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.


Either get out of the road or put me in your will. (Photo by vramak)

Lately I’ve been learning some new Internet skills from a fairly respected guru, and I’ve been able to take a ton of useful information away from his tutorials.

However, there came a point when he spoke about writing articles, and addressed those in the audience who don’t think they can write. His advice was to “just do it.” Do it and don’t stop. Do it even if it’s crap. Do it even if it’s the words “do it” typed over and over again.

At first I thought it was pretty simplistic: there are some people who, try as they might, aren’t cut out for writing content. Just instructing them to “wiggle your fingers and great stuff will come out” (my paraphrase) won’t help. Then I started thinking about the nature of the phrase “just do it.” It was a cliché long before Nike decided to make it a slogan, and it’s one of those phrases some guys can’t stand to hear. But you know what?

You Can’t Do It Until You Do It

It’s true. If instead this man had instructed his people, “if you’re unsure, wait and do something else until inspiration comes,” there are people who would end up not typing word one. They’d stop and check e-mail or start watching the ballgame and they would never even know whether they could create good content. And it’s the same with most of the things we talk about here:

  • Meeting women
  • Starting a workout program
  • Clothes shopping
  • Cleaning your home
  • Meditating

Yes, even something as easy and private that no one ever has to see you doing as meditation. I’ve talked to guy after guy who have told me, “yeah, I know meditation would probably calm my stress, but I just haven’t got around to trying it.” Imagine how hard it might be for them to approach a woman!

How to Do Something

Perhaps the best way to move away from the “just do it” cliché is to change it to just do something. If you’re so daunted by a task or goal that you can’t bring yourself to take action, do this:

  1. Break down the task into steps. Write it down.
  2. Look at the first step. It should be immediately doable. If it’s not, break down the step into smaller steps.
  3. Look at the new first step. If it’s still too big, repeat Step 2.
  4. When the first step is small enough that you feel you can can accomplish it now, do it.

If you approach tasks this way, nothing will ever paralyze you with fear. You will know what you must do, and you will know how to do it—because if you don’t know, learning becomes your new first step.

Maybe You Do Too Much

Another problem you may suffer from is that you have so much to do that you don’t know where to start. If after you write down all of your goals and tasks down, you still can’t determine what’s most important to do now, close your eyes, spin the paper around and do whatever your finger lands on. Don’t second-guess. If it seems daunting, follow the steps above and break it down.

If You Fail

Most of what we do as humans is driven by fear: usually the fear of failure. Failing big is often a remembered humiliation that sticks with one for a long time. The best way to not fear failure is to fail small and often—and make sure to try and learn just what happened. It’s harder to learn from success than from failure. Trust a poker player on this (a story for a later time).

And don’t be afraid to ask for help. Whether it’s finding a mentor or asking a question to a stranger (I volunteer!), putting combined brain power or a different perspective on a tough task will usually make it much easier.

I challenge you to start something you’ve been putting off, right now this second. Even if you’ve only got five minutes.

Do it.

Leave a comment

Spanx and the Spare Tire

June 3, 2010 Dressing

We all laughed when the makers of Spanx announced they would be shipping Spanx for Men. After all, the vanity of the girdle has always been the realm of the woman. We men have generally accepted for centuries now that a woman’s waist isn’t as narrow as it looks with clothes on, and that those […]

Read more →

So You Think You Can Drive?

January 29, 2010 The Total Man

In the grand tradition of the surveys where most people say they’re smarter than most people comes this one: When Ottawa University researchers polled nearly 400 drivers ranging from the youngest to the very old, virtually all rated themselves favorably. […] Young men felt the most superior. Middle-aged men rated themselves as better than similarly […]

Read more →

Hump-day Links XVIII

October 14, 2009 Dressing

Today I dedicate the Hump-day Links to Charlie Davies, who was involved in a horrific car accident the day before the US Men’s Soccer Team played their final World Cup qualifier. In the ninth minute of tonight’s game, the fans paid tribute by standing and cheering while waving cards with a white number 9 (Davies […]

Read more →

Actions Do Speak Louder Than Words

August 21, 2009 Living

Some food for thought: accomplishments will make you far more confident than positive affirmations. Although I’ve given you this link in the past, I thought it’s a study that makes an important point: if you’re down on yourself, simply telling yourself “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me” may not […]

Read more →

10 Steps to Working a Room

August 13, 2009 Living

One of the greatest indications of a high status (or “alpha”) male is his ability to work a room: somehow meeting everyone at a party or function and drawing them into interesting conversation. When you can walk into a room full of strangers and engage them in discussion, you’ll be perceived as a leader by […]

Read more →

The Secret Life of Nice Guys

August 5, 2009 Living

I want to take the discussion in a serious direction for a minute. There was an awful piece of news on the wire today: a man walked into a ladies’ fitness class and started randomly shooting. He killed three women and injured many others before killing himself. The media quickly found an online diary that […]

Read more →