Habits Bring Structure In An Unpredictable World | Heroic Fatherhood

Habits Bring Structure In An Unpredictable World

Published on 28 December 2018 by Charlie King | Filed in Dad Hacks

Mastering Your Domain is a Habit

It’s evening and I am sitting at my kitchen table. Dinner is over, it’s 7:00 pm, and I am comfortably nestled into my nighttime routine and what passes for pajamas (t-shirt and sweats). The evening is full, maybe helping the kids with homework, brainstorming an upcoming event or planning the week with my wife. The dishes are done. We’re focused and yet calm, both totally present in the conversation and there’s no distraction or rush.

It Wasn’t Always Like This

5 years ago this was not my life. There was not a sense of calm to our evenings.I made a big discovery then that inspired me to stop living “by the seat of my pants.”

Every year the world moves faster, and the demands of our culture insist we be busier. Five years ago, my days looked far different than today: Each day I came home from work, had dinner and between helping the kids with homework and scrambling to get random domestic chores done, bedtime was at least an hour later than I wanted. The alarm woke me with a start each day. It felt like Groundhog Day. Wash, Rinse, Repeat.

Scurrying As A Way Of Life

This jolting wake-up call resulted in 60 minutes of panicked rushing and scrambling. Before going upstairs I rushed to take a quick shower, find some clothes and pack my gym bag. I’m already late to get the kids fed and out the door by the time I get upstairs. While simultaneously helping my wife make lunches, I slosh eggs into a pan and try not to burn myself (or the bacon). It’s a mess. The start to my day left me feeling harried and likely to forget critical items.

Frantic and rushed, the impact bleeds over into the way I communicate with my wife and kids. I am impatient, demanding and distracted. I arrive at work frazzled. This was not a way to live.

An Unexpected Insight

The shift for me came from a book I was reading for enjoyment. It was the experience of a small group of elite soldiers under siege while on patrol in Africa. In this part of the book, this elite group was on the run, fighting and evading local militias, just trying to survive until they could be rescued. They fought, ran, hid and survived for more than 30 hours.

After being rescued, the soldiers were evacuated to their remote base. I expected the soldiers to collapse for days after all this time on their own with no sleep, no food, and fearing for their lives. However, what happened next in the book was completely unexpected.

The soldiers did what you expect once they returned to their remote base. They delivered their wounded safely to the medical tent and confirmed that their base was secure. These seems like prudent and appropriate responses for a professional soldier.

My AHA(!) Moment

What happened next was a game-changer for me. The soldiers bypassed the mess tent, their bunkhouse, and the showers.

They went directly to the supply tent. As a team they replaced the broken, lost and damaged equipment from the patrol. Then they re-armed. This was all before they ate, showered or rested.

The LAST thing you expect someone to do after an experience like this is to prepare do it again. These men were arguably “at the end of their rope.” And yet, they quietly gathered up their equipment and readied themselves for whatever came next.  I asked “Why Don’t these guys take a break?” and “They can’t be expected to keep going, can they?” and “Isn’t there someone else who’s ready to go out?”

Unpredictability Brings Clarity

Life is unpredictable. We never know what life will hand us one moment to the next. People who work in dangerous places know this rule with stark clarity. Clarity comes from being responsible for the things that you can control when facing unpredictability and letting everything else go.

These soldiers lived and served in a truly unstable region. Their base or patrol could be under attack at any time. The best defense they had was to be prepared for any eventuality because there could not control what happened outside the base. Nor could they control when they would be assigned to go out again. What they could control was what they did for themselves.

Applying This Lesson to our Day to Day Experience

Time starts rushing away from us the moment we wake up. Many days are one thing after another, all day long. This experience doesn’t stop when you get home. The agenda you have for your day can change in an instant. A child who needs help with a science project (that’s dues tomorrow!), a washing machine that has leaked all over the floor or an unexpected piece of news your spouse needs to share with you will derail your plans.

There are many unpredictable things about family life. The things that are under your control are the only things you can predict.

We each have a “short list” of needs to be completed each evening. When these are done, I feel “squared away” ready for my day. This is my list:
  • Gym bag needs to be emptied
  • Lunch sack needs to be cleaned out
  • Items I purchased today on errands need to be unloaded and put in their proper place
  • I need to make my lunch for tomorrow (I frequently leave at 6:00am many days)
  • Re-pack my gym bag
  • The mail needs to be sorted and correspondence handled
  • Electronic Devices plugged in and charged.

These are all things in my control. Everything else is not in my control.

I do my best to *handle* the things that are in my control as soon as I walk in the door. This is done without comment or interruption. 5-10 minutes is all that is required to complete most of these items before I take on anything else.

When my short list of items is complete, I am both mentally and physically available to be with my family as we prepare dinner, do homework, and share our day. I am there to have fun over family games or handle any of unpredictable things that comes up in family life.

The biggest change is that I am more at peace. Undone chores no longer distract me.I can now focus on the people I love and support in my life. My bedtime is more predictable, I am more rested. I am 100% present for the family’s nighttime routine before starting mine.