Family Values

As part of my annual review, I finished a book on managing families across generations (recommend the book, regardless of financial position). 

Annually, I consider my values but I hadn’t formally considered our family values. My daughter is coming up on her 4th birthday and her behavior can mirror what I remember from my teens and twenties:

  • Compete with everyone, all the time
  • Near total focus on desired outcome
  • Random acts driven by impulse
  • Goodness with an element of cruelty, due to a limited capacity for empathy

Keeping in mind the lessons of last week and letting her learn by experience. My wife and I have been asking, “How should we treat this spirited young lady?” We decided to consider what we value within our own marriage. We came up with:

  1. Fair
  2. Truthful
  3. Train daily
  4. Golden Rule
  5. Always Polite

Even in childbirth (!), my wife has never raised her voice at me. How do I stack up when I consider the way I treat my own kids?

The goal of being polite provided an opportunity for insight – am I always polite to little people that are whining? Are there times when I fail to try?

As a parent, I want to hold myself to the same standards that my wife expects of me in our marriage. Because they live with me, my family will know my absolute truth.

As I improve myself, I gain empathy for others and find it much easier to handle emotionally-charged issues. My capacity to say no, discuss difficult issues, accept disagreement, let protests flow through me… all are enhanced by consistency within my own life and harmony in my marriage.

Holding myself to high standards requires effort when it is inconvenient. The payoff for this effort is internal harmony. Read the middle of this interview with Bassons for a practical example of the value of peace of mind.

I have work to do, especially when I’m tired and my daughter is melting down. Still, Monica has noticed a clear shift in my capacity to enjoy fatherhood. As an elite athlete, I took pride in doing what was required, rather than what I wanted to do. I’m tapping that trait to become a better parent.

Am I willing to teach my kids by setting limits on my behavior, my consumption and my choices? 

Nine years until my oldest is a teenager – I need to start working on my credibility now!


Mr Fix-It

Three years ago, I was meeting a buddy to ride our bikes across New Zealand. He brought me a gift of books (Courage to Change and One Day At A Time). The books contain many of the observations that I had learned from practical experience, as well as studied in Eastern philosophy.

My pal shared that when you’re in a relationship with an alcoholic there are a number of tendencies that you need to watch:

  • a desire to protect the individual from the negative implications of their choices
  • a desire to cure, or save, the individual from the outside
  • mistaking excitement for the drama, and chaos, that surrounds an addict

Because addiction becomes so extreme, it is easier to see these tendencies in highly dysfunctional relationships. Easier to see but far from easy to fix.

The books got me thinking and I started to look for milder examples of these tendencies. In looking deeply, I realized that a desire to ‘fix’ the world runs strong in me.

Consider when you feel stress about another driver, your kids, a co-worker, a customer – often the source of the stress is either: a fear of what will happen if they don’t change; or conflict between what you want them to do and what they are actually doing.

Last week, I gave an example of how I counter this stress. I publicly acknowledged that it isn’t my place to save the dopers; that I don’t have capacity to change their world; that my time is better spent on my own mission; and they don’t need my help in any event.

I’m close to making the above thought process an automatic habit in all areas of my life. The reduction in stress is huge and well worth the effort required to change. If you are a parent then consider how much of your effort to ‘fix’ your kids is wasted. Far better to “be the brand.”

The change in attitude frees my mind to focus on accepting the people I love; teaching them when the opportunity presents itself; and letting them learn by experiencing the full impact of their choices.

The most effective way to influence others is to combine love with a good example.


It’s Complicated

Last weekend, the New York Times published an article by Jonathan Vaughters (JV) sharing his thoughts, and experience, with doping in professional cycling. If you’re interested in a deeper review of cycling then get a copy of Willy Voet’s book, Breaking The Chain.

JV talks about his choice to get the last 2% performance gain through doping. That had me thinking about my record in Ironman (2nd, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 7th, 10th). I think a more accurate description is JV received a 100% performance gain from doping. Cheat and he receives a pro contract, victories, trips to Europe and the exposure that, ultimately, brought him to his current position, working at the top of the sport.

JV is a stranger to me. However, something makes me like him (must be his fashion sense). My positive feelings towards JV, and others that have doped, are widely shared. Recently, I witnessed an exuberant standing ovation for an athlete with a similar background. Many cheaters are, and will remain, extremely popular figures in our society.

What to do? 

First up, I don’t waste energy trying to fix the situation. I have been gradually withdrawing from professional sports – I watch very little on TV, don’t follow the pros and spend my time with a small group of amateur peers. This frees up my mind for what’s important to me (wife, family, serenity, writing).

Second, I teach my kids that athletics is a journey of personal excellence and self-discovery. Professional sport is focused on winning. JV’s mission is winning clean but it is still winning. While that might generate value for sponsors, winning is what drives young people to cut corners. I wonder if my participation, at any competitive level, is part of the solution.

Once your goal is personal excellence the desire to cheat (on your spouse, on your taxes, for an insurance settlement, for another title) is greatly reduced. It is a wonderful filter to apply.

Two arguments that I hear a lot: we need highly-effective testing; and we should welcome the dopers because they enable us to make more money.

We want to be very careful about creating a police state in any segment of our lives. Once we accept total disclosure of an athlete’s life/location/biology, what’s to stop that spreading into areas of our society that actually matter! The world rolls along just fine with professional wrestlers and bodybuilders. 

The second argument, that charismatic dopers are good for the sport, rings hollow. Folks with charisma should not be rewarded for making poor choices. Good looking, charismatic athletes do not need our help. A quick review of human psychology will show that life is heavily stacked in their favor.

I ask myself where it would be appropriate to draw the line. It is important for each of us to think this through. Ethics in sport, finance, politics, business and matrimony are identical. In my own life, I remember the advice of Charlie Munger to stay a mile away from the line!

Now that I have kids, I understand the parable of the Prodigal Son and have become much better at forgiveness. It’s too hard to hate and the inspiration the dopers gave me was, and remains, real. Solo stage wins at the Tour continue to fire me up when I’m riding long in the Rockies.

Against that, I contemplate future races alongside ‘retired’ athletes with elite careers that used the best medical technology available. If I can perform close to their level then it might help my motivation. I’m not sure. It certainly is complicated. 

When I’m exhausted, and my daughter is melting down, I remind myself that character is defined by what we do when it is inconvenient. I love my kids and will focus them on personal excellence.

It is never too late to choose a life with honor.

Chapeau to JV.


If Only

I’m prone to the psychology of misjudgment (essential reading linked) and my most common trap is “if only”. A few that have visited me in 2012…

If only…

  • I had a lighter bike
  • I lived in a smaller house
  • I had less…
  • I had more…
  • She joined our team
  • My kids would behave better
  • The world was more like me
  • I was a better, faster, leaner, more beautiful…

Whenever I catch myself obsessing on an “if only” point, a red flag goes up. The next step is to dig deeper and ask “then what.”

  • If I had a lighter bike then… I’d climb faster.
  • If I climbed faster then… not sure (dead end)!

Most of my “if only” thoughts fizzle out after two, or three, steps.


August 11th is the end of my athletic year so I’ve started my annual review precess. 

Pulling out last year’s review I am reminded of my Key Five (Train, Write, Marriage, Kids, Learn). I compare my Key Five against my “then what” replies, which often disappear at that stage.

At the start of this year, I was planning a sabbatical in 2013 (if only I could get away).

In looking deeply, I discovered that I was considering a path to leave my current life. When I compared that to my Key Five, I saw my true desire was a shift towards learning and writing. I’ve spent the last five months learning a new sport (mountain biking) and swapping writing for coaching. These changes avoided the major disruption of a change of hemisphere.

I should have known that the answer wasn’t waiting in Australia!

Precious Memories

I started researching behavioral psychology to make better investment decisions and, therefore, more money. Once I realized that money wasn’t my ultimate goal, I applied my knowledge towards coping with my daughter.

Kids test our patience and I have caught myself shifting into a conflict mindset – rewards, punishments, dominance, rule enforcement. These methods are ineffective and wear everyone out.

Balanced against conflict management, I’ve observed that my daughter is no different from myself – she likes activity to manage her energy, tasty snacks, acceptance and love. Looking deeply, I can see a path away from conflict towards sharing things we both like.

So rather than conditioning her to my arbitrary rules, I’ve been figuring out how to create a weekly schedule that she can repeat.

She’s a very focused little girl – I’ve been tracking how much time Monica and I spend with her, rather than each other. She’s got me at least 4:1 with my own wife!


Bedtimes have been a focus for me as I found myself dreading them.  As well, when I travelled, Monica was exhausted by dealing with them solo. I spent time considering my daughter’s motivation and needs (as well as my own).

There are six things that need to happen:

  • Brush teeth
  • Go to bathroom
  • Pajamas
  • Read Book
  • Drink Milk
  • My Exit

At the beginning, it was a battle and bedtimes were taking up to 90 minutes – so I worked backwards and started by 8:30 pm. That removed the time pressure on me because I know that I’ll get enough sleep.

When my daughter hasn’t spent time with me, she has a clear incentive to maximize the duration of this process. Why? It’s her only time with me! When I am in town, I remove this incentive by spending an afternoon and evening with her. I also make it clear that I will be around in the morning to see her.

Given that I want her to calm down, I need to calm myself.

Other than a few elite buddies, my daughter is one of the higher-strung females in my life. I realized that my role was to teach her to relax – rather than submit to an arbitrary schedule. When she goes off, I sit cross-legged in the middle of her room and relax.

I keep the routine exactly the same each night, sit in the same spot in the room, and wait calmly for her. Then we read a book and I teach her how to breathe while lying beside her in bed. The first few times I did this I realized that she was panting – the conflict method wasn’t good for either of us!

I’ve cut the time in half but, most importantly, I’m not stressed after my exit. A 90-minute battle is the absolute worst thing for my own sleep. It was taking me an hour to chill out from ninety minutes of (ineffective) parenting!

Interestingly, my daughter has a complete inability to maintain (manufactured) rage in the face of me telling her that I love her. Genuine love is a powerful relaxant.


I’m sure somebody taught me all of this during a win-win negotiation course.

  • Remove time pressure
  • Understand the motivation of the other party
  • Meet their needs first
  • Reduce anxiety via routine and calming our own reactions
  • Focus on desired outcome

When my kids test my patience, I remember that if they died then every single minute of my life with them would become my most cherished memories. An extreme tactic, for sure, but one that reminds me to enjoy my brief time with my little girl.

No matter how difficult, there’s no way that I will regret spending time with my kids. What I needed to do was improve the process for my experiencing self.

Video link for you that covers the underlying psychology I am applying with the little people in my house (20 minutes).