Setting the Pattern

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Each weekday, my children arrive home about two hours before my wife does, giving me two hours where it’s just dad and the kids.

Most days, they’re pretty happy to do whatever I suggest, but if I don’t happen to have an idea for them, they’ll go out in the back yard and play or, if the weather is poor, down to the family room and watch a television show.

While I don’t mind playing in the back yard so much, it’s very important to me that they establish good habits for the end of their school day. I want them to be involved in something active and productive, not something passive.

I witnessed the dangers of coming home and being passive in my own life. For my entire educational career and the first few years of my professional career, I would come home from work and just kick back with a book or a television show.

That routine damaged my finances, as I found myself accepting a huge cable bill and buying lots of books. It damaged my connections to other people, as I was spending time alone. Most of all, it was gobbling down time that I could have used for other things.

It was that time that enabled me to launch The Simple Dollar. It was that time that enabled me to write multiple books. And, now, it is that time that I can use to set the course for whether I’m a successful parent or whether I’m not a successful one.

I’ve set a positive pattern with the use of that first hour or two after my work is done, and it’s one I want to pass on to my children.

So, when they come home, I make sure to greet them with a healthy snack of some kind – usually fruit. I talk to them about their day while they eat their snack. Then, I try to engage them in some sort of worthwhile activity after that. We might play a thoughtful board game, read books together, or play together in the back yard. Sometimes, we’ll do science experiments, like looking for bugs or flowers or doing some basic kitchen chemistry. Last year, in October and November, we worked on homemade Christmas gifts. The point is to fill that time with something positive, not something sedentary or negative.

The point here isn’t to talk about my parenting skills. Rather, the idea is that you have to actively work at establishing good routines and patterns in your life.

They don’t come easy. Often, we follow the “path of least resistance.” We get home from work and flop down to watch a television show or something relaxing.

Establishing a better routine takes work, over and over again, until it feels so natural that it becomes the “path of least resistance.”

You can’t just spend one day after work doing something worthwhile. You have to make sure to do it every day until your mind and your energy level and the success of your efforts make it seem like the best route.

Until then, you have to constantly nudge yourself to do it. You have to push yourself into a better pattern. It’s not easy, but the rewards are life-changing.

The trick is to find a place in your life where a better routine can replace a poor one. Maybe it’s eating a better lunch or establishing a better routine when you get home. Whatever it is, it shouldn’t involve adding more to your life without taking something out. If you’re going to start running for thirty minutes each day, what are you eliminating to make room for it?

Once you’ve figured that out, it’s all about reminding yourself constantly and then waiting for your mind and body to adjust. If the new routine truly is better, the rewards will show up throughout your life.

A better life is all about setting the pattern, whether it’s getting healthier, spending less money, or simply being a better parent.

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