I have spent the last seven years trying to put simply what I have earned about being a happier, healthier man in plain terms and simple steps.
I’ve looked at a lot of systems for inspiration, and for tools in my own coaching practice. There are a lot of fantastic, simple, and step-by-step tools to making your life better, like The MAP, Holding on to Your NUTs, Gremlin Taming, Assertiveness, and Future Writing. Most of them are very good at helping you with very specific parts of your life (restoring sex in your relationships, ending pointless arguments, cutting out self sabotage, getting others to listen when you talk, and clarifying your moral framework, respectively.) Applied well, these systems deliver in a big way not just on their specific promises, but can make big whole-life improvements.
They all point to something that I have been trying to suss out since I started this blog on my 30th birthday. It is an attitude that you create by acting and thinking in certain ways about the hardest, most painful parts of your life that makes them a lot easier to deal with. It is an attitude that creates a domino effect in your life, removing one block after another.
The end result is what can really be called an awakening: it changes the way you look at the world like you have just came out of a haze or a dream. You come into a world that makes more sense from one that seems to have been governed by nonsense. Things seem sharper an clearer…
…At least most of the time. This isn’t a road to superpowers or some great mystical enlightenment. You will still have days that suck, problems with assholes, and get stuck in traffic. You will still have odd days where you just don’t want to get out of bed… but those will be a lot rarer, and you will know how to give yourself a good reason to get out of bed anyway, and have a good day inspite of a bad start.
After working with hundreds of men, some in coaching, some online, and sometimes just in chance opportunities to help, I’ve seen this attitude emerge in a lot of men, I’ve made note of the steps they have made, and the big changes in their thinking that seem to have led up to this sudden domino effect. I have been slowly trying to put it in order with the simplest (but hardest) steps first to create something that is easy to follow. I wanted to share my rough outline here.
I will describe them as levels because each one offers new skills and a new perspective that makes it easier to get to the next step. The last steps are easiest if you have moved through the earlier ones. And like in a table-top role playing game or an MMO, the way you move through the levels is not by studying, but by doing and having experiences while moving toward a series of goals.
And so here are the levels as I have hashed them out. Over the next few months my blog will spend a great deal of energy towards hashing them out in detail.
Level 1: Finding Peace with Masculinity
Nobody succeeds at a goal that they don’t believe in. If you believe that masculinity is toxic, then you will never be able to commit to building yourself up to a healthy masculinity. Men under the age of 50 or so have grown up in times when the messages that they absorbed about being a man were often negative and ugly.
From the way we treat boys as defective girls in schools to the way college students are indoctrinated into believing stupid ideas like “male privilege”; from the emotional hurts caused by absent fathers to old wounds e carry from being bullied and abused, we swim in negative images of masculinity.
So the first step is to get rid of the poison ideas about masculinity we might have swallowed, and replace them with the finest examples. We need to explore the masculine ideal. Some of the steps involved in this include:
- Cutting out all gender warfare and social justice bullshit that appears in our media feeds.
- Making a few male friends.
- Volunteering alongside good men doing good work.
- Telling someone about the abuse and bullying that you suffered.
- Making peace with your father if your relationship is ugly (or telling him off.)
- Studying the works of great men.
Level 2: Psychological Detox
This step is to a degree an extension of the previous one. Before you can make positive changes in your life, you need to be in control of it. That means tackling addictions and emotional crutches that are keeping you from feeling in control. It lso means cutting out manipulative information streams in your life, especially ones that are there to profit off of your guilt, fear, or shame.
- Take 90 days off of porn.
- Take 90 days off of television.
- Load some adblockers on your browser.
- Go on a media diet; get rid of information that doesn’t suit you.
- Learn to read the news critically.
- Take a vacation completely unplugged.
- Spend time socializing without electronics.
Level 3: Life in the Body
Men are wired to be physical creatures; we are happiest when we are fit and active. When we are distressed we tend to become inative and sluggish. We are also much healthier when we spend time in real sunlight and fresh air. Every man needs to have a decent fitness routine, an excuse to get outside, and a decent diet. Here are some of the steps that I recommend people take:
- Cut alcohol to no more than four drinks a week.
- Take care of obstacles that are preventing you from getting a good night’s sleep.
- Lift weights.
- Cut out artificial sweeteners, soda, and extra salt.
- Learn to cook four healthy (and one really unhealthy) dishes.
- Learn either to dance or to fight.
Level 4: Consistency in Word and Deed
This is the department where many men struggle the most. The Modern Western Man is very good at talking the talk, but walking the walk is a lot harder. We live in a culture that preaches “non-judgement”, moral relativism, and a nigh infinite array of chances. It is also one here people are often not very good at examining their beliefs.
This is the level where you need to pony up: learn to say only what you mean, and mean what you say. It is where you need to get other people you trust to call you on bullshit. And it is the time to pay debts and fulfill old promises. It is also the point where you need to start calling other people, too.
During this stage, I encourage the men I work with to:
- Study Assertiveness.
- Learn to talk directly about their sexual needs with their partners.
- Hold partners accountable for contributing to the relationship.
- List their values clearly and look for contradictions.
- Develop plans to reach zero debt.
- Fulfill any outstanding promises.
- Start collecting on debts.
- Get rid of clutter and costly possessions
Level 5: Honesty and Clarity
This level is a natural outgrowth of the previous level. If you are being consistent between what you say and what you do, you have to give upon lying to other people. You also have to start being straight with other people with what you want… which means actually figuring out what it is that you want. This is harder than it sounds, because a lot of people operate based on what they think other people want them to want. It means challenging your ideas about what you should do. It also means facing some hard truths – like that your time on Earth is very limited and extremely easy to waste, and that there is no book of unwritten rules that everyone plays by: being nice won’t get you nice treatment in response.
This also means understanding your personal value as a human being. Most people put a lot of conditions on being happy, or seeing themselves as worthy. In fact, societies depend a great deal on people putting conditions on self-worth. I do not believe unmitigated self-esteem is valuable, but I do believe valuing yourself and your time and making sure those you give it to are worthy is important. For many men it also means having a very deep inner examination of sex, because so many men measure their value as human being based on whether or not they are being rewarded by sex… and when they are not getting any, they feel rotten. Separating your sense of being a worthy human being from the pursuit of sex is pretty critical.
At the end of this process you will be able to articulate at least part of your personal code. You will have developed a strong set of ethics. You will have decided what a good life looks like, rather than letting that life be decided for you… and you will have had some frightening conversations. In this stage most men:
- Examine their personal philosophy and beliefs based on the results they get.
- Honestly talk about their relationships and needs with others.
- Look for evidence for their big assumptions in life.
- Give up on “nice guy” passive aggressiveness.
- Create a picture of the life they want to lead – including what job, kind of home, income, etc., that they want.
- Consider possibilities like quitting their job, selling their home, etc. seriously.
Level 6: Directed Living
Once you have stopped letting others tell you what you want, and had some idea of what you want in life, you are halfway there. But actually putting plans into action and creating a life that you want to live is a lot harder. This is where you start making plans and carrying them out in stages:
- Use tools like SWOT to see how you can make your goal manageable.
- Set out a detailed plan of what you will do and when.
- Put down some money to make you psychologically invested in your goals.
- Find people who will keep holding you accountable to them, however hard they can be.
- Divest yourself of relationships and roles that are not serving your goals.
Level 7: Driven Living
The final stage is about keeping momentum once you already have built some. Men are at their best when they have a dragon to slay: whether that is an invention to bring into the world, a problem to fix, or a child to raise. It is only when you put your goals into the context of doing something to make the world a better place that they are really meaningful and you can bring your full energy to them. Whether you are out to make the world a more just place, leave a legacy, live for the glory of God, or make a lasting mark, your sense of doing something bigger will keep you moving forward.
This great cause of yours might not serve you your whole life. It may or may not be your true purpose on earth (if there is such a thing.) It might not work out, or you might not succeed in leaving the legacy you wanted to succeed… that doesn’t matter so much as the fact that while you were serving that ideal, for however long it needed your service.
This level is deeply intimate and one that requires a lot more self-work than coaching work, and can be a lot harder to plan. But I do have places I like to help people start:
- Try volunteering for a number of charitable organizations and community groups.
- Attend services at some community religious groups.
- Imagine what you would do with unlimited resources.
- Write a proposal for a company.
- Examine works that have deeply affected many people.
- Experiment with forms of artistic expression.