Skip to content

Weekly dose of self-improvement

Sign up
self improvement for men

How to be a man: The 9 qualities of masculinity

All boys must develop these nine qualities of a masculine man to achieve their greatest potential. They are the passage into manhood.

Ed Latimore
Ed Latimore
Writer, retired boxer, self-improvement enthusiast

What is masculinity?

Before we try to become something, we have to know what we’re trying to become. This means we have to define “masculinity”. It’s easy to say that masculinity is one of those things that you know when you see it, but that leaves us with a big problem:

That makes it easy for anyone to change the definition to suit their narrative or message.

Men who aren’t willing to do what it takes to become masculine will bend the definition to include things that are antithetical to becoming a man but because they do it AND they still want to be considered masculine, they argue for it.

For example, a lot of guys like to argue that because men play video games, that video games (especially sports games or first-person shooters) are examples of manliness.

Even men in today’s world think that being able to hold your liquor, smoke cigars, and get laid off from dating apps makes you man. These are things that men do. They do not inherently make you masculine.

I’ve thought about all the different arguments that people make about what a “real man” does. People give lists that include things like

  • “A real man takes martial arts or does MMA”
  • “An alpha male lifts weights and is good with women”
  • “Real men make 6-figures and have a big family”

The arguments always come back to making money, getting laid, and being in shape. Now don’t get me wrong: those things are important. But there are many masculine men who don’t hit all these characteristics.

No one would say that:

  • The firefighter who risks his life but is terrible with women and only makes $70k/yr isn’t masculine.
  • The overweight mechanic who takes care of his family but has faithfully been with his high school sweetheart isn’t masculine.
  • The boxing coach with no family and who makes almost nothing but pours his energy into leading young men in the community isn’t masculine.

It goes beyond superficial metrics, but those metrics are proxy indicators for something more meaningful. So what is masculinity, exactly?

Masculinity (adj.)

Any behavior that attempts to reduce entropy and/or break homeostasis by direct force (1st degree or order of action) Contrast with femininity, any behavior that attempts to reduce entropy and/or break homeostasis by indirect (2 degrees or orders of action) action.

In my opinion, this is the most general definition. If you need a refresher on entropy, a good jargon-free definition is “lack of order or predictability; gradual decline into disorder.”

Masculinity is all about exerting your will on the universe and shaping it to your desires. Now, there can be positive or negative versions of this. This is where the ideas of “positive masculinity” and “toxic masculinity” come from, but masculinity itself is neither good nor bad. It is simply a characteristic.

Jack Donovan once said, “There is a difference between being a good man and being good at being a man.”

Masculinity is about the latter. It is the work of being good at being a man. You can be good at being a man without being a good man.

The same masculine leadership qualities that made people follow Gandhi are the ones that made people follow Hitler. Here are 9 qualities of a masculine man that all boys must develop to achieve their greatest potential. 

How to be a man: The 9 qualities of masculinity

Strength

A man must be strong.

This goes beyond the physical strength you build from the hard work of lifting weights, but that helps. Generally speaking, a man must be strong enough to remain on course in the midst of distraction.

These distractions will come from two places: his thoughts and the actions of others.

Masculinity resists the actions of others

A strong man is strong because he is able to resist change, natural or intentional.

This means that masculinity stands resolute in the face of peer pressure and social influences. This requires strength, therefore a defining feature of masculinity is strength.

  • What is the purpose of physical training? To resist the natural decay of our bodies in the face of nature.
  • What is the purpose of mental training? To resist forces that seek to influence us for their personal gain. [Check out a good mental training program I wrote by clicking here—>How to focus better and improve concentration]
  • What is the purpose of emotional training? To resist the persuasive manipulations of those who would lead us astray.

Masculinity resists entropy. Masculinity resists change for change’s sake alone.

But the other end of strength is that masculinity impacts and creates. Masculinity does not subtlety influence; it directly manipulates, directs, and impacts. Strength is required to do this as well.

Masculinity is strong enough to stand its own frame of reference, resisting all efforts that don’t align with its vision while simultaneously shaping the world in its vision.

Honesty

A man must always be honest, even in the face of pain, anguish, torture, or death.

Honesty with others

There is more to this honesty than just telling the truth to others.

That’s also important, but it only scratches the surface of the honesty required to be a man. Every lie that a man tells forces him to live in some degree of inauthenticity. Lying also signals a lack of strength.

Either you weren’t strong enough to behave in a way that didn’t require deception or you currently lack the strength to deal with the backlash from honesty.

Then there is being honest with yourself. Young boys get to play pretend and imagine they are something they aren’t. They get to live in the world of make-believe, imagination, and fantasy.

Honesty with yourself

Men don’t get to play games.

Men have to live in the real world and deal with real life.

This means they need to be brutally self-aware. We have to always know where we are strong, where we are weak, and what needs improvement in our lives. We have to accept our flaws and weaknesses and take responsibility for our position in the world.

If you’re an average man, be honest with yourself. If you don’t want to be better than you are, admit that to yourself. But also accept everything that comes with that level of honesty.

Men are afraid to be honest with others because they lack the strength to deal with the backlash, but they’re afraid to be honest with themselves because of the responsibility that comes with it.

Once you become aware of something that something is wrong in your life, it is now your duty to fix it. Many men don’t want to carry the weight of that responsibility and the hard work that will be required to fix things wrong in their life.

So they lie to themselves. If you want to be a better man, must never lie to yourself.

[This article also gives 31 tips to be a better man—>How to be a better man]

“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.”

-Richard Feynman

Responsibility

Men don’t shy away from responsibility. In fact, they embrace every opportunity they get to take it on. This is because men recognize that meaning in life is tied to responsibility.

A tell-tale sign of immaturity—in men and women—is the avoidance of anything that looks like a duty.

[This article highlights the 6 signs of maturity. Definitely worth a read—>The 6 signs of mental and emotional maturity]

It’s natural to want to be as free as possible. In an ideal world, we’d not only get meaning but also success while handling as little responsibility as possible. However, the real world doesn’t work that way. A man must recognize and appreciate the relationship between responsibility and getting the most out of life.

Naturally, people think of the responsibility of caring for a family. That’s an important one, but a man must be responsible for his health and his income. This means not eating everything or spending money on anything his heart desires.

The only way to get more freedom to do more of what you want is to take on more responsibility. This may seem counterintuitive but think of it like this: everything has a cost. You can either pay the cost up front and get a discount or later and pay a tax.

The discount you get comes from the discipline you had to have to build up your position and delay gratification until you were in a strong enough position to not be affected by a night out partying or spending a few extra thousand dollars on a trip.

The tax you pay is in the form of playing catch up, still having to meet your normal demands, but dealing with the pain of managing both at the same time. You paid for your vacation on credit so now you not only have to pay it back over time with interest, you still have to manage your normal expenses.

But if you were responsible, you’d have more to be able to do more and be freer in the process.

Utility

A man must be useful. This means he needs to have a skill or ability.

The world has no use for a man who is not useful. This is not the case for women.

A woman, by virtue of existing, already has a biological use. She is here to carry life and nurse it for the short time after it arrives. A man can’t do that.

This is not to say that it’s women’s only purpose. Only to show that women come with a built-in purpose that is vital to the continuation of life. And while yes, you need men and women, each woman can only carry one child at a time while a man can impregnate thousands at once. 

Most men aren’t even biologically necessary for life to continue. Men don’t come with a purpose. We must make ourselves necessary.

This is why men are drafted in wars and the idea was always “women and children first” when it came to dealing with evacuation from dangerous situations. Men have to make themselves useful because they come into this world useless.

It doesn’t matter what you learn how to do. All that matters is that you have skills that can be used to generate income. This is the most important measure of your skills and abilities in the modern age.

Prior to the digital age, a man’s utility was determined by his ability to survive. While those skills are still important, the scope of survivability has changed.

Now the world relies heavily on computers, the service sector, and entertainment. Being able to make a living without dishonesty or harming others is an important part of being a man.

Relationships

A man realizes that other people are the most important thing in life.

Humans are social creatures so much so that solitary confinement is used as a punishment for people who are already in prison—and its use continues to be debated. Being alone is so bad that it’s reserved as a punishment for people already spending a significant portion of their lives behind bars.

Men need good friends. Unfortunately, the modern man has been shunned and shamed away from nurturing emotionally deep male friendships.

[Read: How to make friends as an adult]

Male friendship has been reduced to a caricature of out-of-shape guys who just drink beer and watch sports. Our role models for male friendships in the media center around these stereotypes.

When you combine this with the fact that a record number of men are growing up in fatherless homes, the average man has never seen a healthy male friendship anyway.

Male friendships are also supposed to function as a type of reciprocal mentorship. Your friends will mentor you in areas you’re weak in and vice versa. You learn from one another and make each other better men.

A lie men today are being told

Today, men are told that they should vent their problems to the woman in their life. That part of having a strong romantic relationship is being able to share your problems with your significant other.

The truth is that only other men understand the struggle that is a man’s life.

Now, I don’t say this to imply that women don’t struggle in their lives—they definitely do. The biggest difference between men and women is that women nurture their female friendships much more and as a result, they have no problem discussing their problems with one another.

Men, on the other hand, don’t do this. They not only don’t share with other men, but they share with the woman in their life who needs to see them as strong.

I don’t want to give the idea that men should not communicate with their significant other because that’s important. However, any problems you are having that affect you both (health and finances are the big two), then you should consult your male friends.

When you talk to your close male friends about your issues, you invite them to do the same with you. This is important for facilitating a close relationship with your male friends.

Courage

Becoming a man means that you have to face challenges and unknowns in life.

This doesn’t mean that you have to be fearless. It only means that you have to act, despite being afraid. Fear is not a sign to stop or retreat. It’s merely a sign that you have to get ready for something and that it’s important.

Therefore, your response to fear should be excitement. In fact, when you look at the brain while experiencing fear, the response is the same as if something exciting is happening, This is important to remember whenever you feel afraid.

[Some lessons on dealing with fear I picked up dealing with fear from boxing—>7 Lessons from boxing on dealing with fear]

The world is a terrifying but wonderful place. However, the only way you get to see the wonders of the world is by confronting and moving past the terrors within it. This means you have to be courageous in facing your fears.

Also, everything that causes growth is scary. You may not think of it that way, but it at least carries the possibility of hurt and failure. That, by itself, is scary—even if you don’t register the fear.

This means that you have to be courageous. This means that you have to act despite fear.

Humility

Real men learn how to be men from other real men.

Because a man is made, it’s impossible for him to know how to be or what to do on his own.

Men learn how to be men from their fathers, uncles, and elder men around them who set an example. Or at least, this is how it’s supposed to be. It’s no secret that today there is a shortage of men worthy to lead and set a good example, but that’s a discussion for another post.

Part of being a man is being willing to learn from other men.

Before technology came along and made everything easy, knowledge and skills were passed down from one man to another. In fact, a young man was not considered a man until he could prove that he was capable the way the men who taught him were.

One of the telltale signs of a guy who has missed a masculine influence in his life is that he lacks the ability to listen to men. I see this often in guys who were raised by a single mother.

At best, they have a resistance to listening to men. At worst, they have distrust and disrespect. This is the result of a combination of growing up never having seen masculine role models, positive masculine men. or hearing everything about being a man getting grouped into the category of “toxic masculinity”.

<svg width="50px" height="50px" viewBox="0 0 60 60" version="1.1" xmlns="https://www.w3.org/2000/svg" xmlns:xlink="https://www.w3.org/1999/xlink"><g stroke="none" stroke-width="1" fill="none" fill-rule="evenodd"><g transform="translate(-511.000000, -20.000000)" fill="#000000"><g><path d="M556.869,30.41 C554.814,30.41 553.148,32.076 553.148,34.131 C553.148,36.186 554.814,37.852 556.869,37.852 C558.924,37.852 560.59,36.186 560.59,34.131 C560.59,32.076 558.924,30.41 556.869,30.41 M541,60.657 C535.114,60.657 530.342,55.887 530.342,50 C530.342,44.114 535.114,39.342 541,39.342 C546.887,39.342 551.658,44.114 551.658,50 C551.658,55.887 546.887,60.657 541,60.657 M541,33.886 C532.1,33.886 524.886,41.1 524.886,50 C524.886,58.899 532.1,66.113 541,66.113 C549.9,66.113 557.115,58.899 557.115,50 C557.115,41.1 549.9,33.886 541,33.886 M565.378,62.101 C565.244,65.022 564.756,66.606 564.346,67.663 C563.803,69.06 563.154,70.057 562.106,71.106 C561.058,72.155 560.06,72.803 558.662,73.347 C557.607,73.757 556.021,74.244 553.102,74.378 C549.944,74.521 548.997,74.552 541,74.552 C533.003,74.552 532.056,74.521 528.898,74.378 C525.979,74.244 524.393,73.757 523.338,73.347 C521.94,72.803 520.942,72.155 519.894,71.106 C518.846,70.057 518.197,69.06 517.654,67.663 C517.244,66.606 516.755,65.022 516.623,62.101 C516.479,58.943 516.448,57.996 516.448,50 C516.448,42.003 516.479,41.056 516.623,37.899 C516.755,34.978 517.244,33.391 517.654,32.338 C518.197,30.938 518.846,29.942 519.894,28.894 C520.942,27.846 521.94,27.196 523.338,26.654 C524.393,26.244 525.979,25.756 528.898,25.623 C532.057,25.479 533.004,25.448 541,25.448 C548.997,25.448 549.943,25.479 553.102,25.623 C556.021,25.756 557.607,26.244 558.662,26.654 C560.06,27.196 561.058,27.846 562.106,28.894 C563.154,29.942 563.803,30.938 564.346,32.338 C564.756,33.391 565.244,34.978 565.378,37.899 C565.522,41.056 565.552,42.003 565.552,50 C565.552,57.996 565.522,58.943 565.378,62.101 M570.82,37.631 C570.674,34.438 570.167,32.258 569.425,30.349 C568.659,28.377 567.633,26.702 565.965,25.035 C564.297,23.368 562.623,22.342 560.652,21.575 C558.743,20.834 556.562,20.326 553.369,20.18 C550.169,20.033 549.148,20 541,20 C532.853,20 531.831,20.033 528.631,20.18 C525.438,20.326 523.257,20.834 521.349,21.575 C519.376,22.342 517.703,23.368 516.035,25.035 C514.368,26.702 513.342,28.377 512.574,30.349 C511.834,32.258 511.326,34.438 511.181,37.631 C511.035,40.831 511,41.851 511,50 C511,58.147 511.035,59.17 511.181,62.369 C511.326,65.562 511.834,67.743 512.574,69.651 C513.342,71.625 514.368,73.296 516.035,74.965 C517.703,76.634 519.376,77.658 521.349,78.425 C523.257,79.167 525.438,79.673 528.631,79.82 C531.831,79.965 532.853,80.001 541,80.001 C549.148,80.001 550.169,79.965 553.369,79.82 C556.562,79.673 558.743,79.167 560.652,78.425 C562.623,77.658 564.297,76.634 565.965,74.965 C567.633,73.296 568.659,71.625 569.425,69.651 C570.167,67.743 570.674,65.562 570.82,62.369 C570.966,59.17 571,58.147 571,50 C571,41.851 570.966,40.831 570.82,37.631"></path></g></g></g></svg>

A post shared by Ed Latimore (@edlatimore)

Unfortunately, this problem is not just isolated to the sons of fatherless households. This means that many men today are not being taught to be men. This means they arrogantly believe they are men, so they will not learn from other men how to be better men.

This is part of the reason men are apprehensive about connecting with one another because opening up means facing something terrifying, taking responsibility, and building your relationships with other men—all things that force men out of the comfort zone of modernity and make them develop.

Fitness

You don’t need to be into bodybuilding, CrossFit, or a semi-pro athlete. You don’t even have to give up alcohol or only eat clean all the time. You simply have to become aware of some simple metrics and aim to keep them in check.

Body mass index (BMI) > 24: A lot of people hate BMI and claim that it’s only for certain races or that it excludes people who lift weights or that it’s plain outdated. The reality is this: as measured by BMI, the percentage of the population who is considered obese or overweight has continually risen in the last 30 years as have the correlated diseases that come with it.

I don’t recommend using BMI by itself because too much muscle will put you into the overweight zone, but that’s why you couple it with the following metric.

Body fat percentage < 16%: This metric, combined with a BMI over 24, means that you’re carrying a decent amount of muscle and a low amount of body fat. A high level of body fat is a sign of insulin resistance and is the precursor to diabetes and all of the complications that come with it. It’s hard to hit the next 3 metrics if you have a high level of body fat. At 16% body fat, you won’t have washboard abs, but you will dramatically lower your risk for a variety of metabolic disorders and chronic diseases.

Hemoglobin a1C < 5.6: If you aren’t familiar with this test, it’s a simple blood test that measures your average blood sugar levels over the past 3 months. If you’re interested in the detailed science of the A1c or HbA1c test, you can read about it here. For everyone else, all you need to know is that this number is arguably the single best metric to know how insulin-resistant you are. Insulin resistance is implicated in 5 of the top 10 killers of Americans.

Resting heart rate < 60: Resting heart rate is associated with risk of all-cause and cardiovascular mortality in the general population, independent of traditional cardiovascular risk factors. Compared with 45 beats/min, the risk of all-cause mortality increased significantly with increasing resting heart rate in a linear relation.

While there are many other metrics that are important for your health, these are the major ones to monitor. Getting these metrics in order requires you to be vigilant about your diet and lifestyle choices.

You’ll have to do healthy amounts of cardio (aerobic and anaerobic), lift weights, and watch your diet to make achieve all of these metrics, but you won’t need to be obsessive. Only vigilant, disciplined, and self-controlled.

If you don’t care enough about your physical well-being to take care of it, then the rest of the world will mow you over.

Vision

The last trait that a man must have is the most important. A man must have vision.

He must always consider how what he’s doing will affect his plans for the future. This, of course, means that he has to have plans for the future.

Men always have designs on something. This comes from being honest and knowing that he will die one day. This means that he has to plan, strategize, and maximize how to best use the time available. This requires vision.

This is one of those things that separates boys from men. Boys don’t have to worry about anything but the moment because someone is there to take care of them and their every need. Men are not only responsible for themselves, but usually for other people.

This means they can’t afford to just live for the moment. At the end of the day, they need a vision and a plan to achieve it.

 

Ed Latimore
About the author

Ed Latimore

I’m a writer, competitive chess player, Army veteran, physicist, and former professional heavyweight boxer. My work focuses on self-development, realizing your potential, and sobriety—speaking from personal experience, having overcome both poverty and addiction.

Follow me on Twitter.