One of my parenting goals is to raise my kids to be tough-minded. Life is hard and one factor to living a good life is having mental toughness, grit, to get you through the hard times.
I don’t think mental toughness is just an innate personality trait. I think it can be developed.
Of course, doing it wrong could wound your kids. Too much roughness without balancing it with softness could be a bad thing for them.
So, here’s my approach to develop mental toughness in my kids without breaking their spirit.
Encouragement – My kids know their parents are their biggest fans, believers, and supporters. We don’t tell them “you can do anything,” because that’s not true and sets them up for disappointment when they find out that they, in fact, can’t do anything. We *do* tell them they are capable and smart. Most importantly, we repeat one phrase super often…”You can do hard things.”
Tempered praise – Unrestricted praise of children is not good. My kids hear “great job, bud” from me almost every day. But they do not receive gushing, over-the-top praise when they do something well. Why? Because that’s not going to happen in adulthood. Their boss will not throw a party when they mark a task off their todo list, so don’t set that expectation in childhood.
Consistent discipline – We are a household that disciplines. That means we use a mixture of timeouts, restrictions, and spanking. But discipline alone isn’t enough; it has to be consistent. If you threaten to take away a toy, you’ve got to follow through. If an infraction gets a spanking one day and a timeout another day, your kid won’t be able to match behavior to consequences, which is exactly what discipline is supposed to do.
Accountability – One thing I’ve noticed is that, with the onset of ever-present phones, kids are getting away with more nominally bad behavior because their parents just aren’t paying attention. Without paying attention, you can’t hold your kids accountable to behavioral expectations. When they grow up, they will be blind-sided by the level of accountability in adulthood.
Grace – Maintaining consistent discipline does not mean having a household devoid of grace. Grace doesn’t mean withholding discipline. Grace, in our household, means unfettered affection, love, and belonging despite any level of poor behavior. If a kid lights the house on fire, they’ll experience consequences, but they’ll never feel like they are on the “outside” or that their relationship with their parents is damaged.
Over-the-top affection – We are always careful to be tempered in our discipline and our praise of our kids. However, there is one area where we never hold back: affection. Most parents, I think, are good at showing affection to their kids. It comes easy. Those stinking kids are so freaking precious! Just keep pouring it on. There’s no such thing as too much love in a home.
Listen to the Bible, books, and podcasts at 1.5x speed. I have a goal of reading a certain number of books and the Bible. The only way I’ll get that done is by listening while I work out.
Go to sleep at 10pm and aim for 7-8 hours of sleep. This is the habit that will support my workout habit. Asleep at 10pm means awake at 5am without too much difficulty.
Stick to an intermittent fast and time restricted eating. This is going well and it’s easier than I expected it to be.
Take time to put the kids to bed slowly. I’ve always struggled with this, not because I’m in a rush or distracted at night. It’s because I’m wore out! Those kids are nonstop energy and by bed time I’m super ready for them to be in bed and quiet. I’m going to try to slow down and make more time at bed time.
Keep all notifications off on my phone except text messages. I’ve been doing this for a couple months, so the habit is mostly set already. It’s a good one for my focus, presence, and mental health.
Keep all social media apps off my phone and stay logged out in Safari. Again, I’ve done this one for a while and it’s very helpful to keep me from mindlessly picking up my phone in a moment of boredom.
Open an ebook on my phone when I’m bored and want to read something. I’m working at getting better at this. I still tend to read the news instead of reading a book. Books are better.
Benefits so far are: lost 8 pounds, better sleep at night, more focus during the day, no more afternoon doldrums with no energy, and saving money on food. Also, one thing we didn’t expect is that we don’t have to think about 2/3 of the meals we used to think about. That means less planning and talking about food. Win!
Erica has lost 4 pounds, but she was already pretty skinny and now she’s worried about maintaining her current weight (not losing more) and still fasting. She loves the other benefits of intermittent fasting, but doesn’t want to lose more weight.
We’ve been fasting 18-20 hours a day for two weeks now.
My original plan was to fast for 16 hours a day, essentially skipping breakfast every day. After a couple days, 16 hours a day didn’t feel like it would have much impact on my health or weight.
After that, I stretched my daily fast to 2pm, skipping breakfast and lunch and opting for an early-afternoon snack, which usually consisted of a beef stick or jerky and a cup of coffee with cream…still all under 250 calories or so…low carb, of course.
By the way, after an 18 hour fast, coffee with cream tastes like heaven.
For the last week I’ve been stretching the fasting portion of my day to 20 hours. That means I fast from 8pm to 4pm, drinking only water or black coffee during that time. Then I eat a snack at 4pm and a big-but-lean dinner between 6pm and 7pm.
I allow myself a full 1,500 calories at dinner, but take no wheat-based carbs (bread/pasta), limit starchy carbs (potatoes/corn), and load up on protein, veggies, and fats. I try to have an even portion of each of those in a meal.
1,500 calories in one meal is pretty big and I always feel very full, especially as my stomach has been shrinking. A 1,500-calorie meal full of lean, whole food looks and feels like a feast, which is incredibly satisfying. 1,500 calories at McDonalds doesn’t feel like much, but 1,500 calories of good food is a banquet.
I’m also one of those normal people without a particularly fast metabolism. When I eat a calorie-restricted diet, I lose a little, but then my metabolism adjusts and my weight loss will plateau. After a week or two of plateaued weight, I quit and hit the hot wings…hard.
In the Fall of 2018, I stumbled across a Joe Rogan video about intermittent fasting. It was pretty intriguing. Here’s the video (28 minutes long). Skip past the video for a brief written explanation of intermittent fasting and its benefits.
What is Intermittent Fasting?
I did more research on it and learned a lot more. Intermittent fasting, or IF, is regularly fasting for short periods of time. There are different kinds of fasts, so to clarify, the kind of fasting applied in IF is a zero calorie fast, but also excludes zero calorie sweeteners. No foods or drinks with Aspartame, Sucralose, or other artificial sweeteners, either. You can drink water, black coffee, and tea. That’s it.
The “intermittent” part of IF is usually set to a minimum of 16 hours. This is important because your body starts to adjust where and how it accesses calories for energy expenditure at around 16 hours. All of the processes in your body, every movement, every breath, and even every thought takes energy to make it happen. Calories are they fuel that’s burned for that energy to be available for those processes and activities.
After 16 hours of fasting, your body starts to shift slowly. Since the calories from your last meal have been used already, your body will seek calories from other places. Your body stores calories in a couple places. One of those places is your fat stores.
In other words, after 16 hours of fasting, your body will start to pull calories from your fat. That means you’ll lose fat. Yay!
To be clear, it doesn’t look like fat burning efficiency jumps immediately to 100% after 16 hours. From what I’ve learned, it simply starts at 16 hours of fasting. And I’d imagine that 16-hour target is pretty general and most people will not start right at 16 hours. People with a naturally faster metabolism will start sooner. I imagine my body will start later.
Such is life…
Why Intermittent Fasting Is Appealing To Me
There’s a lot of reasons that past diets haven’t worked for me.
I get hungry and grumpy. My body never quite adjusts, so my moods swing drastically more when I’m just reducing calories on a 3 meal/day diet.
I get caught in situations where sticking to a healthy eating regimen is hard, like when you’re invited to a friend’s house for dinner. I live in the South where not eating what’s on your plate is rude.
I have to exercise immense willpower to choose healthy food over delicious food.
Reduced calories on a 3 meal/day diet kills my energy levels and leaves me tired all the time. That means I’ve never been able to have a solid workout routine while on a reduced calorie diet.
The appeal of IF is mainly the following.
I don’t have to decide what to eat so much as deciding to continue not eating. That’s a simpler decision for me.
When I go to a friend’s house, I don’t have to worry about what they’re serving. If I’m in a fast during that time, I can just say, “I’m fasting right now” and people get it.
IF proponents say that fasting won’t kill energy levels, which means I should be able to continue the workout regimen that I established in 2018.
I should be able to get a little more flexibility in what I eat during my eating window. I don’t think bingeing is allowed, but I won’t have to be quite as restrictive when I do eat.
Designing My 2019 Eating Plan with Intermittent Fasting
When I started making my plan for 2019, I knew I wanted to make intermittent fasting part of it. After all, I’ve tried lots of other eating plans and nothing has worked…aside from that one year when I was also severely depressed and had no appetite…which, if you think about it, was most closely related to an intermittent fast.
Since IF is so simple, it doesn’t take much design or planning. In fact, all you have to “plan” is to plan to do nothing related to food for a minimum of 16 hours a day. Eight hours of that is sleep. Four hours of that is post-dinner satisfaction. So the other four hours to cover is the morning, which is just skipping breakfast and eating a late lunch.
Time Restricted Eating, The Other Part of the “IF” Equation
If you are fasting for 16+ hours daily, that means you’re only eating during a short, specific window each day. That’s the essence of Time Restricted Eating. Since you are only taking in calories during a short window of time, your body can run its food processor more efficiently. Your body isn’t processing the last meal still when you put new food into the system.
The other benefits of Time Restricted Eating are:
I should save some money by simply eating fewer meals, even if those meals are generally a bit larger than a typical calorie-restricted diet. After all, eating three 500 calorie meals is more expensive than a single 1500 calorie meal. It’s the same energy input for your body, but one meal is cheaper than three.
I’ll save time throughout the day by not spending time eating. I typically spend about two hours total eating breakfast and lunch. That’s two hours I’m reclaiming every day when I choose to eat fewer meals.
I’m Curious About Regular, Prolonged Fasting
Most of my research has been around IF, but prolonged fasting is also something I’m interested in. Apparently, prolonged fasting has some amazing health benefits.
A prolonged fast is considered any fast that lasts longer than 24 hours. Many people fast once a year for a week or more as a cleanse or a spiritual commitment. The longest water fast, when you only drink water and nothing else, is over 380 days.
Some of the purported benefits of prolonged fasting are:
Significant fat loss without muscle loss
Decreased inflammatory responses in the body, like arthritis or migraines
Increased mental focus
Prolonged ketosis, where your body is burning fat cells for energy exclusively
Increased production of stem cells
Increased immune system response
These benefits aren’t entirely proven…at least not all of them. However, fat loss without muscle loss, prolonged ketosis, and increased mental focus are very real benefits.
So, that’s my 2019 eating plan. I’ve already begun the IF regimen and I’m looking for a chance to commit to a prolonged fast in a safe way and at a time that I can maintain the fast. Since we’re doing a good bit of travel in the first half of the year, that might be tough.
I like making plans for the new year. I think it’s fun and motivating. I don’t think I’m more likely to accomplish New Year’s Resolutions than any other goal throughout the year. I just like to do it.
I used to smugly say that I don’t do New Year’s Resolutions. If you’re a no-resolution kind of person, that’s okay. No hate from me.
But now I like it. I like having something new to start the year with and strive for. A full year feels like it’s long enough to set some ambitious goals and I tend to dream a little bigger.
How I Make Resolutions
When I make a New Year’s Resolution, it’s not always constrained to that year. Some of my resolutions are goal-based and I hope to hit those goals long before the end of the year. For example, I’d like to lose a certain amount of weight this year. That definitely should not take a year.
Some are longer than a year. For example, I’d like to thru-hike either the Appalachian Trail or the Pacific Crest Trail. Neither of those will happen this year, but this is the year I set my eyes on a big hike. That means this year I’ll be working toward that big hike by making several smaller multi-day hikes.
For all of my New Year’s Resolutions, I start softly in October or November. This year I’ll be setting an exercise goal, related to my weight loss goal, and I started that exercise routine in October. I like to build habit and routine as momentum heading into the new year. I feel like this gives me a better chance of making it to Easter with consistency on habit-based goals.
Finally, I don’t talk about my specific goals for the new year. I used to, but I don’t anymore because I’ve read that talking about your goals isn’t helpful unless you’re working with an accountability partner who has some authority to help you accomplish your goals.
Apparently, if you talk about your goals before you accomplish them, you get the pleasant chemical release (dopamine?), which disincentivizes you from continuing toward your goals. The dopamine acts like a reward before you’ve earned it.
My Goal Categories This Year
The areas where I’m aiming to improve in 2019 are:
Health: exercise routine, eating habits, and two specific goals related to amount/volume of exercise completed in 2019 and a goal weight
Growth: book and Bible reading routine, number of books read this year, and learning a specific new skill I’ve been meaning to learn for a while
Business: revenue and profit margin growth, customer count growth, and launching a specific initiative aimed at international missionaries
Fun: travel-related goals, hiking and camping goal, and blogging/vlogging goals
When it comes to my health goals, I’ve already established the exercise habit, but the eating habits will be harder for me. My growth goals are more straight forward and can be planned with a calendar. My business goals are completely interdependent on my team, which means my business goals are really leadership goals. My travel and hiking trips are already planned and paid for the entire year, so those will be happening unless God intervenes.
What About You?
I’d love to hear how you plan for the new year and what your goal categories are. And if you’re documenting your progress online, share a link so I can follow along.