The moms who interact with our family (pediatricians, teachers, coaches and tutors) notice our kids have a different attitude towards work.
Recently, my wife was asked “How do you do it?”
She gave an excellent answer explaining it’s a mixture of leading by example, high standards and routine.
To gain useful insight for you, I took her answer and flipped it.
What’s different about my household?
How does my approach vary from what’s used by excellent parents in my community?
For 25 years, I have acted on this belief…
Only rarely will the biggest problem in my life coincide with what I need to be doing.
Problems, toxic relationships, habits of self-harm – intractable issues and people.
Let them go.
Stalkers, trolls and neurotics – I ghost without seeking to prove I am right, without seeking to justify my actions, without seeking to turn their community against them.
COVID and things I do not control – eliminate their ability to cause further harm.
This saves energy and frees my mind.
That extra energy…
That lack of distraction…
…is the difference between success and failure.
I have another quirk.
I enjoy inconveniencing myself to do what I think is right.
Now, the sensation inside of me is not enjoyment. In fact, I spend a lot of time feeling pissed off.
However, I’ve been around long enough to know there is a hidden payoff in every repeated action. Perhaps, I’m hooked on being true to myself. Frankly, I don’t know the cause. I do know it’s useful.
I believe both of the above are trainable. They’ve played a key part in my successes.
Let’s rephrase… if you’re prone to fixating on your problems then you need to let that stuff go. Letting go is what’s going to help you get past the distractions that prevent you from consistently moving your life forward.
I’ll end with an observation on 360-degree fatherhood. It’s how I choose friends, mentors and coaches.
Spend time sharing positive experiences with exemplars, while they sustain their good habits.
Record prices, driven by easy credit, in a time of impaired fundamentals. I see this phenomenon happening all around us.
In times of uncertainty, I like to focus on maintaining:
The ability to change my mind
The ability to cut my cost of living
The ability to reallocate my capital
Holding onto these options requires careful, continual effort. For example, it’s easy to join a “tribe” with fixed views, or publish blogs (!), thereby making it much more difficult to change my mind later.
I try to be careful with what I write, say and think. An interesting tip I came across this year about knowledge…
Be wary of using current knowledge as a belief system.
I first heard this advice via the son of a surgeon. When the son finished his surgical training, the father shared that half of what he learned in med-school proved to be incorrect over the years that followed.
With capital allocation…
When I buy, I lose the option to “buy later” and create switching costs if I want to change my mind.
The ability to decide later
The size of my switching costs
The liquidity of my position
The impact on my debt capacity
The future value of the above is difficult to estimate, therefore, our minds tend to latch on to the perceived value of an immediate purchase.
We always underestimate the value of options.
Caution with your allocations at cyclical highs…
At the end of last year, I wrote about real estate in Vanity Markets, the key thing I liked about renting was the ability to change my mind later. The option to change direction became much more valuable during COVID.
A real-world example, we’re going to change the way we approach ski season.
We are not changing because I think I know what will happen.
We are changing to remove (some of) COVID’s ability to screw up our lives.
I wrote off a lot of money this year due to the virus. More importantly, COVID has been a continual drain on my time and emotion.
Money, time, emotion => you can earn the money back.
The time and emotion are gone for good.
So… we made a decision to ski local.
The savings are material: ski club, driving, ski passes, lockers and seasonal rental => my budget is 5% of last season’s actuals.
Besides saving money “now”, I get the psychic benefit of looking forward to adding back a “better experience” once COVID settles down. I’ve been watching myself for many years and looking forward to an experience is a key part of my enjoyment.
The ability to painlessly change my mind arose because I didn’t buy previously. I stayed variable in my discretionary cost of living. I followed this rule of thumb… Never capitalize luxury spending.
Longer version of the same advice… until your retirement is fully funded, focus on income producing assets (not ramping up current consumption).
There are other benefits.
By “going local” I give myself an incentive to teach my kids to uphill ski and camp on snow.
Knowing that I am saving (a lot of) money in one part of my life, reduces financial stress across all other areas of my life.
I also have a way to fill weekday afternoons, which have been challenging during online school: Morning school, Dad ski, Evening school, Bed. Do that Tuesday/Thursday and I give myself a mental respite from trying to fill the Noon-4pm slot.
A quick update on online school. My zip code contains several thousand CU Students, and all the frats!
Our positives are trending up, again. From Saturday’s paper…
I’m living in the hottest “COVID zip code” in Colorado right now. That said, if you were going to infect a bunch of Coloradans… we’re a healthy cohort! 😉
Because we were cautious “opening up” our bubble, there isn’t much change for us. The main challenge is we are in Week 26 of Home School.
It can be tempting to toss money (and other people’s time) at my “problems.”
During the pandemic, tossing my kids into the private education channel could reduce my short-term pain – if the angel of COVID flies past their new school without creating an outbreak.
However, one thing I’ve learned from six months of home school – the academic demands are easily managed by a policy of a-little-bit-a-day. The real challenge lies in the emotional demands of being around kids all day!
Similar to the ski example, I frame home school as paying myself to figure it out. I did private school math a few years ago. It would cost me significant time, and emotion, to earn the money for the private channel.
I’ll end today with the two best things I have learned about problems:
#1 => My “problems” will NEVER disappear => my mind simply focuses on something else. It’s my focus, not my problems.
#2 => I had better accept that I’m going to be chipping away at stuff daily, for the duration. While I’m chipping away, keep in mind the true goal is “better problems.”
Figuring out how to enjoy spending time with my kids is a great problem to have.
Training for an event, or striving towards a specific goal, is straightforward. Select goal, seek expert advice, simply your life and execute, while paying attention to how you get in your own way.
But what if the events are cancelled? What if the whole concept of “an event” has been put on hold?
Three key principles I keep in mind…
1/ Remember why you started in the first place. What was your core motivation before you got wrapped up in seeking external success/validation? Remind yourself of your core values.
2/ What’s your personal superpower? Where do you have the capacity to build, and demonstrate, mastery? This helps you sustain motivation in challenging times.
3/ Where do you want to be in 5 or, even, 10 years time? I laugh at myself with this one because my answer is nearly always… “the same as today, just a little bit better.” This is despite _knowing_ my life undergoes big changes all the time.
While kicking those ideas around, I also like to consider different benefits of an active lifestyle…
Physical Health // By mixing in some housework, I can rack up 12,500 steps a day and not leave my property. So I have this one covered.
Mental Health // For many of my athletic friends, this is the true driver of their program, even more so for my pals with family trees, or personal histories, of addiction. Here’s what works for me => split sessions AM/PM with a goal of never getting so tired you can’t make tomorrow’s split sessions.
Make the goal tomorrow, while having the energy to meet your non-training obligations today.
Long-term Functional Strength // If you’re under 40 then this might not be on your radar. Watching my grandmother age, then die, put it on mine. I maintain a large reserve of functional strength. Today, it’s useful in the mountains. In the future, I hope it will help me maintain independent living.
Vanity & Sexual Function // These goals can work together, or be opposed to each other. For example, a well-constructed anabolic phase, will build muscle, increase my energy and boost my naturally occurring recovery hormones. All good.
What one thing, if it happened, would change everything?
Well, if you’re a family then your “one thing” might be having your kids achieve the capacity for independent living. We achieved it, briefly, this past week.
Wake up, sort breakfast, clean up, do home school, snack then light housework.
The kids were occupied long enough for me to do a classic Colorado hike and get back for lunch. This is big because it frees us from needing our school district to open => to provide childcare.
The kids, working together, can educate and feed themselves.
What’s this worth? As much as 20 hours a week, every week, until a vaccine is deployed.
Spend time to get time => the process was 8 weeks, involved 3 tutors, ~$6,000 and a lot of project management from yours truly.
COVID is a binary life for me – I am either on my property, or in the backcountry.
Five days a week, I’m inside two square blocks.
This is not my first choice for the next 25-75 weeks!
The kids tested out of their next grade-level math, which gave them a confidence boost.
I don’t see how they will be able to mix into a higher grade’s math class but that’s a problem for the future.
For now, we’re basking in a job well done!
Knowing the kids are ahead makes me feel more relaxed about how the fall will play out. School districts across the US are delaying their re-openings.
The above provides me with a case study to share a high-performance mindset with you.
In personal planning => use time to create time => life is about time. If you are surrounded by people that think otherwise then you should change your situation!
It cost me eight-weeks of effort to free as many as 1,000 hours.
This is a highly valuable option => especially in terms of removing the fear, and horror, of a full academic year worth of online learning!
In performance => we need to think clearly to perform at our best => placing yourself in a position where you have the feeling that you have already won will calm your mind and enable your best to flow through.
Now, I certainly don’t feel that we’ve won against COVID (unforced errors aplenty at the Federal level) but it is clear our household is doing well => just need to keep myself out of the hospital.
I am chipping away at the crisis’ ability to disrupt my life and clawing back my ability to direct my own time, within the constraints of the reality of the virus (masks, social distancing, closures).
Helping => unless you’re a board-certified medical clinician, working in a professional capacity, you will not sort this person out => you need an exit
Obligation => this is a big one for people caught in a multi-year abusive relationship => you might feel that the person’s place in society (boss, relative, child, spouse, priest, coach, doctor) requires you to put up with their abuse => hell no => you need an exit
I struggled with the above in my 20s, so it’s probably going to take you a few years to get it right.
Some family systems train their members to put up with abuse across multiple generations => break the chain, if not for yourself then for your children.
Protect your exit – there will be many attempts to pull you back in => block, filter, never reply, don’t answer unknown calls, don’t open letters, don’t post your travel schedule, change your mobile number… whatever it takes. I’ve done it all.
The craftiest manipulators will use people close to you to advocate for them. These people will be happy to do so – in the hope that they will successfully pass the abuser off to you!
I defeat these attempts by asking an advocate, “Do you want more of XXX in your life?” and noting “I don’t have any interaction with them and that is plenty for me.” We then share a smile and move on.
Over time, there will be fewer and fewer attempts to rope you in.
It is no fun to “play” with a person who never responds and you must remember, never respond to sociopaths.
Don’t poke the bear.
I use similar rules on Social Media.
One strike you’re out => mute button on twitter, unfollow on FB => much less triggering than blocking, allow difficult people to move along to their next obsession.
How do they make you feel? Some people bring out the worst aspects of my personality => politicians, of every political stripe, do this on purpose => mute them down. Don’t water the worst seeds of your personality.
Discipline is freedom => execute my advice and pay attention => Is your life better without the drama? It is easy to develop a habit of engagement, of not leaving well enough alone.
What are you trying to achieve? Don’t rope yourself into a mess, just to give yourself something to do.
Fill your life with something more than emotional highs from justified rage and lows from sadness.
A month ago, I was sitting at the dinner table and started chuckling to myself.
My son asked what was so funny and I replied, “I just realized how hooped you people are without me.”
My kids have two main negotiating tactics: repetition and whining.
Our oldest (11), has a wider range of tactics and I encourage her to deploy them against me. It’s good practice for the real world. Unfortunately, she also has a habit of subjecting her siblings to random dominance displays.
So the song of disorder has three notes:
The reason I was laughing at dinner was I finally figured out my kids had a really, really, really crappy negotiating position.
Further, this crappy position is going to stay bad for at least five more years.
Five years is beyond forever.
That evening, I had been working on family taxes, while trying to schedule house cleaning, grocery shopping and some time for myself.
Combining everything, I decided it was time to gently remind my kids that the entire structure of their lives falls apart if they decide to take me on.
My opener had three notes:
Endorphins – no electronics while driving
Status – no visiting our ski club restaurant
Fear – reduction in number of days skiing
I gave them the following message, individually:
Your teachers and coaches tell me you are outstanding. I need you to bring your outside behavior into our house.
If you want the best life in Colorado then I’m going to need you to make one change.
The change being “no blocking” for our oldest and “no yelling inside” for the other two.
One change to get your iPad back in the car.
One change to get my house more live-able for the next decade.
We skipped our family ski day the last two weeks, drove home and the kids helped me clean the house top-to-bottom.
Cleaning was “totally separate from the noise in the house issue…”
My son is a bit of a “bro-cleaner.”
Bro-anything is when you do such a crappy job that you hope to get fired and don’t have to do it again.
Ladies beware, you’ve likely been “bro’d” before => childcare, meal prep, shopping and cleaning. Bro-zone!
Anyhow, we discovered we each have a niche we enjoy doing (spray bottles, vacuuming with music, floors, toilets).
Effectively saves me $75 per hour while training my kids to live on their own.
A bonus you might not have considered… in the currency of personal freedom, cleaning generates the single largest return on investment within my marriage.
Your ability to deploy this strategy is inversely related to the square footage you own. Another hidden cost of assets we think will make us happy.
When I was training seriously, I’d start most seasons with 13-weeks where I would “stay put and roll the week.” Having a simple, basic week is a powerful tool for getting stuff done and avoids the cost of variation.
The cost of variation is the energy required to consider alternatives, to choose and to negotiate for “space” for ourselves.
When you are at the limit of your ability, patience or capacity to recover => eliminating unnecessary variation (and associated conflicts) can be a big help. I’ve brought a similar approach to my family.
I’ll use my son’s schedule as an example, here’s what he’s doing November to April:
Monday – school/soccer
Tuesday – school/water polo
Wednesday – choir/school/jiujitsu
Thursday – school/swim lesson
Friday – school/go to mountains
Saturday – ski group/movie night
Sunday – family ski/back home
Every-single-morning, he’s going to read for 20 minutes before doing anything. He is usually reading by 6:31am.
Despite everyone “knowing” the schedule, we write it out and place it on the kitchen counter. This lets everyone have a look and get comfortable with the plan.
There is variety between the days, but little variation between the weeks. For example, I don’t need to worry about what we are going to do on a rainy February weekend.
The bulk of my “life” fits into the time before my kids wake up, when they are at school and my “days off.” In the winter, many weeks, my wife handles the kids from end of school Thursday to Friday evening.
Bedtimes, my own included, are set so we can wake up and keep the week rolling. When we start to get run down bedtimes move earlier and earlier.
I give myself zero flexibility with my own wake-up time => “no excuses wake-up” eliminates energy spent on choice.
Some principles we use.
Sleep, school work and healthy eating is our highest priority. Create the habits and energy to outperform.
Kids don’t know what they want. Our minds are hardwired to complain about every single change and variation => just look inside! Absent a repeating schedule, you are certain to have endless negotiations. Exhausting, when you don’t have energy to spare.
My kids want: love, to demonstrate competence and acceptance => the schedule needs to provide everyone with a chance to meet their basic human needs.
Clear ownership of responsibilities. Who is doing what? The kids are hardwired to compete for your time. Lay out the mommy/daddy times, make it equitable. With our preschoolers, showing them their “mommy days” was very important to reduce conflict and let mom see she was doing enough.
Keep it rolling at grade level. I do not care about the relative performance of my kids. I am most interested in identifying holes. If you have a future Rhodes scholar in the house then it will become apparent in its own time. However, if you miss the fact that your little one doesn’t know how to read then it will severely damage self-confidence, their attitude toward education and their capacity to teach themselves.
My constraints are extremely useful as they keep me from over-doing-it. I have a track record of burying myself with fatigue.
My goal is to do what needs to be done, strengthen my marriage and have peace of mind => to know I am executing to the best of my ability, most days. I know what I want.
Because I witness my internal dialogue, I am constantly reminded of my shortcomings!
Meeting a reasonable basic week gives me an anchor and avoids the temptation to increase my expectations of myself.
Early in my fatherhood journey, I created an effective cover story => the need to generate cash for the family.
My cover story was a socially acceptable justification for being away from my family.
As additional kids arrived, and I watched my wife deal with the day-to-day, it became obvious that my avoidance strategy would not take my life where I wanted it to go.
I have a quirk => I “see” and “feel” the risk of future regret.
Due to my quirk, I will usually choose the path of least regret, regardless of short-term pain.
My thinking went like this… having been through one divorce, is my avoidance strategy moving my marriage towards where I would like it to go?
And this… you know, my friends tell me that parents have very little impact on their kids, even if that’s true… Do I want to spend the last twenty years of my life wondering if the kids would have had a better outcome with me around?
Once I re-framed, the choice was obvious.
Time to do a better job at home.
However, at that point, mourning for my past life set in.
It lasted for five years!
A key parenting principle:
if you show interest in something I enjoy then I will reward you with time and attention
In offering myself to my family, I seek to offer my best self:
We do it their way – their speed – their level of competence.
I don’t teach, coach or instruct. We simply spend time together.
We do the activity one-on-one.
My primary goal is to establish the link between:
fun – Dad – camping
fun – Dad – skiing
fun – Dad – biking
fun – Dad – hiking
No agenda with regard to pace, duration and difficulty. No agenda!
Keep the trip short. The pictures in this blog are from an 18-hour mid-week camping trip. As another example, our youngest has precious memories of skiing with me => initially, the skiing took less time than the driving!
Train before the training. The world gets a better version of me if I’ve done a workout first.
So if you’re feeling bummed, or avoiding life altogether, then get out of the house and start making the association between fun and what you like to do.
As I tell Axel in the backcountry…
It’s self-rescue or sit down and die.
By the way, if you look deeper then you will see the association of “fun” is really between you and your kid.
#1 => Tell the truth, slowly – foremost to yourself, also to each other.
If your life can’t handle the truth then change the way you’re living.
Being open with each other can be awkward but it’s better than the alternatives.
I always overreact in the short term, so I need to speak my truth slowly. A 24-hour time delay is usually sufficient to avoid an unforced error.
#2 => Do more than your share – I’ll illustrate with a story. For the last year I’ve been getting up early, working out before the kids are awake and keeping the hammer down for a couple hours once the house gets rolling. I was kinda looking for an “attaboy” or a “you’re incredible” from my wife. Instead I got…
You’re not lazy.
Reflecting on my “lack of laziness” indicated:
A – our spouses do more than we realize
B – because of “A”, your spouse might think you are lazy
Visible housework is one of the best things we can do to correct misinformed opinions.
#3 => Never rip your spouse – in public, in private, in your mind. A habit of bickering will not serve you well.
Negativity drives good people from our lives. Bring yourself back to the goal… lifelong companionship.
Talk like everyone is in the room.
You are going to think that you need to get your own way.
Our minds spin all kinds of stories about how our lives will be “better” if we get our way.
Pay attention, most disagreements are a habit of taking the other side.
Lifelong companionship is far more valuable than short term victories.
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