How and Why to Write Your Own Personal Manifesto

by A Manly Guest Contributor on February 13, 2012 · 66 comments

in A Man's Life

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Zach Sumner.

“I only read nautical novels and my own personal manifestos.” – Ron Swanson

If I were to say the word “manifesto,” you might think of either Communists or serial killers. This is understandable; the word has taken a beating over the years.

But what if I were to tell you that writing my own manifesto has absolutely changed me, for the better, as a man?

A Manifesto: Defined

The word manifesto traces its roots to the Latin manifestum, which means clear or conspicuous.  A manifesto is defined as a declaration of one’s beliefs, opinions, motives, and intentions. It is simply a document that an organization or person writes that declares what is important to them.

A manifesto functions as both a statement of principles and a bold, sometimes rebellious, call to action. By causing people to evaluate the gap between those principles and their current reality, the manifesto challenges assumptions, fosters commitment, and provokes change.

While manifestos are traditionally public declarations, every man can also have a personal manifesto.

A lot of people already have books or documents that are important to them and that sum up their beliefs. For some, it’s a religious text, and for others it’s the Constitution. I knew one person who’s manifesto was Machiavelli’s The Prince, and I still don’t know what to make of that.

The Benefits of a Manifesto

What makes a manifesto so valuable is the fact that it is a constant source of inspiration to you, and one that can often be easily read every day. I may completely agree with, say, the Bible, but reading it in its entirety every day would be cumbersome.

I read my manifesto every day, before I start my job. It focuses my mind by reminding me of my priorities. I deal with topics like how I want to treat my girlfriend, how I want to work honorably at my job, how I want to vote, and every day I am reinforcing those values. Over and over and over again.

So your manifesto isn’t so much for you to show people, although, if you want to, I know that there are some people out there it could help. It’s more of a medium through which your present self can correspond with your future self.

This may sound weird, but think about it. When I wrote my manifesto, things were going well in every area of my life. I’m not naïve enough to believe that good things continue forever, and it was just a matter of time before new struggles came and old struggles resurfaced. But man…when those rough times did hit again, I knew exactly how I wanted to respond to them because I had already made that decision and commitment.

When you’re going through something tough, isn’t it difficult to have and hold a steady, objective mind? It is for me.

With a manifesto, it’s like you always have access to a calmer, more rational you.

I have no statistical data for this, but I can say with certainty that since I have written my manifesto and began reading it every day, it has made a huge difference in my life.

How to Write a Manifesto

There is really no right or wrong way to write a manifesto; the style of it is up to you. You may want to make it very straightforward or launch into impassioned arguments for why you believe in each principle.

Here are a few of my personal suggestions:

Pick the topics. You first need to figure out the topics you want to write about. These are the areas of your life for which you want to declare your principles. I started off with three: how I want to treat my girlfriend, how I view hardships, and how I view my right to vote.

Set down your principles. Write down your beliefs, motives, and intentions about each of the topics you chose. A manifesto is an opportunity for you to lay your cards on the table. I didn’t realize some of the feelings I had for my girlfriend until I wrote them down and stood back and saw them in a much less abstract fashion than they had been.

Below is a sample of what I wrote in my Manifesto in the section on hardships:

Hardships

In any situation, regardless of how difficult it may be, I will exhibit strength and control. I will display the courage to stand steadfast in my principles, even in the face of impossible circumstances. I will take the words of Invictus to heart:

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud
Under the bludgeoning of chance
My head is bloodied, but unbowed

Now, this is a stance that is personally important to me. It doesn’t matter if you disagree, you should be able to see how I structured it.

Use strong, affirmative language. Notice that I didn’t use phrases like “I want to exhibit strength and control…” I used the more powerful “I WILL exhibit strength and control…” This may seem minor, but if you use active language, you’ll take it much more seriously. You may wish to punch up the language even further, by using the present tense: “I exhibit strength and control.”

Write it down with pen and paper.  You should consider writing your manifesto in a physical book. In ancient Israel, the kings were required to write their own copy of the laws down. The physical act of writing on an actual page with an actual pen is symbolically powerful. Sure, you could type yours up in 20 minutes, but there is something special about taking far more time and actually writing it out; as you press the words on the paper, they’re pressed into your mind as well.

Conclusion

I hope this helps, and I hope it inspires you to not only write your values down, but to create a whole manifesto for your life. Not only will it grow you as a man, but it will help you live out those beliefs. And, when all is said and done, one of the true hallmarks of being a man is knowing what you believe, and having the guts to live it.

{ 66 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Erlen February 13, 2012 at 8:25 pm

An article just in time.
I have planned from a long time to write my own manifesto.
It is really helpful, Thanks !!!

2 Rex February 13, 2012 at 8:30 pm

This really is a great way to stay focused and to live a more productive life. Thanks for writing + sharing your thoughts Zach.

3 Travis G February 13, 2012 at 8:44 pm

This is a great suggestion. I must admit I never considered this before, which embarrasses me slightly as a writer. Now to choose the perfect size and style of notebook for the occasion. I wonder how many pages Zach’s manifesto was.

4 Lady February 13, 2012 at 8:57 pm

Now, I’m not an ultra traditionalist. In fact, I’m a pretty independent lady/pain in the behind, and I’m not a huge fan of the mustache, either (although I support the cause). BUT… there should be a course offered in every college based on this website.

5 Joe February 13, 2012 at 9:10 pm

In the military we have something like this called the “Commander’s Intent.”

6 Steve February 13, 2012 at 9:12 pm

This, of course, assumes that the things you write down actually have a chance in hell of happening. Otherwise, you’re just reminding yourself of your failures on a daily basis.

7 Daniel February 13, 2012 at 9:21 pm

Great article! I was looking for a quick diversion from my studies, and saw a new article on AoM. I resolve to write my own manifesto. But for now, I resolve to returning to studying for my midterm exam.

8 Man February 13, 2012 at 9:26 pm

To: Lady. I disagree. The material covered in this blog is not of the sort that can or should be taught in institutions. The knowledge and wisdom proliferated here should be taught by fathers to sons. Allowing the educational system to replace the parents in child-rearing is what got us in this pickle. The responsibility for the feminization of young men rests solely on the shoulders of their absent fathers. We as men need to rise up and mentor our sons to become honorable and worthy men, to instill in them the mantle of manhood, not just the commercialized male-ness that fills the media; but true, confident, manliness. Put that in your manifesto!

9 Mike February 13, 2012 at 9:53 pm

To: Man

An educator, thank you. Daily I find myself trying to teach/model young boys how to be young men, as I was taught by my present daily father. Young girls are shocked as well when they see what a male should be doing. Yes, old school values. Please/thank you, holding doors to self reliance. I have already been asked twice this to, “be the male for my boy because his daddy doesn’t care too much”. I will do what I can do to the best of my abilities, but not at the expense of my own children at home. Barely middle aged and old fashioned guy perhaps, right or wrong.

10 Mike February 13, 2012 at 9:58 pm

Didn’t proofread my initial post…my apologies before any “you should know better” finger waving starts :) 14 hour days do that!

11 Steve February 13, 2012 at 10:39 pm

What a coincidence, I just recently wrote my own “Code of Conduct”. I was inspired by the audio course from Harry Browned entitled “Rule Your World!”

12 Steve February 13, 2012 at 10:40 pm

Edit: “Harry Browne” not “Browned”

13 Andrew February 14, 2012 at 12:32 am

this may be the first ron swanson quote officially included in an AoM post. this website is now complete.

14 RalphLockwood February 14, 2012 at 12:42 am

Great article, but……DAMN….is it too short or is it just me? I would’ve loved for the author to go into a bit more detail on his own manifesto and maybe offered up some historical examples. Good stuff, no doubt; but I for one would’ve liked a little more meat in this post.

15 BenG February 14, 2012 at 1:49 am

Great post. Thanks Zach. @Steve, your failures don’t define you as a man, but your values do. The fact that you can hold up the plumb line and admit you’ve made mistakes is evidence that you can do better.
Never despair.
When we are at our lowest point it is time to remind ourselves to doubt our doubts and believe our beliefs. A perfect time to whip out the manifesto.
@Lady: I appreciate your comment. I think it speaks to the heart of a lot of us that frequent this site, we long to see men step up and be real men. Including us!
@Man: I agree with you, but I hope more young men “get it” regardless of the source. There’s a hell of a lot of fatherless kids out there that need this stuff anyway they can get it.

16 Shea February 14, 2012 at 2:45 am

‘Commander’s Intent’ is what a unit commander expects from his troops or how he understands a mission and wants it accomplished. Not how we should govern ourselves. A better comparison is the ‘Army Values’ of Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless-Service, Honor, Integrity, and Personal Courage. But these words have little meaning if you don’t look at them individually and learn what they mean to YOU. Then decide how you will use them to help determine your actions. These words also do not describe things like how to treat our wives, raise our sons and daughters etc. without another army term ‘Implied Task’. But, once identified even implied task should be wrtten down as a reminder. A good jump start to writing this would be to watch the movie ‘Courageous’.

17 Otis February 14, 2012 at 2:49 am

” I knew one person who’s manifesto was Machiavelli’s The Prince, and I still don’t know what to make of that.”

I know what to think of that. Watch your back around him.

18 DG February 14, 2012 at 6:37 am

This is a great post. Three years ago I set out writing and compiling a document that I termed our ‘family constitution’ for my very young family. It’s a document that encompasses our values, beliefs and to a certain degree our dreams. When a major decision needs to be made, referring back to the documents helps to keep focus. A bit different to a personal manifesto but certainly along the same lines.

19 Caleb Phelps February 14, 2012 at 7:13 am

This is a good reminder to have at the start of a new year. Be intentional about stepping up and being a man who leads with chivalry, courage, and love.

20 Charley February 14, 2012 at 8:36 am

I think there’s one thing missing here–a discussion of privacy. Perhaps another subject altogether but a manifesto, in the writing and especially the sharing, requires a degree of privacy to allow oneself to “let loose.” We live in a highly-charged political (and social) environment and when one “takes on sacred cows” as one might in a manifesto, one should be cautious about the “world’s” enthusiasm for a man speaking his mind. Especially in the writing, don’t think about how this will piss off so-and-so (perhaps an intimate) but getting down what you really think and fee. Let’s leave to whom and how to share it to a followup column.
ps. Thinking and feeling are different. Good to know.

21 Scott Moore February 14, 2012 at 8:40 am

I was going to call mine a manifesto, but I got such blowback from friends about the “commie” thing that I went with a “Code of Honor” instead. Same principles, better name.

22 Owen Marcus February 14, 2012 at 9:28 am

Manifestos can be powerful when they are a stretch. I found the key is to connect to a part within myself that wants to be birthed. A part that wants a voice grounded in action.

Manifestos need to change as you change. They are meant to manifest something in you or outside you… or for someone else. Once you achieve your goal – create a new manifesto.

Read others great men’s manifestos. Being Remarkable needs inspiration, direction and focus… and certainly action.

23 john February 14, 2012 at 10:45 am

I don’t mean to be contrary, but as an older man, I see this as more of this society’s influence of narcissism and false bravado.
where we don’t work toward our fifteen minutes of fame—we demand it! Where we are convinced that what we have to say is so profound that it absolutely must be shared with the world, and that our big talk is the same as actually doing something. I think there may be a reason why the word “manfesto” is associated with tyrants and serial killers.

24 mattoomba February 14, 2012 at 11:07 am

John, I don’t believe the manifesto is supposed to be shared, it’s for your own, personal use. It a touchstone for you to recenter yourself, not a speach you’re supposed to announce to others. When you are of clear mind: Define your principles, define what’s important to you, and define how you’ll approach life, so that it will be ingrained in you when you are besieged by troubles and not of clear mind. But keep this to yourself, to share perhaps only with the sons (and daughters?) you are raising.

25 tim_lebsack February 14, 2012 at 11:08 am

This is an example of an excellent manifesto. http://goo.gl/PE0MV
I read this first at the Flying W Ranch in Colorado. Looks like it time to have an AoM “Recite Your Manifesto” video contest.

26 Eddie February 14, 2012 at 11:16 am

I recently remarried after having many years to consider all things right and wrong in a marriage. My then fiancé and I coauthored a marriage manifesto to clearly define what we were entering into. A manifesto by definition is a public declaration. We printed it on our wedding program and read it to our guest as a part of our wedding ceremony. I have a pdf of the program here: http://www.edhess.com/program.pdf

27 adam February 14, 2012 at 2:30 pm

I think I’ll write one and title it, “The Reason I am So Stubborn and Unyielding.”

28 Frank Martin | Modern Monkey Mind February 14, 2012 at 3:03 pm

I think one of the major failings of current times is a trend of people living without a clear intent, without purpose. You may disagree with the minimalist/simple living movement, for example, but they are still people living a very definite purposeful life.

While I’ve been admittedly struggling to puzzle this out for myself, I’m honestly not sure you CAN be a man without a conscious awareness of your values, purpose, and intent, which is what a manifesto seems to be about. Having a manifesto is about living an active life, and from what I’ve seen, being a man is about being an active force in one’s own life, not passively floating through it, so I kind of fail to see how John sees the act of consciously recording this information as a bad thing. I agree that publicly declaiming it just makes one look immature, especially if you think its revolutionary or some tripe, but saying the very act of writing such a document is unmanly seems to be missing the point of true manliness.

29 Cory Huff February 14, 2012 at 4:23 pm

The only change I’d make is to make it assumptive and active. Instead of I WILL, make it I DO.

“I exhibit strength and control…”

30 Zach Sumner February 14, 2012 at 5:38 pm

@ Charley: This is true. I have shared my manifesto with exactly no one. Some people can think of a manifesto as a public document, and more power to you.

For me personally, it’s about re-centering myself, as mattoomba said. It’s a short little document that I can read as I’m eating my breakfast to remind myself of my priorities.

Someone said that it could be narcissistic, and that danger is of course there. But the danger of narcissism is everywhere, not just in writing your own manifesto.

31 Zach Sumner February 14, 2012 at 5:42 pm

@ Travis: Mine came out to about 7 pages. Not very long. Completely readable during breakfast every morning, which is what I do. I cover parents, politics, love, hardships, religion, self sufficiency, and money.

When you’re being direct, it doesn’t take all that much space to communicate what you want to.

32 Jason February 14, 2012 at 6:28 pm

I enjoyed writing something very similar to this but with the format laid down by journalist Edward R. Murrow in his “This I Believe” radio broadcasts. I believe the act of thinking, writing, and reading conforms my behaviors to the values I wrote down.

33 James February 14, 2012 at 8:12 pm

Sounds like a great idea for a weekend project. Thanks for the inspiration!

34 Joost February 15, 2012 at 5:02 am

Wow Brett, great article!
I have been thinking about making something similiar. Something like a mantra, with my core-principles and ´absolute truths’ in it, which I then will speak out loud every morning before going to university. I’m not religious myself, but I think in some way you could compare it to praying. Only with personalised content.
Just repeating and remembering how to act good and what our core values and principles are will make us better men!

35 Joost February 15, 2012 at 5:07 am

^ I mean: thanks for the article Mr. Sumner, and thanks for placing it Mr. McKay.

36 Chris February 15, 2012 at 12:30 pm

Oddly enough, I was trying to research how to start my own Manifesto last week. I found almost no help when I Googled “how to create a manifesto” so I just started writing. I made three categories (My Rules (aka Values), My Goals, and My Favorite Quotes). Maybe once I get a bit more written I’ll turn it into a true manifesto, but I’ve already begun incorporating some of the info from this article.

37 Robin February 15, 2012 at 12:59 pm

I like this one from the movie, “Courageous”. It’s called “The Resolution” but it could also be a Manifesto.
THE RESOLUTION

I do solemnly resolve before God to take full responsibility for myself, my wife, and my children.

I WILL love them, protect them, serve them, and teach them the Word of God as the spiritual leader of my home.

I WILL be faithful to my wife, to love and honor her, and be willing to lay down my life for her as Jesus Christ did for me.

I WILL bless my children and teach them to love God with all of their hearts, all of their minds, and all of their strength.

I WILL train them to honor authority and live responsibly.

I WILL confront evil, pursue justice, and love mercy.

I WILL pray for others and treat them with kindness, respect, and compassion.

I WILL work diligently to provide for the needs of my family.

I WILL forgive those who have wronged me and reconcile with those I have wronged.

I WILL learn from my mistakes, repent of my sins, and walk with integrity as a man answerable to God.

I WILL seek to honor God, be faithful to His church, obey His Word, and do His will.

I WILL courageously work with the strength God provides to fulfill this resolution for the rest of my life and for His glory.

As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. – Joshua 24:15

38 Robin February 15, 2012 at 1:05 pm

This one is called a Creed.
I would be a friend to the friendless and find joy in ministering to the needs of the poor.
I would visit the sick and afflicted and inspire in them a desire for faith to be healed.
I would teach the truth to the understanding and blessing of mankind.
… I would seek out the erring one and try to win him back to a righteous and happy life.
I would not seek to force people to live up to my ideals, but rather love them into doing the thing that is right.
I would live with the masses and help to solve their problems that their earth life may be happy.
I would avoid the publicity of high position and discourage the flattery of thoughtless friends.
I would not knowingly wound the feelings of any, not even one who may have wronged me, but would seek to do good and make him my friend.
I would overcome the tendency to selfishness and jealousy and rejoice in the success of all the children of our Heavenly Father.
I would not be an enemy to any living soul.
Knowing that the Redeemer of mankind has offered to the world the only plan that will fully develop us and make us really happy here and hereafter, I feel it not only a duty but a blessed privilege to disseminate this truth.
George Albert Smith

39 Brandon C. February 15, 2012 at 6:38 pm

Thanks so much for just what I needed. Though I know my beliefs, etc. it’s often later that I’m plagued with “why didn’t I do X?” This will be a great thing for me.

40 Tom February 16, 2012 at 12:11 pm

I’m frustrated by activities like this. They motivate me for a short time and I try to make a routine out of them. Then I start to realize it’s kind of a waste of time. Soon all I can see is my failures in life and my little “Gentleman’s Code” or “Manifesto” just seems self-indulgent and embarrassing. Am I doing something wrong?

41 Joshua February 16, 2012 at 2:53 pm

This commercial became part of my personal manifesto when I saw it. The commercial appears to be an aftershave commercial, but it actually contains a lesson about practicality, stoicism, confidence, and simple, direct communication. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bZ5spLy22mg

42 Bryan February 17, 2012 at 11:23 pm

Good God.

I thought about doing this, but then I was reminded how much I enjoy betting sports, playing poker, and having sex.

I thought I’d never see anything more worthless than “how to fold a pocket square.” I won’t, but this is ballpark.

43 Rick February 17, 2012 at 11:40 pm

@Bryan
It’s not a law-book about morals. It’s what you stand for. You can put whatever you want in there.

44 Sean February 19, 2012 at 1:46 am

A few years back I started to write about myself in the past tense as if writing my own autobiography or my own obituary. It turned into what is now a present moment and forward looking multiple page document covering 10 keys areas/principles of my life. These 10 principles are like chapter headings and I have lines of related details defining my character and intentions under each one.

It’s not a one time thing. As I read and listen and learn it gets edited and revised all the time. The whole purpose is that it be a living document to remind me of who I am and what and how I want to be. It is so useful for goal setting, staying on course, and getting back on course when life gets in the way. I don’t share the actual writing with anyone but the content is shared with everyone on a daily basis because it is who I am or aspire to be.

45 VBK February 19, 2012 at 5:35 am

Every time I think , I wanted to be like this or like that. But I cannot maintain the momentum. May be just because I am not reminding every day. I will write a Manifesto for me and re read it every day. I know surely it helps me as a guidance system in my daily life.
Thanks Zach!

46 Native Son February 19, 2012 at 2:05 pm

Somehow, I just can’t shake a gut feeling that Manifestos are best written by guys named Karl or Ted.

47 Ryan February 19, 2012 at 3:06 pm

Well, thinking of Communists or serial killers, that makes sense.

48 Bob February 19, 2012 at 5:02 pm

To Man re Lady’s suggestion: single moms need to understand their sons’ manliness and nurture it, both directly – by letting the son see she respects its emergence in them – and by enlisting where possible the help of manly men as “uncles” because she judges such men good role models.

49 langhorne February 19, 2012 at 9:21 pm

The Declaration of Independence is a manifesto. See here. A manifesto is only ‘commie’ to those who see reds under the bed.

50 Weevil February 20, 2012 at 11:19 am

Now here is a manifesto…

the blog of: Μίκης Θεοδωράκης http://spithakentroathinas.blogspot.com/2012/02/mikis-theodorakis-open-letter-to.html

51 Brandon Weldy February 20, 2012 at 11:30 am

I read Michael Hyatt’s “Creating Your Personal Life Plan” and from that I made mine. I like calling it a manifesto better than just a personal life plan though!

52 ymm February 20, 2012 at 5:07 pm

I have a question. What if no one else in the world believes in certain beliefs that you hold very dearly? And there is no way to change anyone else’s mind, yet you still believe it to be true. What should one do?

53 Twyman February 20, 2012 at 7:12 pm

I’ll show you mine, if you’ll show me your. Show me your’s first.

54 Jon Carlson February 20, 2012 at 11:34 pm

The Nazis in the White House Story: Part 31
BP Gulf Oil Well Sabotaged For Hitler’s Birthday
http://www.hoaxofthecentury.com/HitlerBPSabotage1.htm

55 Ang February 22, 2012 at 9:36 am

Great post! I need something like this to cut through the noise of everyday to get see my larger goals. Here’s what mine will look like:
I will:
work when I’m working, playing while I’m playing, and rest while I’m resting;
summon the inner strength to avoid petty conflicts with my competitiors;
be kind;
fully express my love;
never fake an orgasm;
remain wild, curious, and relentlessly pursue my goals;
LIVE, not be a spectator in my own goings on; …..ect

56 Blair February 29, 2012 at 11:15 pm

“Twitching with Twight” by Mark Twight is a perfect example. A visceral call to arms and a demand to reevaluate how men have become soft. He wrote it with climbing in mind, but the lessons he expounds have influenced how I live.

57 Andrew March 5, 2012 at 9:48 pm

This makes me think of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective people :)

I agree that manifestos can be life-changing. It really helps me on a day-to-day basis when dealing with situations; rather than react, I can choose how I respond to events by referencing my values and principles as outlines in my manifesto.

58 Mehboob Shahjhan Virk March 9, 2012 at 7:25 am

Helping..

59 Iván Martínez October 3, 2012 at 1:13 pm

Maybe it can be a little controversial, but you could find interesting this Invictus inspired comic http://zenpencils.com/comic/william-ernest-henley-invictus/

60 Matt February 13, 2013 at 1:52 pm

A great start in writing your manifesto would be to complete the “30 Days to a Better Man” challenge presented on AoM.

61 Robert Dean February 13, 2013 at 2:03 pm

A manifesto, I think, is probing one’s soul for absolutes. Once established the matter of doubt grows smaller; therefore, setting in place a plan to act upon. It is likewise introspection. One may discover their suppositions are false, clearing a path for correction. A very powerful idea indeed

62 Pat February 26, 2013 at 6:38 pm

Really enjoyed your post as it is helping me in the writing of my manifesto. I’ve never done anything like this before and your article gave me insight. I am a storyteller and is different in putting my thoughts together and writing like this.

I wrote a post on my site called “Shifts and Changes — Being Real” and wanted to let you know I included in it links to this post and your site.

Thank you Zach for sharing your personal challenges, motives, intentions and what is important to you.

63 Augustin March 30, 2013 at 1:35 pm

Now I know what I’m working on tonight.

64 Des January 1, 2014 at 12:53 pm

I say thank you Zach for this piece. I had previously found the process of composing a Mission statement frustration. I had to wrestle to try to put in writing the mission of my heart.

Your suggestion was like a flame that blazed light on a dark place. It give me a structure to my thinking. I now have just finished compose a manifesto that has help me discover within myself my true calling. Thank you sir, and I pray that God guides you in your endeavours for 2014

65 Robert Jones January 30, 2014 at 12:17 am

Great post I’m writing my manifesto as apart of the 31 day journaling challenge.
I struggled to pick topics I decided to share my eventual choices to help others

Studies
Work
Mindfulness
Responsibility

66 Dave March 17, 2014 at 5:29 am

As simple and imperfect as this post is, this is timeless. I hope this page/post is maintained for years to come (think, webpages that have been preserved since the mid 90′s), as it contains some of the richest knowledge that all men should learn, know and apply in their daily lives.

“Nosce te ipsum” – “Know thyself”

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