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.
Half a century is more than enough time for choice to impact outcome.
Here’s how I stack the deck.
Understanding three things greatly simplifies decision making:
Who bears the worst-case scenario
In most cases, knowing the above eliminates the need to make any prediction (of an unknowable future).
In investing, you can bet big when someone else bears your downside (non-recourse leverage, other people’s money). At home, you will want to be more careful.
You are going to be tempted to spend most of your time predicting an unknowable future.
Instead, figure out the payoff function, what’s the worst that can happen and who bears that downside.
Previous writing touched on the payoff functions for fame, financial wealth, strength training and personal freedom.
Tim’s blog did a great job of laying out on his worst-case scenario – shot in his own home as well as a brain dump of everything that can go wrong, and right, with fame. It was an enjoyable read but life is too complex to perform cost-benefit analysis for every choice.
Sounds good, doesn’t scale.
One of my favorite shortcuts is to teach myself the areas of my life where I have a lousy track record, and defer to my expert advisor(s). I look for advisors with domain-specific experience and a temperament different from my own then… …I do what they recommend.
There’s deep wisdom in stepping outside ourselves => What Would Jesus Do, or Buffett, or your coach, or whomever you think knows better than you.
Each time I choose, I open the opportunity to make a mistake. To reduce unforced errors, there are filters I use to eliminate the need to make a choice and to make the correct choice obvious.
First level filter => repeat my choice for a decade, where’s this likely to take me?
The first three are obvious, but that doesn’t stop many, many people from surfing close to the edge, or getting an emotional rush from having charismatic risk-seeking friends.
Sometimes I need to phase out a relationship, sometimes I need to adjust my own behaviors.
With marriage, specifically, it’s impossible to “see” just how challenging your life will become if you have kids. You’re going to be really, really stressed out for a decade. Every single one of my prior bad habits tried to make a re-appearance in my life!
There’s no easy way around it but you can significantly reduce your chance of disaster if you pay attention to how your potential mate approaches risk.
Personally, I like to drive with people. You can learn a lot about someone by chatting, and watching, while they drive in traffic.
It is difficult to let charismatic sociopaths out of our lives. These people are a lot of fun to hang around with, especially when we aren’t the target of their ire. It gets easier with a few bad experiences.
When you need to make a change, resist the urge to justify your choices.
Learn to ghost with grace.
What if we are the person that needs to change?
Owning my choices and considering where they might take me.
Mountaineering, peer choice, alcohol use, cigars, bike racing… as my life changed from “just myself” to “my young family” the following became clear to me…
The people who were bearing the downside had no choice in whether to take the risk.
To make myself feel better, I took out a long-term care policy. The insurance reduced the financial burden if I was disabled but didn’t address the mismatch between who was taking the risk and who was bearing the downside.
In my 40s, severe permanent disability could have been worse than death. In 2013, with three young kids and an impaired balance sheet, I was in a very different place than I hope to be when our youngest graduates high school (in 2030, or so).
Perhaps I’ll add back risky stuff in my 60s… right now, I doubt I’ll have the energy.
Divorce, violence and self-harm => the bottom half of the list.
Nobody gets married hoping for a divorce.
Nobody starts a drive hoping to get their car shot up in a road rage incident.
Nobody repeats a pattern of justified rage hoping to create a crisis.
But these things happen, and their seeds are small choices, repeated.
I try to be alert to habits that can lead me astray.
Anger remains a challenge for me.
I pay attention to situations and habits that reduce my faults.
I focus on better.
Making a habit of the first-level filter, tosses all kinds of stuff into the forget-about-it pile.
Reminder about the 1st Filter => repeat for a decade, where am I likely to be?
The first filter very quickly gets rid of (most of my) bad ideas.
Here’s how I set priorities and shape my “to do” pile.
When I was an elite athlete, every decision I made was passed through a filter of, “Will this help me win in August?” At that time, the filter worked very, very well.
In 2005, I married and quickly realized my filter (of winning) would, if applied over many years, make a second divorce more likely. Deeply seared from my divorce, I really, really, really didn’t want another divorce.
I wanted a different result so I needed a different approach.
I needed to change my filter to…
“How will this impact my marriage?”
Your situation is likely different, but your need to know, and direct, your filter is the same.
Baby, or COVID, arrives… “How will this impact my family?”
Allocating time week-after-week… “What’s my real priority?”
Trivial irritations, the opinions of strangers… “Who gets my emotional energy?”
Every single person we meet has a filter => victory, vanity, external wealth, fame, likes, validation, please the person in front of me, attention, minimize conflict, how do I feel right now, what is the last piece of advice I heard… lots of people, lots of different filters.
In response to my observation that I need to challenge myself to avoid sliding towards mediocrity, a friend asked, “where do I start?”
Ask yourself, “What one thing, if it happened, would change everything?“
Simplify all the BS and focus on your thing, first thing, daily, for a long time.
My last 20 years can be summarized as a series of “one things”
Get out of this town
Do the plan
Find more love
Be the brand
Stop Using (beer, anger, fear, self-pity, sugar, bread…)
Break The Chain
Get Up Early
You must keep it really simple – life will constantly throw stuff at you, while your habit energy pulls you towards your status quo.
The true cost of the status quo is hidden.
Choose wisely => pick a “one thing” that sets up a positive cascade when you get it done.
I’m going to get a lot done in June. Everything I accomplish will track back to my core goals:
wake up by 4am
Here’s how the positive cascade will work:
Up by 4am
Up… well, I might as well workout
Working out… well, I might as well do it right
Finished, showered, feeling good… What’s important now?
Home school the kids by executing the schedule
Looks dirty over there, mini-cleaning break
Within that work flow, I calendarize fixed blocks of time to meet my outside commitments.
My calendar (my life, really) is 100% transparent to my wife. I remind my kids to leave me alone immediately before I start.
I get interrupted a lot – just the way it is, don’t complain… don’t retaliate.
So if you’re struggling then consider…
1/ Am I picking the right stuff? My ability to execute is much stronger when I’m doing stuff that matters to me. It takes uncommon honesty to own the fact that you’ve spent most your life trying to impress others.
2/ Keep it simple. Before you can put two people into orbit (Space X in the news this week), you must master in the basics. What might those be? Save some money, exercise daily, keep your house clean and always keep small promises to yourself.
Still having trouble?
Simplify, lower the bar and let compounding work in your favor.
This crisis is an excellent case study for what prevents us from getting stuff done.
The #1 performance preventer is getting de-railed by a transition.
It’s not your plan
It’s not your willpower
It’s not your genetics, talent stack or experience
This week is our fourth transition, in less than three months.
Close the schools
Start online education, two weeks later
End the official school year, eight weeks later
Start summer school, one week later
Each change is an opportunity to start down a path of falling behind.
By the time we get back to school, there’s going to be a large cohort of kids who haven’t had much education for five months (not moving forward) and have forgotten most of what they learned in the seven months before we closed (moving backward).
This is a compressed version of what happens to all of us: in sport, in relationships and in our careers.
“Something comes up” and we’re off our game.
What to do?
Don’t mess with a streak! You will only get a few opportunities for an extended block of outstanding work.
Good enough will get you far. Nearly everyone you know is going to fall away over time. Skip the protocol debates and just do it.
Leave room for tomorrow, and the next transition.
I’ll use home school as an example.
We’re doing 90-120 minutes of academic work a day and we’re doing it six days a week. On top, we’re adding five hours of martial arts and ten hours of cycling (per week).
It’s not what my wife and the kids “want” to be doing but it’s a lot better than looking at a blank piece of paper every morning!
My seven-year old’s math book (for her next grade) contains 200 pages. She’s doing four pages a day alongside me. Grade Three math will be done by July. It’s a similar thing for each of my kids. Maybe it takes until August for the older ones to learn the following year’s curriculum.
It’s daunting to set up the summer school week => the transition from “we should do this” to “this is what we will be doing” nearly defeated me! I had five teachers say “no” to mentoring my kids but I persisted.
Another hurdle => cost. You can tell yourself it is too expensive to hire three tutors, a black-belt PE teacher and a cycling mentor from the local university team (our daughter loves to ride).
I called BS on myself => the pain I feel is committing my own time, not my money.
My total budget for Summer School will be less than the refunds I got back when Corona cancelled my 2020 travel schedule.
This investment will move my kids ahead, at a time when a lot feels like it is moving backwards.
But it’s more than that => the family knows we are being productive, we are getting stuff done, we are working together.
It’s not all kumbaya but it is meaningful.
Do not focus on the details. You can spin your wheels forever.
Focus on getting a bit done every_single_day and let compounding work in your favor.
Because choices that made sense when I was younger have been replaced by a lifestyle that’s a better fit for where I want to take myself.
Let’s run though the major adjustments.
You might not want what you think you want: athletics is the best way I have found to keep myself engaged and apply energy. Look around and you can see plenty of examples of middle aged men getting themselves into trouble by not managing their energy.
So I will sign up for a race to keep myself out of trouble? Not so fast…
Engaging in athletic competition is different from being athletic.
Fit for competition is not fit for an engaged life with meaning.
To be the sort of father/husband I want to be, I need to avoid athletic competition.
The requirements of racing well, and my competitive peers, exert an inevitable pull on my life. A pull I enjoy but one that takes me away from where I want to be in 5-10 years time.
There are different ways to define excellence and the traits that ring most true to me don’t have a clock attached to them.
The most specific component of race fitness is the least valuable to my wife and kids.
In your mid-40s you will notice a change in how you respond to training. Specifically, sustained tempo is a lot more fatiguing. This intensive-endurance pace is a core part of training for performance.
As a middle-aged athlete sustained tempo will gobble up your energy and leave you spent for other aspects of your life. If you are in the clutch of negative addictions then this can be a very good choice to make! However, you will have nothing left towards building a life that your future self will value.
This reality was tough for me to face. I know how valuable tempo training is to athletic performance. It was made easier by stopping racing, and reminding myself that I didn’t want the family lives, and marriages, of my competition.
Letting go of deep fatigue enabled me to re-establish consistency, which was being shot to pieces by minor injuries, slow recovery, illnesses and low motivation => all of which stemmed from giving myself more load than I could absorb.
About those injuries… stop hurting yourself.
Somewhere in my recent past, I realized I was constantly managing low-grade calf injuries. At the time, I wasn’t training for a race, or even doing much mileage. There was no reason to endure the constant setbacks.
You’re likely to have similar moments and the performance gurus will encourage you to grind through. I’d encourage you to pause and ask yourself three questions:
Where is this likely to take me? Elective orthopedic surgery?
What is my goal here? Alienate my spouse and estrange myself from my kids?
Is there a better way to achieve my goal? Or perhaps a better goal to achieve!
In my case, I replaced the running with hiking and functional strength training. I can do these before my family wakes up or alongside my family. My best athletic memories of my 50s are shared experiences, in nature, with my family.
With a young wife, and three kids, I’m slowly filling the state of Colorado with happy thoughts. When I’m 70, they can carry the backpack!
Reality is enough for me. If you’re tempted to use drugs then something needs to change.
Shooting your knee up like an NFL lineman, boosting your hormonal profile to beat an athlete who’s spouse just walked out the door, taking health risks to train alongside college kids…
Where is this likely to take me?
What is my goal here?
Is there a better way to achieve my goal?
A focus on athleticism puts me in a continual state of rehabilitation from the process of aging naturally => functional strength, quickness, range of motion and extensive endurance.
Being freed from external requirements lets me do the right thing for my health, year round.
Place a demand on yourself, then recover while working on a project that benefits your larger life.
While expanding your life beyond athletics, remove whatever screws up your sleep patterns. My 4:30am wake-up makes poor choices obvious, immediately.
This approach will enhance your biochemistry naturally and not mask errors.
To learn by iteration, it is essential to physically experience my mistakes.
How are you going to feed that part of your personality that craves recognition, thrives in adversity and wishes to dominate others?
Can you see your desires? Have you considered what is driving your desires?
You might simply be over-scheduled and seeking socially acceptable personal space.
It’s worth looking deeper.
When I looked deeply everything was there, positive and negative. There are many ways to spin our motivators.
Recognition can come from my children, who are hardwired to be impressed by me. I look pretty jacked to a seven-year old.
Personal growth through facing adversity can come from the final few reps of a set (or simply getting out of bed some mornings). My endurance mantra… many people would like the ability to do this right now.
Domination is a tricky one, especially when surrounded by women and children. At my best, I turn it inwards and seek to overcome my negative traits, specifically my urge to resort to force, rather than skillful engagement.
We often let each other off by saying things like.. “everyone is different”, or “you need to find your own way.” I disagree. We are very, very similar within our cultures and wired to follow social proof.
If you want to change your motivation then change your location.
I’m parked in the fittest zipcode in America, training in nature, with a young family, thinking daily about a handful of men who are presenting their best selves to the world.
Finally, remove the friction between your current habits and the life you want to lead.
I have a home gym, I wake up at 4:30am and there aren’t any email/social apps on my phone.
I created a situation where there was nothing for me to do between 5 and 6am in the morning.
So I write, or train => activities that leave me satisfied in hindsight and help my future self.
My ideal ski day is… skin 3,000 vertical feet, ski back down before the resort opens, second breakfast, alpine ski 20,000 ft of bumps, lunch with my wife, and finish with 10,000 feet of steeps in the afternoon.
Being able to enjoy this day is the goal of my training.
My program is focused on range of movement, strengthening connective tissues and slowing the loss of lean body mass.
I can gain muscle in my late-40s — train, eat normally, get jacked — we have been conditioned to believe strength loss is inevitable. Signs of decay are evident in my skin and recovery but my strength is hanging on. I’m fueled on real food, coffee and water – that’s it. Don’t even bother with vitamins.
Acute soft tissue injury is my greatest risk – therefore, compound lifts, with full range of motion, are more important than putting up big numbers.
My strength peaked four months before I started skiing a lot. A longer base period fits for injury prevention and a target of being really strong in September/October.
To keep me honest, I’ll keep you posted.
Base One (36 Workouts)
Twelve of each session
Twice a week for six weeks
Split across the week
Twelve hours of time invested (Huge Return on Investment)
Here’s how I manage my tendency to end up depleted, sore and emotionally tapped.
Strength Training – Get really strong once a year. It is inconvenient to get my strength training done. However, I’m a true believer that life is better when I am stronger.
Sitting at the end of uphill ski season, I’ve made a big trade in strength, for aerobic performance. I tell myself that I got “something” for the trade but life is better when strong!
Don’t Race Down – if I’m going to have a bad accident, it will happen at speed. I write about this a lot because I have to remind myself! Satisfaction comes from proper preparation, not blazing at my limits.
Ditch Volume Goals – Early season, I had an idea that it would be “fun” to ski 2,000,000 vertical feet. I soon realized my initial goal would screw up my family life (by getting me to obsess about more, more, more).
Remembering that it is easier to replace an obsession than transcend it… I shifted to a frequency goal of skiing 100 times (lots of shorter ski days).
I’ve learned this lesson before when I ditched racing to create space for my young family. A goal, that has me turning away from the love of my family, is counterproductive.
No Sports Nutrition – if I find myself craving sugar, I reduce my workload. Sugar intake is a clear line beyond which I have moved away from health. Working within this restriction, I get a lot done!
The above “restrictions” reduce my tendency to create my own depression and emotional drama.
I feel better within my body, while giving more to the people around me.
#1 – the biggest change, and challenge, for an endurance athlete… cap your cardio sessions at an hour and drop all group training. No more than two cardio sessions per day but you can walk around as much as you like! This is the only way I save the mojo to truly push myself in the gym and get-it-done.
#2 – add plyometrics // the leg blaster program that I used is here – combine with traditional gym work (focused on squats and leg press) – total time investment for the plyometrics was 12 hours over six months – outstanding return on investment!
#3 – track total movements // my plyometric routines built up to 420 movements in 15 minutes – during base training, my traditional exercises were focused on getting to 100 movements per exercise (sets of 20-25 reps with short rest) – the total gym session would be 400-500 movements (during base/prep training) – I did best my splitting plyometrics away from lifting days.
#5 – gains come from working the legs // my entire body benefits from improved leg strength. I didn’t focus on my upper body until I had been focusing on my legs for 20+ weeks. The upper body gains came fast from a month of adding push ups, burpees and the PT Pyramid.
Most my gains are hidden: better range of movement in my knees, improved energy and being able to toss my kids around.
It was a lot of fun and I ended this block feeling jacked, rather than exhausted.