Previous blog challenged us to reflect on how we define success and what needs to happen for us to feel we have ‘achieved’!

As a result of my daughter smashing a window with her head, I redefined success. I made SUCCESS = laughing, and got my children laughing by farting! This laughter sent love and relationship with my children into over drive!

Now don’t get me wrong, this laughter doesn’t mean that we fart on the couch all day, eat bad food and don’t care about the world. One of the comments on previous blog addressed this: ‘How do I get balance between eating ice cream and getting things done?’ This is a great question and here are some thoughts to consider.

The goal is not being the best. The goal is giving everything you got

My up-bringing was old school parenting with a strong focus on children doing as they were told, listening first time and behaving ‘perfectly’. This is how I started to parent my daughter and it did not work! But not all of my upbringing lessons were detrimental. Many underpin who I have become today. For example, I have a deep ‘work ethic’ and a ‘never give up attitude’. Both instilled in me during my childhood/adolescence. The challenge for me was how do I install these in my daughters without compromising the loving relationship we had established through been such a free and easy father.

When reflecting on work ethic and indomitable spirit, they both represent an ‘intention’ to give my all, no matter what! The challenge was to find a concept that my children would understand and reflect these deeper values. The term I evolved was EMPTY THE TANK! (ETT) Both my daughters got this term immediately and it became one of our reference points when hanging out together and doing chores. I made ETT something we talked about all the time! I started using this term in all my ‘daily review’ chats with my daughters; I would ask questions such as “What are you most proud about from how you emptied the tank there today?” ETT became something we discussed and ‘practiced’. And something I modelled in all I did. Here is an example of how it really took off in my youngest daughter!

Using real life moments -not preaching- to grow the deep attitude we want in our kids

My youngest daughter was eight years old and getting ready to go to cross country. I was unable to attend. As she and I both went out the door I asked her:

“What is the most important thing to remember today? She replied… “empty the tank, daddy!”

Later that day when I came home, she came running at me. I asked, “how did it go?” She replied, “I emptied the tank, dad, I ran as hard as I could, and then I walked! Then I ran again and finished!” I said: “good girl, it sounds like you really emptied the tank!” She then asked, “do you want to know where I came?” I said, “absolutely!” She said, “I got 2nd… to last!” Laughed and ran away!

Last comment here: she had no emotional attachment to outcome – no shame for performing so badly! This is critical psychologically for unleashing greatness! In a mind that can’t fail… it will never release or let go and give the person permission to really go for it! So they will never fly!

The ‘fun’ and ‘force’ parenting style in action looks like this

To end this blog let’s compare my parenting philosophy of farting, laughing, empty the tank, to the more traditional parenting practices (such as punishing bad behavior, challenging them to work hard, tidy their rooms, demanding, etc) in a real-life sporting example.

The context is the Weetbix triathlon. This is a massive fun event held in NZ every year where children between the ages of 7 and 14 participate in a really fun small triathlon of different lengths.

My youngest daughter was in the 8-year-old swimming lane waiting for the start of the swim. I push up to the fence as close as I could get to her and fart really loud! She turns to me and pulls a ‘smelly face’ and goes “dad!” I say, “have fun”. She smiles and nods… and then I say, “empty the tank!” She gives me the fierce focused competitive look she does that is her “I mean business’ look, and then smiles. She is ready! A father two or three down from me calls to his daughter, who was sitting close to mine and says, “remember X, last year 15 minutes, 36 seconds! I will start the watch when you hit the water!” He then turns around and races to the pool.

Now in that moment his daughter and my daughter will be having profoundly different experiences! One will be feeling pressure… and one will be feeling ‘freedom’. One feeling excited about what is about to happen. The second potentially dread about failing and letting dad down.

In my clinical psychology role with elite athletes I spend time working with depression, anxiety and body image related issues. These all come from a history of feeling like they have to perform for others… and avoid letting people down; aka success = perfection and avoid imperfection! Anxiety, depression and body image issues come from feeling like they are failures!

When the focus shift from outcome to process, people will find their potential

Now, this blog is about developing deep character in our children, adolescents and ourselves (it is never too late for us to ‘re-shape’ our deeper values) where they/we exhibit indomitable spirit, work ethic and attention to detail for example. And have the ability to be relaxed free spirited people.

If my daughter continues with triathlon she will spend the next ten years of her life living success = empty the tank! Which in an athlete is powerful! It means they push the limits and fail often, because the outcome is secondary to the process! And the process is empty the tank. As a result, they find their potential because they are seeking their limits… the edge to all possibility. Ambition and enthusiasm run wild and they shine on their own free will. She will also be well balanced and a free-spirited person who can relax with friends over ice cream… and laugh at her imperfections, and be accepting of adversity or failing. Very special human right there!

Your turn for some self reflection

How are you currently trying to install work ethic and perseverance in your children, athletes, students for example, and in yourself?

And, is it working or does it feel like you are constantly trying to ‘force’ learning.

We would love to hear your stories and learn from each other. Post your comments.