Becoming a Better Man in 2009

by Brett & Kate McKay on December 30, 2008 · 31 comments

in A Man's Life, Personal Development


Today is New Year’s Eve. Like most people in the world, I’m taking time to reflect on how the past year went, while also gazing ahead to the new one that awaits. Every year, I set goals or “resolutions” on how to be a better man. I succeed with some but fail in others. Many people become jaded with New Year’s resolutions because they often go un-achieved. Some people are just complacent with themselves. I read today that one individual wasn’t planning on setting New Year’s resolutions because, well, he likes the way he is and doesn’t want to change.

I like myself plenty, but I know there are areas where I can improve my life.

I’ve read plenty of self-improvement books on how to set goals. I’m sure you all have, too. They all pretty much say the same thing: Set specific goals, make sure your goals are measurable, set goals that stretch you, etc. That’s all fine, but setting goals is the easy part. How do we actually achieve them? Most books will tell us that we need to post our goals somewhere that we can see them all the time, repeat them everyday, or make some lame “vision board” so you can visualize your goal. Somehow that’s going to help us achieve our dreams.

I’ve been skipping the regurgitated fluff by self-help gurus and instead seeking advice on how to be a better man and achieve my goals from history’s greatest men. How did I get the advice of history’s great men? I read their biographies. Here’s what I’ve learned from them on how to succeed at your goals.

Establish a system. As a young man, Benjamin Franklin set the audacious goal of “achieving moral perfection.” Franklin set mini-goals to live one of 13 virtues as perfectly as he could each week. In order to achieve his goal of moral perfection, he established a system that helped him keep track of how he was doing in his progress to moral perfection. His system consisted of 13 small charts which contained a column for each day of the week and 13 rows marked with the first letter of his 13 virtues. Franklin evaluated himself at the end of each day. He placed a dot next to each virtue he had violated. The goal was to minimize the number of marks, thus indicating a “clean” life free of vice. With just a glance, Franklin could see how he was doing on his goals.

While Franklin never achieved moral perfection, he didn’t think the project was a waste because he was definitely a better man after he was done.

We can apply the same principle Franklin utilized by establishing a system to help us keep track of our progress. If your goal is to lose 40 lbs this year, create daily mini-goals like Franklin did with his virtues, and make a mark when you don’t achieve those daily goals. A mini-g0al for losing 40 pounds could be exercising every day or not eating junk food during the week. If you slip up on those goals, make a mark for that day. The goal is to have fewer and fewer marks.

Download this replica of Franklin’s chart and adapt it to your goal. You can also use a really handy and FREE online service called Joe’s Goals. It’s basically Franklin’s charts online.

Create a daily regimen and stick to it. How many of us get up each day not knowing what in the heck we’re going to do with our time? What usually happens? We get a few things done, but then we waste the rest of our time surfing the web or watching TV. Great men from history ALWAYS knew what they were going to do each day because they had a daily routine and stuck to it like clockwork. Throughout his life, Teddy Roosevelt maintained a rigid daily routine; a habit he picked up from his father. He set aside specific time each day for study, exercise, and work. Ben Franklin shared his daily schedule with us in his biography.

In a letter to his son, George Washington laid out a daily routine for the young man to follow every day of the week, giving the exact time he should spend with each activity. Washington ended his letter by saying:

Time disposed of in this manner, makes ample provision for exercise and every useful, or necessary recreation, and at the same time that the hours allotted for study, if really applied to it, instead of running up and down stairs, and wasted in conversation with any one who will talk with you, will enable you to make considerable progress in whatsoever line is marked out for you.

If we know what we’re going to do and at what time we’re going to do it, we’ll be less likely to waste time with trifles.

Create a daily regimen for yourself. Download this weekly calendar, sit down, and plan for the coming week. Block out time for all the activities you must accomplish during the week. This could also be done in Outlook or some other computer time management software, but I prefer paper and pencil. I always begin by blocking off time for the most important items. For me that’s scheduling time for exercise, time with my wife, and time for personal meditation. If you’re balancing several projects at work or school, block off specific time each day in which you’ll work on a different project. You might not finish the project in the allotted time, but that’s not the point. The goal is to just work on it instead of goofing off.

Of course, you should always look over the next day’s schedule each night and make changes depending on changing circumstances. If you can establish a daily regimen for yourself like these great men, you’ll be well on your way to success.

Develop your willpower and discipline. The reason why most people fail to achieve their goals is because they lack the willpower or discipline to do so. But history’s greatest men had wills of iron that gave them the fortitude to achieve success even when things were against them. Alexander the Great displayed amazing resolution when he conquered the heavily fortressed island of Tyre. Ghandi showcased an iron clad will with his gruelingly long fasts in protest to the British government. History is full of men, who through pure willpower, were able to accomplish great things.

A man cannot develop an iron will overnight. It takes months, even years to create the discipline needed to take on great tasks. If you feel you lack the willpower to achieve your goals, there’s no need to fret. Willpower is like a muscle. It can grow and become stronger with use. Just as you would start with light weights when exercising your muscles, start with small exercises of discipline in order to develop your willpower. Instead of making a goal to exercise every day for the entire year, commit to exercising 6X a week for the next thirty days. If you have trouble wasting time surfing mindless websites, make it a goal to devote 45 minutes to concentrated work. After the 45 minutes, give yourself a 15 minute break and surf the web to your heart’s delight. Repeat. After awhile, you’ll be able to work an hour without surfing the web, then an hour and a half, then two.

Once you develop your willpower in small areas, move to bigger ones. With time, you will forge a will that will allow you to accomplish any goal or obstacle placed before you.

Quit navel gazing and get to work. When it comes to making life changes, my generation has replaced good old-fashioned work with navel gazing. Instead of just putting your shoulder to the wheel and getting going, too many men think that a period of great reflection and meditation needs to be the first step. We sit and think and mull over how we got off track, reproach ourselves for it, have a little pity party, and try to diagnose exactly where we went wrong. Clint Eastwood recently had an interview with Esquire magazine that produced these magnificent nuggets of wisdom on the subject:

-As Jerry Fielding used to say, “We’ve come this far, let’s not ruin it by thinking.”

-We live in more of a pussy generation now, where everybody’s become used to saying, “Well, how do we handle it psychologically?” In those days, you just punched the bully back and duked it out. Even if the guy was older and could push you around, at least you were respected for fighting back, and you’d be left alone from then on.

-I don’t know if I can tell you exactly when the pussy generation started. Maybe when people started asking about the meaning of life.

-It keeps coming back to “We’ve come this far, let’s not ruin it by thinking.”

Eastwood carries his philosophy over into his filmmaking; he doesn’t do much rehearsal, he just expects the actors to bring their A-game, shoots the scene, and moves on. He doesn’t dwell on his insecurities or let self-doubt paralyze him into inaction. The problem with excessive navel-gazing is that many men never move beyond the pondering period to actually taking action. Life interrupts their thoughts, and they get distracted by other things. Then, 6 months later they realize they haven’t changed and go into another navel-gazing funk about the reasons why.

Quit over-analyzing and get to work. All of history’s great men have realized that hard work is the great “secret” of success. Thomas Edison would spend days in his laboratory working on a project. Frederick Douglas spent days on end crafting speeches and writing. Theodore Roosevelt lived the strenuous life by filling his time with hard mental and physical labor. These men didn’t sit around thinking about what they wanted to do, they just did it.

So instead of spending all your time trying to “find yourself,” simply decide the direction you want your life to move, set a course for yourself, and take actions every day that are align with your goals. That’s it.

{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Chris December 31, 2008 at 2:16 am

Brett, another fantastic post! You continue to cut out the crap and get right to the heart of how to continually be a better man. Keep up the great work with this site.

2 James Riggs December 31, 2008 at 5:18 am

Pussy generation. That’s awesome.

3 Brett Legree December 31, 2008 at 7:19 am

This is the solid kick in the ass that everyone needs. Seriously.

Especially the Eastwood stuff (that guy still scares the crap out of me), I read that interview when it came out and thought, “amen”.

4 NZR (the Plainsman) December 31, 2008 at 8:58 am

Good work. I am a self-admitted navel gazer but I am ready to get started on changing that.

5 Robert Cupper December 31, 2008 at 9:31 am

Great post, as usual. The end of the year is always my favorite time of the year to find articles on becoming a better man/person. It seems like goal setting is huge, and visualizing is even bigger (or it’s just a fad). Not sure on that one yet.

But, I am obsessed with books on success and setting goals and visualizing your goals is crucial. Ask any golfer, or NFL champion if they imagined in their mind what it would be like to win it all. Oh course they did.

Using a vision board is a great tool. I found a way that you can use Mac OS Dashboard to create a vision board quickly using Safari and you can sync it to your iPhone. I created it today, and mine looks great. Thought this might help you guys.

6 Brett Legree December 31, 2008 at 9:46 am


That’s a great tip for Mac users – thanks for sharing :)

(I do use a vision board, but I also “get on with it” more often than I look at it…)

7 Valerio December 31, 2008 at 10:08 am

“-I don’t know if I can tell you exactly when the pussy generation started. Maybe when people started asking about the meaning of life.”

Thousands of years of Philosophy shred by an idiot.

8 Brett Legree December 31, 2008 at 10:17 am


An idiot who did very well for himself by doing rather than thinking ;)

9 ced December 31, 2008 at 10:33 am

HAPPY NEW YEARS be safe and see you all in the next year

10 Santa December 31, 2008 at 11:06 am

I’m going to start referring to all these young pansies like Clint does… the “pussy generation.” They deserve it.

11 Jay December 31, 2008 at 11:33 am

What an inspiring post! I have but one small bit of criticism to make, and that is I think you underestimate the value of thinking and reflection in achieving goals. Thinking is important in making sure you select the *right* goals. Nothing is worse than putting Herculean effort into something that isn’t actually in your best interest, or based more on ego-gratification than true self-improvement.

Of course, once you *have* decided what the right goal is, there’s no excuse for continued analysis and theorizing. If I could write a guest post on this website, I would discuss what I call the “talkin’ about it” phase and the “actually doin’ it” phase. That is the real distinction I think people get caught up in – they spend far too much time in the “talkin’ about it” phase and not nearly enough in the “actually doin’ it” phase.

Great post overall, though!

12 Jay December 31, 2008 at 11:40 am

Another excellent article on New Years resolutions and goal-directed living can be found here:

One solid quote:

“Too often, the goal-directedness embodied by New Year’s resolutions is the exception in lives ruled by passively accepted forces–unexamined routine, short-range desires, or alleged duties. It is the passive approach to happiness that makes so many resolutions peter out, lost in the shuffle of life or abandoned due to lost motivation. More broadly than its impact on New Year’s resolutions, the passive approach to happiness is the reason that so many go through life without ever getting–or even knowing–what they really want

This New Year’s, resolve to think about how to make your life better, not just once a year, but every day. Resolve to set goals, not just in one or two aspects of life, but in every important aspect and in your life as a whole. Resolve to pursue the goals that will make you successful and happy, not as the exception in a life of passivity, but as the rule that becomes second-nature.

If you do this, you will be resolving to do the most important thing of all: to take your happiness seriously.”

13 Spencer Nickson December 31, 2008 at 2:37 pm

“santa”, i think it’s awesome how you mentioned that you’re going to call this generation the “pussy” generation. what are you going to call people who sit on their asses, reading ABOUT manliness, and then put their thoughts anonymously into “reader comments”? you might want to consider doing what real men do – keep their mouths shut, get something constructive done, and recognize that to live in a great country like this, everyone is allowed an opinion, and everyone is allowed to ignore opinions. AND that one of the pussiest things possible is to get insecure about yourself and look to someone like clint eastwood (who, by the way, gets manicures) for advice. go build something, par’dner…

14 Dave December 31, 2008 at 4:51 pm

I have to say, I find it hilarious when commenters try to say that reading a blog about manliness isn’t very manly. Yeah, I guess guys who work out shouldn’t read health blogs, scientists shouldn’t read science blogs, people who are into politics shouldn’t read political blogs…..riiiiiight.

It’s also rather funny Spencer, that you would call someone else out for making a comment, right in the middle of your own! Like I said, hilarious….

15 Mike December 31, 2008 at 5:55 pm

Another excellent post Brett…

1 tip for reaching fitness goals that worked for me was to “put my money where my mouth was.” This past year I couldn’t seem to get my ass in shape so I signed up and paid for a triathlon and bought all the gear too. It worked! I lost 10 lbs and have continued to stay in decent shape. My goal for 2009 is to do 2 tri’s.

Happy new year men!

16 Spencer Nickson December 31, 2008 at 6:08 pm

dave….DAVE! you got it!! you are the MANLIEST!! the irony and sacrasm was right there and you missed the whole thing. i hope 09 is better for you or you’re going to have it rough. “riiiiiiiiiight”…i think my 5’1″ girlfriend used to say that…

17 Parthiban January 2, 2009 at 3:19 am

surely..the simple stuff that most self-development books preach..! few takers..
Great article.

18 Santa January 2, 2009 at 7:20 am

Spencer Nickson, I’m not sure what you are trying to say… it sort of sounded just like a woman. But you know what they say, better to be a dick than a pussy.

19 Gangrene January 2, 2009 at 8:21 am

The end of the year is always my favorite time of the year to find articles on becoming a better man/person. It seems like goal setting is huge, and visualizing is even bigger (or it’s just a fad). Not sure on that one yet.

20 Charlie January 2, 2009 at 12:17 pm

The pussy generation started in the 60′s, when you had to be ‘soft and sensitive” to get laid, and extended into the feminist movement where getting to know you femine side could get you laid. That’s why it’s called the pussy generation, be cause men changed their basic manliness to get laid.

21 Mitchel January 2, 2009 at 4:08 pm

I especially liked the part about Ben Franklin’s personal quest for morality and how he broke it down into a chart to measure his progress every day. As a matter of fact I researched it more online and created my own 52 week chart of the 13 virtues that I use to highlight my daily shortcomings and give me something to work on for the next day.
For 2009 I want to live with the mindset that my actions affect more than just myself and try harder to be a better man starting from the inside.

22 tim January 2, 2009 at 9:52 pm


Thanks for including the link to my weekly STP worksheet. I am glad you found the resource useful and made it known to your readers. What a great MANLY site you have here. I’ve bookmarked it and will now be better prepared to increase my manliness.

I like how you’ve put the focus back on getting to it rather than sitting around and thinking about it, planning for it, and dreaming about it. Let’s go…time to move on. One of my favorite quotes from Karen Lamb – “A year from now you will wish you had started today.”

Blessings on a great 2009!

23 Jason January 4, 2009 at 9:00 am

Another great post. Time to get things in order and accomplish my goals.

24 hayati January 4, 2009 at 11:59 am

thanks very good

25 LJ January 7, 2009 at 1:26 pm

totally agree!
I love the coined term ‘pussy generation’, I was actually saying same thing for some time now, but I used to call it ‘weaklings generation’.

I have many good friends that are weaklings inside, they have never faced a real ordeal and they wouldn’t take care of it alone, they’d expect someone else to do the job for them, whatever it’d be.
I don’t want to dwell on the matter too much. You get the gist I suppose.

Anyway I think that knowing (and understanding) what to do is the most important step to self-improvement. Thanks to that, any time you slip you’ll be able to pull yourself back together again, and get back on the track.

That’s a great site, keep up the good work!

26 Ajay January 8, 2009 at 5:04 pm

“Gandhi”, not “Ghandi”.

27 Jere January 10, 2009 at 5:37 am

Another reason I love Clint Eastwood.

I highly recommend his new one, Gran Torino, as much of it seems to be about the very subject of the “pussy generation.”

28 Alex January 20, 2009 at 2:32 pm

A very good read indeed. Good work!

29 kris mask November 24, 2009 at 3:28 pm

pussy generation? since when does thinking become pussy? I’m sorry but thats just stupid. When you say people shouldnt think you obviously aren’t thinking yourself. Your brain is probably the most important part of your body not your damn fists. I swear this guy sounds like one of them thugs on the street that dropped out of high school. gtfu.

30 TJack January 7, 2010 at 12:37 am

Damn. Thank you for this.

31 Jaison Williams August 17, 2010 at 7:29 pm

That is inspiring. This can make the world a better place to live in!

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post:

Site Meter