Contemplative Parenting

My daughter goes to a preschool where most of the parent/teacher community is Buddhist. They share my respect for tolerance and a caution for getting bogged down in dogma. Last night they offered a class on contemplative parenting and I attended.

When I attend a seminar, my goal is to find one thing that I can apply, immediately, in my life. Last night I learned several so have the added bonus of a blog post to share!


Each session starts with everyone saying a few words about how things are going.

This marks a change from the typical “who I am” introductions, which focus on the past or the future.

Tell us a little bit about how things are going and how your kids are doing right now…


To be effective as employees, negotiators, athletes, spouses or parents… we need to be present. If “present” sounds new-agey to you then what they are talking about is not allowing the normal stresses of life to clutter up our minds. For me, this requires:

  • Sleep
  • Nutrition
  • Exercise
  • Gradual removal of clutter, both in the minds of people with whom I associate, and in my physical surroundings (traffic, urban noise, living space).

To be effective parents we need to get our own lives (and minds) in order. Very similar to performance psychology in business and athletics – the Buddhists were speaking my language!


Children have a fundamental need to belong. Effective parenting taps into this need via a mix of boundaries and inspiration.

Young children can gain a sense of belonging via objects – Daddy’s watch; a colorful piece of paper; sharing a meal, getting a clean diaper for brother. This object focus also explains the attraction of dolls, bandaids, blankets… that I see in my daughter.

Parent/child conflict comes when the ability to belong is blocked, or threatened. To be effective in meeting this conflict, we need to be present and free from the influence of our own fears.

As Dad, my capacity to be effective is related directly to the amount of fatigue I am experiencing as well as being free from the perception of time pressure.

The choice, to be less tired and less busy, is difficult to make because it triggers a fear of being less successful. External success is attractive to my ego (winning races, earning money, relative performance).


Practical Tips

To create empathy ask the child what sort of face it creates when…

  • What sort of face does your brother make when you hit him?
  • What sort of face does Mommy make when you hug her?

Scaffolding love onto others…

  • Helping care for a younger sibling – changing a diaper, feeding, cleaning
  • Seeing parents involved in helping others – volunteer work

Adjust behavior in yourself that you want the kids to emulate:

  • Loudness
  • Automatic reactions
  • Neglecting our own needs to the point of exhaustion
  • Kindness in word and action
  • Respect

Create self-confidence by providing a safe environment for independent success.

Pause, start small and follow up.


While the class was directed at parenting, the advice was applicable across all aspects of my life. I enjoy tips I can apply across the board.


Coach Your Own

Following up on last week, I’ve shed enough stuff to feel like I’ve made progress. By the time the dust settles, it will have taken:

  • Seven dumpster loads
  • A pick-up truck full of gear to an eBay store
  • Two van loads of donated clothing
  • Sending one hundred pounds of papers to a shredding service

I’ve yet to tackle our kitchen, our garage or our kid-krap. These areas are emotionally charged so I’ll need to review the ZenHabits tips!

Clearing out highlights the money spent on items that I don’t use any more.


Last week, I alluded to making changes for the benefit of my family. I’m going to call bullsh*t on myself and point out that anything I do for them, I’m really doing for myself. I’ll explain further.

We might view it as more noble to teach our children, rather than knock out training camps in the tropics – but the reality is we’re making choices either way.

In my 30s, I fluked into combining unknown athletic talents with the time to exploit them. I decided to pursue triathlon for a year and it changed my life, quite by accident. There wasn’t any conscious choice to become a great athlete – the decision was to leave a polluted place (Hong Kong) and settle in a pristine place (New Zealand). Once there, I gave myself the luxury of doing what I wanted (traithlon training).

The change that I’m creating this time is more deliberate but similar in that I’m create space to do what I want to do right now (love, write, teach). There will be benefits for my family but the primary driver is being the person that I want to be. My choices are driven by my self-image.

My attraction to coaching flows from a desire to help others and a realization that continual accumulation is empty. The desire to help others and the emptiness of financial accumulation is what drove me to leave private equity. Elite finance is often about helping yourself.

A rarely discussed paradox of coaching is the best coaches spend far more time with other people’s kids than their own. It was a point made at the ASCA conference that I attended in 2001 – my Dick Jochums Notes are worth a read.

In my current line of work (coaching working athletes), many people spend far more time with other people’s spouses than their own. This choice carries material risks to the health of one’s marriage. Choose wisely.

As I’ve aged, my goals have become less inwardly directed. These days, my competitive spirit flashes more often than it burns. My missions:

  • Help people through my writing
  • Teach my kids how I experience the world
  • Experience love with my wife

I know that my kids will be in grade school when I’m 50 and this phase of my life will be done. Having an end date makes it easier to cope when three-year-olds are bouncing around the house when they should be sleeping!

Once again, I’m tempted to choose the road less travelled.


Life Version 4.5

By my 45th birthday, I’m planning to have made a series of changes to benefit my family and create new opportunities for my 50s.

At Epic Camp, we had a motto, “Many Talk, Few Do.” You may have read the talk at the end of last year – since then, I’ve been working on the do.

The first wave of change is to downsize, declutter and create space for my family. I do best with simple targets so I have been halving all the externals in my life: cars, clothing, investments, non-family commitments, house size, as well as anything that takes time or sends me a monthly bill.

A helpful resource was this Zenhabits article on decluttering. A good friend of mine has managed a 5:1 downsize ratio over the last two years. I’ve been chipping away since last December – the project seems daunting, generates periodic pain and requires frequent communication so my wife doesn’t think I’ve gone nuts!

I’m most rational about my material life when I’m separated from my possessions. The biggest example of this is my house – when I’m away, the decision to place it on the market is obvious. Sitting in my home office… less so. To have clarity on the life I want to create, my strategic planning is done away from my current life.

The 50% goal gets me focused on sticking with the items that are useful and let’s me keep some useless stuff that I’m not ready to part with. I figure I can go for another 50% reduction when I’m ready.

When I clear out a room, I feel great. Clutter creates background fatigue that’s hidden from view when you’re living in it. I should have followed the ZenHabits tip to take before and after photos for motivation.

My buddy kicked off his decluttering project by renting out his house. I’m going a step further and placing mine on the market. That puts a fixed date for me to get my act together. Five dumpster loads have been taken away so far and I’m only a fifth of the way through the rooms in my house.


On the technology side, I figured I’d shoot for a 50% reduction. I am powerless with the internet so I took the radical step of deactivating Facebook and cutting my Twitter follows by 80%.

I miss my cyber-pals but I don’t miss all the crap in my head. If you follow me on twitter then you’ll notice that my signal to noise ratio has improved considerably in the last six months.

When I have doubts about the change, I remind myself that the things that give my life meaning – helping others, riding my bike and sharing love with my family – none require constant connectivity.

I’ve been spending time with friends that are far more experienced, smart and productive than me. Seeing how highly productive people run their lives helps me lift my game.


The most difficult part is choosing to say “not now” to my friends. This process reminds me of the parable of the shepherd that’s shared in The Alchemist. With a bit of luck, I’ll find the gold that’s buried right here with my family.

What’s your personal legend?


Internal and External Motivation


As an athlete, there are two transformations that have had a powerful influence over me:

  • Slow to fast
  • Fat to fit

Most everyone that I come in contact with has a belief system that faster, and fitter, is always better. We rarely see people making the decision that they are fast enough, or fit enough. More common is a realization that the drive to become fast & fit has become unhealthy and people leave their sport.

Collectively, we give honors to the fast and fit – so they must be good things, right? Like most things, it depends. 

These honors, and the feelings associated with them, lead many of us to make external traits part of our internal identity. Because ethical strength and internal health are hidden from view, there are risks associated with devloping core beliefs surrounding the goodness of winning, low body fat and a year-round tan.

I put the photos up as they speak for themselves. While I am different, I’m also not different. My external appearance, and abilities, have transformed across the years but my internal life has been much more stable.

Triathlon has be a vehicle for physical change but it has also provided an environment for self-discovery. What are our true internal drivers? They might include:

  • Respect from our peers
  • Proving we are worthy of love – the deeper version of “I want people to like me”
  • Self-esteem
  • Full blown exercise addiction – every single aspect of my life improves with frequent moderate exercise

It’s worth considering our deeper motivators because time, and our bodies, will set a limit on how long we can base our identity on winning, beauty and speed.

My peers that age the best have ultimately come to realize, and address, their internal motivators.

For me, that’s the true value of athletics.