self-improvement

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

A “New Man” Manifesto

by Michael on February 17, 2012 · 2 comments

He cleaned up well, too.

(Caution: frank talk ahead, with naughty words. Proceed only if you can handle it.)

What makes you a man?

I mean besides your penis.

I get kind of tired of seeing “expert” after “expert” (anyone can be an expert these days) try and lecture us on becoming a “modern” or “new” man. The fact is, the essence of manhood hasn’t changed, isn’t changing and will not change anytime soon, no matter how many pop psychologists want it to.

Don’t misinterpret that as suggesting that a man can’t be a teacher or a nurse, can’t raise a child, or can’t express feelings. These things are neither manly nor un-manly, and anyone who tells you a man has to somehow change to do them is full of shit.

Then there’s the other side: the (usually) guys whose only advice is to “man up.” If you were to break your leg, those same guys would tell you to “walk it off, you pansy.” It’s shotgun advice that in and of itself means nothing. Usually it’s code for doing things the laziest way possible. Well, you’re not an ape or a lion, you make choices based on some amount of self-aware, conscious thought. We’re socialized creatures who have evolved out of using genetic instinct to solve problems and decide courses of action. Thinking is not only allowed, it’s necessary.

So just what does it mean to be a man in the modern world? Get comfy…

You Are Your Habits

Life is a series of small habits that add up to who we are. What we do and how we do it. The way we eat. The way we shake hands. The way we behave when we meet a beautiful woman. How we choose to spend our free time. The way we act in public, and the way we act when no one’s watching.

All of these habits, put together, are you. They’re me. They make us leaders or lovers or loners.

Habits make the man.

The problem with habits is that right or wrong, we prefer the ones we already have, because they’re far, far more comfortable to us than the ones we don’t have. Even the bad habits. In fact, bad habits are often harder to change because we developed them to give us comfort. We eat bad food because the way it tastes is comfortable to us. We watch porn because it makes us feel like we have a sex life. We sit and play video games because then we don’t have to think about what’s troubling us.

Bad habits create inertia, or worse, they move us backward, make us less likely to build relationships, make us unhealthy, or harm our careers. Small habits, like deflecting criticism or grabbing a donut before work or staring just a second too long when a cute woman enters the room, they all add up.

Often, when you think you’re standing still, you’re actually moving backwards. Repeating habits and behaviors that haven’t produced positive results, but expecting things to be different this time—or worse, just shrugging and saying to yourself, “what the hell”—keeps you down more than any outside force you can imagine.

The reality is that to make your life better you must move forward.

The secret is that you don’t have to do it big or do it quickly.

Leo Babauta, author of Zen Habits, wrote about something he calls the “half-step.” It’s the act of pausing, then acting by doing something very, very small, but very, very positive. Your house is a pig sty—do a load of laundry. Your job feels like a dead end—make a list of jobs you really want to do. You’re overweight—take a walk. Then make sure you congratulate yourself on that half-step.

All you need now is a direction to take that half-step in.

Like Steve McQueen

Why am I going on about this?

Well, it’s been a long time since I thought about what I’m doing here at Tao of Bachelorhood. I started this site with the mission to build a better bachelor. I also wanted to avoid the crap other men’s sites do: what sells rather than what helps you. “Tao” roughly means “The Way,” and this site is about helping you find your way.

Shiny cars or expensive watches don’t make the man. Put Steve McQueen in a Ferrari and he’s a badass who knows how to handle the car so well he drove it in professional races. The car didn’t define him, he defined himself. But put a stock advisor in a Ferrari that he only drives around town, and it’s clear he owns the car to define himself.

Steve McQueen wasn’t perfect by any means, but he knew a positive habit from a bad one. Studio executives used to be confused when he’d demand hundreds of pairs of jeans or razors in his contracts. They later discovered that he asked for he items to donate to the reform school he attended as a youth. He learned how to fly a plane and ride a dirt bike. Celebrity didn’t mean holing up in his house. He found his path and he made the most of it.

You need to find the path that will define your life as you want it to be. Not the way it’s shaped by others, not the way it looks in TV commercials. The path that, like Steve McQueen, will make you a singular man.

That’s why I’m here. To share small habits. Good habits. Habits you can put together in a way that shapes your life. Everything from meditation to clothing style to what to say to a woman to how to make a kick-ass cup of joe (that last one coming soon). Because meditating can better focus your mind, your clothes can reflect your personality, talking to women can help you meet that woman you “just click with,” and a great cup of joe can make you feel more ready to take on your day.

I’m not here to pass judgement on who’s a “toolbag” or which TV actress is hotter. It’s not my thing, and I gladly leave that to the guys who really want to do it. There’s plenty of them. My business is habits.

Help Me to Help You

I have a long list of habits to help you with. Actually, I have a long list of habits to help myself with, and share with you as well. I’m also going to enlist others who want to share theirs. (Plug here for the Guest Posting page.)

One of the personal habits I’m working on is asking for help. What I need is for you to let me know what you need help with. What do you seek? What are the bad habits you want to change? What are the good habits you want to learn?

I want to help make you a better man.

Scratch that—I want to help make you the best man.

Believe it or not, this is only Part 1. Next time we’ll discuss the Elements of Manhood: the combinations of habits that define you.

2 comments

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The Carrot or the Stick?

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A friend on Facebook has been posting about the new “boot camp” exercise class he’s joined. It’s led by a former military officer, who barks out drill-sergeant-like orders and gets into the faces of those lagging behind. It’s amazing how many people can squeeze out one or two extra push-ups when someone is standing over […]

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The 4-Hour Body Review

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Why has it taken me so long to get you this review of Tim Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Body? Because I got caught up testing it. And I’m still doing that. However, the time has also enabled me to more properly digest the book than many of the parade of 5-star (and 1-star) reviewers on Amazon. […]

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8 Ways to Avoid Your Own Groundhog Day

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February 2 is a North American holiday—actually not so much a holiday as a tradition—called Groundhog Day. A large rodent either sees its shadow or doesn’t, and whichever one happens ends up having zero relationship to the next few weeks’ weather. But worldwide, Groundhog Day is probably more well-known as one of Bill Murray’s finest […]

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A Lesson from Jack LaLanne

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It seems like just yesterday we observed fitness pioneer Jack LaLanne’s 96th birthday. On Sunday, in much sadder news, the man known to many as the first “fitness guru” has passed away. LaLanne died of respiratory failure from pneumonia after living what I’d call a long, full life. He’s towed boats and barges while handcuffed […]

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