What I Learned This Year

2016-11-23-18-33-09-2The #1 thing is to make choices about time allocation based on how it impacts my mood.

Continually, and gradually, phase out sources of stress. I’ve been chipping away since 2000.

Making an effort is worth it — having an exceptional marriage, loving kids and a lot of self-directed time requires a commitment to gradual self-improvement.

Twenty years ago, I was lousy at most of what gives me pleasure today.

2016-11-08-09-33-49What is the system that gives me the energy required to endure the discomfort of change?

  • Sleep
  • Eat huge salads
  • Daily movement in nature
  • Relate to the world in my best environment
  • Perform small acts of kindness
  • Don’t compete

There’s an article in each bullet and I’ll get to them December.

2016-11-18-07-06-50***The stuff we put in our lives is important for what it displaces***

We are really poor at seeing the cost of the status quo.

At 47, athletic competition inserts fatigue, removes me from my children, impairs my sex drive and eliminates my willpower.

If you are a sociopath with tendencies towards addiction, promiscuity and petty crime… then adding athletic competition might be a very wise move indeed!

Pay attention to what works.

Then, pay attention when it stops working.

2016-11-19-20-10-53Finally, I’m a good parent but I don’t always enjoy parenting.

I think we should be more honest about the way things are.

Parenting – Define Better

2016-09-30-16-53-02I was at a wilderness first aid course and a fellow student asked me if I thought parenthood had made my life “better.”

I gave a wry smile and shared that the challenges of fatherhood have made me a better man.

I further shared that it has been hard to detect any improvement in the quality of my day-to-day life.

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However, it gets easier.

Our youngest turned four last month and that marks a key shift in our house. The younger kids (4 and 5) still get worked up but we have the skills to avoid making the situation worse.

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Later, I had the realization that I’m basing my evaluation by looking at a single thread of my life.

You see, we only see the life we live. When I think more broadly, I’m certain that there are many threads that are tougher than living with three loud kids that love me.

For personal happiness, it pays to ask around, get out of the house and serve the community.

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I have accepted that I am a good parent but I might not be good at parenting.

What I mean… I can provide the kids what they need but there isn’t the ease, and joy, that I see with mastery.

I shared this observation with my parenting mentor and she gave me a wry smile!

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After eight years, I’ve come to the realization that my limitations are OK and I pay attention to them.

My motto…

When I am struggling with someone then it’s a sign that I’m spending too much time with them. So, it’s better for me, and them, if I stay under the irritation threshold.

Keeping a little in reserve can be easier for a guy (see my piece on Mommy Fatigue) but my wife sees the benefits (for all of us) of acknowledging limits.

Money and Attention

storyGiven the firehose of media attention pointing at the US Presidential election, it’s easy to get tired, fed-up, angry, worried… you name it with regard to the state of politics.

It is worth remembering that the players have a vested, mutual, interest in getting us scared, and angry enough, to give them money and attention.

Rather than bringing fear and hate into the world, consider the following…

Take a characteristics of your least favorite politician and remove it from yourself.

  • You might have a concern about a lack of tolerance.
  • You might have a concern about a lack of integrity.
  • You might have a concern about a focus on personal wealth.
  • You might have a concern about fairness.
  • You might not like the way the person looks.

Whatever the trigger, we are going to be reminded of it, a lot, over the next five months.

Become aware of the trigger…

…and work to subdue the trait from within yourself.

My Children’s Laughter

Loading UpIn my mid-20s, it dawned on me that I had saved enough money to sail around the world.

Instead of a trip, I took a promotion.

By my early 30s, my net worth had grown and I took a leave of absence, to effectively, exercise all-day everyday.

It wasn’t a feeling of financial security that pushed me to make the change.

It was a set back, an unexpected divorce.

Other major changes have been triggered by unemployment or massive financial loss. In buddies, I’ve seen health issues as the trigger.

Most recently, it’s been misery. Unexpected misery has proven to be the most useful part of parenting.

A story about coping…

BelleSince 2008, I’ve done, or seriously considered…

  • Studying ministry
  • Teaching my kids, my wife’s family’s religion
  • Selling my house, buying a catamaran, sailing around the world – this would include boat-schooling my kids
  • A bioscience degree
  • Various start-ups
  • Returning to finance
  • Pursuing a world-title in a niche sport
  • Pursuing a world-title in another, even smaller, niche sport
  • Relocating to Australia
  • Relocating to California

Pretty big list but I’ve discovered that major change is unlikely to be the solution to a question, that I’ve had difficulty framing.

In my search, two mantras popped up…

2016-01-28 10.03.11Everything I need can be found at home – there is no happiness available in a new sport, new town, new house, new job, new partner… that isn’t available within my existing life.

2016-01-27 11.38.06Meaningful work is part of the solution – everything that I’ve enjoyed in my life is a result of effort. I’m constantly trying to fool myself that doing less will create more happiness. I have the means to make myself miserable through sloth.

Road tripBut what to do?

There are two traits with guaranteed huge payoffs to myself and every person with whom I interact – patience and kindness.

Patience moves my inner life towards serenity.

Kindness vaccinates my mind against anxiety and the opinions of others.

At some stage in your life, I hope you realize that you are free. When that realization touches fear, and a feeling of “WTF now?!”, I hope you remember to fall back on kindness and patience.

What does all this have to do with my kids’ laughing?

After five years of effort, I wouldn’t describe my inner life as jovial. However, I live with three of the happiest children in the world.

When I listen to their frequent laughter, I know that I am happy enough.

 

Alpha Child

2015-08-25 18.50.26If you have a high-energy youngster living under your roof then this might prove helpful.

The first thing I remind myself is there’s nothing, and no one, to fix. My kids are happy and the feedback from the outside world is positive.

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I ask myself, “With this child, what’s my role?”

My role is to avoid becoming the problem.

Which implies…

  • taking care of my sleep, my body, my mind and my habits
  • ensuring that I get enough silent time (alone and in nature)
  • steering away from the urge for revenge, aggression and anger

Ideas!

All Day Engagement – a bored alpha child makes everyone miserable, including herself. While some kids can putter and amuse themselves (see below), our oldest does best with a structured day with unstructured breaks.

2015-08-26 13.24.41Ritual & Routine – from birth, my wife has done an excellent job of conditioning the kids to relax when their heads are wrapped in a soft cotton blanket. It works so well that our oldest will resist when she doesn’t want to relax. Ritual and routine are soothing to an anxious child.

2015-08-27 07.55.36Parent Like Dora – if you’ve watched Dora the Explorer then you’ll know that each show features three steps.

To give my kids something to latch onto, I’m always explaining the next three steps…

  • Dinner, Bike, Shower
  • Bath, Pajamas, Story
  • Socks, Shoes, Car

2015-08-23 18.51.51Spread The Energy – I use high chairs, assigned seating, cold drinks and air conditioning to reduce stress when we’re packed together.

  • For drives, my Sienna is set up with staggered seating so the kids can’t whack each other. Throwing things in the car is highly frowned upon!
  • As they develop, we find that different kids push our buttons. To dial down the house, I’ll take a little “disrupter” on a trip. The trips last anywhere from an an afternoon to a week. Sometimes I take more than one kid.

2015-08-21 09.53.08Do you know your parenting preference?

Mine is a shared activity with one person – I sign up for that a lot.

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It’s proven much easier to change my attitude, habits and approach than the core personality traits of my children.

Be Skillful.

Elder, Mentor, Adviser

foxy_ladyMy youth, my 20s and my 30s were characterized by a lack of charm.

Fortunately, I had some habits that smoothed the waves I left in my wake!

What habits smooth relationships?

  • I’m on time
  • I do what’s asked of me
  • When I can’t do something I tell you
  • I express myself clearly

If we invert those points then we arrive at a list that will ensure you move away from success…

Chronically late, inability to complete simple tasks, no/slow replies and indirect communication.

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About clear communication… it takes trust to have the courage to speak clearly and directly.

It also takes emotional depth to be able to receive honest feedback.

Two things that I’m working on here:

  • Be conscious of my effect on the world
  • Stop when I am triggered and search inwards, rather than attack outwards

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I was chatting with a member of my family council about the best fiduciary we know.

What makes our friend outstanding?

It’s not his capacity to execute, his technical knowledge or his connections => all of these are excellent.

He has three characteristics that are rare to find in a highly competent individual:

  1. The ability to sit, listen and observe
  2. The capacity to entertain points of view that are outside his preference and training
  3. A willingness to inconvenience himself to do the right thing.

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I’ll share with you that my idea of active listening is forcing my mouth shut while I struggle to hold a list of “to do” items in my head. When a gap appears in the conversation, these pour out of me.

Like me, you might be prone to the mistaken belief that you have to fix every thing you touch.

My friend, a world-class non-executive director, is effective by listening, considering alternatives and being open to small acts of assistance.

An Illusion of Individual Experience

riverMy buddy, AC, wrote a good article about his athletic journey.

Alan’s article was a reminder of my own capacity for self-harm and a need to remain vigilant against fooling myself. You see, my story is the same with different details.

I make a cameo in the last decade of Alan’s life and my friends have been talking to me about their own experience.

I wanted to share part of a conversation…

A – I could never do that.
G – Never do what?

A – I could never share my story.
G – You might want to be careful with that.

A – Careful with what?
G – Be careful about making affirmations to conceal your truth

When you start to share your truth, you’re likely to discover that it’s really our truth.

Be brave.