Updated: Jul 19, 2019
“Man, I’ve really messed up. What’s wrong with me?! Why can’t I control myself? How come I keep making the same mistake?!”
Guys, do any of you recognize that voice?
Any chance it could be your own?
I heard that persistent voice every time I messed up as a dad. No matter how big or small, I lived in condemnation.
I wanted to be a great dad and loving husband. I also wanted to create a thriving family built on a foundation of faith and love. If you’re reading this post, I imagine you have similar goals.
But as the persistent voice kept telling me – I was falling short. Repeatedly.
I had a huge wound because of my own dad, and I was determined to change it for my family. Deep in my soul, being a dad was the one thing I wanted to succeed at more than anything. Every time I failed, I felt the weight of my past hurt overshadowing my desire for change. And it was destroying my ability to fully engage as a dad.
If you struggle with similar pain from your past and desire to change, then read on to learn 5 keys to let go of your mistakes, and walk forward into freedom every day.
1. Recognize Your Own Internal Voice
How do you speak to yourself? If it’s like the opening of this article, you’re keeping yourself trapped. To move towards freedom and forgiveness, you must change your internal voice.
Research has shown that negative self-talk (that destructive inner voice) contributes to higher levels of stress and lower self –esteem, The cascading results of this pattern can lead to decreased motivation, greater feelings of helplessness and may even lead to depression.
Isn’t it time you began speaking to yourself with the affirmations of the quality dad you are becoming?
2. Become Aware of Your Triggers
For me, negative self-talk started when I repeated the mistakes I saw my dad make. I became harsh and angry instead of loving and patient. Inevitably, I kept hurting the people that mattered most to me.
My heart wanted change, but my habits kept me stuck.
When I examined what was happening, there were very clear triggers that led to negative emotional habits. If I was disrespected. If my perspective or feelings were disregarded. When life circumstances felt like they were getting out of control.
All of these triggers resulted in immediate negative internal reactions (i.e. bad emotional habits). Depending on the severity, they could keep me in a ‘funk’ for a few hours. At worst, it could be days.
Take stock of what happens next time you’re triggered. Assess what events, situations, or behaviours contribute to your reactions. Building awareness of these triggers is the starting point for growth, and ultimately making different choices.
3. Acknowledge And Feel Your Feelings
Recognizing the root of the internal feelings that come when a circumstance triggers you is critical. In Emotional Intelligence 2.0, Dr. Travis Bradberry refers to the ‘emotional hijacking’ that occurs when our emotions override the rational part of our brain.
What happens next can vary from person to person, but too often those emotions get shut down or dismissed. Without properly processing emotions, we never experience the release that comes on the other side of actually addressing them.
This may be the most difficult part of the process. Many men are conditioned by culture or their past to dismiss feelings and 'toughen up'. The disastrous downside to this can leaves us emotionally hardened, or volatile. But there is hope. Like any skill, this can be learned and simply takes practice. Dr. Travis Bradberry's book above is a great starting point. The additional benefit beyond overcoming mistakes? Emotional intelligence is directly related to your ability to be successful in life.
4. Own Your Recovery
Awareness of the internal voice, triggers and feelings is a powerful starting point. But to move beyond knowledge into application requires action. This is why owning your recovery matters.
You must take the necessary steps required to actively and intentionally engage in the above process – as much and as long as it takes to see progress. Starting helps, but finishing transforms.
Starting helps, but finishing transforms.
Once you know where you need help, then get moving. Seek advice, ask a friend, find resources, commit to making change. Most importantly, believe you can make the change necessary.
5. Retrain Your Thoughts
The question that stopped my destructive self-talk was posed by a coach, “Why are you so hard on yourself?” Simple enough, but it forced me to evaluate what was underneath the critical and negative thoughts I replayed in my mind.
Another shift came after the coach’s next comment “You know, everything you do is a model for your kids. If you’re so hard on yourself, what are you teaching them?”
I was stopped in my tracks. The best way for me to help my kids was to retrain my thoughts about myself. In the process, I would begin to model a healthier self-image.
That ‘aha’ moment became the catalyst to stepping into a process that realigned my thoughts and actions with the truth that I could be a great dad.
No matter where you are as a dad, you can choose to embrace the freedom that comes from letting go of your mistakes. When you do, you'll begin to reap the rewards for your life and family.