The Child Is the Father to the Man: 9 Foundational Habits Young Men Should Start Now to Raise Themselves Right

by Brett & Kate McKay on September 16, 2013 · 71 comments

in A Man's Life


Awhile back I was driving through the place where I grew up – Edmond, Oklahoma – and happened to pass by my old high school. This wasn’t an unusual event; I now live just an hour and a half from Edmond and my parents still reside there, so I’m back fairly frequently and sometimes pass the school. But this time something was different. On past occasions, I would be hit with a rush of nostalgia and memories of my days there would vividly come back to me. This time, however, I felt…nothing. Cognitively I thought, “There’s my old high school,” but no emotional wires were tripped. It seemed like just another building – my feeling of strong personal connection to it had disappeared.

As I drove on and contemplated this change and the distance I realized I now felt towards my youth in general, a quote from Theodore Roosevelt I had read years earlier came back to me: “The child is father to the man.” When I first came across the quote, it had puzzled me. I couldn’t really grasp what it meant. But as I drove past the home of the Edmond North Huskies, I began to understand it.

Roosevelt, I learned, was not the originator of the quote – he was in fact referencing a poem by William Wordsworth:

My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man;
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.

What Wordsworth had in mind with these lines is the idea that a man’s passions, interests, curiosity, and penchant for awe and wonderment are born in youth and run an unsevered thread into adulthood. While some adults forgot the childlike joy of their younger years, Wordsworth believed it was still within them waiting to be rediscovered.

This is a worthy idea, and one that few men embraced with the vigor of Theodore Roosevelt, who bounded through his entire life with an unflagging boyish enthusiasm. But when TR professed that the child is the father of the man, he had something much different in mind, as he writes in his autobiography:

“Looking back, a man really has a more objective feeling about himself as a child than he has about his father or mother. He feels as if that child were not the present he, individually, but an ancestor; just as much an ancestor as either of his parents.  The saying that the child is the father to the man may be taken in a sense almost the reverse of that usually given to it. The child is father to the man in the sense that his individuality is separate from the individuality of the grown-up into which he turns. This is perhaps one reason why a man can speak of his childhood and early youth with a sense of detachment.”

At a certain point in your life — if you’re like me, it will happen in your late twenties — you will begin to experience the phenomenon of which TR speaks. The person you were as a boy and a young man will begin to seem like another individual, rather separate from your grown-up self. It’s a strange thing to experience. It’s not that you lose memories of your past, or necessarily let go of the youthful ideals and traits that Wordsworth cherished, but simply that your boyhood self and your current self come to seem like two distinct individuals.

Why does this cleaving between youth and adulthood occur? Surely some of it can be chalked up to the simple passage of time; as you grow older, your memories, and thus the attachment you feel to your past, become hazier. But it is also likely has its roots in neurology. As we discussed in our post about twentysomethings, your brain does not finish “setting up” until around your mid-twenties, which is also — not coincidentally, I would argue — around the time that your youthful self will begin to seem more like a distinct entity. The brain of your youth is not the brain of your adulthood, and the latter can remember and view the former almost as an outside observer.

What Kind of Man Are You Going to Father?


All this may be interesting to ponder, but it also has two practical implications that are vital for young men to understand.

First, what your present self wants and desires probably isn’t going to be what your future self wants and desires. When we’re young, we’re typically more present-focused. We worry about what can give us pleasure NOW and not ten years from now. So we spend money instead of save it, eat like crap, and play video games all night long, instead of eating right, exercising, and seeking experiences that will grow our minds and character. Sure, pleasure-oriented pursuits feel good in the moment, but our future selves will probably prefer to have more money in the bank and less blubber around our mid-sections.

Second, at this very moment, you are creating or “fathering” the man you will be in five, ten, and twenty years. So you want to be a successful, financially secure, physically fit, and well-adjusted forty-year-old? What actions are you taking NOW as a twenty-year-old to father that man? Just like one day you’ll need to be intentional about fathering your biological children, right now you need to be intentional about fathering your future self. Will you be an absentee dad who leaves your 30-year-old self feeling lost and adrift? Or will you raise a man who is intelligent, virtuous, and able to tackle life with confidence and vigor? No one can control the kind of biological father they are born with. But every young man can strive to be the best possible father to his future self.

Doing this doesn’t mean taking life too seriously and eschewing the fun you should be having as a young adult. It simply means establishing a set of foundational habits that will serve you well now and that you will thank yourself for later.

As we explored in our series on your twenties, after your brain finishes developing, changing your habits, while still possible, becomes harder. For this reason, your youth is the best and easiest time to transform yourself into the man you want to become. The positive habits you create as a young man will become a solid foundation you can build on for the rest of your life. What’s more, research has found that simply imagining yourself as an old person can increase your chances of establishing positive habits, like saving money. 

Below are nine foundational habits that will help every young man raise himself right.

1. Save 20% of Your Money  


Many young men will say to themselves that when they finally start making “real” money then they’ll start saving. If only that were true. In a post on the financial regrets of college graduates, we mentioned that the majority of men coming out of school wish they had started saving sooner. It may seem hard when you don’t have much income, but like anything, starting small will increase your chances of future success exponentially.

Make it a habit right now, no matter what your paycheck is, to put 20% of your after-tax income into savings. The easy way to do it is to set up an automatic transfer from your checking account to your savings account the day after you get paid. That way, it comes right out of your account just like a bill, and you don’t even have to think about it. Don’t be among the 25% of Americans who don’t save at all. If you own a car or a home, you know how stressful it can be when things inevitably go awry – the air conditioner goes out, a tire gets punctured. There’s a great sense of relief (and even pride) when you have the cash to handle it instead of using credit.

2. Exercise Daily  


Regular exercise provides a boatload of benefits — from improving cardiovascular health, to fighting stress and depression, to increasing testosterone. Thus, there are few habits that will better ensure a lifetime of success and well-being than making a daily workout a non-negotiable part of your life. Instead of trying to get on the exercise wagon when you’re a tired, out-of-shape, middle-aged man with a lot of responsibilities and very little time, make it a habit now when you’re at the top of your game. Regular exercise is a tough routine to start, but once it becomes a solid habit, most people continue with it indefinitely. The physical and psychological benefits become almost impossible to give up.

3. Eat Healthy


If you want to avoid becoming a pot-bellied man, you need to establish good eating habits today. Research has shown again and again that diet is the biggest factor in maintaining a healthy weight.

Unfortunately, many young men develop poor eating habits in high school and college. With all-you-can-eat cafeterias and vending machines all over campus, it’s easy for a poor diet to become the norm. You can often get away with subsisting on pop tarts and pizza for a while because of your scorching metabolism. But as you age and that metabolism slows down, the junk food diet catches up with you and the pounds start piling on. Develop healthy eating habits now, so you don’t have to struggle to do a one-eighty when you’re facing down your ten-year reunion with a 40-inch waist. Healthy eating doesn’t have to be complicated; for a good place to start, check out Steve Kamb’s easy to follow guide to the paleo diet over on Nerd Fitness.

4. Plan Weekly and Daily


If I were asked which habit has contributed most to my success and well-being as an adult, I’d have to say weekly and daily planning. The power of planning lies in the perspective and control it provides for your life; it gives you both a broad, birds-eye view of the maze that must be navigated to achieve your long-term goals, and the ability to manage the small, day-to-day tasks that are essential to reaching those aims. Without daily and weekly planning, you end up getting distracted, forgetting what you need to do, and ending each day with the restless anxiety born from knowing you pretty much wasted your daylight – again.

Take a look at our post on weekly and daily planning for tips and ideas on how to start this habit.

5. Read for Pleasure


Readers are leaders. If you talk to principals and teachers they often say that nothing predicts a student’s success as well as whether or not they read independently. This isn’t very surprising – reading expands your mind and vocabulary, increases your creativity and empathy, and boosts your critical thinking skills and attention span. As a young man you’ll have plenty of required reading assignments for school, but be sure to also always be reading something for pleasure as well.

Not sure what book to pick up first? Check out our recommended reading lists and join the AoM book club!

6. Brush and Floss


This may sound like a silly habit to mention, but think about it: you only get one set of teeth during your lifetime. It’s not like losing hair or getting wrinkles which are largely cosmetic problems; there are all kinds of negative correlations to poor oral heath, including an increased risk of cancer. The Mayo Clinic even says that your oral hygiene and health offers a window to your overall health. Unless you want to drop a small fortune on fixing your cavities and eventually replacing them with veneers or dentures, you need to take care of the teeth (and gums) nature gave you. So brush those pearly whites two times daily and floss every night. Your future self will thank you every time he eats an apple or corn on the cob with aplomb.

7. Meditate


There is probably no habit more important for a young man in the 21st century to establish than daily meditation. With the constant barrage of distractions we’re subject to in the modern age, if you don’t learn to discipline your mind now, you can easily find yourself lying on your death bed reviewing your life, and seeing only visions of BuzzFeed and your iPhone flash before your eyes. Not only does meditation increase your willpower, but it also fights stress, improves your mental and physical health, and boosts your resiliency. And here’s even more proof that meditation will help your future self: recent studies have shown that regular meditation can slow down the onset of dementia.

Read our primer on meditation. It doesn’t take much to get started. Start off with 5 minutes a day and work your way up to 20 minutes a day. Lately I’ve been using for some fantastic (and free!) guided meditations.

8. Journal


When I did a book signing at the Tankfarm store back in May, an AoM reader and I chatted a bit about the importance of journaling. He made this rather rough, but astute analogy: “Your body takes a sh** to keep everything running smoothly. Every now and then your mind needs to take a dump, too. A journal is basically a toilet for the mind.”


As I’ve admitted, I’m not the most regular journaler, but I always feel on top of my game when I’m consistent with it. There’s something cathartic about working out your problems with pen and paper. Whenever I’ve hit a wall in life, it’s often through journaling that I find the solution. Moreover, studies have shown that regular journaling improves your emotional and physical health.

Not only will your future self be grateful for the sense of well-being the journal habit will bring, he’ll also be thankful that he has a catalog of all the important events that have occurred in his life. I know from my own experience that I enjoy reading my journals from my high school and college days. It allows me to relive those important moments in my life, reminds me of the youthful ideals and goals I don’t want to lose sight of, and provides me with perspective on how much I’ve progressed as a man.

9. Serve


I’m a big believer in the idea that service is the rent we pay for living on earth. In one way or another, we’ve all benefited from the work and sacrifice of generations before us and from the love and support of those around us. Give back by providing regular service.

The great thing about serving is that the more we give, the more we get. Service makes our lives more meaningful and is a potent antidote to the increasing narcissism in our culture.

What foundational habits do you think men should start when they’re young? If you’re an older man, what habits you formed when you were young served you best later in life?

{ 71 comments… read them below or add one }

1 David September 16, 2013 at 11:53 pm

This puts into words what I began to think a few weeks ago and is what motivated me to really begin most of these things such as good diet, exercise and even flossing. Great article, gives me a few other goals I can strive to achieve.

2 Mike P September 16, 2013 at 11:58 pm

Very good read, especially for my 20 year old self.

3 Matt B. September 17, 2013 at 12:15 am

I’m currently 23 and have been trying to get into a few of these habits. The problem? It’s hard. Very hard but not impossible. Sometimes I get on a good roll but then work, sleep, sickness or other things get in the way. One thing that helps (at the cost of being legalistic) is being sure that you measure progress. This year I set about to read at least 20 books. I’m always reading something though it’s mostly online articles. I’ve now read about 25 and am still working at a couple. It’s good to see progress and keeping stats really helps.

4 John Corcoran September 17, 2013 at 12:44 am


I loved this post, but I especially loved the last note about serving others. I agree that we’re meant to serve others, and the sooner we all find what that means exactly, and how we can do that, the better off we all are.

5 Stefan September 17, 2013 at 1:02 am

Great list, and this will definitely help build character in a young man. One small addition I’d personally make to the list, would be to teach kids to enjoy being outside. If it’s a walk in the woods, or a week-long hike through the Rockies, it teaches you to appreciate your surroundings. And a basic respect for nature is a growing problem I’m currently seeing in society.

6 Joost September 17, 2013 at 2:29 am

Awesome article! I found that I actually started some of these habits myself when I didn´t feel good about something in my life.
Tired alot –> excercise daily & eat healthy –> more energy now
Pondering endlessly –> meditation & journalling –> relaxed and proactive state of mind
Getting nothing done –> planning week>day>hour –> higher productivity

I live with the philosophy that first of all, you should get the basic elements of life under control. From a wider base, you can build a higher and more stable structure (like a pyramid). I pay most attention to the things that would kill me first if I didn’t do or have it. (breathing, water, food, sleep). I think these are the things you should get perfectly right because they provide you with the energy to install the other habits!


7 Patrick September 17, 2013 at 5:22 am

This is amazing. The service part really struck.

It is true that we owe the world something in return for giving us something so wonderful. We are very fortunate to live on the other side of the coin. I feel for those who cannot afford what is essentially given to me.

Wish, in the future all of us will be given this opportunity.

8 Alex H September 17, 2013 at 6:18 am

Morning from down the street in Broken Arrow, I love the blog and this post is dead on. I hope to give the myself of 20 years from now an easier time as he continues striving for manhood. Thanks for the help!

9 C Jackson September 17, 2013 at 7:22 am

I’m 28 now and the habits I had when younger are absolutely catching up now. Fortunately, Tea Kwon Do and the refusal to complain about anything were in my foundation, but habits like eating crap and sleeping in too much have been hard to break. This article makes a good point: build who you want to be while you’re young, you’ll thank yourself later.

10 Moss September 17, 2013 at 7:35 am

Excellent post! I will do my best to father a worthy man.

11 Troy September 17, 2013 at 8:25 am

This is an excellent post. It successfully combines high minded, romantic concepts with practical actions.

James Joyce addressed this same concept of Son-as-Father-to-his-own-Father in Ulysses. A difficult concept to grasp, but one that gives us another angle on our own lives as men constantly defining what it means to be ‘men’ today.

Keep up the good work.

12 David MH September 17, 2013 at 8:31 am

As a 49 year old reading this, it becomes a little depressing. I am the 40-something to avoid. However, you 20-something readers should know that this advice is spot on. Follow the advice. Excellent post.

13 Anthony September 17, 2013 at 8:32 am

Matt B.: yes, it is hard! I’m 34 and still working on it (though I do better than I did at 23). The key is to keep on. Don’t be hard on yourself when you miss because of work, sickness, etc. Stuff happens. Just resume the habit again the next day, or next week, or whatever.

Measuring progress is a great idea too. I think people are wired to be forward-thinking, so we tend to think very little about what we’ve accomplished but a lot about what is still to accomplish (at least that’s what I do). And that’s good: what’s done is done and can’t be changed, so it’s good to focus on what there is still to do. But sometimes, take a moment to think about what you’ve already done and congratulate yourself.

14 Red September 17, 2013 at 9:14 am

AoM has inspired me to begin writing a diary recently, as I have long meant to do. I guess I’ll have to try meditation next as I fortunately already eat healthily and exercise!

Thanks so much for your wonderful articles Brett and Kate, I think you are having a great influence on men throughout the world!

15 Dave Hearn September 17, 2013 at 9:48 am

This is one of my favorite posts yet. Thanks for continuing to add amazing content to this blog. You’ve turned AoM into a great resource for men and wanna-be men. I’ll admit that I’ve been using your subjects to help teach men and boys in my church, community, and charity.

A huge thank you for this site.

16 Paul S September 17, 2013 at 9:53 am

I agree with you, but would expand on some of it. Especially meditation, as the buddist form of emptying yourself does nothing (it’s meant to be an attempt to become part of nirvana…), but meditation over scripture or a thought or idea can be hugely beneficial. Meditation should be filling, not emptying.

You asked for something I recommend to young men. Make it a habit to read scripture daily. There are great rewards in this (even to the non believer who can limit himself to proverbs, perhaps). The greatest I have experienced is a grounding in truth, but others will come from this as well. This practice is even more rewarding if you spend about 15 minutes of the first hour after you wake doing this. It gets you on the right foot for the day.

17 Allan Corpuz September 17, 2013 at 10:42 am

Great Article… These are the things we need to stress to our young men. In the age of social media, it is easy to get lost and distracted with superficial stuff!

Thank you for sharing!

18 Clinton September 17, 2013 at 10:56 am

I like the general spirit of this article. Like it says, if you know now what kind of man you want to be when you’re 40, you need to put things in place in your younger years to get there. However, the author lays out a blueprint to become one specific kind of man (the kind THEY want to be). I save money, eat well, read for pleasure and exercise. I’m well on my way to having the financial security and physical/mental health that I desire. However, I’ve never filled out a day-planner in my life, I don’t have a journal, and I don’t meditate. Nothing on this list is “required” to become a good man. You just need to figure out where you want to be and chart a path to get there. if you don’t need meditation and a journal to get your mind right, don’t feel compelled to start doing those things. If you prefer spontaneity to a rigid hour-by-hour, week-by-week schedule, go with it. Want to add something else to your list, like daily or weekly excursions into nature (important to Teddy Roosevelt, but ignored in this article)? Go for it.

I don’t mean this as criticism; more as a disclaimer for those who may take the list as gospel.

19 Alex September 17, 2013 at 12:02 pm

Great article! This organizes what took me a period of at least four years to figure out on my own.

I’m almost 29 and I have most of these pinned down, still working on a few. At the age of 25 I found myself pondering over an interesting question that crossed my mind while driving home one day: “Would my five year old self be proud of the man I’m becoming?”

I was just fresh out of a long and very bad relationship, my metabolism was at it’s peak l but I could tell it wouldn’t be long before it would slow down, and I was working hard but didn’t feel I had anything to show for it. Wanting to be a man of action I worked on it instead of complaining.

I feel my life is much richer and more meaningful with my new habits. I’ve quickly set myself apart from my co-workers and grown from a junior position to a senior position in no time. I’ve got lots of great skills that have grown into hobbies making it easier to connect to a wide range of people. Some of the new habits have even grown into great passions. I took up racing from a daily running routine I’d started. I ran my first marathon earlier this year, and I’m currently training for a 100 mile ultra. It keeps me in shape, and I get to run for some pretty good causes (it feels great to give not only of my resources, but of my time, my mind, and body as well).

The most important one, and I didn’t really appreciate it until recently, is I have a new woman in my life. Talk about being a rock, she seems to think the world of me and look to me for strength in ways I never could have imagined from drawing on all of these things I’ve picked up.

I’d have been lost without all of this!

20 Bryan J. Oates September 17, 2013 at 12:14 pm

Beyond perfect and much needed just today. Started off right with prayer and a follow up towards rebuilding my character, and THIS is what was needed. As always, I appreciate all that you give Brett and Kate.

Thank you,

21 Parke Ladd September 17, 2013 at 12:43 pm

Well said.

I recently turned 29 and just a few days ago experienced a situation similar to your high school one. I found myself finding it extremely difficult to remember who I was or what I was feeling as a high school student, and, as you say, found myself viewing my own life as a completely separate entity. It was quite strange, indeed. Glad to read I’m not the only one mentally shifting in this regard.

22 Dino Silone September 17, 2013 at 1:18 pm

At nearly 61, I find that planning for the kind of man I want to be at 40 pretty unsatisfying. :-)

This was a good list. I’m still blown away by the need to tell adults (or near adults) to brush their teeth, but maybe this is a different kind of generation…

The one thing that I think is missing from the list is PASSION. The main thing I tell my sons nowadays is to find their passion and go after it with all they’ve got. If you do that, you may never be rich, but you’ll be fully engaged in your life, and you’ll never be bored.

I’ve been very lucky in being able to enjoy a full career getting paid pretty well to do things that I would have gladly paid for the privilege of being allowed to do without pay. (I’ve spent my career mostly on the R side of R&D, in a field that I fell in love with at the age of 9).

Maybe we can’t all be driven by passion for what we do, or devote our lives to doing things we’re passionate about. But it’s sure worth a shot to try to find out. Being passionate about the things I choose to spend my time on has made it pretty unnecessary to worry about some of the things on the list – like planning and scheduling, at least not explicitly. Or journaling as a means to self-discovery – it’s never been an issue.

In any case, I’d put figuring out what you love and going after it right up there with brushing your teeth… :-D

23 Rex September 17, 2013 at 2:55 pm

Fantastic post. Accountability/brotherhood would be something I might add. Having goals for yourself is great, but the discipline to change your habits is hard to come by without a like-minded friend being there to keep you grounded and focused.

24 Nathan September 17, 2013 at 2:58 pm

So does this mean at 25 I am to late for the game?

25 Dylan Grant September 17, 2013 at 2:59 pm

As a 17 year old I am very proud to say I do everything except the first two! I Meditate, Read, and Plan downright feverishly, too. I wonder where I could find enough time to do the first two, especially the second?

26 Mike D September 17, 2013 at 3:38 pm

For those who worry too much about the conclusion and failing at sticking to the plan, here’s a great TED video that asks you to pat yourself on the back every once in a while; because your forgetting to acknowledge yourself for a lot and only focusing on the end result.

27 Bruce Egert September 17, 2013 at 3:43 pm

And, regrettably, #10–learn about and avoid the vices of gambling, drinking, drugs, staying up or out late, use of foul language in every sentence and disrespect for others who are different than yourself.

Great post.

28 Steve G September 17, 2013 at 6:01 pm

#11 Remember that every young woman is an older man’s daughter.

29 Brian September 17, 2013 at 7:13 pm

This was a good read with lots of insight. Thanks for writing!

30 Seamus B September 17, 2013 at 7:13 pm

Love the article! It would be awesome to have a Lift group with this.

31 Jasbir Singh September 17, 2013 at 8:18 pm

I really enjoyed reading this post, and would like to offer something that I think is missing (perhaps an extension of point #7 Mediation). Not to get too religious on you, but I recall reading that men who pray and attend religious services regularly tend to be the one’s that have lower divorce rates, and ultimately tend to cultivate more of the virtues and are able to avoid the addictions (and sins). Being a prayerful man is also good because it humbles oneself immensely, knowing that we are just ants before the almighty. This humility is great for character building. If you’re a father, I think it’s also a great example for a child to see their Daddy pray and recognize that even Daddy answers to someone higher than themselves. Thanks for this post, it took me back to my teenage years. I wish back then I had an ounce of religiousity in would have steered me on the right path sooner, and I would have “become a man” and made the switch from boy to man a lot sooner too.

32 Antonio Alvarez September 17, 2013 at 8:24 pm

as a 16 year old whose father works almost 60 hours a week and is somewhat detached from family life, I find it heartening to know I can succeed on my own. I must set up my own values, ideas, and integrity because I have no role model.

33 Jasbir Singh September 17, 2013 at 10:11 pm

To Antonio Alvarez,
I’m sure you will succeed, but please know that you are never alone. The best role model I can think of that will guide you every step of the way, is Jesus Christ. I’ll pray for you, and hope that the values and ideas you cling to, will be the values that come from the Judeo-Christian civilization. When I needed a male role model and some to love me as a big brother or father, it turned out to be Frere Pierre (brother Peter). For other good role models, I trust that you’ll find good upstanding men at church. Consider the Knights of Columbus too. Fathers are really critical in a young man’s life. I’ll pray for your Dad too.

34 Nick P. September 18, 2013 at 12:37 am

This is spot on! These are things I am teaching my girls right now and things I want my son to know. It is funny how such simple steps can and do make such a difference in a person’s life. If everyone practiced these steps we would be able to solve so many of the worlds problems.

35 Michael September 18, 2013 at 6:50 am

You make a good point about service, and your perspective on service is one I hadn’t thought of. That being said, how would you suggest people serve? In the military, fire department, etc.? Or is volunteering (e.g. soup kitchens, park cleanups) also service?

36 John tB September 18, 2013 at 7:03 am

In relation to saving money is to track your money. I am often surprised when I am out with friends and they don’t ask for a receipt. I track every debit and credit transaction in accounting software and it really helps to be able to save when you know where your money is going.

If you need a good free accounting software check out GnuCash.

37 Ty Wyatt September 18, 2013 at 8:22 am

Great post. Detachment has a lot of factors when we reach manhood. Matter of fact-ly we don’t need emotional attachment to things like high schools and old friend groups; it’s a sign of our inner strength to let go of nothing but the absolute necessity.

38 Levi Braund September 18, 2013 at 8:41 am

I’m only 17 now and I agree so much with pretty much all that you post but this in particular, has hit the nail on the head. Working through my final year of school, if everyone were told these tips, men and women alike, I feel we would all do better. The motivational speaker Eric Thomas also has a similar saying to TR’s which reads: All that we are to become, we are now becoming. Love it!

39 Adam September 18, 2013 at 9:26 am

How to pass this on to our sons? Even educating them by example when growing up they will probably become rebellious as nature dictates and develop away from these habits. Overcoming eventually the differences one day they might return back to it, however, this remains uncertain.

40 Tyler September 18, 2013 at 10:53 am

The only additional advice I would give to someone my age (25) or younger is to change one habit at a time. Start with sleep, exercise and hygiene. Once those things are in order you will (1) realize you need to eat better, (2) have more energy for intellectual development and service, and (3) realize you don’t have to spend as much money on entertainment and food. You will be healthier, more in tune with yourself, and able to save that 20 percent mentioned above.

Great article!

41 Jamie G. September 18, 2013 at 11:53 am

It’s unfortunate that meditation is still largely considered “unmanly”, especially in deeply religious/Christian areas, like here in Oklahoma. I’m in law enforcement and a lot of my partners consider the practice either “pagan” or feminine. However, I couldn’t recommend anything more for our occupation where the stress can be killer… stats show LEOs have a higher rate of suicide compared to the rest of the population.

As far as being a pagan practice, there are many forms of meditation that are not associated with religious overtones. Insight and Mindfulness meditation are two forms that come to mind. Plus, meditation has a rich history even in Christianity.

As far as being too feminine (I think one can be manly and not have a macho-chauvinist attitude), the samurai practiced zen meditation. Miyamoto Musashi being the prime example.

I have been using meditation for about five years and have found the practice very helpful. I can always tell that when I skip the practice after a few days the stress of life begins to weigh heavy and I end up with “monkey mind”.

42 Andrew Smith September 18, 2013 at 9:13 pm

I’m 43 and I am going to start doing all of these tonight!

43 Randall McKay September 19, 2013 at 3:58 pm

Being a man is hard. Because the ideal is constantly changing around us. You’re supposed to do this, think this way, think that way to be a man. I disagree with trying to frame a certain idea as the best, whether it be saving a certain amount of money, rolling up your sleeves a certain way, or shaving with an old style straight razor. I think being a man is all about attitude. You are building your ego to handle more responsibility, because you have to. It’s like building a game character. You have to add parts, take some away. But I think that trying to forget who you were when you were a kid is dead wrong. You still ARE a kid, only more wrinkled, and possibly angrier. You think just because you LOOK different, that you have to act that way. Sorry. There is no cookie cutter way to be a man. If you want to spend all your money on fortune cookies, and wear a diaper all day long and your fifty years old, then more power to you. I can’t say I’ll come over for dinner, but a real man has the right to say he doesn’t have to be one all the time.

44 Jeremy Wiggins September 20, 2013 at 9:48 am

Fantastic article. I think this is a great list for men of any age.

In response to Randall McKay (comment directly above mine, so I happened to read it), I don’t think this article as meant to be read as “the 9 things that make you a man”. Being a man goes far beyond the scope of this article. I view this list as 9 things that could help make a man’s life a little easier / help him to focus on the multitude of other things that contribute to the overall whole of “manliness”. Just my take on it though.

45 Ariosto M. September 20, 2013 at 1:08 pm

Love this post.

Many of this habits I started when I was a teenager, and later I started changing all that due to a lack of confidence in myself, and perhaps searching to feel accepted by my peers.
I felt a need to feel accepted and recognized in what I did, and still remember eating healthy and doing exercise and my best friend who drinks, smokes and is overweight together, with many close friends, actually mocked me for saying something when they ordered a greasy pizza at midnight. All of a sudden I felt I was doing something wrong and was being cast away.

I think is good for young men in their early 20′s to actually feel that if they are doing some of this habits then they are on a fairly good track. .
A word of motivation for them to, as J. Campbell said “follow their bliss”.

Thanks for this post and for you wonderful and inspirational blog.

46 Elijah K. September 21, 2013 at 2:44 pm

As a 20 year old self, I cannot say that I practice all of those regularly. One thing that I probably do really as often as I should is reading. And being a passionate reader, I’ve discovered that it helps my mind ease after a hard day. Benefits in general, like knowing more and making you an intelectual, aren’t the only ones. A professor of mine suggested me to try reading two books, or even more, simultaneuosly. I mean, not literally, but a chapter of one, and then of the other. Not only that it makes you concentrate, it also improves your memory, making you start thinking of what actually happenned, instead of just doing the reading itself mechanically. It is not easy at all at the very beginning, but within a few days you will start to deal with it.
Post is great! Keep doing it this way!

47 John Leopold September 21, 2013 at 5:58 pm

Now this is a wonderful post.
As a high school student, I am glad I cam upon this when I did. While some of these I do because my parents started me on them (saving, eating well, exercising) and some I have naturally done (reading, brushing and flossing), others that I do already do took some work. Journaling is still a little shaky, sometimes I will go months with no entries. Serving is something I am just beginning to find. I spent this past summer working on my self (body, mind and spirit) and so I decided now was the time to start giving back.
The only two on here I don’t really do already are meditation and planning. I have tried meditation before, but did it at bad times, right before bed. Falling asleep isn’t all to conductive towards mental focus. I do, however, have a plan to change that.
I too would suggest adding waking up early. I can’t stand kids my age who can sleep past noon. I think my entire day is wasted unless I am up by 9:00. I prefer to be up by 7:30 even during weekends. I already wake up at 6:00 for school, but I have been thinking of trying to wake up at 5:30, just for the heck of it. The only thing that stopped me was what to do. Sure, I could write, but that seemed a little over eager to do before I am published.
But now I have my answer. I can meditate, then plan out my day. So I guess I owe a thanks, for a reason to get up earlier.

Also, Paul S., while I would agree that meditation over meaningful writing can be very beneficial, you should note that according to Buddhist teaching, mediation is to find the inherent none-existence of all things. Wisdom meditation, as you described, would only come once one realized that one does not really exist.

48 Chris September 22, 2013 at 1:33 pm

Excellent article! Solid, time-tested advice. I am sharing this with my sons.

49 Matthew September 23, 2013 at 1:23 am

Love the article, interesting peice of philosophy of the relationship one has within the self.

50 Nick September 23, 2013 at 4:15 pm

Very good pointers here Brett, I’ll definitely take everyone of these Into consideration. Since I am a young man becoming of age, the one that applies to me the most is the money saving maxim. I actually save more than 20 percent of my earnings and rely on my self control to fight the urge to spend. Another manly advice that truly did not disappoint, I thank you.

51 Miguel Rodriguez September 23, 2013 at 11:16 pm

Just wanted to say thank you for taking your time to write these articles. They really do help me want to become a better man.

52 Vern September 24, 2013 at 8:01 am

Brett & Kate, great article. Thank you for your efforts.
After reading this, I find that I did many of these things on a regular basis for the past 40+ years. Now, at age 61, I find that the one item that I neglected to do was to keep a journal. However, I am currently getting started on that, writing down anything that I can remember from my past. My 2 sons are 26 and 30 now, and perhaps some day they might like to read about my childhood and my life before they were born and knew me. I would have been thrilled if my late Father had kept a journal, there is so much I never knew about him.

53 Pieter Venter September 25, 2013 at 11:53 am

Thank for this articel, this is a wake up call in my live to do more and to be more .The art of manliness is the best

54 Mark September 27, 2013 at 12:15 pm

Very well said, Brett. I work as a mentor at a Boys Ranch. This will be tonights reading.

55 Robert Steffens September 28, 2013 at 8:35 pm

Thank you so much for the inspiration! I’m 23, mired in hectic college work, but have determined to start incorporating these 9 elements into my life, starting tonight!

56 NotApplicable October 1, 2013 at 3:46 pm

Great article, with the exception of the advice about “saving.”
Simply put, there is no such thing as saving “dollars” as they are merely a wealth transfer device.
Instead, one should save real, tangible wealth, not the promises of your neighbor who cannot afford their level of indebtedness.

57 Robert McNally October 1, 2013 at 5:09 pm

I like a lot of what you say. In any event I’m 80 years old and have written three books of my youth. I was without a doubt my own father. At three I sat on my stoop and worried that somehow as you grow up you become a different person. That never happened and this kid wouldn’t let it happen. I wish everyone could read my books. If anyone cares to go to Amazon and read the reviews. “I Had Jelly on My Nose and A Hole in My Breeches,” as well as Vol. Two: “Sister Superior’s Thumb, the Pope’s Ring and the End of Childhood.” Everyone loves my stories and I hope you will to. It’s all about today’ subject. Thanks.

58 Nathan L October 7, 2013 at 5:14 pm

Really like the post. I’m currently 25, and have just graduated university. I got really ill at university and, on the long road to recovery decided, after reading Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius, to change my habits. Its slow going, but I have seen how making slow changes to my habits have affected my character and outlook for the better. As the post says, its important to plan for the future, to plan for the man you want to be. Cheers! Love this site.

59 Eric Barger October 19, 2013 at 4:03 am

This article really sums it up, not to be to spiritual, but a man needs to know his meaning in this life too, and the only way for that is to attend church.Real men love Jesus

60 Boyd S October 24, 2013 at 9:21 am

Awesome article.

The last two years have been the worst years of my life to date. As a result I lost all my good habits going for me and just my general drive to do things.

I keep talking about wanting to get my life back together, how I was before everything happened. And when people asked what am I going to do about it, I never had a good answer until now.

As for advice to others, I’m only 22 so I don’t have much life experience in comparison…but for those under 20 posting on here I’d highly recommend the meditation and journaling tips.

I was exactly how you guys (under 20′s) described, I exercised everyday, I was an early riser and always had money because i saved well.

But then life threw a lot of complications my way. Nothing too major to deal with on their own, but it all just piled up to a point where every aspect of my life had something wrong with it.
This is the point where I think meditation and journaling will help….The meditation to be able to focus on the present, instead of worrying about what has happened or what will happen. And the journaling, so you can think the problems out logically and review them at a later date where the emotional connection isn’t as strong.

And i agree with the guy who said do one habit at a time…trying to set all of them up at once is just a recipe for failure.

61 Jasper November 17, 2013 at 10:05 pm

Learned plenty from the article, thank you for posting!
Also, this does not have much to do with the article, but I live in Edmond now!

62 jesse Reyes November 28, 2013 at 2:52 am

Where have you been all my life? I could have used some of this in my early 20′s. I’m 29 now, but for all you young bucks out there in their 20′s definitely apply some, if not all, of the advice offered in this article. Excellent article. Well done good sir.

63 Brent December 29, 2013 at 10:28 pm

Great post! One other habit I wish I had added in my early 20s is waking up early, eating breakfast, and geting in to work before I have to be. I find I can get a lot more done when I get a jump start on the day.

64 Yaseen January 1, 2014 at 4:28 pm

As a 20 year old university student, I’ve been doing all of these except the save money one for the past few months and I can say they have had a great impact on my development. Work out, healthy eating, planning, reading etc. are things that every man should make part of their lives preferably from a young age. I’d also add to that list waking up early every single day, the extra hours in the morning are priceless!

65 Andrew January 3, 2014 at 12:53 pm

This is a wonderful list and really goes for the bare-bones. Actually, for the new year, I had developed a similar list of essentials. The trick is that, in my mind, all of the are very essential to make time for, and it is hard to get into the habit of doing all of these things consistently. However, by not doing some of them, you may not be getting everything that you need to feel satisfied at the end of the day. If I were to recommend one single item on this list, it would be the daily and weekly plan. Abide by the plan, and other things fall into place. In order to make a plan manageable as well, it’s important to add what I would call “daily social wiggle room” to your daily schedule: Be realistic about it and understand that simply talking to other people in your life is as essential as anything. Don’t book your schedule so full that you sacrifice this, because this is the spice of life and most people tend to find true richness in their interactions with others.

Kudos; I love this post.

66 Jon A. January 7, 2014 at 7:55 pm

Excellent read. As a young man, I hope to take on many of these habits such as journaling and meditation.

67 Neil M January 9, 2014 at 12:25 pm

Great article. Useful words for a younger version of myself.

That said, now that I’m older, and have more responsibility, I find it very difficult to cram everything in this list into a day though. This is compounded even more when you have kids. I basically get up in the morning, get the kids breakfast, go to work, squeak in a workout over lunch, go home, help with supper and do household chores until bed every day. Near impossible to fit my dusty journal, meditation, service and planning into the mix on week nights.

I would be interested to see an article on a man’s work hours in the modern age relative to days gone by. Is it harder to be a man today?

68 Tesh January 9, 2014 at 11:22 pm

WOW! This is too perfect!

I turned 18 this summer and after constant partying and selfish behavior, I realized I was laying a bad foundation for my future success. I refined my company, started taking better care of myself and dropping old, bad habits for new ones. THESE ones. Yes, all of them.
4 months later I feel healthier, happier, stronger and more confidant than I ever have before. This semester I got straight A’s and one B. I got a promotion at work, and life’s pretty great.

Read this list, but more importantly, DO it. ACT upon it. Not all at once, just a little bit everyday, and I promise you, reader, you’re going to see your life improve for the best!

69 Toni Osai January 16, 2014 at 12:34 pm

I’m turning 25 in February and it’s beginning to dawn on me that I have the reins of my life completely in my hands now – if I screw up, I potentially jeopardise the future of my spouse and kids; that is enough motivation for me to get it right early on.

Reading has almost been life long – I’ve loved reading since I learned how to. On the other hand, journaling started 2 years ago, with many months missing inbetween. As for serving, brushing, healthy eating and exercise I all started in the past 6 months and the benefits even in the short term are obvious.

I agree that reading shouldn’t just be online articles as they are usually too short to properly deal with an idea or a concept. Reading whole books (old books in particular) give a much more broad perspective, especially in this age of the new and fancy. I find it hard to read a book these days as most don’t have the quality I was used to growing up. Perhaps, I’m not looking in the right places for new books. I would also try reading a couple of books at the same time, that should be interesting.

Journaling has given me a certain freedom, a place to dump all the things I leave unsaid in the course of “being a man”. Before I journaled, I had (and still have) mental conversations with my self to sort out issues, emotions or problems that weigh me down. I do that over meditation even after I read the Bible. Talking things out helps me grasp them better, and for want of an available, unbiased listener, I talk to myself.

Exercise and eating healthy are harder cos their opposites seem to be ‘easier and cheaper’ to do. I began running daily after doing a 10k marathon with no prior training. The 10k made me realise how unfit I was and I now do 2k an average of 3 times a week. Problem is my legs ache – shins, ankles, knees, and I fear I may get injured so I switched to walking 4k instead. And eating healthy where I live is so much more expensive that I have to go hungry occassionally rather than eat junk. Not a lot of motivation to continue that. Though I know the risks of being unfit and unhealthy, looking at many older people in my life.

Brushing and serving are almost a no-brainer for me. Seeing how much plaque I took off my teeth last month, and what damage it was already doing scared me. As for serving, I guess it’s been wired into me from birth to give myself away through church, community volunteering, and random acts of service to friends without charge; people often say I spread myself too thin – nonsense, I say!

Perhaps the most challenging for me is saving. I tried saving with my fiancee’s account so I could never reach the money, but then she loaned the money out without permission and I just haven’t been able to bring myself to doing that again. I guess I have to build the discipline to do it on my own.

I would say all these are pretty common but if more men took them seriously, their lives would be so much smoother.

70 George February 4, 2014 at 12:12 pm

I would like to add another one:
Sleep. As easy as it sounds, many Young Men don’t get enough of it, thus causing them to not perform up to their standard.
Sleep early and well everyone :D

71 Ramos February 12, 2014 at 5:07 pm

I agree with George in post 70, as the body grows and repairs itself physically only when it sleeps.
Getting a good sleep routine on all days till the child turns either 13 or finishes puberty, both ensures a healthy and well-developed person, that then after that period of his/her life can start staying up late in the weekends.

Regarding (2) then exercise daily, but take one day off per week. This not only gives the body a break, but allows you to train harder and longer the other 6 days. Ask pro triathletes, that are amongst those that train the most of all pro athletes, they almost all have a day off or at least does very basic stuff on that designated rest day. My personal one is Monday, cause we know how Mondays feel and it coincides with the Swimming Hall being closed on Mondays as well.

Regarding (8), it is VITAL that one keeps repeating to one self that making a journal is NOT a “sissy activity”. This stigma I’ve seen in so many cultures, where “only teen girls do journals” etc, which I believed myself till I met a very manly man, a former major in the Army, ph.D in agricultural science (fertilizer and pesticide expert), father of two and massively respected person in a big community to beat, who set me straight on that. He said he not only did a weekly journal still, bi-daily when he was younger and buzier, and every year, he spends a day in the first week of the new year, summing up his journal from the prior year in 3-4 pages of highlights for his archive and then re-visits goal settings and achievements for that year. He then makes a new set of goals and lays out a plan for then, of how to achieve them and plans out a calender of thing todo to reach sub-goals. I am not making that up, he is that disciplined and focused.

Regarding (9), even if a boy/man is opposed to fighting aggresive conflicts for ones country, doesn’t mean you can’t serve. Serving is not restricted to the military, firefighting, SAR personel and police(ignore the bad eggs that give the rest of them a bad rep) are just as serving, as well as helping out communities. Your neighbour’s poor kid could get easier through school by donating an old but working laptop for example. Or directly, you could teach a kid in the neighbourhood math if you happen to have a knack for it and his/her parents doesn’t. Or voulenteer for being at a sporting event, blocking roads, getting drinks, cleaning up.

Good article, glad to be subconsciously in the clear for 7 of 9, my 40yo self thanks me a little and told me to get back to work :)

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