Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Midnight Thinking

Written by: on April 16, 2024

Clear Thinking was a great book to end the semester on. It was a quick, easy read and applicable to many different situations. Shane Parrish builds on his experience within the Canadian Intelligence Agency and shares how to think through problems clearly, allowing oneself to make good, consistent decisions. He encourages good decision making by recognizing our defaults, setting up guardrails and being consistent. This book became immediately applicable to real-life parenting within hours of finishing it. It helped me think clearly and save a relationship.

Last night, my seventeen-year-old daughter did not come home from work on time. This behavior is fairly abnormal, but she has been known to stop and pick up late night fast food. She was supposed to be home by 9:30pm but after 11pm I woke up to make sure she was safe at home. Her GPS showed that she currently was and had been downtown in a parking garage for over two hours, static and not moving. I tried calling multiple times, texting and had her sister text as well. Still no response. As I quickly got dressed to go explore the city, my mind was racing. Something bad certainly could have happened (the static GPS marker in the parking garage led me to think this). She might be out with a friend (a boy maybe?) But Parrish encouraged us to get out of simple binary thinking and to explore at least 3 solutions or challenges.[1] Maybe her phone was stolen at work and the car was out of gas? Thinking through other possibilities helped me from becoming too scared or too upset.

I had woken up from a dead sleep, and now had a dopamine and norepinephrine overload causing stress as David Rock wrote in his book on our brain function.[2] Daniel Kahneman wrote about such rare events and stated, “The emotional arousal is associative, automatic and uncontrolled, and it produces an impulse for protective action.”[3] It did not take long before I was in my car driving towards her work first and then her last location with the GPS. I was fully engaging my System 2 thinking and it was taking a lot of brain power to do so.[4]

Vigilantly, I was looking at every car on the road, driving faster than normal and thinking through my actions. I would go to her work first because it was on the way to her last known location. I determined I would call 911 when I had searched the parking garage myself quickly and report her missing. As I was about to enter the parking garage my wife called, my daughter was on the way home, she had been out with a friend and had turned off her phone. Sudden relief and then anger overwhelmed me. I told her to have my daughter wait for me in the living room for me to return so I could “let her have it!” She told me our other daughter was already chewing her out for scaring her as she had sent text messages to her whole group of friends at 11:30pm waking some of them up.

This is where Parrish’s insights saved the relationship. He asks the question of his kids, “Is this behavior moving you closer to what you want or further away?”[5] I asked myself this question over and over. How do I want this situation to be resolved? Do I want to come home angry and simply punish her? I thought through my default response.[6] It was almost midnight, and my default ego might not be super undefended. So, I set up a guardrail to help me think through what I wanted to say and how I wanted to act. As I drove home, I rolled down the window and drove right past my house. I headed out to the farm roads and decided to think through my response before I got home. This would do two things. First, it would help me think through what I wanted to say. Second, it would cause my daughter to sit and stir in the living room for twenty extra minutes while she waited for me.

Parrish encourages the reader of his book to think of their future self and to make decisions with the future self in mind. “You can think of first-level thinking as your today self and second-level thinking as your future self.”[7] My second-level self began to reflect on the kind of relationship I have had with my daughter as well as the relationship I want to have with my daughter in the future.

I chose not to yell or say much. In fact, at that point of the night, with the brain fog I was now in, I chose to simply say three sentences and then headed upstairs.

  • I love you.
  • I am disappointed.
  • Please give me your driver’s license for a week.

I knew the emotional and drained state my mind was in, and I knew I was not ready for anything more than that. This simple response allowed for a deeper and more intentional connection this morning and for the relationship to still be in a good place. I am thankful Clear Thinking was still on my mind last night. Meanwhile, I hope my daughter enjoys taking the school bus again this week!


[1] Shane Parrish, Clear Thinking: Turning Ordinary Moments into Extraordinary Results (New York, NY: Portfolio/Penguin, 2023), 146.

[2] David Rock, Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long, Revised and updated edition (New York, NY: Harper Business, 2020), 64.

[3] Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow, 1st ed (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011), 323.

[4] Kahneman, 20.

[5] Parrish, Clear Thinking, 51.

[6] Parrish, 10.

[7] Parrish, 140.

About the Author

Adam Cheney

I grew up in California, spent five years living along the beautiful coast of Kenya and now find myself working with refugees in the snow crusted tundra of Minnesota. My wife and I have seven children, four of whom have been adopted. I spend my time drinking lots of coffee, working in my garden, and baking sourdough bread.

8 responses to “Midnight Thinking”

  1. Diane Tuttle says:

    Hi Adam, thank you for sharing such a personal and real situation. Having raised children, I feel the sense of urgency and fear that was going through you. Amen that your daughter was safe and then for the timing of this book. Do you think that the concept of learning and working on default instincts is something that children/adolescents can learn while they are growing or do you think the brain needs to be more fully developed to experience the benefit from this book?

    • Adam Cheney says:

      That is a great question. As a neuroscientist it is my understanding that… (just kidding. I know nothing about the brain.) I do think that teenagers brains are not fully developed but we do give them guidance as they develop. Aspects of this book can give them good guardrails to guide their thinking.

  2. Elysse Burns says:

    Hi Adam, Thank you for sharing this story and how you implemented Parrish’s practical lessons. I can only imagine the stress you felt in this situation. Before having the language from Parrish, have you experienced other situations where you asked yourself, “Is this behavior moving me closer to what I want or further away?” If so, did it have any impact on what decision was made? I am relieved your daughter is safe.

    • Adam Cheney says:

      No, this language was new in this regard. However, I have been asking my teenage son a similar question for a while. “Where do you see this behaviour ending for you?”

  3. Jeff Styer says:

    I have yelled at my kids over the years, mainly when they were young, probably inflicting emotional trauma on them. It is the one thing I wish I could redo, not be so reactive over stupid stuff. We have great relationships and I have apologized to them repeatedly. I’m glad that you were able to not be so reactive but considered what you want your future relationship with your daughter to look like. I listened to Parrish tell the story of his son’s poor test grade on both podcasts I listened to. I love how he processed the whole event with his son. Are you able to have your daughter process what she could have done differently, like send a text if you are not coming straight home after work. We are actually dealing with this on weekly basis with my youngest son and youth group. He hangs around sometimes for over an hour talking with friends.

    • Adam Cheney says:

      Taking her license away for the week has been annoying as I have had to pick her up from work late at night. It has caused her to rely on me more. The good thing about this though has been the ability to have deeper conversations that I otherwise would have been asleep for.

  4. mm Chris Blackman says:

    Adam – what a phenominal way to show the beauty of the book Clear Thinking. My mind was also racing as I read your story. As the dad of two girls, I spent many hours worrying about them, but thankfully didn’t have your experience. You practiced beautifully what you learned from the book, and I love the way you handled it.
    If you were to teach her anything from what you learned and how you handled this situation so she too can learn, what would you tell her?

    • Adam Cheney says:

      I’d tell her to make good decisions consistently. That this event was a simple decision of hers to hang out with a friend that is not great for her to hang out with. She can make simple choices along the way that can have a bigger impact in the long run.

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