Letters For My Sons

Category: Masculinity Page 1 of 7

Treasuring Discomfort – Transcending Childhood Boundaries: Part 1

Parents know all about limits and boundaries.  We make them because our children need them.  Children need to know where the edge of their behavioural world is.  They need to know what they can and cannot do for their own safety and for the tolerability of their behaviour for those around them.

Some parents define loose boundaries.  The child might be allowed to watch youtube endlessly from a young age,  eat whatever they want, and define their own bedtime.

Other children are watched closely by their carers, disciplined for tiny infringements, and have a small world defined for them by religious belief or plain bloody-mindedness.

Most kids are somewhere in the middle.  Regardless of the type or size of boundary, if the boundary is enforced, the child feels a sense of safety.  

Fast forward to adulthood and we are still living within these childhood limits.  We have deep, hard lines in our minds and souls that tell us where we can and cannot tread.

We know those boundaries easily.  As adults we spend most of our lives in our comfort zone, behaving in ways that make us feel comfortable and safe.  It’s when we do or say something that makes us uneasy, anxious or guilty that we know we are dallying close to the heavily guarded prison wall that is our boundary.

In my mid-twenties I was living with my girlfriend (now my wife) and I was a well-trained pet.  I didn’t leave our bed until she was awake and indicated it was ok.  I didn’t leave the house except to go to work, sometimes the gym.  I rarely saw my friends unless it was sanctioned by her.  She was not particularly overbearing or controlling, but I didn’t want to upset her. She never asked me to do those things, but by doing them I felt I could maintain a life of quiet security.

In the internal world of my childhood memories, an upset family member meant danger, insecurity.  My history told me that if my mum or dad were mad or sad or upset it meant potential physical harm to me, or emotional damage.  It leant a wobbliness to my world.  If anyone was upset around me I felt a deep background hum of guilt and anxiety.  And so, not because of my partner but because of myself, I continued to remain in this comfortable but limited place.

You might know someone like this.  I know many men, even in their middle age who are tied to their wives (and the reverse of course is true).  It’s easy to comment in this example that the wife is a bitch (and maybe they are) or overbearing (could be) or controlling (likely).  But consider the needs of the man.  He has strong boundaries that he still holds to feel safe.  Having someone tell him what to do and when to do it fulfils a deep need for him.  Even though his existence looks like a miserable excuse, he is living the caged life of his choice in a form of relative comfort.

Living a good life, a life of choices, dreams and happiness means crossing those boundaries.  That is a terrifying thought for those trapped in the example above.  It took me years of slow and disciplined progress to move past those invisible walls.  I had to play a long game, one that stretched my own sense of comfort around the uncomfortable, while ensuring that my new and unusual behaviours were expanding my wife’s boundaries.

My wife wasn’t the issue.  It was my own internal dialogue, which had the high-pitched voice of my upset parents.  Imagine having your parents screaming at you into your twenties and thirties to “do the right thing”!  So many of us have this without realising it.  Some of us have it all our lives, into our fifties, seventies, nineties!

Maybe you are living this life.  As we get older, we can fall into patterns of long term safety that are so habitual they are very difficult to remove.  Imagine the old (and not-so-old) couple who have the same routine each day.  The same greeting, the same breakfast, the same cup of tea, read the paper, lunch at the same time etc etc.  It looks boring.  It IS boring.  But it makes them feel safe.

Some people refuse to try new foods, try new clothes, go to new places on holiday.  Instead of judging them, ask yourself, why?  They may sound stubborn or obstinate, but what is the underlying reason for their fear?  Could it be that their boundaries are so terrifying they decided on a safe and pleasant psychological picnic table to sit at for life? 

In the next part, we’ll look at ways to gradually break down the limits of your life.

Violence Is So Damn Easy, or Why The Hard Way Is So Hard

Sometimes, having kids is just the pits.

Particularly when you’ve made the commitment to an upbringing that abhors violence and uses communication instead.

Violence is just so damn easy!

Your kid ain’t doing what you asked? Slap him across the face!

Your daughter is talking back to you? Smack her on the bottom and send her to her room!

Your son is tantruming, screaming and crying over some nonsense? Scream and yell back at him, getting in his face with emotionally violent language about how he’s ridiculous to feel like he does, perhaps calling him a girl for crying!

face slap backhand

See? Just so easy!

Unfortunately, I’ve committed myself and my wife to methods much more difficult. We are living the middle path between a violent or neglectful adult-centric lifestyle, and a permissive, child-centric one.

The Hard Way.

What is the Hard Way?

The Hard Way is taking a step back, assessing the situation from an altitude of 50,000 feet.

The Hard Way is letting go of your ego, which is really a video flashback to how your own mum and dad parented (if it was good enough for me, it’s GOOD ENOUGH FOR YOU).

The Hard Way is creating connection with your child at all times, but especially when they are upset, regardless of whether they are sad, angry, tantruming, or any uncomfortable behaviour.

The Hard Way is letting your kids be sad or angry, as long as they are not hurting anyone else.

The Hard Way is not letting your kid have everything they want.

The Hard Way is being flexible, sometimes giving your child what she wants.

The Hard Way is ensuring your kid has regular screen-free time, even when you need a babysitter.

The Hard Way is coaching your child through success and disappointment, rather than being a cheerleader.

The Hard Way is finding and spending Quality Time.

The Hard Way is prioritising family over work, and Quality Time over money.

The Hard Way is loving your kids, loving them hard, and loving them always, even when your ego is reaching for a backhand.

The Hard Way is hard work. It’s a damn sight harder than the bullshit “Good-Enough Parenting” style that gives parents a guilt-free out every time it gets tough. But if you want to grow happy, satisfied, loving and unspoiled kids, the Hard Way is the only way.

The Greatest “How-To Make A Morning Routine” Breakdown Ever: Part 3 – The Mental and Spiritual

THE BATTLE IS FOUGHT ANEW EVERY DAY

At 4:38 am I awoke.

Within a minute or two it became incredibly clear: My entire life was but a precursor to one small decision.

To decide what sort of man I would be.

The voice was back.  So silky smooth and convincing.  It paraded excuses dressed as reasons as to why I didn’t have to get up at 5am and do my routine.

  1. I had got into bed at 11, thus giving me only 6 hours sleep (WAAAH).
  2. I didn’t have my phone (deliberate? Perhaps).
  3. I hadn’t set an alarm.
  4. I was tired and needed sleep, otherwise I would get run down (see point 1).

And so on and so forth.

My goal to this point had been to maintain the morning routine for three weeks.  This was the final day of an otherwise successful twenty-one.

And I was about to throw it all away.

I tried convincing myself to go back to sleep.  I “needed” sleep.  My self-sabotaging intention was to sleep in regardless of the goals I had set myself.

Fuck the goals, the little voice said.  Sleep instead.  You need it.  What is this routine anyhow?  Just a bunch of pushups and sit-ups.  They don’t get you nowhere.

But I remained awake.  Torn.  Listening to the war raging in my skull, and in my body.  I felt the familiar weight in my solar plexus that signalled I was about to do a thing I didn’t want to do.

And I really didn’t want to do it.

I got up.

 

Discipline Equals Freedom

The morning routine is an exercise in personal discipline.  As Jocko Willink says, discipline equals freedom.  The more discipline you can create in your life the more freedom you will have to create of your life what you want.  Your deepest desires become that much closer and more achievable as you become more disciplined.

The hardest part is finding the balance between Superego (the internal policeman) guilt and the personal satisfaction of discipline, and this balance is different for each person. The mental and spiritual practices in this post will go some way towards uncovering your personal attitude towards discipline.

 

Mental and Spiritual – Not just for Geniuses and Hippies

The last two parts of the The Best Morning Routine Breakdown Ever focussed on the physical aspect of the morning routine, and the reasons for starting a morning routine.  This time round we are going to look at the mental and spiritual practices I use in my protocol.

I define the Mental as the talents and skills of my mind that I can actively improve.  Things like memory and intelligence, and aspects of creativity like the technical skills in drawing or writing.

The Spiritual I define as my connection to the subconscious.  Within the subconscious lies the definition of our gods, whether they be Religious (like Jehovah), Practical (like Efficiency) or Emotional (like Guilt).  The goal here is to improve this connection so we can uncover our own obstacles to success, and find out who we are.

In other words, through spiritual practice we can find our personal definition of success, and find the quickest route to it.  Your capabilities, talents, likes, dislikes, and emotional temperament are just some of the diamonds waiting to be mined, and finding these treasures puts you on the fast-track to whatever the fuck you want.

 

Yet another list

When making my routines I think about what I need to improve in my mental and spiritual life.   I ask questions of myself.

Do I want to be more present in my day to day?

More creative?

A better memory?

Do I need to improve my resolve and persistence?

I then list practices that I know (or suspect) will get me big wins in these areas.  This list tends to get pretty big:

  • Meditation (self awareness, self discipline)
  • Pranayama/box breathing (self awareness, increased oxygenation, mental clarity)
  • Image Streaming (intelligence increase, visualisation practice)
  • Visualisation (creativity, goal achievement)
  • Writing (skill improvement, goal achievement)
  • Autogenic/hypnotic tape (goal achievement)
  • Drawing (skill improvement, creativity, visualisation practice)
  • Journaling (self awareness, goal achievement)
  • Relaxation practice (self awareness, hypnogogic practice)
  • Bioenergetic Bodywork (self awareness, subconscious connection)
  • Double N-back (intelligence increase, memory improvement)
  • Conscious Reading (intelligence increase, rational thinking)

I then select from this list based on my goals for that month.  Doing the same thing for a minimum of three weeks will give you a healthy dose of it’s effectiveness.  It’s short enough a time that if it really is a bag of horseshit you won’t have to do it for too long.  But it’s long enough to get past the initial “oh crap this is horseshit” stage that most mental and spiritual practices have lurking beneath their patchouli scented exteriors, and into the good stuff they are renowned for.

Again, this is the value of the morning routine: habitual behaviour can make desperate practices viable if done consistently.

Freezing My Noodle Off

To this list I add a cold shower, because that is undoubtedly the best goddam way to start the day ever.  The cold shower sets the tone for the entire day.  It s a combination of physical, mental and spiritual, in that it gets frighteningly cold, I need incredible resolve and fortitude to get in and stay in, and it creates a sense of easy calm afterwards.  I thoroughly recommend it.

My shower temp this morning. Bracing.

So how does my list currently look?

  • 5am wakeup
  • Immediate cold shower
  • 50 Pushups supersetted with 10 sec hollow body holds
  • Reverse shoulder walk
  • Cossack squat
  • Couch hip flexor
  • Back roller
  • Meditation 15min
  • Autogenic Tape 5min
  • Double N-back 10min
  • Writing until 6:15 (Usually 20 – 30min or 300-500 words)
  • Breakfast

This routine is undoubtedly the best thing I’ve ever decided to do for myself.  Every, Single,  Day is awesome.  I have a huge win each morning, and the rest of the day I spend with an inner smile, knowing that I’ve kicked serious ass.

 

Final Notes on the Morning Routine

Your should feel amazing after your morning routine.  This means vibrantly alive, healthy and alert.  If it’s not like that at the moment, tweak it until it is.

The first day will probably be great!  You’ll run and tell your friends how awesome your new routine is… and then sleep in the next day.  The challenge lies in maintaining the routine for at least a week or two to get over the hurdle of consistency.  Keep at it!

Start small, and work to big.  It took me a long time (at least a year or two) to get to the above.  Just getting into a routine of getting up early was a big challenge for me, with lot’s of backsliding.  But persistence pays off.

If the above seems too comprehensive, then including at least one thing from each of the categories Physical, Mental and Spiritual is great way to think about starting a routine.

Remember:

The battle is fought anew EVERY SINGLE DAY. 
It doesn’t get any easier to do these things, it just becomes more habitual.
If you lose one day, that’s fine.  Fight again the next day.
This battle will last your whole life.  Focus on winning it more, and don’t sweat the occasional loss.

 

 

Back to 4:38am

In bed that morning I realised that this was the most important decision in my life.  One question ran through my head over and over:

When life gets difficult, what sort of person would I be?  

The man who does what he says?  Or the guy who just mumbles along like everyone else?

 

Who do you want to be?

The Greatest “How-To Make A Morning Routine” Breakdown Ever: Part 2 – The Why

I’d failed.

Id failed again.  And again and again and again.

I had only one task to do, and for years, decades, it had eluded me.  The pain of failure was hanging on me like an irremovable overcoat that buttoned in my desire to shine.

I felt the ache of continually butting up against an immovable object.

And that immovable object? My inability to do what I said I would do.

I was seated as an obstacle in my own metaphorical driveway, like a lump of rock that despite all efforts to move, shift, and even blast away via the use of drugs and alcohol, remained firmly fixed in place.

However as time progressed I found some things made me more energetic.  Some things made me more tired.  Over time I added more of the former and removed more of the latter.  I started getting up earlier.  I started having cold showers.  I started writing.

I stopped and I started and I stopped again.  Tens of times I stopped and started again.  Some weeks I would be motivated as I listened to podcasts about silicon valley greats and boxing coaches, others I would hide my head under the rock of work and sleep and try to ignore how ruined I was as a man.  How useless I was.

“A donkey” as my father would have said.  “A bloody useless donkey.”

I found something funny after a couple of years.  It was easier to get up earlier.  It was easier to jump into a cold shower each morning.  

Whether I was motivated was no longer a concern, the habitual nature of this practice made it “just happen”.

The seconds, minutes and hours over the preceding years had built slowly up into a critical mass, a mass that was cascading over my head and pushing me towards a goal that I had given up on.  I was surfing on a great wave of habit that washed me onward despite myself.

surfing huge wave

And then, this year, it all came to a head.  I spent seven consecutive weeks ticking ALL the boxes on my weekly goal lists.   The longest I’d had previously was one week.

Seven weeks!  This effect and the momentum that it generated in my life was nothing short of amazing.  I realised that all the stories I’d heard of the greats and coaches were only the 10% of the iceberg that we could see.  They didn’t show the pain, the uselessness, the utter redundancy of existence while trying to put together a life worth living.  They didn’t tell of the internal quicksand that sucked you down as you failed again and again.

What was the difference?

 My morning routine.

 

The Greatest “How-To Make A Morning Routine” Breakdown Ever: Part 1 – The Physical

My morning routine has changed my life.

I feel stronger, more self aware.  I bounce out of bed, both on the days I do it, and the days I have off.  When I finish and head off to work, I am looking life in the eye and am ready to take it on with a large shoulder-mounted rail-gun and optional IR scope.  The habitual nature of doing it has actually made it harder for me to NOT do it than do it.

My morning routine takes between one and one-and-a-half hours five days a week.  For me this is the best time of day, when the family is still asleep, and I can be alone with my body and mind with no interruptions.  I do about 25 minutes of physical, 15 min of spiritual, and the remainder mental practices.

Creating the routine has evolved over the months I’ve been doing it.  I started with some things that I’ve been doing for years, such as getting up at five am, starting the day with a cold shower, and writing.  These were good foundations to build the rest of the routine around.  Why build from the ground up, when the bricks are already laid?

When I build my routines, I take elements from the Physical, Mental and Spiritual realms.  I work on my body (physical), my skills, intelligence and memory (mental), and I try to establish a deeper connection between my conscious and subconscious to enhance my poise and creativity (spiritual).

5/3/1 Protocol for Morning Routines

Each month I program three weeks on, and one week off.  This is from using the 5/3/1 weightlifting template from Jim Wendler.  For three weeks I use the protocol, following as closely as possible to the routine and going hard.  Three weeks is generally enough time to try an activity and see whether it has any benefit.

I then take a week to relax, regenerate, and ponder what improvements and additions I can make to the next months protocol.  This is a time of honest self assessment.  Where did I improve?  Where did I go wrong?  How can I get more bang for my buck?  Where can I fit more in to the time I have?  Where do I need to relax a little more?

It’s also a time to chill out and take the pressure off.  I’ve found that I can focus more during the routine if I know there is an end-date.  I know I won’t have to get up and do pushups forever.  And I’ve found that due to the habitual nature of the routine, I often get up at 5am during my week off anyway.

 

Important Questions to Ask

To create this routine I used a common thought pattern and turned it into a question: What are the things I want to improve at but never have the time or inclination to do?  

This question pulls out those items from my brain that I ponder under the surface, and only occasionally pop up into conscious thought.  Like when I’m squatting and realise my ankle dorsiflexion is letting me down.

“I should really do something about that.”

I then use these items in conjunction with the overall goals I have for the year.

The Physical

Here’s my broad physical goal list for this year:

  • Run Spartan Race
  • Better movement – more flexible, poised and nimble, lighter on my feet
  • more comfortable moving quickly and fluidly at 85-90kg
  • run 5k with ease
  • squat 140×5
  • Deadift 180×3
  • box jump
  • ab strength
  • Improve fighting power, speed and technique

To hit these goals I need to:

  • Run each week
  • Squat each week
  • Deadlift each week
  • Do abs each week
  • Stretch each day

I go to the gym in the afternoons, and run on Sundays.  So that leaves stretching to be done in the morning routine.

To further aid inquiry, I then ask the question: “What are the things I want to improve at but never have the time or inclination to do?”  It could be more easily summed up as: “What am I really bad at that makes my life miserable?”

  • Stretching in general
  • Calf flexibility and ankle dorsiflexion
  • Thoracic flexibility
  • Shoulder rotation internal and external
  • Abdominal strength
  • Pectoral development
  • Overall conditioning

I then brainstorm ways to improve these items, trying to hit multiple items with each solution.  The objective is to both improve my weak points AND work towards my goals.  I then have a range of options to select from, for example:

  • Pushups (pecs and shoulders)
  • J-curls (thoracic)
  • Ab roller (abs and shoulders)
  • Reverse shoulder walk (shoulders and abs)
  • Calf stretches and rolling (calves)
  • Cossack squat (calves and conditioning)
  • Agile 8 (overall flexibility)
  • Couch hip flexor (hip flexibility)
  • Cat-cow/roller (thoracic)
  • Hollow body holds (abs)
  • Breath-in side bend Rudy (abs and ribcage)

I then pick and choose what will tick most of the boxes I require while fitting into the timeframe I have, which for physical work is about 20-25 minutes max. So into my morning routine I might select:

  • 50 pushups with vest + superset abs – minimum 2 sets of 5x10sec max hold
  • Stretches:
  • reverse shoulder walk
  • cossack squat
  • couch hip flexor
  • cat-cow/roller

(Side Note: For me the morning routine isn’t a punishing morale-killing half hour.  It’s mildly tough but still a walk in the park.  Some mornings I just don’t feel like doing it, but I do anyway.  These are the mornings I break things down to their easiest.  Take the pushups for example.  I never specify set and rep breakdown.  Some mornings I’ll do the entire 50 in one go.  Some mornings when I’m feeling blah, I’ll do five sets of 10, with two minutes between each set.  The tradeoff is that I need to superset abs for each set of pushups.)

In the Part 2 I’ll cover adding mental and spiritual exercises to your routine to round it out and form a super-positive start to your day.  Stay tuned amigo, you’ll wanna read this one.

 

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