Wednesday, April 29, 2015
A few weeks back my wife and I enjoyed a Tom Braxton jazz concert at The Falls at La Cantera in San Antonio. We have enjoyed a number of the jazz concerts at La Cantera but this was special as he is one of our favorite musicians. I list him in my book, Living More Than OK, as he inspires creativity in his musicianship. We found a place to set our chairs for the outside concert right before the first song started.
Tom showcased a number of his songs of his new CD, The Next Chapter. Tom is such a personal musician in that on one song he went out into the crowd playing his sax as he walked through the crowd. We have heard him numerous times primarily at the Corpus Christi Jazz festival here in Texas. His musicianship is impeccable and creative. Between songs he is down to earth and friendly in relating to the audience. On his new CD each song is enjoyable but my favorites are The Next Chapter (the title song), It Is Well, and Sunrise on Malawi.
The song The Next Chapter, caused me to reflect over my life story. Here is the Youtube link to the song so you can take a listen to it:
We each on our life journey are writing a story with our choices, our interaction with people, and I believe our interaction with God. At different junctures in life we turn to a new chapter. As May and June are here many young people are ending high school and college chapters to begin new chapters. In my PhD in Psychology I am ending the coursework chapter and will begin soon the dissertation chapter. Each time we start a new job that is a new chapter in our life.
How do we face the new next chapters that come our way? Too often we face them with fear and anxiety. That is because the unknown is often fearful. Sometimes people turn to alcohol or drugs to try to escape new next chapters. Tom Braxton’s song, The Next Chapter, on reflection of it points us to a positive way to face the next chapter we face. The tune is very upbeat and energetic. Think through how improved our lives could be, if we let go of the fear and approached each new day and each next chapter with a positive energy. We could be more excited about life and have more openness to new possibilities if we follow the energy of his song in our lives. We enjoy the journey when we appreciate the chapter we are presently living and look forward with anticipation to the next chapter.
Reflection: How is your present chapter going on your life journey? Are you moving into a next chapter of your life? What choices can you make to improve how the chapter goes in your life story?
Tuesday, April 21, 2015
A couple of weekends ago I took my wife for a morning drive to see Texas wildflowers and for a morning coffee. In Lavernia, Texas there is a coffee shop named the Mesquite Bean Coffee Shop which was our ending destination after viewing bluebonnets and other Texas Wild Flowers.
The Mesquite Bean is a clean Texas Country style shop. We decided to sit at the screened in patio area to enjoy our muffins, fresh fruit and coffee. The server, Erin, had a friendly, “welcome to our home” type attitude that added to the experience. As we sat there you could hear the birds in the trees and the morning air was fresh and cool. Just the right setting for a cup of coffee.
Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar on the importance of taking time to smell the flowers. He was giving us a reminder to appreciate the moment. Be mindful of the little pleasures that add meaning and value to life. Of course at that moment I was taking time to smell the coffee, not the flowers. Breathing in the smell of a good coffee, as the Mesquite Bean Coffee has great coffee, is a savoring process that helped me appreciate just being there in that moment with my wife.
As I looked around the Mesquite Bean Coffee Shop and thought of other coffee shop experiences, I noticed a common thread that they are a place to slow down. Taking time to slow down has benefits to lower stress and savor life. The last couple of weeks I have discussed reading due to National Library Week. So I want to mention that coffee shops are a wonderful place to read. Usually any coffee house I go into there will always be a couple of people reading. If you are looking for a book selection to take the next trip to a coffee shop since I mentioned Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar take a long a copy of his book, Happier or his newer book Choose the Life You Want.
In our town of New Braunfels there are a number of coffee shops: Sertinos, 2 Rivers Coffee, Crosswalk, and New Braunfels Coffee shop. Look in the town you live in and think of the coffee shops in your area. Oh yes, there is a Starbucks in town but personally I like the small independent coffee shops. I have grown tired of the big corporate coffee settings with their agendas and sameness. For the life of me I don’t know why the masses flock to Starbucks and miss the friendly atmosphere and relaxation of an independent coffee shop.
Make it a point especially if you are in a time of stress and everything feels urgent to break away and smell the coffee (or tea if you are a tea drinker as my grandmother was). Either go by yourself and a favorite book or make it a date time with someone significant in your life. You will be glad you took time to savor and enjoy the small things in life.
Look on the internet and see what coffee shops are in your area. Even look within a 25 mile radius as we enjoyed the drive to Lavernia, Texas from our home. Then choose a time to visit a coffee shop you have never been to before.
Tuesday, April 14, 2015
This being National Library Week I thought I would continue on discussing reading and Flow. At our New Braunfels Public Library I came across a book, Going with the Flow: How to Engage Boys (and girls in Their Literacy Learning.) It was written by Dr. Michael W. Smith an education Professor at Temple University and Dr. Jeffrey Wilhelm an English professor at Boise State University. Although the book was written in 2006 to this day both authors still show a passion for encouraging reading and literacy. I am thankful when I read about people such as these men who encourage reading.
This book is based off of research that came out of a previous work they did, Reading Don’t Fix No Chevy’s. Their work revolved around trying to encourage young boys in reading which talking to teachers is a struggle more these days. I know in counseling clients when working with children I have found girls are more often open to reading than boys. At the college level I see the same phenomenon that it is the girls that tend to enjoy reading more. Smith and Wilhelm point out how in education studies that girls tend to outperform boys in reading. That seemed to be one driving passion in their research.
What I found interesting in the book was in their interactions with the boys they found a connection to Dr. Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow Theory. As mentioned last week, Flow is the experience in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does with a sense of enjoyment. The authors found that the boys outside of the “prison of school” (some of the boys perceptions of school), had flow activities they enjoyed. Some of these activities were rapping, sports, video games and art.
They found that the boys were not totally against reading as a number of them read outside of school but often on subjects that they enjoyed such as the sports and video gaming activities. Part of the thinking on encouraging reading in boys was to keep encouraging them to read things they enjoy. I thought as I read the book it was that encouragement that could help the boys connect elements of flow to their reading. They point out near the end of the book that “We found that the five features of flow experience that we discuss in this book -- a sense of competence and control, an appropriate level of challenge, clear goals and feedback, a focus on the immediate, and the importance of the social – explained why our boys liked to do the things that they did. We found that these five features were equally explanatory of the boys’ literate engagement, both in school and out.” (page 171)
I haven’t crunched the numbers from my flow assignment with my college students but those seem to be the core elements of flow that my students felt would apply the best to college studies and flow. I have had students who were taking remedial reading at the college level and they made statements similar to the boys in the book. They would say they enjoy reading things they like but the struggle was reading material they did not like in classes. I would often reply that was hard for me to relate to, as being a Bookhead I enjoyed reading what I liked to read but in school I always enjoyed textbooks as well. I would often tell them I am crazy that way. I agree though that to build the habit of reading we need to encourage people to focus in on reading what they enjoy reading and branch out from there.
One other point I fully agree with is their thoughts on the emphasis on mandatory testing in schools. I have heard from stressed out teachers over the years how they hate teaching to the test. In counseling children many get very stressed out over the Texas state mandated tests. I have asked sometimes to an overly stressed child do the teachers appear nervous about the testing? Several times I have had the children reply in the positive that yes, they notice the teacher nervous about the testing. So if the teachers are stressed out how can we expect the children to perform well? The authors rightly point out how the emphasis on testing makes the emphasis on doing school, rather than learning to enjoy learning and mentally growing. “Our worry is that the more we overtly prepare students for tests, the less our assignments are for the enjoyment of doing them, or for the immediate power of application in the present. Increasingly, what students are asked to do in school is for the instrumental purpose of passing a test, often one in the distant future, instead of doing something for immediate purposes that provide intrinsic satisfaction.” (p. 160) Our test emphasis is counterproductive in building flow into students’ lives. No wonder so many drop out or lose their love of learning; which in the world we live in we should be building students who love learning.
So this National Library Week stop by your local library and support the work they do in encouraging reading. Continue to build the flow of reading in your own life and encourage it in others.
Reflection: Pick up a new book to read in an area of personal interest at your local public library.
Wednesday, April 8, 2015
This semester in my College Success courses one assignment I gave students related to Dr. Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow Theory. Flow is the experience in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does. I had the students consider their outside of class activities they enjoy and think through various elements that make up flow. They were to write a reflection of whether they actually experience flow in their favorite activities.
The elements of flow that I had them reflect over came from Dr. Csikszmentmihalyi’s book, Creativity: The Psychology of Discovery and Invention. The elements are as follows:
1. There are clear goals – In flow the individual knows what needs to be done. The musician knows what note to play next. The rock climber knows what move to take next up the mountain.
2. Immediate feedback to ones actions – In a flow experience we know how well we are doing. The musician knows if he is playing the right note. The rock climber knows if the next move is a correct one.
3. There is a balance between challenge and skill – A person in flow feels their abilities are well matched to the opportunities for action. If the challenge is too high to the skill level frustration sets in. If the challenge is too low boredom sets in. There is a continual growth in skill.
4. Action and awareness are merged – In flow our concentration is focused on the activity being done. One-pointedness of mind is required by the close match between challenge and skills, and it is made possible by the clarity of goals and constant availability of feedback.
5. Distractions are excluded from consciousness – In flow there is an awareness of what is relevant for the here and now. Flow is the result of intense concentration on the present, which relieves from fear.
6. There is no worry of failure – In flow the participant is too involved to worry about failure. There is a confident sense of control.
7. Self-consciousness disappears – There is a lack of sense of the self instead there is a oneness with the activity. The pianist is one with their piano. The skater is one with the ice A paradox occurs in that the self expands through this act of selflessness and oneness in their flow activity.
8. Sense of time is distorted – In flow hours may feel like minutes so there is a sense of time distortion.
9. The activity becomes autotelic -- The flow activity becomes more enjoyable for its sake. The activity is an end in itself. (pages 111-113)
I was amazed at their responses as none of them had ever heard of flow. A few had coaches who taught them about being “in the zone” which is a similar concept. Through a myriad of favorite activities such as various sports, writing poetry, drawing, video games, dancing and many others, most of them could see the elements of flow in their lives as they did their favorite activities.
With the coming National Library Week still on my mind, my favorite flow activity came to mind. That flow activity is reading. I was glad to see a number of my current students listed reading as one of their flow activities. I should have given those students extra points for enjoying reading. How does flow relate to the habit and enjoyment of reading? Allow me to walk through my personal thoughts on how I see flow in my reading. With each book I read there is the goal to understand the story or glean helpful information for my personal or professional growth. The feedback I receive in reading is that relaxed enjoyment of the story that grows my creativity or the information I glean to improve myself. Depending on the book the level of challenge to my skill of reading varies. In reading for me the challenge relates more to the more academic texts I study. Increased ability to concentrate I have seen in my reading. When I read on a plane or in my home office being in the flow of reading, I focus in on the story or the information I am reading. Time seems like it flies by when I read so I often need to keep track of time if I only have a set time to read between appointments. Reading is definitely autotelic for me in that I enjoy reading whether it is for my Ph.D. assignments or leisure reading.
In living a Living More Than OK life, engaging in flow activities adds to the overall fulfillment of our daily lives. Flow activities in our free time helps in overcoming burnout or the angst of boredom. Of course I highly recommend that all people add the flow activity of reading into a portion of their free time. Reading builds up the creativity and the critical thinking aspects of our minds. As I stated near the beginning there are a wide variety of flow activities. Active is the key part. What are you active in? Just living ok keeps us stuck in the mundane mode of okness and passivity. It leads to flat lining in our life journey. Take some time to think through ways you can add to your life through flow activities you may enjoy.
Reflection: When you read do you feel any of the elements of being in flow? What are some of your favorite free time activities? Do you see the elements of flow in your activities?
Thursday, April 2, 2015
Just the other day in my Facebook account I saw a notice from the American Library Association: Celebrate National Library Week 2015 (April 12-18, 2015) with the theme "Unlimited possibilities @ your library®." The notice reminded me of my gratefulness towards libraries to this day. As I have mentioned in the past I have had many connections to libraries over the years. In elementary school my mother promoted to me, the local public library in my hometown of Barberton, Ohio by making sure I was involved in their Summer reading program. It was those early summers that encouraged my interest in reading which has grown to my present time, where my daughter calls me a Bookhead.
My first part-time job through my high school years was at the Barberton Public Library. Then in my college years at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, I worked at the campus library several semesters. With that experience I am a believer in the importance of libraries on the local level and the academic level. With my PhD work with Capella University the online Capella library has been helpful in gathering research articles. In trying to obtain hard to find articles the Capella University librarians have been an important resource to turn to for help.
ALA’s theme for the week "Unlimited possibilities @ your library®.", impresses me. The thought is so true in the unlimited possibilities that can open in our minds by reading and other resources available at libraries. Going back to memories in my life it was the variety of stories I read that opened my mind to the diversity in the world. The diverse ideas and peoples I read about in those Summer reading programs prepared my mind for thoroughly enjoying the diversity I found when I moved to Chicago for my college years. Reading strengthens the mind, as in my case since my father died when I was a young child, I was very inward and the school system thought I was slow educationally. I truly think it was the reading that helped build me up mentally to improve academically in school so that I was focused on College Prep in my final years of High School.
The importance of reading and libraries is what I have always liked about Dr. Ben Carson’s life story. He is a perfect example of their theme in that unlimited possibilities came true in his life due to his mother having him read two books a week from his local library. What positives could happen in our country if more parents followed that idea with their children in getting them involved in their local libraries? We could have a renewed renaissance in our country of critical and creative thinkers if more people took advantage of reading and their local libraries. That is so needed as presently, I usually just see mentally lifeless zombies staring at the screens on their phones wherever I go. Reading can bring mental life back to people as they learn the joy of reading.
Make it a point to stop by your local library next week, April 12-18, 2015 and check out a book or see what other resources they have for you. Take the time to let the librarians there know you are grateful for the work they do in providing unlimited possibilities to those who come through the door of the library.
Reflection: Here is the ALA link to National Library Week: http://www.ala.org/conferencesevents/celebrationweeks/natlibraryweek The National Library Workers day is April 14th. Make it a point to thank any library workers you know. As I stated make it a point to stop by your local library during the week.
Think over their theme – “Unlimited possibilities @ your library®." Meditate on some of the new possibilities you may want to read about from books at the library.