The habits we keep betray our values and commitments to those values.
If your habits are unmindful habits that you’ve simply fallen into, they’re likely not serving you well.
If your habits are negative and destructive, they’re not serving your or your family.
But habits built mindfully and consciously help to direct your attention and enhance your commitment to the values you’ve chosen to uphold in your life.
Not only do your habits define you, but they are what your children will use to define you, which in turn will come to define them as they look back on what you taught them, consciously or unconsciously, what it meant to be a man and a father.
When we first moved overseas, I let my carefully constructed habits fall by the wayside, and the consequences were immediate and severe.
Without healthy habits, I was lost, irritable, less grounded physically, and empty of the fuel that comes from self care practices.
I attribute my failure to keep up my habits as one of the main causes of my bottoming out, or hitting rock bottom shortly after arriving in Asia.
Since then, I’ve cultivated habits that are growth oriented, keep me healthy, and provide my mind with the peace and calm I need to show up daily for myself and my family.
I present this list to inspire you, not to say you have to do all or any of the things listed here.
However, as men, we must develop habits that breathe life and energy into our physical, mental, and spiritual life, if we are to show up as good fathers for our children.
- Frequency: 10-20 minutes daily, plus whenever necessary
This is the big one, and keeps me grounded across every other aspect of my life.
Every morning, before I exercise, I meditate for 10 or 20 minutes.
If I’m feeling particularly stressed or anxious, I’ll often do a quick unguided meditation to bring myself back to my body and the present moment.
There are a variety of meditations I do, which I talk about elsewhere, but pretty much any mindfulness practice that you are comfortable with will help set the tone for the rest of your life.
In most areas of life, I try not to offer “should” statements, because each of our journeys are unique.
However, when it comes to meditation, I firmly believe that everyone can and should benefit from a mindfulness practice.
If you feel like meditation just doesn’t work for you, I see this as an insight that you can chew on to do some inner work. Ask yourself what it is about meditation that you can’t seem to stomach.
Is it impatience? Where does that come from?
Do you feel “stupid” or embarrassed? Why?
Whether you’ve tried meditation or not, it’s one of the few hills I’m willing to die on when it comes to must-have habits to reduce suffering and improve your quality of life.
A few of my favourite meditation resources:
- Frequency: Daily – when I need to work out a thought/feeling, and at the end of each day using the Daylio app
Sitting down to journal is in itself a commitment to doing the work.
Simply sitting and thinking through an issue you’re having is a great way to get the ball rolling and to become more self aware, but there are times when the words need to flow out of the mind and onto paper.
When I write, it removes the responsibility from my brain to have to remember everything I was thinking, which tends to unearth things deeper in my psyche after the surface issues are on paper.
I use a journal to work through all kinds of issues that come up each day, including work decisions, why I’m struggling with something, making lists and priorities, and sometimes simply to empty my head of a persistent thought.
Downloading information from your brain and heart into a journal can be cleansing, and allow for new, and deeper thoughts and feelings to arise. It’s an invaluable tool for going deeper and working on yourself to reduce suffering and become a better parent.
At the end of each day, I use the Daylio app to track the activities I did during the day, and to write about what happened and how I feel about it.
I love this app, because it acts like a time capsule. I can go back and see how I was feeling years ago, and see where my head was at. I can see what activities tend to happen that lead to me having good days. I can see what things lead to bad days.
Even just getting a pad of paper and a pen is a great way to start. If you aren’t sure what to write, start by listing what you’re working on, what’s happening during your day, and then trying to access how you feel about all of it.
There’s no right or wrong way to journal, but it helps me work through issues I’m having and provides a “cleanse” for my mind.
- Frequency: Daily
The more your body can do, the more freedom you have.
To try new things. To stand up for yourself. To have energy to do what you want. To play with your kids. To think better.
This is another non-negotiable for me, as the effects are profound.
Exercise has been proven to have immense benefits across a wide range of mental health markers…not that you need a study to prove it to yourself if you’ve ever done any sort of sports or exercise.
Intellectually we probably all know we need to be exercising, but the resistance often comes between the decision and the action. Between saying you will go to the gym and actually setting foot in the gym.
However you convince yourself to get active, making this a non-negotiable in your own life is likely to give you more joy and radiance to breathe into your child’s life.
I listen to my body first and foremost, but my current exercise plan includes 4 days at the gym (or doing an intense bodyweight workout at home if you’re quarantined), 2 days of running, and 1 day of rest/yoga/walking.
Another option is to pick up a sport you loved playing as a kid. Join a league, a drop in, or teach your kids how to play.
4. Eating Well
- Frequency: Daily
If you’re going to be asking your body to perform a regular exercise routine, it’s going to require the right fuel.
Not only does eating well give you more energy to perform physical tasks, but I’ve seen a huge increase in mental clarity by upgrading the way I eat and drink.
I feel so much better when I eat and drink healthy, whole food meals, that I literally can’t imagine letting this habit slip.
If eating well can provide you a high level of energy and cognitive clarity throughout the day, and directly contributes to you getting the most, mentally and physically, out of your daily life, you’re literally increasing the difficulty level on life if you don’t dial this in.
Everything becomes easier when your body feels good and performs well.
I’m not going to tell you what eating well means to you, but over the last couple of years I’ve significantly limited my meat intake, almost never consume foods with added sugar, stopped drinking coffee, and almost never drink alcohol. Intermittent fasting and 1-3 day fasts have their place, too.
If this sounds boring, FYI that feeling amazing pretty much all the time is definitely not boring.
You don’t have to be perfect at every meal, but shifting your food intake toward a cleaner diet is something to strive for.
- Frequency: Daily
This is a new habit that I learned from a man in my men’s group to foster self love and compassion.
Every day in the shower, I will use my hands to “tap” each body part. As I tap, I say to myself, for example, “this is my head, I love my head”.
Definitely a bit woo woo, but it’s a conscious act that reinforces self love and kindness. With enough repetitions, it can help to make the feelings of self love real, which is usually important for fathers who struggle with anger.
The tapping also grounds you in your body and the present moment, and adding a somatic element to a mindful practice like this has helped me focus on the feelings of what I’m doing.
6. Cold Showers
- Frequency: Daily
Whether you believe in the physical health benefits or just do it to increase mental toughness, cold showers are a hell of a way to start the day.
I do it to train my mind and body to become calm under stress response, which can come in handy if you’re trying to manage your urge to become angry in trying situations.
At the end of your shower, simply switch it all the way to cold, and stand under it for as long as you can. Breathing deeply and focusing your attention on the belief that you are tough enough to handle it goes a long way.
Each day, simply try to stay in longer than you did the day before.
This is a great way to “callous the mind” as David Goggins says.
- Frequency: Weekly
Your breath can take you places otherwise only accessible through psychedelics, and can have a profound impact on your mood and state of mind.
I’ve done long, guided breathwork sessions that have revealed deep insights and helped to move significant energy in my healing journey.
In order to get some of the benefits of breathwork more regularly, I’ve been doing what I consider “breathwork microdosing”, which means I’ll do a short 20 minute session once per week.
First of all, it makes your body feel absolutely amazing. It’s a great way to start or end your week.
Beyond the physical, though, it offers me a chance to drop my worries, and spend some time feeling deep gratitude.
It literally gets me feeling the joy of being alive, and all the things I’m grateful for, which in turn puts me back in the driver’s seat in my life.
Being in gratitude is one of the best ways to live a mindful life and fight the urge to be negative and judgemental, which helps significantly when you’re dealing with your kids.
7. Sleeping Well
- Frequency: Daily
If you don’t have a regular sleep schedule, or you sleep poorly, getting your sleep dialed in is one of the simplest ways to level up your life.
More physical energy, more cognitive clarity, and some defence against long term ailments like disease and even early morality are all key reasons why sleep is so important.
But it also gives you a lot more mental space, which has been key for me to keep an even demeanor and not react negatively toward my kids throughout the day. It’s hard to stay mindful and in the present moment when you’re tired!
8. Men’s Group
- Frequency: Weekly
There come a point in your journey where having the company and backing of other men is vital.
I’ve always been a lone ranger, and have felt great pride in always being able to figure stuff out on my own.
But there are some things that only deep conversation and processes can bring to light.
Some of my most important breakthroughs have come from simply having a trusted source listen to me.
Much like journaling, some things must be digested verbally, and having a group of men around you who are committed to their own journeys can give you the space you need to learn more about yourself.
From accountability to friendship and camaraderie to simply being seen, doing some of your work in a men’s group is a habit I hope more men commit to.
- Frequency: Daily
President Truman famously said that “all leaders are readers”.
Even if your only leadership role is to lead your children and yourself, reading allows you to gain wisdom without having to go through every conceivable experience or hardship yourself.
It’s the best way I’ve found to download wisdom and empathy and be introduced to new ideas and models of thinking.
I try to alternate every book I read between fiction and non-fiction, and also read to my children every night before bed.
Reading books on men’s work, parenting, psychology, and other mindful pursuits keeps me engaged in a constant pursuit to become more and be a better man and father.
And it’s this constant pursuit of greatness that continues to deliver breakthroughs as I continue my journey from an angry and miserable man to a happy, content, and mindful father.
10. Spousal Check-In
- Frequency: Weekly
This is a newer habit that my wife and I have picked up, but it’s proving to be a great way to build intimacy and strengthen our relationship, while also increasing my ability to take responsibility for the way I live my life and how it impacts those around me.
Every Sunday we sit down for about 15 minutes and share what we liked about one another each week, what we’d like to see more of, and how we can increase intimacy.
We also set an intention for the week, which is a great way to have something in the back of your mind to remain mindful.
You can structure it any way you like, but a couple of things that have worked are to:
- Simply make eye contact while repeating, “something I want you to know is…”
- Tell your partner 3 things he or she did that you liked from the past week, and one thing that you’d like to see more of (credit to Tim Ferriss for this wording, as it’s much better than the negative version, which is “something I didn’t like is…”)
While all of these habits can be created individually, I find that they end up being much greater than the sum of their parts.
You deserve to feel good and suffer less.
Creating conscious habits that promote self care will make you a better dad, especially if you’re prone to anger.
These habits give me my own space, my own base level of care, and I approach my family from a place of abundance, after having filled my own cup first.