The Three Elements of Manhood (The New Man Manifesto, Part 2)

by Michael on March 7, 2012 · 3 comments

Success!

Not a fortune; a statement of fact.

In the first part of The New Man Manifesto, we discussed the most basic building block of manliness: habits. Your habits define who you are, and if you don’t like who you are or the life you’re living, changing it is best done one habit at a time.

But what are the habits that set you apart as a great man, or at least a good man?

Most men’s magazines define manhood in materialistic terms: money, sex, power. However, chasing any of those as a “solution” is a fool’s game, and the news headlines are full of men who based their lives on the pursuit of one or more to the point where it cost them more than they gained. Money, sex and power do make for very easy articles to write, and a lot of guys are easily distracted by fancy cars or women in bikinis, so I understand why the “lad mags” promote them.

I tend to side with the philosophers, from Socrates to Richard Layard, who agree that beyond the necessities, owning things isn’t what makes people happy. Manhood, as much as we’d like it to be a goal-oriented achievement we can sketch out like a business plan, derives from within, much like happiness.

And success, as much as we’d like to define it as adulation and wealth, is probably more tied up in what we can do for others—how we use our gift. What we leave behind, not just after we’re dead, but after we’ve left the room. Success is how you feel about what you’ve just done, whether it’s an account-winning business presentation or saying “good morning” to your neighbor.

The other piece of the puzzle is the fact that we’ve got to deal with the customs and expectations of our society, as well as the realities of basic life. You’re expected to pull your weight in some way. You’re not awarded a woman as a birthright; you’re expected to attract one. Ideally you have a circle of male friends—of course, you can have female friends as well, but if you can’t make friends with other men, something’s out of whack.

The Three Elements

A “classic” successful man—one admired by other men and valued by women—can be deconstructed into three loosely defined elements:

  • Leadership
  • Relationships
  • Life Maintenance

Each of these elements overlaps the others, and if you excel in one you’re more likely to excel in the others as well. Each element encompasses a series of habits that you can adopt, change or drop. You don’t have to be an “alpha male” in any element to be happy or successful; you merely have to demonstrate that you have these elements within you.

All you need to know is which habits you need to be successful in each element, and as they say in Britain, Bob’s your uncle.

However, no exact set of habits is going to make you successful or happy, no matter what TV or magazines may tell you. That’s both good and bad news. Bad because you can’t simply string together the “right” habits to get any job or seduce any woman; good because it leaves you room to be an individual instead of a men’s-magazine stereotype.

Instead, these habits act as both social cues to others and affirmations to yourself. When you feel good about yourself, you’ll be more confident and adventurous, enhancing your social cues, which gets you positive feedback from the people you interact with, which in turn makes you feel even better about yourself. It’s a virtuous cycle that improves every area of your life.

How Did You Get Here?

Most men don’t even realize when they start sliding downhill. It’s happened to me, and probably happened to you: one day you look in the mirror and wonder where things went awry. Where they went awry was when you changed one habit for the worse, and that habit begat another bad habit, and before you knew it habits were falling like dominoes.

For example, there’s the classic “my girlfriend/wife broke up with me” scenario: you feel down because you didn’t want to be single, so you drop your workouts for a while and spend your days reading “How to Get My Ex Back” e-books that don’t work. Then you gain some weight, and when you do end up in a situation where you can meet a woman, you’re overweight, feel bad about yourself and fixated on your ex. You get the inevitable rejection due to your negative social cues, so you feel worse, stop shaving or cleaning your house, start playing videogames or going to strip clubs, maybe your work performance suffers…you get the picture.

But whether you’ve hit rock bottom or just want to improve one part of your life, the same advice applies: one habit, then another, then another. Live with each one. Embrace it, obsess over it. Once it’s second nature, move forward.

Which habit do you start with? The real answer is any habit, as long as it’s a positive one. Some habits’ success depends on others—don’t go out meeting women cold if you haven’t built some confidence first. Start with some low-hanging fruit that’s easy to accomplish and guaranteed to boost your confidence. For example, dressing in clean clothes is a safe habit to adopt; not many businesses or people will reject you because you washed and ironed your shirt last night.

Habits Are For the Long Haul

A less obvious example would be giving without expectations. For example, offering to pay the check on the first date. It’s a safe habit to adopt because the vast majority of women appreciate the gesture (societal cue), and when your date does prefer to “go Dutch,” you’ll almost never be penalized for making the offer. While you’ll find men and women who adamantly insist that you should never have to pay the whole check, the reality is that the gesture is subconsciously appreciated nevertheless.

This habit demonstrates leadership (by demonstrating you’re not sitting around waiting to negotiate payment, and that you can afford to take her to the place you decided to take her) and competence in relationships (through a “provider” social cue; whether or not she needs or wants a man to be a provider, she subconsciously prefers a man to show he can be).

But what if your date never returns your calls after that night? Doesn’t this habit hurt you when that happens?

This is where you have to realize why you adopt a habit. You’re not offering to pay for the date in order to buy affection. If she doesn’t return your calls afterward, It’s her loss, not yours.

This kind of habit is about you treating others as you would love to be treated yourself, screw the immediate results. Habits are for the long haul. (Another habit to adopt: never take a first date out for an expensive evening. Not for this specific reason, although as a side effect it will minimize the cost.)

Right-Sizing Your Goals

Because we’re using little habits to improve the bigger picture, it might help if you define success for you by setting some goals, both large and small.

You probably already have a larger goal or two, but if not, how about one of these:

  • Have a job doing something you don’t hate and preferably uses your gift.
  • Meet enough women that you can find one who makes you happy.
  • Have a circle of friends who respect you.
  • Enjoy something about your daily life.

These are all goals that enrich both your life and those of others who interact with you.

Once you’ve decided on the big picture, step back and pick something very small you want to achieve. Very small. Not “lose 20 pounds.” More like “visit the gym and ask about a free trial,” “buy only fresh foods at the store tonight” or “buy workout clothes.” From there you can build your fitness habits. You won’t lose a pound until you first make an exercise or diet plan, so focus on the exercise and diet plan.

Small, short-haul habits for long-haul goals.

Next we’ll look at some of the habits and social cues that make up the first element of manhood: leadership. They don’t all involve spending money, but some may involve pretty basic changes.

3 comments… read them below or add one

Josh Ferrari March 14, 2012 at 3:30 pm

Seriously insightful stuff. I love this series. I work on a college campus, and would love to incorporate this information into a “Masculinity” series that I’m planning. I don’t think we challenge men at a young age to think about what it means to “be a man” in the most real sense of the phrase. Thank you for taking the time to compile this!

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Michael March 22, 2012 at 9:18 pm

Thanks, Josh. Feel free to use the ideas. There’s more to come!

Rodney September 30, 2012 at 12:26 am

I’ve been thinking this for a while but you said it best. In fact, I wrote my habits and goals just now as I read this. I’m beginning to feel fulfilled. Great writing. My tumblr blog is loosely based on self actualization. A little advice would be nice.

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