What is the secret to increased professional performance, a better marriage, and a better relationship with your children? The first step may be to stop lying to yourself.
I wish I could claim to have had this great insight myself. I was reminded of it this weekend while listening to a speaker at a conference. It reminded me of the book Leadership and Self-Deception, which says something similar.
Now, Leadership and Self-Deception is a book you should probably read once a year. In fact, I’m probably due to read it again… It was recommended to me back in 2006 by an amazing leader: Colonel Scott Snook, a professor at Harvard Business School and a former West Point instructor.
I’m not going to write a book summary (see this link: Leadership and Self-Deception if you are looking for a summary), so let me just summarize it as easily as possible: “Stop lying to yourself.”
Here is an example from the book that explains the concept:
Imagine it is the middle of the night and you have a baby who is crying. You feel you should get up but you don’t want to. As you lie there listening you begin to wonder if your wife is going to get out of bed to take care of the baby. Time goes by and you begin to blame her and think that she is irresponsible.
You then begin to think about how responsible you are and how hard you work. You begin to betray the way you think you should be towards another person (i.e. towards your child and your wife).
This is what the authors call self-betrayal (a.ka. lying to yourself), in that as we betray what we believe we should do for another person, we begin to blame the other person as a part of our self-justification.
In other words, when you behave in a way that is incongruent with how you believe you should behave towards someone else, you try to see the world in ways that justify it… i.e. you are lying to yourself.
Can you stop lying to yourself?
I’m going to call out fathers like me for a minute. If you ask most of us what the most important thing in our life is, it is family.
Now, I haven’t run a survey, but I’m guessing that if I were to ask 1,000 dads across the country what the top 3 things you need to do to preserve your family are they would be:
- Provide financially
- Spend quality time with your kids
- Nurture your relationship with your wife
I also think that this would be the order they would be prioritized in by most men.
Here’s the self-deception: I think many fathers spend so much time on item #1 that they spend very little time on #2 and #3.
I believe that we tend to lie to ourselves by justifying the amount of time we spend with our kids due to the importance we place on our role as providers. (See my post Why even successful people need career coaches)
Let me ask you:
How much time each day do you invest in uninterrupted quality time with your kids?
I’m not talking about helping the kids get dressed, eat dinner, and all the routine stuff you do while intermittently looking at your smartphone. I’m talking about quality, uninterrupted focused time with them.
Now you may find that you spend a good bit of time with your kids. The next question is:
How much time each day do you invest in nurturing your relationship with your spouse?
I don’t mean fixing the garage door and the typical household guy chores we all have, but rather the stuff that matters to her.
What are reasonable answers to the above? An hour a day for your kids? An hour a day for your wife? Half of that? Double that?
Here is something that is nuts. I would guess that in a typical weekday I spend less than half an hour of fully engaged, focused time on my kids (beyond all the daily chores, driving them to school, etc, etc).
I would also say that I spend less than half an hour nurturing my relationship with my wife (probably a lot less).
I would say I spend roughly 10-12 hours of focused time a day on my business.
As you can see, I’m grossly underinvesting in 2/3 of the things that will help me keep my family strong… and I don’t think I’m alone… and personally, I’m going to change that.
What are you getting in return?
Somewhere I think we fathers tend to think that we should reap the rewards of love and affection from our family for working damn hard at being providers. When we don’t get that affection because we are missing 2/3 of the equation, we tend to look outside for love and/or a sense of worth.
Here is the lie we tell ourselves: we are justified in looking outside because we are providing for our family and getting little in return.
Here are just two of the stories we tell ourselves:
“I provide for my family, why don’t they value me more? Why are they so ungrateful?”
“I’m a great provider and a great father, why doesn’t my wife appreciate that?”
In fact, we are investing in an unbalanced portfolio and getting crappy returns. It shouldn’t surprise us.
What to do?
Step one: stop lying to yourself and own the reality of your situation.
Step two: create new habits that create a consistent investment in your kids and your spouse.
I believe in experiments. Try a new habit: play with your kids for an uninterrupted 20 minutes each day, spend 10 minutes picking up the house after the kids are asleep, or do whatever you think will make a difference for your wife. Try it for 2 weeks and see what happens.
Personally, I feel like I have a great relationship with my wife and kids. I also think it can be better, and that is something I’m willing to invest in…