. Give a smile to the worker at the counter and you will notice a difference. Too many complain, “That store clerk was rude”; “the waitress was so unfriendly”. Maybe they just need a smile to remind them of how they should be. So our appreciative nature may influence others to be more thankful and happy as well.

The Chesterton quote pointed out to me that gratefulness can lead us to a sense of happy wonder. A deep spiritual joy can grow in our inner being as we look at the small things around us, and see how a simple thing like a rose in the garden brightens our day. Noticing the little miracles in life will lead us to having an awe-filled day instead of an awful day. We have a dear friend, Cathy Matovich, who manages a birding store,( Wild Bird Center), in the Chicago area. She gave us a Hummingbird Feeder on our Summer trip to Chicago. We have it hanging on our back patio and there is a sense of joyful awe of God’s creation as we watch our hyperactive little friends flitting about enjoying the nectar from the feeder. We can appreciate God’s creation as we enjoy our morning coffee while watching the birds.

I have had my times in the negative complaining mode, so I can appreciate the experiential difference of living in a more appreciative mindset. In a Positive Psychology class I am taking online; this past week’s lectures have touched on the issue of gratefulness. It is helpful to see the research on the topic. Here are some Samples of research on being grateful that can be found at this website by Dr. Emmons— . From looking at the research it is seen that having gratefulness in our daily living has physical health benefits for better health, positive mental health benefits, increased happiness levels, and higher levels of personal success. That is what Living More Than OK is all about.

Many religious traditions speak to the subject of thankfulness and gratefulness. As I have mentioned in past postings, my spiritual heritage and personal worldview comes from a Christian standpoint of having a personal relation with Christ. Here at the following website are samplings of verses on the importance of being thankful from the Judeo Christian viewpoint:

Ephesians 5:19 & 20 Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Philippians 4:6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

The two verses above are a couple of my favorites on gratefulness. Ephesians 5 speaks to our interpersonal communication that it would be positive in nature. Speaking to each other with Psalms and hymns with an attitude of thankfulness. Philippians 4:6 speaks of overcoming anxiety by the act of spiritual prayer in an attitude of thankfulness. We may not be blissfully happy about everything that is happening to us but by keeping a thankful heart we are better able to cope with life difficulties.

Take 15 minutes to think over two things you are grateful for in your life. How does the reflection over these things make you feel? Is there a person or persons related to what you are grateful for?

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Embracing Chaos Shifts in Your Career Life

In this ever-changing often chaotic world we live in, there can be unpredictable twists and turns in our career journey. Add in the economic stressors of job losses or fear of job loss may create tension bringing anxiety and depression. Feelings, such as Paul McCartney’s “Live and Let Die” Lyrics - "But If This Ever Changing World In Which We're Livin' Makes You Give In And Cry" can turn your life upside down. We can either give in to the stress, continually crying about the chaos or we can embrace the situation as a shift in our lives making the most of it and press on to new directions and possibilities.

I am not making light of these moments, as I have had my share of depressive moments in my journey; as my well paved plans buckled up and blocked my pathway. Thankfully I had my faith in God, good friends to seek advice from, and made the use of Professional Counselors at the deepest point of the struggle. In Living the More Than OK life we need to look at the realities of life that it is not a clearly marked yellow brick road, instead often it is a turning, twisting, bumpy, and pot-holed filled path. When a shift occurs through a serendipitous happening we need to work through any pain, ( with a help of a professional Counselor can help), and move on in a positive manner.

I had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Jim Bright this past July, at the NCDA, (National Career Development Conference) in St. Louis, MO. He is one of the main thinkers behind the Chaos Theory of Careers. His presentation drove home a point that although our lives do have stable smooth flowing times, we need to be prepared for when the tumultuousness of complex unplanned events come into our lives. For each one of us these events vary in number and intensity. We need to have an openness to new ideas that come through pleasant chance events or unplanned times of adversity.

Reading of Chaos Theory reminds me of a student I had in one of my classes a few years ago who was a very good student and never missed class. Then mid semester he stopped coming. I tried contacting him to no avail until the end of the term I finally contacted him. It was too late to salvage his semester. He said a family event occurred that knocked him flat and could not keep going. I encouraged him to regroup and keep going in the future not to let the event stop him from the education he wanted. He did not plan during the semester for this difficulty to happen. It just happened and stopped him cold. . As I often tell students no one wakes up and says, “Boy, this is a great day for a flat tire!”

Dr. Bright was considerate enough to send me this YouTube video he created which looks at some of the issues in chaos theory. Click on the link and take a moment to view it.
Where Will You Be?

Viewing the video made me think of the career shifts in my life from a library worker during High School, before college a shipping clerk in Ohio, then a janitor and library worker working my way through school in Chicago, customer service in publishing and other companies in the Chicago area, Real Estate in South Texas, and finally teaching and Counseling college students in South Texas. Some of the careers have been planned and some unplanned through necessity.

I also thought through the concept of the Butterfly effect thinking over small events that had a big effect in my latter time periods of my journey. Sometimes it was a discussion I had with someone that seemed insignificant at the time but as I look back in the grand scheme there was an effect on my life. One impetus in starting this blog was I always wanted to do some writing of my ideas. This I believe stems from my favorite teacher, Mrs. Verna Clifford, from 3rd grade who had us write little stories in her class. It was a little class assignment, ( a butterfly event), but I enjoyed it and later it helped me in my writing of reports in my higher education. It was memories of her encouragement back then that helped me consider venturing out in writing this blog.

I have added Dr. Bright’s website to my favorites listing. Do check it out, because as we look at the concept of chaos it does relate well to how we live out our careers and other aspects of our life journey. Dr. Bright is so right in that we need to build in our lives and strengthen qualities such as Optimism, Openness, Self-Efficacy, Vision, Playfulness and Risk, Flexibility, and Persistence. These are things we need to work on developing in our inner selves so we can better handle the complexities and happenstance events that enter into our outer lives. These are some topics that I will touch on in coming months as I believe they are important in Living More Than OK.

In closing take a short quiet time to reflect over the career shifts that have occurred on your life journey. Can you think of any Butterfly effect moments where in your past a seemingly insignificant event or small interaction with another person later had a significant impact on your life?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Appreciating Each Moment

This week I am continuing to look at music and will again use a song to look at how we can use the songs we enjoy to help in our daily journeys. One helpful resource in looking at the power of music to help and to heal is The Tao of Music: Sound Psychology by John Ortiz. This book looks at how music can relate to a variety of life issues such as depression, self esteem, stress, grief, loss and anger. He presents songs from a wide variety of songs with differing music styles that relate to these various problems people face in life. He offers practical applications and exercises to see how music ca be used therapeutically to improve our lives. His book can help you appreciate the healing power of music.

Time is important and it is a topic that I will come back to, as our journey through this life, is based in the dimension of time. Today I want to look at another song that is one of my favorites, as an example the effect music and lyrics can have for our benefit. The song is Miracle of the Moment, by Steven Curtis Chapman. First look over the lyrics and then watch the You Tube video by clicking on the video link below.

Miracle of the Moment by Steven Curtis Chapman

It's time for letting go; All of our "if onlys"Cause we don't have a time machine
And even if we did; Would we really want to use it.
Would we really want to go change everything.
Cause we are who and where and what we are for now,
And this is the only moment we can do anything about.
So breathe it in and breathe it out; And listen to your heartbeat.
There's a wonder in the here and now, It's right there in front of you.
And I don't want you to miss the miracle of the moment.

There's only One who knows, What's really out there waiting.
And all the moments yet to be, And all we need to know,
Is He's out there waiting, To Him the future's history.
And He has given us a treasure called right now.
And this is the only moment we can do anything about.
So breathe it in and breathe it out, And listen to your heartbeat.
There's a wonder in the here and now, It's right there in front of you.
And I don't want you to miss the miracle of the moment.

And if it brings you tears, Then taste them as they fall.
Let them soften your heart.
And if it brings you laughter, Then throw your head back. And let it go,
Let it go, yeah, You gotta let it go.
And listen to your heartbeat.
And breathe it in and breathe it out, And listen to your heartbeat.
There's a wonder in the here and now, It's right there in front of you.
And I don't want you to miss the miracle of the moment.
And breathe it in and breathe it out, And listen to your heartbeat.
There's a wonder in the here and now (here and now)
It's right there in front of you,
And I don't want you to miss the miracle. Of the moment.

Link to the Miracle of the Moment video:

This song speaks to an important part of Living More Than OK. Making the most of each moment, by appreciating each moment can have a dynamic effect in our lives. We can increase our happiness levels in life if we can appreciate each moment in our time line as a miracle. By buzzing around busily, we miss the wonder of the world around us. That is a key element I see Chapman is getting across to us in his song. Watch the video again and appreciate the wonder of nature in the pictures found in the video created to go along with the music. Truly awesome!

I know too many times I have missed the sunsets, and here in South Texas, we have some beautiful ones. I have passed by the flowers unknowingly of their beauty. I have missed the treasures of relating to the people around me -- to enjoy sharing their joys or helping with their hurts. Why? I am too caught up rushing on a train to nowhere or blindly floating on autopilot routinely doing tasks that have no lasting value. Do you ever find yourself this way? Be active in your present with awareness as our choices in the present have a great impact on our futures. As Chapman writes, “And this is the only moment we can do anything about”.

Make it a point to choose a day this week to go through the day more mindfully aware of the moments around you. At the end of the day take a short time to write down a reflection. Before you write relax a few minutes just breathing slowly in and out. Then write down the treasures and wonders that the God behind the moments brought into your life that day! Appreciate each moment!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Sound of Music Impacts Our Self-talk

Many will agree that Music has a powerful influence on people. As I am discussing impacts on our self-talk, I want to look at the subject of music. At a music concert whether a classical symphony or a rock concert, there is emotion and power that you can feel in the performance. The power of music can also be seen in the positive effectiveness of Music Therapy which has been used with many different people groups effectively.

Music has been an integral part of my life. When my mom moved my brothers and I, when I was in first grade, into her mother’s house there was a old upright piano in the back living room. Grandmother would regularly play old gospel hymns and old time songs from the 30’s and 40’s. My brother who is very musically talented was able to teach himself piano and memorized numerous classical pieces. I always considered myself too awkward to play the piano so I never attempted it. Musically I followed my older brother’s example of playing trumpet in band through high school. Then in High School I started to play the acoustic guitar, singing and playing in church. Through my personal experience I have seen the effect music can have for the good in inspiring fans during high school football games and emotionally moving hearts and minds in spiritual worship settings.

I believe music can be for the good or bad an influence in our mental programming. I will focus on the positive and there are positive songs of abundance in all genres of music. Classical music and jazz can be a positive influence in relaxing the mind and reducing stress. On of my favorite musicians for smooth jazz is Keiko Matsui, ( ). Her music is often playing in my office as it is very soothing and relaxing for when I am working on reports and getting stressed compiling data.

With vocal music the lyrics can be a positive influence. For example a song I often use at the beginning of a new semester with students is Tracy Chapman’s New Beginning. Listen to this video of Tracy Chapman’s New Beginning video and reflect over her words:

New Beginning by Tracy Chapman
The whole world's broke and it ain't worth fixing It's time to start all over, make a new beginningThere's too much pain, too much suffering Let's resolve to start all over make a new beginningNow don't get me wrong - I love life and living But when you wake up and look around
at everything that's going down -All wrongYou see we need to change it now, this world with too few happy endingsWe can resolve to start all over make a new beginningStart all over Start all over Start all over Start all over
The world is broken into fragments and pieces That once were joined together in a unified wholeBut now too many stand alone - There's too much separation We can resolve to come together in the new beginning
Start all over Start all over Start all over Start all over
We can break the cycle - We can break the chain We can start all over - In the new beginningWe can learn, we can teach We can share -- the myths the dream the prayerThe notion that we can do better Change our lives and paths Create a new world
Start all over Start all over Start all over Start all over
The whole world's broke and it ain't worth fixing It's time to start all over, make a new beginningThere's too much fighting, too little understanding It's time to stop and start all overMake a new beginning
Start all over Start all overStart all over Start all over
We need to make new symbols Make new signsMake a new language With these we'll define the worldAnd start all over Start all over Start all over Start all over ...

From a student standpoint I try to encourage the students to choose some new beginnings for their habits as they begin life at the University. Also Tracy Chapman’s lyrics fit well with the faulty beliefs some people cling to as noted by Albert Ellis’ Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy. Ever hear people say ,”My world’s too broken, it’s no use trying anything new.” “ No one understands the pain or struggle I am in.” “Everything that happens to me is always wrong.” Those are some faulty self-talk statements the song speaks to. The encouragement is that we can break the cycles of our faulty programming. We can start over again. I like how she says “We can make new symbols, …Make a new language , with these we’ll define the world…” We need to encourage ourselves and others to make new symbols and new language statements for our success and living more than OK.

Think through the music you listen to, what are your favorite songs? Are you choosing music that builds you up. Google the lyrics of your favorite songs and see what the lyricist is saying and how it applies to your life.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Reading Impacts Your Self-talk Programming

Previously I brought up the issue of our self-talk. For the next few postings I want to look at a few factors that shape the programming of our self-talk. Being a Bookhead I want to look at reading first of all. Books, whether fiction or non-fiction, are expressions of ideas, concepts, facts, and stories. These ideas can have a positive impact on our mental attitude in our inner programming. Working with students I have seen the power of stories in getting ideas across to them.

Building a habit of reading is important in keeping the mind active and growing. Your reading can be a positive influence on your mental attitude. Beginning with reading topics of interest, helps in understanding and gaining new insights in your areas you enjoy. No matter how good we think we are in a certain area there is always room for improvement. When I do classroom assessments that have a rating scale 1-10 I remind students never give themselves a 10 as there is always room to grow during our journey in this life.

Reading about new topics may open new ideas to your life or challenge your viewpoints. By challenging our thinking we can think through and confirm on a deeper level what we believe and why we believe it. Read material from opposing points of view as that helps understand where others are coming from in their emotions and logic, (or lack of logic), on particular areas. Looking at life as a Christian, I have read Bertrand Russell, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and Eric Maisel’s works promoting atheism. Reading their works has actually helps bolster my faith. Their arguments did not win me over and in certain cases their hatred for those who believe in a religious Worldview turned me off.

Magazines and newspapers are reading materials that offer news reporting and information on a wide variety of topics on a smaller scale than books. Reading these are a great way to keep informed on what is going on in the world. As with books if you have a personal area of interest, like flowers, traveling, cars, or cooking find a magazine related to your interest. If magazine subscriptions are too costly an idea is to put in your weekly schedule a time period to visit your local library and relax and read in their magazine room.

Once a student in my Student Success class mentioned to me that he did not like reading books but he researched a lot of his interests about computer networking and news information on the internet. He asked me if that was ok. We live in a computer and internet world. He had a deep passion for computers and I knew he devoured information off the internet. I mentioned to him and the class that there is a lot of bad on the internet but also a lot of good, (like my blog!). In thinking of our reading as part of our mental self-talk programming be questioning of any source be it paper or cyber based. Glean out the positives that will help you improve where you are going in your life journey.

I know electronic books are becoming more popular but I believe I will always be a hard copy book person. To me there is nothing like sitting at my desk turning the actual pages of a book as I read. Likewise, searching for books at a library or bookstore, being able to pull the book off a shelf and leaf through it, is much more satisfying than viewing a virtual image on a computer screen where you can only look at the two pages the publisher allows you to look at.

In thinking through how books and authors affect us, I appreciated a book in my library, More Than Words: Contemporary Writers on the Works That Shaped Them, by James Calvin Schaap. The editor compiled essays from 21 writers on the favorite authors that impacted their lives. The book helped me to think over the books that have shaped my life during periods of doubt and periods of growth in my thinking. I also in preparing this post looked through the internet searching for lists of influential books. I came across a number of interesting lists and websites. One website that may be of interest to fellow Bookheads, is Good Reads, Goodreads is a social network of reading lovers sharing what they are reading and forming book groups. I am not a member but I fully believe in their mission: Goodreads' mission is to improve the process of reading and learning throughout the world.

I will close off with my list of ten favorite influential books in my personal life, (outside of the Bible which is a regular source of reading in my life):

1. Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis

2. The Road Less Traveled, M. Scott Peck, M.D.

3. What’s So Amazing About Grace? Philip Yancey,

4. Who Are You Really And What Do You Really Want? Shad Helmstetter Ph. D.

5. Choice Theory, William Glasser

6. Man’s Search For Meaning, Victor Frankl

7. What Color is Your Parachute? Richard Bolles

8. The Success Journey, John Maxwell (now titled Your Roadmap For Success)

9. Write is a Verb!, Bill O’Hanlon

10. Critical Thinking: Tools for Taking Charge of Your Professional and Personal Life, Richard W. Paul and Linda Elder

Think over the books you have read. Which are books that have been influential in your life? Have they positively helped in your positive mental programming? Take time to write down a list of your top five or top ten favorite books.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Moving From Thinking to Action

Life is more than talk. When I speak to my Student Success course students, about the power of our self-talk, I tell them we have to move beyond our positive self-talk. Changing our negative thoughts to positive is helpful but with no working action nothing will be accomplished. We need to actively work out our positive thoughts for progress to occur in our dreams, or profitable changes we want for our lives. The book of Proverbs 14:23 tells us, “All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.”

Let’s say for example, my self-talk is about getting in better physical shape. I may say things like, ”I am going to exercise to improve my health for my self and to be a better me for my family.” I even go so far as ordering a Leslie Sansone DVD to do walking at home. Then if all I do is sit in my recliner stuffing cupcakes in my face while I watch the DVD, is that going to help me get in better physical condition? No, I have to rise up from the chair and start walking, go outside for a jog, or join a health club if the recliner is too much of a temptation.

Another example I use with my students, many who struggle with Math, I suggest they can change their self-talk from, “I am no good at math-I just can’t do it.” to “I need to pass Algebra I to receive my degree, so even though I don’t love Math I will do whatever it takes to pass it.” What is the “doing whatever it takes”? The student needs to work on going to tutoring, place extra time in his schedule to increase the number of math problems he practices. For those students struggling with math I tell then when they start dreaming of numbers chasing them in their dreams they are probably doing the right number of math problems in their personal study time.

What I am getting at, is once your self-talk has been changed into a positive mode you need to jump into active work on what you want for yourself. Here is a helpful quote from Napoleon Hill: “Do not wait; the time will never be "just right'. Start where you stand, and work with whatever tools you may have at your command, and better tools will be found as you go along.” When we need to make a change, it is easier to make excuses and stay stuck in the soft comfort of the recliner with remote in hand. Waiting for the right time to change will not work, as time will eventually pass us by and the positive changes for possibilities in our life will pass us by. I know from past experience in my life. I like how Napoleon Hill says to start with the tools you have at your disposal to get moving. Again move away from the excuses of waiting for the “right”-- time, people, circumstances, or God. I love the God excuse. Mind you, as a Christian, I do believe in seeking God’s guidance, but many times sitting around waiting to hear from God, is a cop-out to keep from moving into the tough work of action. Seriously, the move from positive thinking to the hard work of action is tough but necessary. As we take the first step with the tools we have available more helpful tools will come our way as we progress in our journey toward what we want.

Sometimes as we are working hard at accomplishing what we want, we begin to be tired and want to give up. A reality check reminds us that hard work is called hard work for a reason. It is hard and difficult at times. When you are ready to give up, think over these ten positive benefits to hard work in our lives. Use them as reminders why you need to keep pressing on, working for the changes in your life. They come from the book Life’s Greatest Lessons by Hal Urban:

1. Hard work helps us realize our potential.
2. Hard work helps us face up to life.
3. Hard work makes us feel good.
4. Hard work builds character.
5. Hard work earns the respect of others.
6. Hard work earns self-respect.
7. Hard work adds meaning.
8. Hard work gets the best results.
9. Hard work becomes a habit.
10. Hard work is healthy.

Begin working today on improving your Life More Than OK!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Program Your Self -Talk in a Positive Direction

If you did the exercise in the last posting about comparing your negative vs. positive thoughts and came up with more negatives, don’t start feeling too bad. Dr. Shad Helmstetter in his book, Who Are You Really and What Do You Want? states there is some research that shows for some people up to 70% of their thinking is negative. That is a big chunk of negativity. What can we do to change the percentages in a positive direction?

One key area where we can improve our thinking in a more positive way is what we say to ourselves – our self talk. Yes it is ok to talk to yourself. We do it all the time. You probably don’t want to walk through the shopping mall holding a long dialogue with yourself. You will get a lot of strange looks but seriously, it is important to consider the things we say to ourselves.

I remember years ago in a College basic computer programming class learning the acronym, GIGO, Garbage In Garbage Out. If your computer program is filled with errors, your output on the program will be filled with errors. The professor mentioned that in his opinion the greatest computer ever designed was the human brain designed by God. He exhorted the class to apply the GIGO principle to our lives and thinking. If you allow garbage in to your minds the output into your life will be garbage.

Years after this while I was studying on my first Masters degree in Divinity/Counseling at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, IL my advisor encouraged me to read the Dr. Helmstetter book, What To Say When You Talk To Yourself. This, along with my appreciation for Cognitive Behavioral theories in my Psychology courses caused me to be awestruck by the power of our thinking in our individual lives.

Self-talk is the internal scripts we say to ourselves in our minds- “Boy, I’m sure having a rotten day!”, “How could I be so stupid”, “I should be able to do this better”, “ I will never be able to remember things!”, “ My mom said I would always be a failure. I guess she was right.” “I just can’t be creative!”. The scripts are programming statements that we consciously and unconsciously repeat over and over to ourselves. These statements program our personal internal computer, (our brain). When the programming is full of shoulds, coulds, can’ts and regrets we are programming major negativity which will produce negativity in our lives.

When I first read What To Say When You Talk To Yourself , I reflected over all the “I can’t” statements that had limited my past from my teen years and negatively affected the present at the time. I was astounded at the negativity and limitations I had placed on myself, almost unknowingly. I would like to say that that realization changed my life to success over night. Mental habits are slow in changing. Even up to this day. Before starting this blog for months I remember arguing with myself, “Why bother writing a blog you have nothing to say. You can’t do it. Who will read it anyways? It won’t help anyone” I finally reprogrammed my self talk with “I have always wanted to work on improving my writing. Doing a blog may be productive writing practice. Even if I only get a few readers, if I can encourage them to live a more than ok existence it will be worth it.”

In the previous paragraph I give an example of the primary way Dr. Helmstetter promotes to change the thinking programs in our minds. Set aside 30 minutes of quiet alone time to think over your self-talk statements you say to yourself on a routine basis. Jot down on a paper the things you say to yourself –
Examples –“Why me?”; “I never say the right thing”; “my room is always messy – I guess I am just a messy person”; “nobody likes me”; “I just can’t lose weight”. Look over the statements. Are they things I really want to be true about myself? Can I have pride in saying these things? Are they helping me be a better person? Then finally think over what you should be saying instead and write the new programming statements out. Here are some examples --change the “ I can’t” to “I can”; “I am having a rotten day nothing is going right” to “My day is starting off rough but I am not going to let it beat me. Look out world here I come!”; “My dad said I would always be a dummy in math” to “Maybe I am not a numbers guy but I need Algebra to get my degree so I will use the campus tutoring and do extra practice to make sure I pass.”

You get the idea. Look at the negative statements you are telling yourself and create a positive new program. Then when you catch yourself saying the negative statement hit the delete button in your mind to erase it and then paste in the more positive statement. Try the 30 minute exercise mentioned in the preceding paragraph and try building some new positive programs for yourself. Let your thoughts move your life in a positive direction!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Taking Thought of Our Thoughts

From the first thought of the day, “I don’t feel like getting up”; to the last thought, “why can’t I fall asleep”, we are faced with thousands of thoughts. Constantly we are bombarded with our thoughts during breakfast, driving in traffic, while listening to others. Do we understand how these thoughts affect our lives, our choices, and our futures?

In the Old Testament book of Proverbs 23:7 we find these words, “As a man thinks in his heart so is he.” This is a powerful proverb if you reflect over its importance. Our thoughts are what shapes the real us. Our character, values, behavior, dreams, attitudes are all shaped by our thought life. Our environment and genetic makeup has a part in our development but the driving force of development is our thinking processes. This idea raises the bar on our personal responsibility if we consider the power of our thoughts.

I recently re-read a little leather bound book a friend in Chicago gave me years ago, by the writer James Allen. It is called As A Man Thinketh. You can read an online version by clicking on the preceding title. Here is a sampling of ideas from his work:

A man's mind may be likened to a garden, which may be intelligently cultivated or allowed to run wild; but whether cultivated or neglected, it must, and will, bring forth. If no useful seeds are put into it, then an abundance of useless weed seeds will fall therein, and will continue to produce their kind.

Every thought seed sown or allowed to fall into the mind, and to take root there, produces its own, blossoming sooner or later into act, and bearing its own fruitage of opportunity and circumstance. Good thoughts bear good fruit, bad thoughts bad fruit.

His analogy of the mind and life to that of a garden is important in contemplating what kind of life we want to lead. When our family visited Chicago recently I made sure we visited Chicago Botanic Gardens as my wife always enjoyed visiting there when we lived in Chicago. You can stroll through acres and acres of well manicured gardens full of flowers not weeds. The various gardens there, are a peaceful setting to appreciate a variety of flowers and plants.

Thinking back to Allen’s analogy, how do we want our lives to be? Do we want a life in disarray and a mess or a life of beauty? Deep down we want a life of beauty but moving beyond what we want; we must look at what actually is. We can ask ourselves do I have a life in disarray or a life of beauty? Our thoughts have a major effect on the outcome of our lives. It is our thinking that drives our choices for good or for bad. If we are filling our lives with negative thoughts or dwelling on how boring our lives we are not living more than ok. Weeds of life will quickly overtake our daily experience leaving us in disarray.

The Apostle Paul in the New Testament scriptures states an important point of what the focus of our thinking should be. In Philippians 4 :8&9 he says, “ 8 Finally, brethren,)whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” The focus of our thoughts should be on positive things. Our thoughts should be seeking truth with the aim for excellence. I enjoy The Message paraphrase, by Eugene Peterson of the same verse 8 Summing it all up, friends, I'd say you'll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. We need to fill our minds and reflect and ponder those thoughts that are the best and thoughts of beauty. How much could we improve our lives if we took the time to meditate on true, noble, authentic, and gracious thinking.

What would others think of us if our thoughts appeared above our heads like walking billboards. Would they see noble, gracious thoughts? Or would we be embarrassed by the negatives of unfair judgments, negative putdowns, and personal insecurities? Too often we allow cursing and negative thoughts gain control. Relationships falter as we have ungracious thinking about those around us. We limit our potential by having untruthful and ugly thoughts about ourselves. These negative thoughts work out to make our lives ugly like an overgrown weed filled garden not a peaceful garden of beauty.

Take some time at the end of the day to reflect over your thoughts of the day. Make a list of the negatives and the positives found in your thought life. . Is your list full of road rage thoughts, complaints, and personal putdowns on yourself? What can you do to change the negatives and build up reputable and authentic beautiful thoughts? We will delve more into what you can do in the next post. Until then, take thought of your thoughts.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Exercise a Key to Living More Than OK

For the past six years I have been consistent in using a treadmill and Elliptical for exercise most every night. Before then exercise was not a priority. What caused the change? It is amazing how having two stents placed in two formerly 99% blocked arteries changed my perspective on life. The Cardiologist told my wife at the time if I had not been taken to the emergency room I would have died in my sleep. I wasn’t that overweight. The artery problem was more genetic in nature as my father had died of blocked arteries to the heart at age 58.

When you come that close to death, life takes on new meaning. Especially when after the stent surgery I learned news of two people near my age that died of heart attacks. I reflected over why I was still alive when I stubbornly almost refused going to the hospital and possibly would have died that day. From the context of my recent thinking on living more than ok, I also thought how even though I am predisposed to clogged arteries my style of life of just being ok catered to junk food and lack of exercise in my past. My thinking had been, I am not overweight, so why bother with exercise.

After the stent surgery, I was placed in heart rehab therapy so was forced to go on a heart diet and an exercise regimen. Since that initial heart rehab after the hospital, I have kept disciplined in diet and exercise partly due to my wife’s direction but also because I enjoy living life. I know I need to follow the regimen if I want to keep living. Another factor since that day when I could not breathe, as I felt like a thousand pound weight was on my chest, is a sincere belief God is not finished with me yet. I figured there must be a purpose for me to still be alive. My wife and daughter are in that purpose zone. But I believe even this post on exercise is part of the purpose. If I can encourage a few people to exercise before a hospital visit forces them to -- it is all worth it.

Exercise gives you more energy to face each and every day. Since my time in the hospital I have been more aware of sensing my body. If I am sick and cannot exercise for a few days I can feel a sluggishness overtaking me physically. Recently I read in the July/August issue of Scientific American Mind that exercise is not just good for the body but for the mind as well. Vigorous aerobic exercise helps keep the brain in better shape. So if you are wanting to live a better life and enjoy improved mental health become involved with physical activities as part of your lifestyle – jogging, walking, swimming, tennis, basketball, or treadmills can help in promoting a strong circulatory system. You can exercise by yourself, with close friends, or if you are a more social person you may find support in joining a health club.

My wife recently had a friend give her a Walk at Home DVD that we have begun to use and enjoy. It is done by Leslie Sansone. At first I did not think walking in place at home could be any help as a workout. We have tried it and it is vigorous and gets all the muscles moving. My wife has seen an energy boost from it. Our daughter enjoys it as well so it is a positive way to spend some family time together. I still enjoy working out on my machines so we alternate as they do not have to exercise everyday like I do.

Make exercise as part of your lifestyle choice. It is better for you to choose now rather than having a hospital visit choose it for you. You will be doing your body and mind a favor and it is a great gift you can give those you love – a better you!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Rekindling Your Dreams

Continuing on the subject of our personal dreams for our life, what stops us in following our dreams? Why do our lives get turned upside down and lose sight of the path we were on in our life journey? Why do people of faith have feelings that God has disappeared from involvement in their lives?

Dreams become squelched by the stuff of life overwhelming us. Instead of using wise active choices to control what we can, we passively move about on autopilot and let life situations and dull drudgery control us. Day to day distractions grow and grow until we give up on living more than ok and settle for mundane existence. Then our dreams fade away.

It is sometimes hard to imagine how this can happen. For example, a person who goes off to college with high hopes of a college degree does not plan on not finishing. Yet he may stop out for a year to save up a little more money with the intention to go back soon. Ten years later he never goes back as more and more bills pile up. Another person who wants to start a photography hobby, or learn a musical instrument, she then lets work, housing chores, and other activities take over -- never gets around to it. People actually then say “I will get around to it some day”. Some day never comes then regrets take over with all the entailing negativity.

The title track of Phil Keaggy’s Dream Again CD came to my mind as I was thinking over this topic of rekindling dreams. You can listen to a sample of the track at As you listen to the song reflect over what Phil is saying about dreaming again in his lyrics I have listed here.

Dream Again by Phil Keaggy
Ready with a pen in hand, I’m wondering why I haven’t slept, well I’ve had a lot on my mind.
And it shows it shows. I must let go of all these distractions. Leave them far behind and dream again

And when I wake up smiling the world’s a different place.
Only when I choose. Only when I use my eyes to see your beautiful face.

If ever I’m upside down Whenever I’m turned around I will pray.
If ever I lose my step, If ever I should forget I will , I will pray.

Ready with these open hands I’m turning them upside down, cause
I must let go of all these reactions. Leave them far behind and dream again.

And when I wake up smiling The world’s a different place
Only when I choose Only when I use my eyes to see your beautiful face.

If ever I’m upside down Whenever I’m turned around I will pray
If ever I lose my step, If ever I should forget I will , I will pray

Help me to let go all these distractions. Leave them far behind and dream again.
I must let go of all these. If ever I’m upside down, Whenever I’m turned around I will, I will pray.

I can relate to his thoughts of feeling upside down. When we have lost track of our dreams we do feel out of sorts. As I mentioned at the beginning, it is all the distractions of life that hinder us with our dreams and our wrong reactions lead to giving up on our dreams. We wind up giving up on God and give up on ourselves. I appreciate the picture of him being ready with open hands turned upside down. He is not tensed up clenching wildly on to his distractions. He is ready to move on with dreams for his life and letting go of his distractions so they can fall away. The phrasing reminds me of a single mom named Lucy, who attended a church in Chicago where I worshipped years ago. Her favorite phrase was “Let go and let God.” We can’t rekindle lost dreams or create new dreams, if we keep hanging on to life’s past difficulties and hurts.

Here is one, More Than OK, idea for you to consider and try. In Phil’s song he repeats “I will pray”. If you are in a period of feeling dreamless and desire to rekindle the fire of personal dreams in your life, get away for a day by yourself. Go to the beach, rent a cabin in the woods, or visit a mountainside retreat. Some place you find relaxing. Make it a spiritual dream retreat day. Pray and meditate over your life. Let go of the reactions of the past and distractions of the present. Brainstorm ideas for dreams -- new ones and old ones you had forgotten about. Hopefully if you have done the dream list exercise from the last post bring it with you. During your day do two writing exercises. Write for about 20 minutes on where do you see yourself 5 years from now if you follow some of your dream ideas? Repeat the exercise later expanding the timeline up to 10 years in the future. We are not placed on this earth to live tensely distracted but to live joyfully and abundantly.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Following Your Dreams!

Sloughing through life in OK mode leads to a life as Henry David Thoreau verbally pictured, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” A great number of people move through life unfulfilled-- watching reality TV, spending free time roaming shopping malls, or surfing the internet or absorbed in their iphones. Not living up to the potential that is within. One of the many ways to Live More Than OK is how I often end emails to students – “Follow Your Dreams!”

Developing your dreams and following them unleashes potential in your life to maximize your experiences. Walt Kallestad says in his book Wake Up Your Dreams, (can be found in libraries or used bookstores), “Dreams can help us see the invisible, believe the incredible, and achieve the impossible.” Creating dreams of what you want out of life can wake up passions for new hobbies, life adventures, new career paths, and new relationships. They allow us to achieve more in life than we could ever imagine!

John Maxwell in his recent book, Put Your Dreams to the Test, mentions how some people live their lives based on the dreams of others. This is seen in young people doing sports their parents want them to do. Students who aim for careers their parents want them to do. This can cause lack of fulfillment and future anxiety as we were not made to live another’s dreams. We were made to live the dreams we were meant to live. Maxwell then takes the reader through a series of questions to reflect over in creating and developing their own dream.

One of the best examples of a person who is an amazing dream maker and dream follower is a man named John Goddard. His story amazed me when I came upon it while internet surfing ideas for a lecture to students on dreams and goal setting. I have used it ever since, with College students to open their minds to the potential each one has to do so many things in their lifetime. John when he was 15 on a rainy day took out a pad of paper and wrote out 127 things on his “My Life List”. The list included places he wanted to go, things he wanted to learn, careers he wanted to follow. Some of his adventures in traveling around the world are noted in his book, The Survivor. Here are some examples from his list: explore the Nile river, climb Mt. Ararat, visit every country in the world, visit the Great Wall of China, visit The Taj Mahal, ride an elephant, study native medicines follow the John Muir Trail, high jump 5 feet, read the entire Bible, read the works of Tolstoy, Plato and Aristotle, play Claire De Lune on the piano. At the time of writing his book he had completed 111 of his original list and expanded the list to 500 items. That is what I call dreaming big. What I admire about the story as well is; he did not stick to just his list of 127, but has kept over his years expanding his possibilities. Do check out his website and read his amazing story --

Set aside some free time on a weekend or evening and create your own life dream list. Dream Big about the things you desire to do, places you want to travel to, things you want to learn! If you do Journaling, write your list in your journal, or you may want to make a creative poster of your dream list. Do write it down so you can begin checking your dream items off as you accomplish them.

You may say how does this relate to my previous post on our choices towards Happenstance events or as I see them as God Moments. If happenstance is where it’s at, why plan anything or dream dreams?? Having recently, the opportunity to hear Dr. Krumboltz speak on the issue of Happenstance and life; he pointed out that he is not against dreaming or goal setting. Instead he encourages people to be open and flexible to new possibilities instead of rigidly hanging on to your dreams. Hanging on to a dream may bring you near destruction. I remember when working at a warehouse when I was younger; I had lunch with a lady who shared how she had been almost killed by her ex-husband and needed plastic surgery from the beatings. I asked her why she stayed so long with him until the near fatal beating. She replied she had thought he was her dream prince charming. A dream that nearly killed her. Again thinking of John Goddard’s list, he after many years did not complete everything on his list, instead he opened his mind to 373 new possibilities.

Follow your dreams! But keep open to new possibilities!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Career Journey: Openness to Happenstance and God Moments

On our career journey, I mentioned earlier that career assessments can open up career possibilities for individuals to think over. Another aspect to look at in our career journey is happenstance in our lives. These are the chance events that pop into our lives. These events have an effect in our careers and life in general. Some consider happenstance as luck or circumstances. Coming at life from my Christian worldview, I see a Creator God guiding life rather than random chance so I view happenstance occurrences as God moments. His special intervention in our lives.

I count it a privilege to have attended a few years ago a training by Dr. John Krumboltz and Dr. Al Levin about Happenstance which was based on their book Luck Is No Accident. I appreciated their thinking that Career Counselors need to have a whole life focus instead of just looking at finding life fulfillment in just a career. Events that come into our lives shape the direction we move in career and our overall life journey. I highly recommend this book if you are exploring career and life fulfillment. Their thoughts helped me to view our life journey as the Beatles song says The Long and Winding Road instead of a straight direct line.

As I read through their book and considered their Happenstance Learning Theory I applied it to my career life journey. What we think we will do in our high school years can vary widely as we react to life events. Drs. Krumboltz and Levin point out that our careers and lives are not a result of just pure chance happenstance. It is the choices we make in response to those events. That is an important factor to consider. As I look at my life, I see turning points of happenstance in the timeline of my life.

For example in my junior high school years in Ohio, I had a high respect for the pastor at my local church. Having grown up in a single parent home I looked up to him as a role model. So in High School I decided I would go to Bible College and be a pastor of a church. Then in my senior year a new pastor took charge who was a real jerk, was abusive to people, and had an affair with the secretary of the church so I became disillusioned. In my disillusionment I looked at my high school career test results. The results listed careers of minister but also engineering. So in my disillusionment I chose engineering. During the first year of college I realized by working with a career counselor I had deeper Social leanings in my career choices and I should not let one poor example of a pastor disturb my move in that direction. So I moved first back home and worked a while at a factory to sort out where to go to school. I selected a Bible College in Chicago where a couple of my friends attended.

After my Bachelors degree in Bible at Moody Bible Institute I went on for a Master of Divinity degree at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School also in the Chicago area. By then I had an interest in Counseling so I took that emphasis in my degree. You would think I would then move into a religious ministry position but that did not happen. Some life events occurred to move me into a job with a Publishing company in the Chicago Suburbs. It was a lower level position keeping track of returned books from bookstores and schools. Being a booklover I thought this may be an opportunity to move into the publishing world. I noticed in my work there, in my small office at the back of the building, workers from various departments would stop by and many would vent their frustrations concerning their lives to me. Especially after a few years as the company was bought out by another company; stress levels rose at work so even higher level managers would come by and they would apologize for “venting”. I would reply “don’t worry everyone doesI’m the company shrink back here”.

At this time I was also doing volunteer work with a Korean minister who was working with college students from different cultural backgrounds. I found I enjoyed tutoring and counseling the students on their life plans. As the publishing company spiraled out of control from the corporate buyout; and I had two deaths in my family, my mother and oldest brother -- I moved into a customer service job at a local suburban corporation. For the next two years I worked customer service in phone order departments. Definitely not my dream job of high school days but it paid the bills. During that time I kept volunteering with the Korean minister as I enjoyed helping the college students. This is when I met my future wife, Susie at one of his meetings. After a year of having met her, she needed to move from Chicago, IL to Texas to pursue her Pharmacy career

As she moved to Texas I had a decision to make -- do I follow her to Texas or just stay in Chicago? Continuing to think about Happenstance or God Moments, (in my high school days I would never have envisioned this choice). I had no desire ever to move to Texas as I did not care for cowboys or the Wild West. Some of my friends echoed that thinking. Other friends of mine told me to look at my life. If I really loved Sook , (as Susie is known in Chicago), I would take the risk and move to Brownsville. It was also pointed out to me that I really did not enjoy my work in Customer Service. So I took the risk and moved.

My move was to Brownsville, TX the southernmost tip of Texas. I landed work in Real Estate while I looked for other types of work as well. With my lack of Spanish skills it was difficult to find other work. I thought back to my volunteer work with college students in Chicago and thought working at a university would be fulfilling. I eventually landed a job as a Student Success Advisor at a Technical College in the area. By then I had married Susie and she encouraged me to go back to school, as I had always wanted to finish a Masters in Counseling. I finished that degree at the University of Texas at Brownsville. After working 5 years at the College, a Career Counseling position opened at UTB so I applied and got the job. This is a job that I am thankful for being a part in opening students’ minds to their possibilities for their futures. But it is miles apart from what I thought I would be doing when I graduated from High School.

As I look over my life and think of the Happenstance Theory I see the life events that I had not planned nor envisioned in my high school life: living in Chicago, working at a Publisher where co-workers would turn to me for their “Venting”, my mother and brother’s death, the stress of the company spinning out of control , meeting the Korean minister through a musician friend where I gained a passion for working with University students, meeting my wife at a Korean church, moving to Texas. All events I did not plan on, but the choices I made concerning them helped shape the present I am enjoying now. Some events were stressful others joyful but looking back I can see them as God Moments, of molding events in my life and career journey.

Take time to look back over your life journey. What are the unplanned events that entered your life to bring you where you are today? Take some time to write your life journey down and reflect over the choices you made in the various turning points in your life. Be thankful for your life journey.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Living More Than OK by Becoming a Bookhead

In my first post, I mentioned how seeing the ill effects of students who were bored, failing in their dreams their first year of College, was an impetus in wanting to do a blog on how we can live fulfilling lives. Their comments initially dumbfounded me as I believe I have always tended to be a low boredom type, especially when it comes to education. I love learning. I believe a major reason for this is that in my early elementary years my mother, each Summer involved me in the local library reading program. All my life I have enjoyed reading. Some of my research readings on boredom show that readers often have lower boredom levels.

This came close to home when a couple of years ago, I was trying to encourage my teenage daughter to read more books. She was not too keen on the idea. She told me that she was not a Bookhead like me. I immediately thought of the full bookshelves in my home office and the two full bookshelves in my work office. Bookhead -- I liked the term.

Being a Bookhead is a way to expand your mind and make your life more than ok. Fiction books can take you places in your mind that may encourage you to travel or try out something new in your life. Or just the imagination side of fiction can bring fulfilling enjoyment to a boring day. Nonfiction books provide knowledge to grow your mind and explore new experiences in life. They also help build critical thinking skills as you think through ideas and issues in nonfiction books.

There have been studies in the recent years showing a decline in reading. The National Endowments for the Arts did a study on the decline in reading from 1982-2002. Any drop in reading levels or people who think reading is boring makes me want to shout out the positive side of building a habit of reading in our lives. I came across a thoughtful opinion on the subject from 2007 looking at another survey about reading habits. The writer points out how other cultures such as the Chinese and Indians are moving ahead of us in the US, due to their increased reading habits. In an era where the news points to a decline in reading I would like to encourage more people to try out being a Bookhead as one way to improve their lives. I have never really been a follower of Oprah’s television shows but one area I respect her in is her emphasis on promoting books and reading.

In the book, This Unbearable Boredom of Being, the author, Genrich Krasko, speaks of the importance of reading – “But one cannot build up one’s personality, with high self esteem and a mature approach to life without reading and reading a lot. Extinction of books will eventually bring about the extinction of Western Civilization.” Reading a wide selection of books will build our lives up with stronger minds and deeper fulfillment. Support your local library and local bookstores by making a commitment to watch less TV, less internet surfing, (except for this blog!), and make time to read more books. Start with topics and reading styles you enjoy and branch out from there. For encouraging younger people to read check out the website, by author James Patterson. It is a helpful resource for encouraging young people to read.

As for my daughter’s reading, back when she called me a Bookhead, a friend told me not to push books on her. Instead let her find books that she liked in her own timing. I wish I could say her recent interest in Ted Dekker books was my doing. Actually I am grateful to her English teacher and her school librarian for connecting her with books that she enjoys reading. That is the key in moving beyond ok in your life by becoming a Bookhead -- find what books you enjoy and enjoy a relaxing, fulfilling Summer read!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Following a Career Journey to More Than Ok

I am writing this after coming back home from the National Career Development Association conference in St. Louis. My thinking was challenged, so I will probably do several posts in the coming months on careers as part of our life journey. Our work life is not all of what life is about, but we do spend a lot of time in this thing called work. I remember reading Chad Foster’s book, Teenagers Preparing for the Real World, to my teenage daughter. In it he mentions we work about 85,000 hours in our lifetime. That is what I call a lot of time!

That blew me away as I had in my work life gone week to week and never thought how much time is actually involved in our work during a whole lifetime. I realized that I was almost at the halfway point. Thankfully I presently work at a career that I enjoy and find meaning in helping others. My present work with students is that of a Career Counselor. I enjoy helping students open their minds to their personal strengths and helping them connect with a career they are passionate about. One way to living life more than ok is living a career that is based on our interests and strengths.

I have had my share of jobs I wasn’t crazy about but they served a purpose of providing a roof over my head. I have been grateful to God for each job as it beat the alternative of unemployment. I will discuss living with jobs we don’t care for at another time.

How do we find a career that we can be passionate about? I am a strong believer in career assessments as part of the puzzle. I know not everyone agrees with them but I have seen them as a useful tool in my life and in the lives of students I have worked with. There are a variety of assessments to choose from. Two popular ones are the MBTI and the Strong’s Inventory. They can be discovered by searching online, contacting a local university career counseling center, or meeting with a local Counselor. The National Career Development Association has a section on their website about finding a career counselor in your area.

Some do not like the personality and interest assessments for careers, as they believe they pigeonhole people too much. Granted I have seen them used that way. Instead I believe they should be used as a tool to help people explore and open their minds to possibilities. The individual needs to be listening to the still small voice inside and not blindly focus on the results of the assessments. We are complex so there are many sides of finding a satisfying career. These many sides will be discussed in future blogs. I feel the assessments are a helpful starting point with feedback from a dedicated Career Counselor.

My favorite career website is based on the work of Richard Bolles. There you can find a wealth of information to sift through. I also highly recommend his book, What Color is Your Parachute? If you are in a career quandary at any point in the career journey -- check it out for an informative read. I am not sure if the next posting will continue on the career trend or discuss a new topic. I have many ideas on my mind at the moment. Follow your dreams!