Being a dad is probably the most important role you will perform in your life. But it’s not the only one. And it doesn’t happen in isolation.
To be a good father, you also need to be a good man and a good husband.
Because our kids rarely listen to what we tell them, but they are always watching what we do. So, if you can set a good example as a man and a husband, then you are more than halfway there to being a good father.
The rest is just dad jokes and cuddles, right?
Over the past couple of years, I’ve been reading, writing and podcasting about self-improvement, relationships and parenting (from a dad’s perspective).
In this article, I want to summarise seven key concepts that I believe can help make you a better man, partner and dad.
Note: You can also download the free ebook, which accompanies this article and provides short exercises that will help you apply these concepts to your life.
Step 1 – Know Your Values
Strong organisations understand their values and the same is true for strong individuals. But while most of us can probably reel off the core values of our company, our football team or our favourite brand, how many of us can list our personal values?
Taking some time to define your core values is a valuable process that can provide many benefits, such as:
- Gives you direction – helps you understand the person you are, as well as the person you want to become.
- Guides your decisions – helps make day-to-day decisions (what to do, where to spend your time and where to spend your money), as well as the big life-changing stuff (who to marry, where to live, where to send the kids to school).
- Increases your confidence – makes you feel stronger and more motivated.
- Builds your resilience – can help you carry on when times are tough.
“He who has a Why to live for can bear almost any How.”
How to identify your core values
Our values are reflected in our decisions and our behaviour. So if you want to understand your current values, you can start by looking at your current behaviour.
This is important to realise because we sometimes claim to have values that are not reflected in our behaviour.
It’s fine for values to be slightly aspirational, but if they are too removed from how you actually live your life, they won’t work. So don’t choose values that you think you ‘should’ have, instead choose the ones that most resonate and inspire you.
Ultimately, the best way to understand if something is a core value is to try it out and see how it feels.
Living by your core values should feel good, even if it is difficult at times. And the reverse is also true. If you are not living in line with your core values, it might be easier, but eventually, it will feel incongruent and unsatisfying.
- In Step 1 of the free eBook, I include a list of potential values and explain a process that helps you define your core values
- In this article, I explain a similar process that you can use to define your family values.
Step 2 – Have a vision
Being a dad and a husband can be hard work. It’s easy to get stuck in the day-to-day slog and lose sight of the bigger picture.
“People are working harder than ever, but because they lack clarity and vision, they aren’t getting very far. They, in essence, are pushing a rope with all of their might.”
Dr Stephen R Covey
Having a vision helps remind you where you are heading and why. It’s about beginning with the end in mind. It is based on the principle that all things are created twice. There is a mental creation (in your mind), followed by a physical creation (through your actions).
If you can clearly visualise the person you want to be and the type of relationship and family you want to create, you are more likely to take action that will help you achieve it.
Stephen Covey describes a vision as being like a flight plan. And, as with a flight, you should expect that life won’t always run according to plan. That’s okay!
You need to be flexible and expect that things will change along the way. But having a vision can help get you back on track if you feel lost and it can give you the resilience to push through when times are tough.
There are many different ways to create a vision. Some people like to design a vision board, others like to write it down in words. It doesn’t really matter, as long as it resonates with you and helps you visualise where you are heading and why.
- In step 2 of the free eBook, I explain a process called The Rocking Chair Exercise to help define your personal life vision.
- In this article, I explain how to create a family vision.
Step 3 – Focus on Your Strengths
We all have unique strengths, which can be talents (performance-based) or character traits (personality-based).
Generally, strengths are things we are naturally good at and enjoy doing. And you can tell it’s a strength if you feel energised and confident when using it.
For instance, have you ever had that feeling of being completely “in the zone”? This is what psychologists call flow and it’s an indication that you were probably using one of your strengths.
Finding ways to utilise your unique strengths is a great way to increase your happiness and success in life.
Knowing how to focus on your partner’s strengths, rather than their weaknesses, can help create a happier marriage.
And helping your kids to identify their strengths has been shown to build resilience and grit.
So there are lots of good reasons to focus on strengths. But humans have a negativity bias, which means we are programmed to notice negative things more than positive things.
This is why proactively training yourself (and constantly reminding yourself) to focus on strengths is such a valuable concept to apply to your role as a man, a partner and a dad.
- Complete this online test, to identify your unique strengths (and ask your partner to do it also).
- Learn more about Strength-Based Parenting, in this interview with Dr Lea Waters.
Step 4 – Embrace Your Passions
Every man needs a passion! Our passions are part of our unique personality. They give us character and contribute to our legacy.
But often, when men become husbands and fathers, they forget about their passions, or decide to “put it on hold”.
Why is this?
Maybe you think you are too busy? Maybe you feel guilty spending time away from your family? Or maybe you are made to feel guilty by your partner?
But you should never feel guilty for pursuing a passion. On the contrary, you should feel proud of it.
Having a passion makes you a stronger, more confident and more interesting person. And it sets a great example to your wife and kids. By pursuing your passions and dreams you can inspire them to pursue theirs.
“My father didn’t tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it.”
Clarence Budington Kelland
Don’t worry if you haven’t found your ONE true passion yet. Many people never do. But it’s important you pursue things you are interested in and stick at them long enough to discover if they may develop into a passion.
Your passion could be a sport, a hobby, a business venture – anything at all. But whatever it is, it should be something that takes consistent effort and will make your family proud when you achieve it.
Step 5 – Create Rituals
This step is about taking action and creating behaviours that support your vision and values.
“A goal without a plan is just a wish”
One of the most effective tools for achieving your goals is your habits. But even more powerful than a habit is a ritual.
The rituals we adopt as individuals, couples and families define who we are and leave a lasting impact on our lives.
Rituals can be simple daily activities such as meditating, reading a bedtime story to your kids or sharing a cup of tea with your wife. They can also be more elaborate, such as a monthly date night or an annual camping trip.
The meaning behind the ritual is more important than the ritual itself. And it’s important they are done consistently and repeatedly in order to reinforce the meaning and ingrain them in your family culture.
There are four types of rituals to consider:
- ‘Me Time’ rituals – to sharpen your saw and stay strong as a man.
- Couple Rituals – to reconnect with your partner and nurture your relationship.
- Family Rituals – to build a family culture and ingrain your family values.
- Daddy Rituals – to connect with each of your kids on a 1:1 basis
Having rituals that support your vision and your values is a great way to ensure you keep doing these things even when life gets busy. It’s about doing what’s important, not being constantly focused on what’s urgent.
Step 6 – The 80/20 Principle
One of the most common complaints I hear from dads is “I just don’t have the time!”
And it’s true that being a parent comes with increased responsibilities and demands on your time. But if you stop and evaluate where you are spending your time, you can soon identify that much of your time is being wasted on unimportant tasks.
It’s what’s called the 80/20 rule (also known as The Pareto Principle) and once you embrace this idea it can completely change your life.
It was first discovered by an Italian economist named Vilfredo Pareto who noticed whilst working in his garden, that 20% of his pea pods were producing 80% of his peas. He then realised the same ratio was represented across various areas of society, industry and business. And it can be applied to almost any area of your life.
The Pareto Principle states that 20% of the input produces 80% of the output.
Or put another way….. 80% of the things you do each day are only making a 20% difference to your results. That’s a terrible investment of time!
“It is not a shortage of time that should worry us, but the tendency for the majority of time to be spent in low-quality ways”.
So, if you want to create more time to focus on the important things, you can start by identifying these time-wasters and eliminating them.
For instance, most people spend at least 4-6 hours a day checking email, social media and other apps. Think about it. That’s more than one-third of your waking hours. One-third of your life.
And if you analyse how you spend your time most days or weeks, you will easily be able to identify other activities like this – things that take a disproportionate amount of time for very limited value.
They can be big or small, but they all add up. So when you identify them, eliminate them, or find ways to do them more efficiently. This will free up more of your time to focus on what’s important in life.
“It’s not always that we need to do more but rather that we need to focus on less.”
Nathan W. Morris
Step 7 – Big Rocks First
In his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey uses a metaphor to demonstrate a time management concept called ‘Big Rocks First’.
Here’s how it works.
Imagine you have a pile of rocks, pebbles and sand that you need to fit into a bucket. There’s only a finite amount of space, but you need to fit everything in.
If you put the sand or the pebbles in first, the bucket is going to fill up with all the tiny stuff and you won’t have room to fit the big rocks. They’ll be sitting on top of all the sand and pebbles and falling out of the bucket.
However, if you put the rocks in first, you can then pour the pebbles and sand in afterwards and it will fill the spaces around the rocks. And everything will fit in the bucket.
Do you get it?
The bucket is your time. The big rocks are the important things (the 20%) the gravel and sand are the unimportant tasks (the 80%).
Whilst the big rocks are important, they are not always urgent, so we often start by doing urgent things and then run out of time for the important things.
This is why you should always allocate time for the big rocks first.
The big rocks are not necessarily bigger tasks, but they are the things that you have decided are most important to the results you want to achieve in life. And they are aligned with your values and vision.
You’ve already identified a few of these big rocks in the previous steps, such as your passion, me-time, couple-time, family rituals and daddy dates. So get these in the diary and make them a priority.
But you can also try to identify other important things that are currently being neglected. Maybe it’s your health, your fitness, your finances or your friends?
Whatever it is, make it a priority and start allocating your time to what’s important rather than always focussing on what’s urgent.
These 7-Steps can help provide a good foundation by giving you the motivation, the mindset and the methods to understand the man, husband and father you want to be.
But it’s really just the start. The job is never done.
You should revisit your values and vision regularly and be prepared to evolve your rituals as circumstances change. Keep reminding yourself to focus on strengths and always try to allocate your time to what’s most important.
The truth is, you can never be the perfect man, partner or dad. But you can continue striving to be better today than you were yesterday.
If you do that, you can live life without regrets, knowing that you gave it your best shot.
Don’t forget to download the free eBook for more information on these 7 concepts and to complete the exercises that help you apply them to your life.