One of my core beliefs is that it’s crucial to have a code or a set of principles to live by. Developing these rules or tenets has taken all of my life, as they’ve evolved as I go through new experiences, overcome challenges, and learn new things about people.
These are based on my experiences as a male in the United States. These probably would look a lot different had I grown up in a different part of the world, in a different culture, or in a different time.
Anyway, I attempted to narrow down my code for living into 20 rules, and here is what I came up with:
- You have a duty to the world, your parents, your loved ones, and your friends to become the best version of yourself. It’s not optional to maximize the good and impact you have in the world. Whether you’re serving your duty to god, the universe or whatever you believe in — you must strive to become your best, because your improvement compounds over time and multiplies with the other people you impact.
- You must focus on keeping yourself physically healthy and fit so that you can overcome obstacles that you face, and so you can show up for the people you love. Health is wealth. This has never been more true as the divide between healthy people and those who are suffering from metabolic disease (like obesity, diabetes, or heart disease). A healthy body translates into healthier thought patterns, physical confidence, and improved energy levels.
- You must meditate, study, and do whatever it takes to keep yourself mentally sharp, healthy, and confident. If you allow your mind to be hijacked by social media, people around you, or other distractions — you’ll constantly be flailing from one thing to another without stringing together meaningful progress and results. Having a strong mind means you allow yourself to take on bigger challenges, ignore meaningless drama, push through difficult moments, and solve more complex problems.
- You must eat the highest quality food that you can to keep your body and mind fueled and healthy. You can put in hours and hours of effort at the gym, but if your diet is garbage you’ll make far less progress. Also, I’ve found that when I’m consistent with my diet and eat foods that I know “agree with” my body, I have far more energy, feel better, and think more clearly. Unfortunately, the diet that is most popular (the Standard American Diet) does not align with your best interests or your health. I prefer to spend more money on the highest quality meat, fruits, vegetables, and starches (rice, potatoes, etc.) that I can reasonably afford because I know that it will pay dividends for decades in the future.
- You must engage, connect, and help your community. Unfortunately, even though we have the internet to keep us connected with our friends and family, people are generally pretty lonely today. Not only is social connection good for solving loneliness, but it also keeps you healthier overall. As adults, it can feel impossible to make new friends — especially compared to when you were in school and saw people your age every single day. To get engaged with your community takes some effort. But, it’s not impossible. Find some activities you love (a sport, a hobby, an activity) and go to events related to those things. You’ll at least have the activity to connect over and over time, you might even build some meaningful friendships.
- You must maintain a circle of trusted brothers. Men are especially lonely today. There’s a strange social pressure for guys to avoid being vulnerable amongst other men. Yet, that vulnerability is essential to building strong relationships. It can be easy to just rely on your wife or girlfriend to confide in, but having a circle of other men that you can talk to about difficult subjects can be far more helpful.
- You must do difficult things regularly — mostly to prove to yourself that you can overcome obstacles. I had very little confidence when I was a teenager. The primary reason for that was that I hadn’t gone through difficult moments, or achieved much, so I didn’t have the proof that I could overcome obstacles. Yet as I grew up a bit and faced some adversity, I repeatedly showed myself that even when things got difficult, I would be okay. That allowed me to build confidence, but I have to continue to intentionally do difficult things to maintain that level of confidence.
- A boy is low-value, a man is high-value because he has worked to become physically and mentally strong, calm, reassuring for others around him, resilient to adversity, and intelligent. One of the most important realizations I had in my life was that you are not bound to be the person that you are right now. You are not powerless in deciding who you will become. Just because you have been a loser, doesn’t mean you’re stuck becoming a grown up loser. If you got shitty grades in school, allowed yourself to be unhealthy or out of shape, if you’ve failed to make quality friendships…who cares? You can decide that you aren’t going to be that person any more and change your lifestyle and your habits to become the person you would like to be. It takes work to become stronger, more intelligent, more resilient, etc. But if you do the work consistently, it will pay off for the rest of your life.
- You must develop a plan and follow through. If you live without a plan, one will essentially be assigned to you. You must determine what you want out of your life and work to achieve those things. Otherwise, you will fall prey to the people, businesses, and systems of influence that are looking to take advantage of you.
- You must take accountability for the outcomes in your life. Everything that happens is your fault. As soon as you understand this, you will be free. If you approach your life as something you can control, you instantly give yourself the power to change it. If you instead view yourself as the victim of circumstance, you’ll be trapped in a downward spiral waiting for your break to come. But it never will. Jocko Willink’s book Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win made me understand this clearly. Accept that you are to blame for both the positive and negative outcomes in your life, and you’ll be able to steer yourself in a better direction.
- You must develop a marketable skill with a high market value. This ties into taking accountability for the outcomes of your life. If you think you’re going to work at a job and get raises until you become rich, you’re probably going to be disappointed. However, if you can develop a skill on your own and find a market for that skill — you free yourself from the grind of a corporate job. You won’t have to worry about getting fired or laid off, because your skill will allow you to get paid on your terms. If you put in more effort, you’ll be paid off more proportionately than if you continue to collect a salary.
- You must be prepared to stand up for what is right. Even when that is difficult or uncomfortable. If you don’t defend what you believe in, and consistently do what is right…then who will? When you have to justify what you believe in, or explain it to someone else you have a chance to test your views and determine if maybe the other person is right. If however, you simply go along with what others say you’ll establish your beliefs with a weak foundation — so that if they are tested, you’ll have no way to back them up. Another reason that defending what is right is important is that every time you do, you’ll gain the confidence to do so again even when it is difficult. Otherwise you’ll be left feeling weak and full of regret because you let it slide.
- You must constantly express gratitude in all things. It is the only way. When you are grateful, you can’t help but feel happy. Focusing on the things you don’t have is a recipe for being constantly disappointed. Express your gratitude for the parts of your life that you love, the people you care about, the things you love that enrich your life. Everyone’s life is full of things to be grateful for (seriously, everyone can find something), yet we get stuck in comparing ourselves to others and focusing on what we don’t have.
- You must identify and study men who came before you so you can emulate them. People need examples, and really you should strive to become that example for other people. Do your best, and empower others to do their best, to maximize the positive impact you have on the world. To do this, you need to study historical figures, your family members, and current leaders to understand how they have overcome adversity and what they did to become successful.
- You must evaluate the people around you. If they aren’t progressing, they’re likely holding you back. Your circle can (and should) be your biggest asset. But if you’re surrounded by people who are constantly overwhelmed by their own problems, or who don’t want you to succeed, your circle could be your biggest hindrance. If you share your hopes and dreams with your friends and family, and they provide you with a list of reasons why you probably won’t succeed, what does that do for your mindset besides train you to be overly cautious and conservative with your goals?
- Don’t always follow the crowd. Otherwise, you’ll fall into the trap of consumerism and become mesmerized by media and distractions. If your goal in life is to spend all day Sunday watching NFL games, all week working at a mediocre job, and all weekend drinking beer at a local bar — then sure follow the crowd. But if you’re still reading, I’d guess that you’re striving to achieve more in your life. You have to be willing to stand alone or go against the grain if you want to get ahead. Unfortunately it’s kind of unusual to focus on eating clean, limiting your drinking, researching how to be healthy, and trying to improve yourself.
- You must live according to your own principles, and not to the culture of the world around you. Culture may be a good source of conversation with your friends at the bar, but it does not act as a good compass for living your life. Consider all the headlines on the news about avoiding certain foods that a new study finds causes cancer or something. Then think of all the headlines about the “new superfood!” Living according to what’s discussed in the media will leave you tossed around between one fad to the next. You should instead focus on mastering the basics, and creating your own principles for living your life. This will take you further in your life than just waiting for the next headline to focus on.
- You must take a long term approach to planning and achieving your goals. Focus on building a legacy for generations to come. When you think on a longer time frame, you can plan on and work towards much larger goals. What seems impossible to achieve in a few months, seems like a totally reasonable outcome if you work towards it for a few years. I also believe that if you plan over a longer time period, your behavior will be much steadier and less chaotic. And your short term behavior will have long term consequences anyway, so you might as well plan those out and pay attention to where you’re headed in the long term.
- You must be focused, steady, and consistent. You should strive to maintain your focus — which can feel nearly impossible in a world filled with distractions (social media, never-ending content to stream, petty or negative people, etc.). You’ll be much more effective, rational, and focused if you maintain a steady consistency of working on yourself and pursuing your goals. Do not flail wildly or live without direction. You need to be a source of masculine energy for those around you, and be a steady rock for people to come to for advice and wisdom.
- You must empower those around you, and those who are following in your footsteps with knowledge and skills. As a man, you have a duty to help others coming up behind you. Strong male role models have been invaluable in my life, as they provide examples (both good and bad) for me to observe and follow. You should strive to be an inspiration to younger guys growing up around you. And as a result of teaching young men lessons, you’ll learn a lot about yourself and the current state of the world.