Resetting Our Default

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Often when our children act out we ask them why it happened. Why did they hit another person?  Why are they throwing a tantrum?  But the answer is simple: those things are easy and instinctual.  Our default is what comes easiest to us.  The question should not be why do we act out, but rather how do we not? 

The answer is hard work.  By the time we become Dads we've managed to reset our defaults to fall in line with societal standards. Sometimes that's a good thing, sometimes it's not.  Regardless, when we have children we many of our tendencies revert back to our instinctual defaults.  It's caused by a lack of sleep and an increase in stress and responsibilities.  All of that leads to more impulse reactions which revert back to our basic instincts.

Here at The Dad Habit we believe in resetting those defaults which are no longer beneficial to us in modern society.  In some cases being a Dad helps, in others it's a hinderance.  Below are 7 defaults to consider resetting as a Dad. 

1. Violence vs Peace

It may seem counterintuitive in modern society, but violence is instinctual.  It's about survival.  When our absolute freedom is threatened the natural reaction is to lash out in violence.  Think about your toddler.  When he or she is told not to touch a stove or climb on a book case, he or she will hit a parent when they're restrained.  They don't realize that we as parents are acting in their best interest (or at least trying to).  All they realize is that their freedom is being restricted. Remaining calm in that situation is hard.  To move toward peace it takes self-control, something our toddlers are yet to develop something that we can easily lose.  Being mindful helps.  Practicing mindfulness helps us anticipate, react, and process.  

2. Anger vs Patience

Sometimes our frustration doesn't manifest itself in a physical form.  Often it's displayed verbally.  It could be yelling, or just hurtful words directed at someone else.  Anger is easy.  When you're driving in traffic it's easy to get mad at someone for cutting you off, but why do we feel slighted?  Why don't we slow down to let that person in?  That's our ego getting out of whack.  We feel slighted or wronged for some ridiculous reason.  All it takes is a small shift in perspective to get over that.  Instead of feeling wronged, think about doing something nice for someone else.  Being selfless feeds the same ego that feels wronged when we're cutoff. 

3. Apathy vs Compassion

Letting someone in front of us on the road requires compassion for another person.  Maybe he or she is late for work too.  Maybe the person is a timid driver who is afraid to change lanes, their anxiety increasing as the need to get over for the approaching exit increases.  Eventually they'll make an instinctual or impulsive decision which could lead to a dangerous move, like cutting you off, or maybe they'll just miss the exit and be late and upset.  Thinking about all that for someone else takes work. 

The funny part is we've all been there.  Especially with kids, I'm sure you've been late getting out the door.  I know I have.  But we forget that when we're stuck in traffic.  We revert back to our default: apathy.

Think about this.  Many people are upset about the political climate in the United States.  They'll share their outrage with friends or family.  But how many people actually vote?  This year Iowa set a record for voter turnout in a primary.  How many people showed up?  A whopping 13% of Iowans.  That means 87% of people didn't even show up (see sloth vs action).  

When we talk about compassion we usually think of bigger things: veterans, homelessness, refugees.  But do we practice compassion at home?  Do you think about your wife and the long commute she had home from work?  Or maybe she had an exhausting day with the kids?  Are we compassionate with our children when they score poorly on a test or strikeout in baseball game?  We have to start by practicing compassion with those we love.  It's the easiest way to show we appreciate them.

4. Sloth vs Action

Back to those voters for a second: 87% didn't even show up!  Consider this: 

On the Big Island of Hawaii there's a landscaping company who's slogan is "We Show Up".  That's it.  The slogan is not "Hawaii's Best Landscapers", there's no guarantee about what the quality of work will be like when they get there, but they "show up".  Think about what they says about the competition.

Sometimes showing up is enough.  Sometimes getting started is enough.  But our default is to do nothing.  Think about those voters that didn't make it to the polls.  The can spout their political views until they're blue in the face, but it doesn't mean anything.  Actions dictate priorities. Don't tell someone what is important to you, show them.

That's why,  as Dads, showing up might be the most important thing we can do.  You may not coach the baseball team, but you're kid will notice when you're in the stands and when you're not.  Same thing goes for that dance recital.  

At work simply showing up can be important for staff meetings, or corporate events.  Seeing that you show up, the bosses will label you with titles like "team player" or they'll see you as supporting the company culture.  Showing up takes action.  Sitting on the couch is the default.  It's time to take action. 

5. Fear vs Courage

Action takes courage.  There's no doubt about it.  Doing nothing feels safe, and it is safer than taking action because there are fewer risks.  You can't fail at something if you don't try it.  However, I contend that the risks of doing nothing a far more severe than the risks of action.  Consider a heart attack patient who needs to change his lifestyle.  Sure living life the same way he's lived it for years is easy, but it will likely lead to death.  He might fail at changing his diet or becoming more active but the consequences are too great not to try.  The same thing goes for a failing marriage or career. 

Fear is easy, it requires no action.  That's why people become paralyzed by fear.  Watching our kids grow up there is very little fear: they try to balance on unsteady surfaces, move their hands toward hot flames, and run toward the edges of cliffs.  But kids are not courageous, they are foolhardy.  Courage takes knowledge and action.  Courage is acknowledging our own fear and recognizing the risks but acting anyway because we believe the potential reward will be worth it.  

6. Ignorance vs Learning

The saying goes, "The devil you know is better than the devil you don't."  I hate that saying. If you know the current situation you're dealing with is the devil, then get out of that situation. That saying causes many people to stay in the same situation because they fear the unknown.    For some of us, learning is hard because the first step to learning is admitting we don't know something.  And admitting we don't know something makes us vulnerable (more on vulnerability in a later post).

We could learn a lot from our children when it comes to learning.  Children come into this world knowing nothing, but they are curious.  They constantly perform experiments on their worlds to test boundaries and reactions.  Somewhere along the line our curiosity dwindles.  Maybe we think we know enough.  Maybe we're afraid we'll realize how little we know.  Albert Einstein famously said, "The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don't know."  But that's okay.  Once you get over that, you can pick a topic and start binge learning like you're sitting down to watch the latest Netflix series.  And when you're open to learning you'll start realizing how much other people can teach you.  

So rekindle the love of learning you had as a child.  Learn with your family.  Learn from your family.  And get ready for a life of learning.

7. Lies vs Honesty

Telling the truth is hard.  It may mean telling people things they don't want to hear.  It may mean starting a conversation that takes time and attention. 

Lying, on the other hand, is easy.  It's so lazy.  When someone asks how you're doing, you probably reply "fine" or "good", even if you're not.  That person probably didn't want to hear about your struggles, so it's just easier to tell a small lie.   It feels like a shortcut.  But if you've ever ignored the advice of a GPS because you knew a shortcut, likely against the advice of your wife, chances are it ended up the same way: with you lost. 

Lying is easy... at first.  But before long it takes a lot of work to keep track of all the lies.  Maybe you told a small lie to please someone else when something was really bothering you.  Those feelings don't go away when you lie, they fester inside and eventually boil over.  Likely the eventual victim of that frustration has nothing to do with what was bothering you in the first place.

When it's hard to be honest is probably the most important time to be honest.  Honesty can be cold or harsh.  It might lead to an eruption of emotions from whomever you're being honest with.  That's because most people aren't used to hearing the truth.  But here's the thing about the erupting of emotions: it can be similar to the eruption of a volcano.  While some eruptions can be catastrophic they can also be very beneficial to the ecosystem: creating some of the most fertile soil known to mother nature and some of the most diverse ecosystems on our planet.  

It's true honesty might cause some damage, but what grows back will be better than anything that was built on lies.  So be honest, especially when it's hard.

Which default is most difficult for you to deal with on a regular basis?  Is there something that's not on the list that should be?