When you’re grinding it out in 1 Player mode, your mind can be your worst enemy. In my first year as a single dad, I was dealing with the fallout from the end of my relationship, working full-time and parenting on my own four nights a week (while learning how to do this on-the-job), travelling to Auckland regularly for work (where my head office was based), running a household, and trying to balance the other aspects of my life, like catching up with friends and training. Dealing with so many challenges like this on your own can take a significant toll on you mentally, physically and spiritually. In this state of heightened stress, it’s easy for negative thought patterns to creep in and start dominating your thoughts.

So it’s crucial that you keep on top of your mental game to keep everything else running as smoothly as possible. In The 1 Player Dad Strategy Guide I talk about the importance of seeking professional help for your mental wellbeing, but there’s also ways that you can improve your mental wellbeing every day to keep you in a good space when you’re under the gun.

The Five Ways to Wellbeing

The Five Ways to Wellbeing are a collection of simple, everyday activities that you can use to improve your wellbeing. They were developed by the New Economic Foundation based on research into mental wellbeing for the UK Government in 2008, so it’s good to know they’ve got a bit of evidence behind them.

Without further ado, the Five Ways are: Connect, Learn, Take Notice, Give, and Keep Active. Below are some ideas about how you can use the Five Ways to Wellbeing when you’re in 1 Player mode to help keep your head in the game.

Connect: Talk and listen, be there, feel connected. Connecting with others is an essential part of your wellbeing, and of being human – as the saying goes, no man is an island. As a single dad, it’s likely that much of your time outside of work will be spent in 1 Player mode looking after your child(ren), so you need to take the opportunity to connect with people as much as possible. Connecting with others increases your wellbeing in many ways, from helping you focus on other things than your difficulties, spending time out of 1 Player mode, and you’ll likely be having fun! Here’s a few ways to Connect in 1 Player Dad mode:

  • Schedule regular catch ups such as coffee, dinners with family and/or friends. As I mentioned in The 1 Player Dad Strategy Guide, after I became a single dad and had moved back to Wellington, one of the things I established early on was a regular Sunday dinner with my close friends to connect with them on a regular basis. It was a great way to spend time with them, share in food and laughter, and have someone else do the dishes one night a week!
  • Get active with mates – a two-for-one deal, as keeping active is also one of the Five Ways to Wellbeing. One of the things that made a big difference to my wellbeing about a year after I entered 1 Player mode was joining the gym, as around the same time one of my mates joined the same gym and we started training together. We only train together once a week, but it’s time that I value in connecting with my friend and others who I also see at the gym, and it’s also vital for getting out of the house – something I definitely needed to do more often.
  • Connect online – yeah, I know. It’s not real, those people are fake electronic phantoms that will make you hate your life, blah blah blah. Ok that’s a bit extreme, but the reality is I spend at least 4 nights a week at home when I have my daughter, and unfortunately child services frown upon the idea of leaving her at home while I dash out for a few rounds of Tekken with the boys, so the interwebs it is. Facebook is my usual weapon of choice, which I mainly use to share video game trailers, comic book movie rumours or the latest funnies i’ve pinched off imgur.com. I also post up on the 1 Player Dad Facebook page on a not-regular-enough basis.
  • Catch a show with some mates – the last movie I watched was The Avengers: Age of Ultron, and ended up rounding up 10 of my fellow comic-nerd mates. Sports events, Comedy shows, theatre, live music, anything that gets you out and about with your mates.
  • For more ideas, check out the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand’s suggestions here: http://www.mentalhealth.org.nz/home/ways-to-wellbeing/connect-whakawhanuangatanga/


Keep Learning: Learning new things is fun. Ok, this may sound a bit geeky, but i’m not suggesting you go out and sign up for a statistics class (unless that’s your thing. And if it is…you’re weird. But that’s cool). Learning a new skill, taking up a hobby you’ve always wanted to try, or delving into new knowledge can be enjoyable, opening your mind to new possibilities and ways of thinking, connect you with other like-minded people, and boost your self-esteem as you acquire and master new skills and knowledge. Here’s some tips on how to learn in 1 Player Dad mode:

  • Ever wanted to try a new hobby/sport/skill? If you’ve just become a single dad, why not use this new beginning to try something you’ve always wanted to do? After a year or so in 1 Player mode, I started looking for a new physical activity to do. I ended up joining the gym and getting into calisthenics, which was great fun and I enjoyed learning new exercise techniques. I also tried a few free intro classes of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, which I enjoyed so much that it’s next on my to-do list.
  • Is there something you need to learn to up your Dad game? One of the big things I learned when I entered 1 Player Dad mode is how to cook, which I explain in this post where I increased my recipe repertoire to OVER 9000. I also needed to learn how to shop for girls clothes, since my experience in this was about zero.
  • Take a class – whether it’s professional development/training opportunities through your workplace, or evening/weekend classes if your schedule allows, taking a class is a great place to learn something new and meet new people. At the end of August 2014 I participated in a Startup Weekend in Wellington, which could be described as an intense form of business education torture/accelerated learning. A room full of strangers pitch business ideas, form teams and create businesses over the course of a weekend, at the end of which they pitch their ideas to a lineup of judges. Having no business training myself but a keen interest and enthusiasm, I participated in what was one of the most intense weekends of my life, but also one of the most rewarding in terms of the learnings gained and connections with like-minded people.
  • Learn from your kids – this one is on a slightly different tack, and links to the ‘Connect’ action above. My journey as a parent both in two and 1 Player mode has taught me a lot about myself – my tendencies as a parent (and the things I picked up from my own parents), how I react to the numerous parenting challenges that you can only learn to address ‘on the job’, my hopes and dreams and especially my fears in becoming a father and responsible for the future of more than just myself. But also, seeing the world through the eyes of my daughter as she grows and is able to express herself more and more as each day passes – she has such a cheeky, effervescent, inquisitive outlook that if nothing else makes me smile and reminds me what the important things are in life.
  • More tips on how to keep learning from the Mental Health Foundation here: http://www.mentalhealth.org.nz/home/ways-to-wellbeing/keep-learning-whakatewhatewha/


Take Notice: Remember the simple things that give you joy. Stopping and taking note of the little things in life, which when you think about it, are really the big things, helps calm your mind when you’ve probably got a million things running through it in 1 Player mode. Whether it’s pausing to appreciate the wonder of your surroundings when you’re out in nature, really engaging in time with your little one(s) or friends and family without checking your phone every two minutes, or just taking a moment to appreciate the good things in your life can bring the everyday challenges of parenting in 1 Player mode into perspective.

  • “Wherever you are, be there” – one way to take notice is to practice being in the moment in whatever you’re doing, and not thinking about anything else other than that task or activity. So if you’re playing with your child, focus on that only and not on projects at work that need doing, or all the cleaning you need to catch up on.
  • Take pleasure in the simple things – When you’re taking care of business in 1 Player mode, the budget can be pretty tight. Don’t worry though – you don’t need to spend money when spending time with your kids, with a little creativity and thinking you can engage in some quality time with your little ones that won’t break the bank. Go to the park, the beach, go for a walk along the water, get some boxes from the supermarket and make a fort. Think of things you used to do in your youth when there were no iPhones or super techno gadgets the kids have nowadays.
  • Waiting for something, like the doctor or a bus, plane, etc.? Take the opportunity to notice your surroundings, rather than burying yourself in your headphones or your smart phone. Have a look at your environment and see if you can notice anything you wouldn’t normally see. Do a bit of people watching and notice those around you and their interactions with others.
  • Get outside on the regular – a great way to recharge during the work day is to get out of the office and go for a walk or spend your lunch break at a park. Gives your body a break from that desk-bound position a lot of workers are in for the majority of the day.
  • More ideas on Taking Notice can be found here: http://www.mentalhealth.org.nz/home/ways-to-wellbeing/take-notice-kia-mataara-mohiotanga/


Give: Sometimes this feels like one of the trickier Ways to Wellbeing to engage in as a single dad. How do you find the time, energy or resources to give to others when you’re doing the hard yards on your own? It’s not always easy, but finding ways to give it’s definitely worth it for the joy you can bring others, as well as the rewards you experience for helping someone. It’s also a great way to Connect with others, something that’s always valuable when you’re playing in 1 Player mode.

  • One of the easiest ways to give is with your words – simple to give, but it can make a huge impact to others. Giving someone a compliment or telling them that you appreciate them can really brighten up their day, and you never know when those words are needed by the recipient.
  • Cook a meal – Invite a friend or two (or three) around and cook dinner, or maybe make a big batch and take some over to someone who you know is in need. Not too flash on the cooking front? Check out my 1 Player Chef post to get started.
  • Do you have any skills that you could use to help out others in need? Whether it’s coaching your children’s sports team, helping design a flyer for a local event, or baking a cake for a school fundraiser, offer your expertise as a way to give something valuable from your skillset.
  • Get rid of the clutter around your home by giving it to someone in need – kids are constantly outgrowing clothes, toys etc., so pass them on to someone you know who might be able to use them or donate them to a local charity.
  • More tips for giving can be found here: http://www.mentalhealth.org.nz/home/ways-to-wellbeing/give-koha-me-te-aroha/


Be Active: This is definitely one of the ways to wellbeing that I make an effort to set time aside for each week. I’ve always been involved in a physical activity of some sort since I was a child, and it’s helped keep me in relatively good shape in my later years to allow me to keep up with an increasingly active toddler. Apart from the many physical benefits, being active also helps keep your mind healthy, improves your mood, and its fun! Oftentimes challenging and can give you a sense of accomplishment depending on what you get into, it can also be a great way to meet other people and express yourself physically. There are so many benefits that it’s probably my favourite way to wellbeing.

  • Firstly, you need to make time for it. My schedule in 1 Player mode can be full on at times, especially in my first year as a single dad where I was regularly commuting to Auckland for work every other week, but I tried to make sure I got some form of physical exercise at least twice a week. There were plenty of other things I could be doing with the time, but I’ve always prioritised my physical fitness because it’s a crucial component of my overall wellbeing.
  • Make it part of your daily life – on the days I don’t have my daughter and i’m organised enough, I make the 30 minute walk to and from work in the mornings to add to my activity levels and save a few dollars on bus fares. From taking the stairs, getting off your bus a few stops early, walking meetings or getting out during your work day, think of ways you can schedule physical activity into your day that don’t require you to change into gym clothes.
  • Give it a crack – keen to start a new physical activity but not sure what to pick up? Most classes have a ‘free class/trial’ option, so hit up your friends and social networks for suggestions – i’ve done this a few times and have come back with so many great suggestions I need more hours in the day/days in the week to do them!
  • Be active with your kids – don’t let them have all the fun, get stuck in and show them how it’s done! Look into all the options in your area, and don’t think they have to cost the world – some free/cheapoptionscan be
    • Exploring new parks and playgrounds in your area
    • Make a splash at the swimming pool or beach
    • Have a dance battle and show them your best Dad grooves
    • Get out in nature and go for a hike/bush walk
  • Be active with your work colleagues – if you can’t fit in some physical activity before or after work, how about during the work day? Spend a lunch break or two playing social work sport, or hit the gym for a quick workout during the day. It might even give your brain a boost and help you overcome the dreaded afternoon sleepiness that has many of us reaching for the coffee or energy drinks.
  • Do you have experience in a sport/physical activity that you could pass on to others? Why not teach it? Keep yourself active, pass on your knowledge, meet people, maybe even make a bit of money on the side – the list goes on.
  • For more tips on being active, check out: http://www.mentalhealth.org.nz/home/ways-to-wellbeing/be-active-mahi-kakama/


So that’s some of the ways I keep my head in the game in 1 Player Dad mode, but anyone can use these to improve or maintain their wellbeing on a regular basis. What’s some of your favourite ways to improve your wellbeing in 1 Player Dad mode? Let us know below!