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?