Tag Archives: courage

Top values:  proactive action plans 

Here’s the latest work I’ve done on Recovery Nation. I wrote the following plans.

Proactive action plan 1. Counting my blessings. At dinner we do the “what am I thankful for” exercise. Regularly, especially when challenged by life, I should do the exercise internally too.
A. Do the “what am I thankful for” exercise daily, at dinner time, when possible.
B. Reflect deeply on Thanksgiving, anniversaries, and family members’ birthdays, to thank God.
C. When viewing other people’s misfortunes, remind myself of my blessings.
D. When viewing other people’s blessings, remind myself that everyone has blessings and misfortunes.

Proactive action plan 2. Honesty. I should remind myself of this value when talking with others.
A. If I do, think, remember, or experience anything I hesitate to tell my wife, due to fear or embarrassment, I must tell her, right away.

Proactive action plan 3. Maturity. This is really what I always wanted out of life: to be grown-up and responsible for myself. I should remind myself that it requires responsibility and courage.
A. Accept reality. Don’t focus on wishing some fact, past decision, or past action had been different.
B. Make decisions that are not conflicting or incoherent.
C. Focus on the future, not the past.

Proactive action plan 4. Being a good husband. This means keeping my wife’s needs and desires prominently in mind.
A. Focus on her happiness. Search for ways to show her a fun or interesting time.
B. Focus on her need for companionship, optimism, and emotional support. Make it a priority to spend time with her. Focus on her when we are together. Do not make any sort of comment that could be negative or discouraging when she talks of her ideas.
C. Search for opportunities to highlight her abilities or accomplishments.

Proactive action plan 5. Being a good father. This means enabling my kids to succeed and to be happy.
A. Make it a priority to spend time with them. Suggest fun and active things we can do together.
B. Make it a priority to discuss their questions and interests.
C. Give them structure, but try to be minimalist in that regard, to avoid creating resentment or dependence.

Proactive action plan 6. Wanting the best for my family. This means vigilantly monitoring my decisions to avoid selfish behavior.
A. Think, before each decision, about the consequences for my family’s safety.
B. Think, before each decision, about the consequences for my family’s money.
C. Think, before each decision, about the consequences for my family’s time.
D. Think, before each decision, about the consequences for my family’s happiness.

Proactive action plan 7. Protecting my family. An example is summoning the courage to stand up to my mother, who has a history of criticizing my wife.
A. Think, before each decision, about the consequences for my family’s dignity, honor, and reputation.
B. Speak up quickly when anyone, be it my mother or a stranger, says anything bigoted or disparaging.
C. Drop everything, instantly, to respond to my wife’s concerns about safety, even before stopping to think about whether I fully understand the concerns.

Proactive action plan 8. Meaningful relationships with my wife and kids. This means being mentally and emotionally present, not just physically present. It means focusing on them, and not being distracted by chores and similar compulsions.
A. When they stop to talk, I should give them my full attention; no multitasking.
B. Take time off to be there for all their special occasions and events.
C. Regularly seek ideas for weekend, holiday, and vacation activities with them, and make plans.
D. Be aware of their emotional struggles, and look for ways to be supportive.

Proactive action plan 9. Being active. I love exercise and outdoor activity. This also means looking for efficient ways to be active, such as focusing on intensity instead of quantity and being active with other people so that exercise does not distract from my commitments to family.
A. When my wife or kids are available to do something together, invite them to do something active, such as walking, swimming, biking, playing catch, or whatever else might be accessible.
B. Continue my habit of getting 35 minutes of exercise before each normal work day, and don’t increase that quantity until I’m certain I’m working to 100 percent intensity for each of those 35 minutes each time.
C. Look for vacation activities that keep us active, such as skiing or walking tours.

Proactive action plan 10. Being useful. For now, I enjoy this luxury at work and at home. I will thank God if I can continue having the time and opportunity to do work that is useful, for several more decades.
A. Search for my next job.

Proactive action plan 11. Lifelong learning. This comes with my career and my wife. In finding my next career, I need to remember this value.
A. Learn new skills or knowledge for my next job.

Proactive action plan 12. Creating new ideas throughout life. My job allows me to exercise some creativity. Writing also helps. I want to be sure my next job also allows me to be creative.
A. Find a job that allows me to lead, create, speak, teach, or write.

Proactive action plan 13. Improving the community or world. I often look for ways to improve my neighborhood or community.
A. When I inevitably come across something that I want improved in my next community, talk with my wife about my ideas for getting involved and taking action. Consider the school or housing community.

Proactive action plan 14. Living with integrity. When faced with daily decisions or interactions, I must keep up my inner dialogue about honesty and courage.
A. Look for ways to be transparent in professional, personal, and business interactions.
B. When I think twice about speaking my mind, remind myself to have courage. As long as I behave in a way I can proudly describe to my wife, I have nothing to fear.
C. When tempted to adapt my behavior in the presence of bosses, co-workers, my birth family, attractive strangers, fellow parents, or other categories of people, remember that I want my behavior to be consistent, regardless of who is there to see me or hear me.

Proactive action plan 15. Living with compassion. When relating to other people, I must maintain my inner dialogue about being empathetic and not being judgmental. There, but for the grace of God, go I.
A. When others, be they family or strangers, treat me harshly, remember to consider their emotional struggles or possible emotional struggles instead of taking it personally.
B. Before judging other people’s behavior, remember they may have faced difficulties that shaped their behavior.


The monkey-bar phenomenon

We’ve had some very deep talks recently, surprise, surprise.

One theme that seems apparent is a theme of lack of courage.

We call it the “monkey-bar phenomenon.” When our oldest was young, he loved to climb and do monkey bars, no fear at all. He liked to play soccer as a fun thing to do with friends. When we lived in our last overseas country, there were some local boys who were bullies. It was hard on our son and he lost that fearlessness for a while. It got to the point where, even though he loved to do the monkey bars, if there was anyone else at the playground doing monkey bars, he wouldn’t even try. And, he wanted absolutely nothing more to do with soccer. It made me so sad for him. And, it reminded MC of himself who refused to do anything if he felt that, in comparison to others, he would not do well at it. As a child, I too had similar proclivities. I don’t think it is an uncommon instinct. However, it has the potential to become pathological and I think that is dangerous.

Our son has steered away from certain sports that he was bullied about overseas. But, I am happy to say he has found a niche that has been very affirming for him. We’ve had a lot of talks about this with him. You don’t have to win the race, and so what if you lose the race, it is still better to participate and try than to sit on the sidelines because of fear. It is a hard lesson to learn, even for adults.

I was so worried about our son for a while. But, this boy has really come into his own. He has a mind of his own and he speaks it. He is not afraid to be who he is, he is not afraid to stand by his beliefs, he is not afraid to stand-up for himself or other kids being mistreated, not in an aggressive way, but in a calm and matter-of-fact kind of way. I am so PROUD of him.

Courage isn’t protecting yourself from consequences, courage is facing the consequences, even when painful and/or scary. Courage isn’t arrogance, courage is knowing when you need help and asking for it. Courage isn’t telling others what they want to hear and then doing what you want anyway, courage is matching your actions to your words. Courage isn’t going along with what others want because it is easier, courage is voicing your opinion and then working together to find solutions. Courage isn’t agreeing to do things because you are afraid of people thinking poorly of you, courage is being able to say “no” when you need to do so.

I am starting to strongly believe that when a man lacks courage, he will question his masculinity and this leads to poor  self-esteem and possibly some very dark places to compensate. Every time MC acts with courage, I see it building belief in himself. The more he does it, the more he moves away from being a little boy and being a man, not just to me, but to himself. When MC started turning it around, I saw our son starting to turn it around. It is a healthier place for all of us and that gives me a sense of safety for all of us. MC still works hard to have courage in the face of fear. I know it is not instinctive yet, there is more work ahead. But, I also know he is learning, he is growing and I do see that he has come a long ways, and continues the work to move forward, to become stronger, to become healthier.

MC: “Follow-up to travel travails”

Here’s what I’ve learned from this experience.  First, I was overconfident in recent months when I went about saying and writing that I would have no trouble spiking a lunch invitation or something similar from a woman.  I really thought it would be easier than it was.  I really thought I was prepared to just say “no,” without worry about what anyone might think of me.  In some ways, I was prepared and I did do the right thing.  When CW loitered around as I waited for my luggage, I bravely said, “Don’t feel compelled to wait for me.”  She left.  More importantly in my mind, I had no mental, physical, or other temptation to treat CW as a target and I was one-hundred percent loyal to TL in my thoughts, desires, and intentions.  

Where I failed, however, was in not anticipating the real possibility that CW would again run into me at the airport and approach me with a lunch invitation.  I was too damned sure that would not happen, and I was not prepared.  I was so confident that this was a harmless incident, that I didn’t consider the potential for temptation or false signals during that lunch.

Second, I failed by giving in to cowardice.  I thought I would have been brave enough to just send CW packing, awkwardness or social graces be damned.  I should have been braver.  TL and I talk a lot about courage.  Before D-day, I was too cowardly to defend us against my mother.  I tried to change the subject or pretend like nothing was happening, instead of bravely saying, “Mom, you can’t treat us that way.  This visit or conversation will end if you treat us that way.”  

I was cowardly regarding my work-life balance before D-day.  I was not brave enough to be the first to leave the office or to not be the first to arrive at the office. I was afraid of how bosses and colleagues might judge me.  

I was even cowardly toward TL before D-day.  I was afraid, and too prideful, to show her how much I wanted her.  I was afraid she might reject me or do something I would perceive as rejection.  So, I approached her infrequently and haltingly.

The trend of cowardly behavior goes further back. It goes back to when I was single, and I was too afraid to approach girls. I then berated myself for that cowardice. I dwelled on it and used it to fuel my self-pity, self-pity that later motivated my selfishness and cheating. The trend goes back all the way to childhood. I was afraid of the ball, afraid of the bully, and afraid to try new physical endeavors. Similarly, I berated myself for caving in to those fears. Self-pity gradually developed out of that. In terms of wife, work, and my bullying mother, I have found my courage. It’s not that my fear has gone away, it’s that I am learning to not let it control me. Clearly, I need to summon new courage in dealing with CW and similar people.

Third, with TL or by myself, I should give serious thought to hypothetical future situations and mentally drill myself on how to respond.  Soldiers train for combat. Students train for exams.  I should train for inappropriate advances from women.  I need to get to a point where “no, I have plans to call my wife” or “no, I want to do something different for lunch” just rolls off my tongue instinctively.

To TL and our long-terms readers, as much as I let you down by having lunch with CW, I let myself down too.  Rick Reynolds warned me against overconfidence.  He said no matter how long you walk along the right path, you’ll always still be just a few feet from the ditch.  CW’s lunch invitation was taking my eyes of the road and heading toward the ditch.

I can only be thankful that I learned some lessons from this, thankful that I was not at all tempted to actively abuse the situation, and thankful that TL was willing to discuss this all with me and support me as I learn from it.

Over-parenting begets childish men

I hesitate to write this because I don’t want it to sound like I’m saying all my selfishness and self-pity came from my mother.  Several points along the way, I could have chosen to take responsibility for my actions and for the way I viewed the world.  I’ve written about the cultural roots of my problems and the inconsistency my mother taught.  I have a few more thoughts on this, as I try to find root causes of my sick thinking.

First, my parents spent most of my early life shielding me from the consequences of my own decisions and actions.  They blamed others for any problems I faced.  They did not trust me to solve my own problems.  If I got a bad grade, they would insist on intervening with the teacher. If I had a conflict with other kids, my parents blamed the other kids or blamed fate, tried to micromanage the way I handled it, and generally treated me as though I was a toddler, incapable of handling social interactions without my parents interfering.

If I did something wrong — a prank, for example — my parents never exactly punished me.  They yelled, sighed, shook their heads, and talked about shame and disappointment.  They never grounded me; in general, I wasn’t really allowed to leave the house except with specific permission, on a case-by-case basis.  They did not spank me.  They talked about spanking often, but never did it.  In short, there were no tangible, measurable, specific consequences for my misbehavior.

At the same time, my mother did create severe and unreasonable consequences for my failures to meet her hopes or expectations.  On one hand, she did not do what we try to do for our children:  warn them that there will be a consequence if they misbehave, and follow through with the reasonable punishment, as well as let them suffer — within reason — the natural consequences of their choices.

On the other hand, my mother imposed consequences that were not tied to my choices.  Rather, they were tied to her evaluation of me.  It wasn’t, for example, something like, “If you fail to do your homework I will ground you.”  Instead, it was more like my mother having an emotional breakdown if I lost the district spelling bee.  Her consequences were not related to my choices, but to my performance.  And, I feared her emotional outbursts, so much so that I began lying and hiding many aspects on my life in order to avoid my mother’s reactions.

I think this upbringing might be part of how I came to do such risky, heartless, illogical things during my years of adultery and lies.  I was used to having no consequences for my actions.  So, I gave no thought to potential consequences of cheating, consequences such as diseases, death, arrest, public humiliation for myself and my family, and more.  God — actually my parents — had always ultimately shielded me from consequences, so I subconsciously assumed God would continue to be my safety net.  Do you think that is a sick, twisted misuse of theology?  It is.  That’s my point.

Second, my parents also did not teach me accountability.  They didn’t tell me I needed to try harder or practice more to improve.  For example, instead of  saying that I might want to practice baseball, they just talked about how some people are supposedly naturally good at it and some people are not.  They made a big show of telling me I was smart, for example, but they never really provided consequences for bad grades, forgotten homework, or general laziness and evasiveness.  Similarly, I never bothered to hold myself accountable for my actions.  Mother had always been in control of my accountability.  So, why should I bother weighing my choices against their potential effects on me or on others?

Third, my parents actively discouraged me from growing up, and I failed to resist it courageously.  My life is a story of me allowing my mother to control me.  I didn’t fully escape it until D-day.  For example, to this day, my mother goes on and on about how she thinks I handled certain friendships wrong in seventh grade.  To this day, I disagree.  She viewed me as a toddler and treated me as such.  That continues to this day.

She discouraged me from playing team sports, from leaving the house, and from dating.  She made it clear she disapproved of every girlfriend I ever had.  She didn’t even try to be subtle, saying awful things about each girl.  I finally got away, by going to college out of state and never again living in my parents’ home.  Even then, I didn’t get away completely.  By the time I married TL, just two years after college graduation, I still had one credit card my parents had given me.  TL helped me see that my parents were using that leverage to control my choices, and I was letting them do it.  TL and I cut up that credit card.

My mother continued her habit of saying awful things about my girlfriends, or wife in this case.  She spent 18 years making little mumbled remarks, inappropriate comments, and flat out rude critiques of TL, me, and our children, as though it was perfectly normal to behave that way.  As I had been all my life, I was afraid of my mother.

I cut off contact with my mother for several months once when she harassed me non-stop for several days, at home and at work, to insist on inserting herself into the move TL and I were making.

A few years later, my mother made a big scene of reportedly purchasing funeral plots for her immediate family, including me but not including TL, “because a son should be buried next to his parents.” She told me it would be inappropriate for me to tell TL, my wife, of this plan and that I should not do so.  I did tell TL, but never informed my mother that I told TL, nor did I confront my mom about her inappropriate behavior and expectations.

Years later, after our first child was born, my mother began criticizing our child. TL, who had patiently held her tongue for years, would not allow our child to be dragged into my mother’s psychological warfare. TL told my mother her house was not an appropriate place for our family and we would be moving to a hotel. My mother went ballistic. I told TL to pack-up, so we could just leave town altogether. But, I said nothing to my mother.

I sent TL into the house to pack us up, while I loaded our child and the car. My mother approached TL, blaming her for everything under the sun. TL let my mother know she knew everything my mother had tried to do to undermine our marriage, including expressing joy over a miscarriage and about the funeral plot secret. We again cut off contact with her for several months.

Each time, I eventually, gradually let my mother slip back into our lives, returning to her way of questioning with implied criticism, questioning with intent to control, and outright criticism.  More importantly, I had a decades-long habit of not confronting my mother, not calling her out on her inappropriate behavior.  She said something, and I would ignore it or try to change the subject.  What I should have done instead is to calmly but bravely tell my mother she was behaving inappropriately and that I would not accept it.

Shortly after D-day, we visited my parents, and I began practicing relating to them as an adult, as well as not being afraid to show my love, pride and affection for TL in front of my mother.

After D-day, I tried very hard to get my mother to apologize for undermining our marriage.  She never really did. She supposedly had my father apologize on her behalf to me, but never directly to me and absolutely never to TL.

After D-day, I considered a couple of things about my relationship with my mother.  First, I had signed up to protect TL, and I had been failing in that responsibility, for years.  I failed to protect TL from myself, from my psychological problems, from the world, and from my mother.  If I was going to become a better husband, it had to include protecting TL from my mother.  Second, my lies and adultery came, essentially, from my failure to grow up, failure to take responsibility, failure to see the world through the eyes of an adult man.  This, in turn, was related to my failure to grow up with regard to my mother, to stop being cowed by her, and to have the compassionate courage to set limitations for her.

For three years now, I’ve been putting a stop to my mother when she tries to say or do something hurtful to TL, me, or our children.  It has helped.  It’s not easy.  About a half a year ago, my mother tried to criticize TL in my mother’s own uniquely manipulative way, this time bringing our children into it. The children did not understand, and I put a stop to my mother.  At this point, I no longer have any real relationship with my mother.  It’s now crystal clear, even to my mother I think, that she has nothing to say to me aside from her attempts to control me.

In sum, I can’t stress enough the importance of learning responsibility, accountability, and self-control early.  Let kids make mistakes.  Let them receive punishment, from parents and teachers, when they do wrong or neglect responsibilities.  Let them make choices.  Within reason, let them control their own lives.