Three Ways to Macguyver Your Dad Brain

As a father, you are faced with responsibilities every day: figuring out how you will divide your time between family and career, parenting, completing your “honey-do” list or other household tasks, or maybe you are training for a marathon or triathlon or are trying to lose weight. Balancing these responsibilities can be like having to juggle flaming torches with a blindfold while walking across a tightrope. At times, it might feel like it wouldn’t take much for it all to come crashing down. Even Macguyver could find it difficult to figure this out. When these things are unbalanced, it can be difficult to experience joy and satisfaction. It can seem that as a father, it is a requirement to perform a balancing act between what you need to do, what others ask you to do, and what you want to do.

The result? Less enjoyment and satisfaction in your life - You stay up late to get more work done, skip lunch in order to make that extra run to the store, show up late to work because you forgot your briefcase. Maybe its none of those, and instead simply high levels of strain and stress, which can impact other areas of your life (i.e. decreased libido). The myth that you need to be a super-dad in order to be a good dad, I think, can weigh on any father; you may find yourself toiling through the week to get everything done, and as Macguyver was often forced to do, solve a complex problem using only a few tools. So, dads before you brew another pot of coffee to help you stay up later tonight, here are three things you can do to help Macguyver your brain to experience more enjoyment.

Sidebar: Did you know that in the pilot episode, Macguyver not only short circuits a missile using a paperclip, but he also makes a rocket thruster out of a flare, uses a fire hose to move a large steal beam, and relays a message, using Morse code, through a facilities’ lighting system, to send a warning signal to stop a missile. All in a days work.

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1. Drop the all-or-nothing thinking. This approach can cause you to see extremes, rather than the middle ground.

It can be a father’s nightmare to have no progress, whether on a project at home or work, or even in your own exercise plan. Consider this as the example: you wanted to get a workout in, but your child woke up from his/her nap early. You might get moody and frustrated since you were looking forward to your workout. Your partner and kid(s) notice, and an argument ensues. In this case, all-or-nothing thinking might include a thought of, “if I miss this workout, my training will be a bust,” or, “I have to get this training session in, otherwise I’m going to gain weight.” This type of thinking leads you to the conclusion that you’re stuck and that you will be less prepared for your next workout or competition.

First off, not true. Second, what good does it do you to focus on the supposed outcome, when you aren’t even there yet? You aren’t laying the foundation to a new home, because sure, a delay there could cause a big backup in future work. In this sense, allowing yourself to be stuck in an all-or-nothing thought pattern can definitely cause a decrease in immediate enjoyment. Staying up late to get that workout in may not be the best thing for you, your weight, or your training. Instead, focus on those things within your control and think about how acting in those areas can benefit you.

2. Don’t jump to conclusions. You might remember the 1988 movie, Big, starring a young Tom Hanks. Central to the movie was Zoltar, the magical wishing machine, to which Tom Hanks’ character makes a wish that ultimately comes true. This machine is similar to a fortune telling machine, which can, you guessed it, predict the future. Now…sorry to burst your bubble, dads, you can’t tell the future, try as you might.

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Here’s an example. Its been a busy day at work, and all you want is some intimate time with your partner. You get home, your house is a mess, the kids need baths, and you hear your partner yelling about how the youngest painted your walls with mud. You say to yourself, there is no way this is happening. Your heart sinks, as does your libido; both are replaced with frustration and irritability as you just know that what you played out in your imagination will not happen. This style of thinking, fortune telling, can lead us to predict that all the mess, the kids and the fresh mud paint will inhibit any and all sexual intimacy. By putting an end to the fortune telling, you can cut down on the frustration and irritability that arises from our negative expectations, and you can exist in the present, one which may or may not lead to the sumthin-sumthin.

3. Do…separate your opinion from fact. As a father, what do you consider your job to be? Is it to guide and lead your family? To set good examples for your children? In both of these, or any role you might have as a father, the potential for you to mix, or mistake, fact with opinion is there. By the way, the answers to those two examples are facts.

For example, you may think to yourself that in order to be the best dad, “I need to get in my daily workout,” or as a father, “I deserve to be catered to by my spouse/partner.” Both of these statements are opinions. No, you don’t always need to get in a workout, and you certainly don’t need to be catered to by your spouse/partner. However, separating the two can be challenging. Maybe you want or would like those things, but they will not make you a better or more complete dad. But, if you hold to them as though they are fact, and they don’t come true, how do you think you will feel? Here’s another one, “my kids require my attention when they are talking to me.” That is a fact. Your children require your attention. That means getting rid of the phone or tablet, and spending that one-to-one time. No opinions there.

Here’s an exercise that can help to Macguyver out of the unrealistic standards or beliefs created by the mix-up of statement and fact: create a list of statements you believe about yourself, or bonafide experiences, (e.g. I am bad, Others must cater to me, I yelled when I got angry) and label them as fact or opinion. Doing this can help us to distinguish between the two when they happen in our own thinking, which can help you to experience greater satisfaction and enjoyment in your life.

Have any other ideas? Feel free to comment below about what has helped you.

Thank you for reading,

Dr. Alex

Please note, by reading this or replying you acknowledge that this does not constitute a therapeutic relationship or agreement to receive treatment. None of the content provided replaces a therapeutic relationship.

A good ole' sit & think

I started thinking about this topic while I was rocking my youngest son back to sleep this morning (5:50AM). While rocking back and forth in the glider hoping that my son would go back to sleep long enough that I could have a dream, I started to envision all of the things I needed to do today. Church, cleaning, paperwork, taking care of the kids, taxes, mortgage, the nature of string theory and how it could relate to the human mind... In my early 20's this kind of processing would have required two, maybe three, cups of dark-roast coffee. Alas, this was not to be in my morning. Instead, my son looked up at me, eyes wide, as if saying, "I'm ready to go, why aren't you?" The silence we enjoyed together was ended by his near-toddler egging and grunting. "Time to go," it meant.

As much as I would have preferred for my son to have willingly fallen back asleep, there is a silver lining to our quiet time together. I believe it is pretty well accepted that we live in a noisy world. Cars, airplanes, music, construction...all noises most of us experience on a daily basis. This is a modern phenomenon, though. Imagine 100's of years ago when we did not have the same level of noise. What would you experience at night? Silence. Today, when we experience that it can be somewhat uncomfortable and unsettling. Where did the noises go? Why aren't there cars driving down my street, or the noise of my neighbors yelling in excitement? Did something happen? 

Some research has linked the experience of noise, or noise pollution, in the office and community, to increased stress, sleep loss, and psychological symptoms, but not with psychiatric disorders. Interestingly, it also leads to increased levels of chatecholemine secretion - this is a hormone that is helps us respond to stress (think fight or flight). Scientists and clinicians have been aware of this for awhile now. The research on this subject is amazing - noise pollution, coming in the form of airplane and jet noise, has an impact on children's neurodevelopment, and can lead lower reading scores and slower development of cognitive and language skills!

Now, I am not saying that you should cancel your plans to visit New York City next summer. Rather, as a psychologist in clinical practice, I would encourage thoughtful exploration of the amount of time you, and your family, spend in quiet thought and exploration. Do you have the television on as soon as you and the kids get home up until dinner, and even during? Try to see what it is like without it on. For a long time I had gotten used to having the news on 24/7 - it helps me focus and provided useful distractions during my years in school. I know it can be hard to make such a shift. The television can become a part of the family, always there when you need it. If this is the case, try a week without it, and instead turn on the radio. "Alexa, play my 'keep my mind off the fact I am not watching the latest episode of Game of Thrones' radio." 

Although it may seem small, the importance of adapting to this change is significant. Thanks to advances in technology, any show that I want to watch is available to me. Type it in online, or enter the channel number into my remote, and voila, my desire is satiated. This is also known as instantaneous gratification - the opposite of our childhood archnemesis, delayed gratification (actually a hero). For children especially, the development of the ability to delay gratification can lead to positive outcomes in school and in life. The same can be said for us as adults. Our ability to delay gratification is synonymous with impulse control. Having media and electronic stimuli available nearly everywhere really may not promote the development of impulse control. The practice of sitting with our thoughts, without acting, without avoiding, without judging, even, is tough. Yet, doing so can be good for our health

As I finish writing and researching this post, the sun is now up. My youngest son has now eaten his way through his breakfast. I have not gotten back to sleep. I am grateful for that. I was given this gift of extra time with my son that I otherwise would not have. I look forward to see what other aspects of my day this will change. 

Give it a try, today, tonight or tomorrow. Spend some time in thought. In silence or quiet. One of the shows my oldest son loves is Sarah and Duck. In it, Sarah, the main character, and duck, her pet, spend time in thought. They call it, "sit and think." I would encourage you do the same. Give yourself the time and space to have a sit and think of your own. See what happens.

For some more information and helpful tips on mindfulness, consider scheduling an appointment with us.