Newsletter 622 – Two Growing Trends

Podcasts 3
This week I read two articles that describe growing technologies: one newer, the other well established. The first is the subject of the August 17 Time cover story (US Edition) titled “The Surprising Joy of Virtual Reality: And Why It’s [nearly upon us, better than you think… and] About to Change the World.” Put on those increasingly sophisticated virtual reality goggles and our whole perceptions change. This is not just about making video games more dramatic. It can be about treating the effects of trauma, dealing with various psychiatric disorders, and revolutionizing education. I wonder about its potential for changing how we lead, learn about God, or advertise. And are there dangers that we don’t yet see? Apparently we’ll encounter lots more about this come Christmas shopping season.

Much more familiar are podcasts, recently discussed in a Wall Street Journal article (August 8-9.) We’ve all seen podcasts and webinars, some very sophisticated, which move us beyond radio, television or weekly written blogs like this one. Friends have urged me to replace or supplement this Podcast 2newsletter with audio and/or video posts, especially since these tend to be favored by so many people who like to listen or watch rather than to read.

  • A good communicator knows the characteristics of his or her audience. Surely this includes knowing how the audience learns or prefers to get information. Most readers of this newsletter are older, educated, and presumably inclined to learn by reading. Like me. Would a different audience be attracted by a podcast or other non-written, video or audio format? What about using both formats?
  • Experienced bloggers have demonstrated the value of captivating titles, eye-catching images, and succinct introductory sentences. These are more likely to attract and hold readers to the end. Similarly, aren’t most of us grabbed and retained by articulate speakers in attractive settings telling interesting stories with practical implications? Boring podcasts may give us something to hear or watch but they make no more impact than boring blog posts.
  • Podcasts can be produced relatively easily. All you need is a computer with a camera. I have done these with my classes, replacing long lectures with video clips to be watched at leisure.
  • Podcasts and webinars can be produced from anywhere and allow feedback so observers are more involved with the action. Should you be doing this? Should I?

Please comment. Tell us how you have used podcasts, webinars or virtual reality.

Newsletter 567 – Should You Care About Mindfulness?

If I tried choosing the two hottest emerging topics among mental health professionals these days, probably I’d select the focus on how the brain works (see last week’s newsletter) and the fascination with mindfulness. Two very different publications recently featured articles on Mindfulness. Time (February 3, 2014) suggests that “we’re in the midst of a popular obsession with mindfulness as the secret to health and happiness.” Harvard Business Review (March , 2014) describes “mindfulness in the age of complexity,” then shows that “by paying attention to what’s going on around us, instead of operating on autopilot, we can reduce stress, unlock creativity, and boost performance. Neither article has much depth but they show how mindfulness has become something of a fad in the places where we live, work, lead, teach and seek to impact others. Even the U.S. Air Force has a recruiting advertisement for clinical psychologists with these prominent words: Meditation, Relaxation. Deep Breathing. Your Arsenal is More Powerful than you Think. That suggests mindfulness. (American Psychologist, March-April, 2014, Back cover.)

Mindfulness 1Mindfulness is the process of focusing on the present moment, giving full attention to what you are doing in the present and being less caught up in what happened earlier or what’s to come. The HBR article mostly is a listing of all the magical implications and effects of meditation and other mindfulness methods. Time suggests that the popularity comes, in part, from those who promote and market the mindfulness revolution. But the movement keeps growing because an increasing body of respectable research, including studies of the brain, gives evidence that mindfulness does, indeed, live up to many of its claims.

Initially I shied away from mindfulness because of it’s Buddhist roots but then I thought of other apparently useful fields and methodologies that spring from humanism, secular research, and other foundations that in no way are Christian. Some of the mindfulness commentary on meditation sounds like biblical commands to meditate. But biblical writers tell us to meditate on God and his word whereas secular approaches have a different focus. We can use secular based approaches providing we keep aware of the reasons we use them. What are the Christian implications of all this, especially relating to counseling and to leadership? Please comment, including your recommendations for further study or reading.

Newsletter 560 – Reviving Stalled Lives and Careers

Pope Francis - TimeThe Time magazine cover story naming Pope Francis Person of the year (December 23, 2013) included this interesting sentence: “Friends in Argentina had perceived him to be slowing down, like a spent force.” Then he was selected as Pope. “In an instant, he was a new man….suddenly the sovereign of Vatican City and head of an institution…with about enough followers to populate China.” Immediately a career and a life that seemed to have stalled was injected with a new sense of hope and passion.

Do you know others who have stalled at different times in their lives or careers, perhaps shaken by changing circumstances, slowed by fading energy, drained of what once brought fulfillment and meaning? Perhaps we’ve all been there or are there now.  Frequently I hear from people who are stuck in their careers and unsure where to go next. Christmas week I heard from a friend in ministry who is “facing a transition” and wanting to talk. A former student wrote to say that he was finding life to be “overwhelming at times…trying to gain traction the best I know how.” These people don’t want counseling; they seek somebody who has been on the road longer, willing to walk with them and coach them to a new sense of purpose. Like Moses in a boring wilderness, a cupbearer named Nehemiah, or a Catholic priest from Argentina showing signs of slowing down, they could find new purpose.

Most of you know that I’m inspired by building people, helping them see possibilities for getting unstuck and pushing forward. So this year I’m looking for a few people (maybe you, or someone you know) who would like to spend the next several months journeying with me, two or three times every month in one-to-one telephone conversations. These could be people at any place in life, but especially those who are or have been successful and fulfilled but now are stalled. If you’re interested please drop a note to

Meanwhile, I’ll revisit some of these themes in coming newsletters even as I continue to share new ideas that I keep reading about and learning. And with God’s guidance I very much anticipate walking with those of you who want to take fresh steps to find renewed hope, passion and purpose.

Newsletter #548 – The Growing Impact of MOOCs

 moocAssume that someone you know wants to become a coach. He or she finds the best coach training program available and enrolls for all of the courses. Instead of paying the $2000 or more that such courses usually cost, the potential coach takes all of the courses for free on the Internet. Unlikely? Not in the world of Massive Online Open Courses, best known as MOOCs.

If you work in higher education probably you’re familiar with MOOCs. Harvard, Stanford and MIT are among the institutions that post most, if not all of their courses online for any who want to enroll. A Time cover story (October 7, 2013) reports that the MIT courses have enrolled 150 million learners worldwide.  Harvard has reached 1.25 million since their MOOC initiative began 17 months ago. Time argues that well-designed online courses are better than traditional on-campus lecture courses. I know from experience that interactive online courses, even those that charge tuition, can create better learning experiences for students. If done well they also are more demanding both on students and teachers. An educator-blogger in India suggests that MOOCs could change the world of education and impact billions of people. And what applies to university courses applies as well to professional training and other forms of education.

Of course online education works best at transferring information. Face-to-face interaction has something that online education cannot duplicate. Skills learning (like learning counseling, coaching or leadership skills) can’t always be taught well online. “For all the strengths of today’s digital technologies, some things are transmitted most effectively face-to-face. [These include] …the judgment, confidence, humility and skill in negotiation [and counseling] that come from hands on problem solving and teamwork; the perseverance, analytical skill and initiative that grow from conducting frontline lab research; the skill in writing and public speaking that comes from exploring ideas with mentors and peers.”  Critics note that over 95% of those who enroll in MOOCs or other non-interactive online courses never complete them.

Nevertheless, the time has come to move from on-campus or online teaching that is limited to lecture talks, boring (often outdated) video lectures, or grueling modular courses. Changes like these can be disruptive but also exciting. Do you agree? Please comment.

Newsletter #502 – Do You Still Have Time to Change the World?

Have you noticed how some politicians become statesmen following their years in office? Bill Clinton was controversial when he was president but he seems to be turning into one of our better ex-presidents. In a Time magazine cover article (October 1, 2012) Clinton shares reasons for his optimism that the world is getting better. He describes the  work of CGI, the Clinton Global Initiative. Thus far it has distributed almost $70 billion and last month brought together Barak and Michelle Obama, Mitt Romney, the new presidents of Libya and Egypt, plus 50 additional current or former heads of state and others committed to improving world conditions.

Clinton identifies and documents progress in five areas where there has been “concrete, measurable and reproducible” progress:

  1. Cell phones bringing freedom. Clinton writes that technology opens communication and fosters equality. He cites research showing that “cell phones are one of the most effective advancements in history to lift people out of poverty.”
  2. Healthy communities that prosper.  Examples show how major health crises are being combatted and averted in Haiti, Africa and elsewhere.
  3. Green energy that equals good business.
  4. Increased women’s’ roles stimulating productivity. “No society can truly flourish if it stifles the dreams and productivity of half its population…. It’s been proven that women tend to reinvest economic gains back into their families and communities more than men do.”
  5. A future perspective that encourages progress. Ponder this: “We have to define the meaning of our lives as something other than our ability to control someone else’s.”

How does this relate to us or to the people we work with? Younger people seem more motivated to make a difference in the world but shouldn’t this concern everybody, regardless of age or circumstances? Might God have a purpose for putting each of us here, at this time, in the places where we live? Couldn’t we make a difference in our worlds even without the international contacts or funds to replicate what CGI seeks to accomplish?

Please ask yourself, “At this place in life what can I do, however small, to make a lasting difference?” Others can sharpen your vision and help you take action. As long as you’re alive there is time to change the world. Please leave a comment.

Newsletter #477 – Influential People

I read all of the biographies in Time magazine’s April 30 issue on “The 100 Most Influential People in the World.” They were picked by the magazine’s editors so the selection was arbitrary and there was no hard evidence that these were, indeed, the 100 most influential. I didn’t recognize two-thirds of the names but I noticed trends that emerged in the biographies. Many of these people:

  • are hard workers, often with clear values that guide their lives and work. Consider basketball sensation Jeremy Lin who “achieved success the old fashioned way: he earned it. He worked hard and stays humble. He lives the right way, he plays the right way.”
  • are persistent, focused and determined to win. That’s Tim Tebow who has a “strong work ethic” and is a leader that his teammates trust and respect, “unashamed of his convictions and faith.”
  • are not intimidated, often demonstrating great courage and a willingness to take risks. Samira Ibrahim, age 25, challenged the Egyptian military: “It takes one woman to speak out and thousands of others around the world will listen and be inspired to act.” Manal al-Sharif drove a car where this is forbidden for women, posted a YouTube video, was imprisoned, but “inspired a movement.” Italy’s Mario Monti introduced reforms that “took great courage” and made “painful steps to cut spending, raise taxes and reduce Italy’s budget deficit.”
  • show innovation, willingness to embrace technology, and a commitment to excellence. Apple’s Tim Cook is portrayed as a self-disciplined leader,  highly ethical, always thoughtful, calm, and committed to excellence.
  • are skilled, knowledgeable, and reflecting admirable characteristics. Hillary Clinton is described as “Tough. Indefatigable. Patient. Smart. Knowledgeable. Superior political instincts. Funny. Loyal team player. Skilled global advocate.” These are words from a Republican who worked for George Bush.

Apart from Jeremy Lin and Tim Tebow, nobody’s personal faith or spirituality was noted in these biographies. There was emphasis on hard-work and determination but no emphasis on God’s influence or the importance of gratitude. We may wonder about others, equally influential but not known enough to be on Time’s list.

How can less famous people like us be influential? How do we coach, teach or lead others to become influencers as well? Please comment.

Newsletter #428 – Secondary Trauma Victims

This week, Time magazine shows a cover photograph of a woman in Japan, apparently overwhelmed by her circumstances and surrounding devastation. The magazine describes the suffering and remarkable resilience of the Japanese people but there is little mention of what sometimes are known as secondary trauma victims. These include family members and friends far away from the disaster zone, unable to contact their loved ones, feeling helpless and intensely anxious. Secondary trauma victims also include first responders, rescue workers, medical personnel and others on the scene who experience exhaustion, compassion fatigue, burnout and the emotional drain of seeing so much suffering. Closer to home, secondary traumatic stress comes to emergency room personnel, firefighters, friends of people involved in car accidents, families of combat veterans, or those who know innocent victims of criminal violence.

An article in The Counseling Psychologist (February, 2011) discusses how business and social service organizations can help. Churches, schools, counselors, coaches, leaders and others can help as well, even without rushing to disaster zones where well-intentioned, self-appointed care-givers sometimes get in the way and hinder relief efforts instead of helping. In addition to prayer and donations, how can we stimulate help?

  • Be sensitive and available to secondary trauma victims who often are forgotten.
  • Encourage the recognition that it is common and acceptable to experience exhaustion, sadness, and feelings of being overwhelmed. Caregivers and family members sometimes feel guilty about their own feelings. Some believe that overwork, self-deprivation, and determination are marks of honor or that only the weak succumb to fatigue or despair. There is value in recognizing that secondary trauma is normal, that it is OK to feel exhausted, to grieve, to cry.
  • Be supportive. Caregivers sometimes comment that they can manage the demands if they feel “supported, validated, and valued by their” supervisors, colleagues and others.
  • When possible, encourage secondary trauma victims to utilize stress management and relaxation strategies. Remind them to get rest, exercise, and eat well.
  • Never overlook the spiritual support that comes from other believers and from God who sustains us in times of stress.

How have you helped secondary stress victims in ways that could inform the rest of us?