Men are not born men. They become men through intention. To develop and integrate your masculinity, and truly feel like a man, you’ll have to put in particular types of effort in specific areas. Because, unlike pubic hair, masculinity and psychological maturity aren’t automatic achievements you unlock just by being alive for a certain length of time.
The problem today is that there are relatively few men around to teach us what that work is, or support us in doing it. Many generations ago, we had available communities of older men to help initiate boys into their own internal sense of masculinity. They had the time, heart, tradition, and wisdom available, in order to pass down the secrets of their culture to younger men and guide them into maturity.
But today, it’s an aimless free-for-all. The older men that used to initiate the youth are no longer available. They’ve long been occupied with trying to make a living and keeping up with the materialistic lifestyle standards that modern society has set for us. And since that lifestyle (laden with junk values) is so hyper-focused on being individualistic, it also has us more isolated than ever.
The average man’s life is governed by salary brackets and consumerism, rather than purpose, service, integrity, and impact. And for younger guys, it’s monkey see, monkey do. They follow suit and try to live into the societal standards that have been set for them, which just perpetuates the issue.
Is ‘Masculinity’ Even A Thing?
To those who say that gender is a construct… and masculine/feminine energies don’t exist… and that worrying about integrating something as nebulous as your relationship to masculinity is a waste of time – guess what… non-duality may very well be the end point. Yes, ultimately every person should ideally get to a place where they are their own, unique expression of whatever they wish to show up as in the world. But there is value in trying on layers of personal identity in our progressive cultivation of discovering our unique selves.
In order to get to non-duality, one must first travel through the world of duality. And as long as there are parts of our minds that we are trying to bypass or sprint through (for example, our wounding with the key masculine figures in our lives), then there will still be work to be done.
Similar to how it may serve you for a time in your life to identify as an introvert or an extrovert, and then a few years later that very same title may feel limiting and unnecessary. So it is with cultivating our relationship to our inner masculine. It is a stepping stone on the path to discovering our truest nature.
The Integrated vs Unintegrated Man
The word “integration” suggests reconnecting with and including something that is separate, or disconnected. In the context of masculinity, we’re talking about cultivating certain qualities, and creating certain experiences, that lead to an inner feeling of manhood.
“Manhood” is a really hard thing to put into words. But you can feel it. It swells your chest like wind in a sail, and makes you feel passionate, alive, and at home in your own body.
An unintegrated man is someone who hasn’t turned inwards to do the work of examining himself and intentionally designing the way he moves through the world. He can be too soft, or too hard. He denies the existence of, or mindlessly indulges, his impulses. He struggles with addiction, confusion, numbness, and fluctuating despair. He might pretend he’s a nice guy with no issues, and ignore his own darkness and true potential.
There’s an animalistic side to everyone, because, ultimately, we are all animals. Men tend to have a uniquely violent and savage streak running through them. There’s a wildness in us that, if it isn’t integrated and harnessed, can be scary. Whether a man is cut off from it, or acts out from it, he’s letting himself be controlled by it.
The integrated man faces this wildness, and his own pain, and emerges on the other side a more whole, mindful, and effective person. He taps into his darkness, tames it and uses it as fuel, rather than letting it go to waste or disrupt the cultivating of his best life.
It doesn’t mean he never has issues, sadness, doubts, and defeats. Of course he does. An integrated man is still human. Rather, it means he’s awake, alive, and able to respond to life impeccably. He takes charge and total responsibility in everything in his life. It’s not an easy place to get to. But it’s the most rewarding and important work we’ll ever do.
So, what do we do? How are we supposed to figure out what the “work” of becoming a man is?
If you read my stuff regularly, you’ve probably heard me talk about being in a men’s group before, and how it’s the most powerful thing I’ve done for my evolution and growth as a man. After leading my own weekly men’s group for several years, I’ve seen even more clearly what the highest leverage points of focus have been for male development. These are the things that run through pretty much every guy’s journey, and consistently yield the greatest results over time.
In this article, I’ll share and explain my short list of five things every man should do to maximize and integrate his masculinity. If there were a few universal and simple steps any man on the planet could follow to boost his development, these would be it.
When you read the headings, they might seem boringly simple. But if you feel that way, that just means you don’t actually get it. Just like the average person can understand the importance of exercising 3-5 days a week, drinking several litres of water daily, eating nutrient dense whole foods, and sleeping for 7-9 hours every night… that doesn’t mean that they’re consistently living that knowledge, on the behavioural level, in real time.
I’m constantly blown away by how profound this work really is. The words that make up each point on this list are just placeholders for massive, lifelong transformational practices.
Don’t cut corners, don’t skip lines. Dig in to this path, or don’t bother at all. If you can’t take this seriously, don’t expect your life to look or feel any different anytime soon. If you can stick with it, literally every aspect of your life will never be the same.
5 Steps To A More Integrated Masculinity
1. Spend time with other men
This point is deceptively simple, and often misunderstood, but it’s the biggest piece of the puzzle. The most important and healing thing men are missing today is quality time in each other’s company.
The key word here is quality. I don’t mean playing video games, chatting sports, or bullshitting. I’m talking about deep, vulnerable intimacy. This is about spending time in ways where you’re being radically honest about what’s going on for you – your struggles, wins, losses, dreams, fears, and pain. To be totally seen, self-expressed, and accepted.
We don’t get quality time for several reasons. I already mentioned the first point above about the values of society – where culture has become individualized and the presence of older men has disappeared. Men (and yes, all people) evolved to thrive in tribes and squads. We faced danger alongside each other, and built trust and brotherhood. We needed and relied on each other to get through life. That need still stands, but our society works against it.
The second reason is rapid changes in technology. The majority of us are addicted to screens and podcasts. Between YouTube and Netflix wormholes, The Joe Rogan Experience, and immersive gaming, young men hardly stand a chance of fighting against the current of digital overwhelm. We’re flooded with stimulation, which keeps us fractured and ineffective.
The third is how we’ve been conditioned as men. We can’t have quality time because we don’t even know how to create it for ourselves. We don’t have any precedent for this kind of communication and behaviour. Emotional awareness and vulnerable communication were never taught. In fact, they were straight up discouraged for most boys. We learned to toughen up, be strong, get shit done, and bend to fit the mold. Showing any kind of softness, crying, or talking about your problems, was usually shamed and made fun of.
It takes a little practice to get in touch with your emotions, and talk through them, but when you start doing that with some safe, committed, good-hearted guys, it feels like finding water after wandering through the desert. It’s an experience you can’t describe with words. It has to be felt, and the potency and power of it builds over time.
What happens is you start to reclaim mountains of power from openly expressing yourself, and feeling supported while doing so. You’ll feel understood and connected through all the things you hide from the world, many of which will be unique to being a male. You’ll feel like you belong in the world and you have other men you can count on to help fight your battles.
If you get together with guys with the intention for quality time, put away your phones and other distractions. Swear to strict confidentiality and start getting real about what’s up in your life.
Hold space and let guys talk, but also challenge each others’ lines of thinking and beliefs where you can and when appropriate. Theres a time and a place for compassion, as well as a time and a place for tough love.
Make a regular practice of holding each other accountable to do things you’ve been avoiding, or need to do in order to level up in various areas.
As a bonus, to get things started, consider reading No More Mr. Nice Guy as a group. It will give you a lens to use for powerfully examining each others’ behaviour, mindsets and lifestyles. Spend part of the meeting talking about the experience of reading the book and committing an exercise from each chapter.
2. Improve your relationship to anger
Anger is the gateway to deep confidence, authority, and empowerment (if you develop a healthy relationship and harness it.) While softness is often discouraged among men, so is expressing anger. It can be a frightening, unpredictable, overwhelming, and destructive force.
Because it makes so many people uncomfortable, anger is trained out of men, or they were never trained to use it well, so it goes to waste and wreaks havoc in their lives. Rather than being integrated and balanced, you’ll most commonly find guys on either end of the spectrum: either shut down and passive, or volatile and hotheaded.
Suppressing anger either leads to meekness and depression, or uncontrolled outbursts from the mounting pressure. Whatever the case is, anger is one of the most powerful resources a man has, and it’s being totally misdirected and misused in the majority of guys.
Begin spending time building your relationship to anger. I’ve written several pieces on this topic before, with in-depth walkthroughs on exercises and philosophies to help facilitate your own anger work. For some guys, it will take a while to even admit they have anger at all. It can take some time to develop enough of a connection to even begin feeling and expressing this energy, while other guys can crank open the tap in a second.
The end result of all of this is being able to walk through life with a firm, confident energy. People will meet you and feel your “spine”, or “balls”. It’s something that immediately and subconsciously commands respect.
You’re not going to walk around yelling “FUCK YOU” or freely puking rage onto other people (which would not be responsible anger but more of a childish, reactive, unintegrated anger). But your words will carry a weight. You’ll be able to speak up for yourself in the moments where you know a line is being crossed, or your best interests aren’t being served. Women will feel more drawn to you, and you’ll feel more capable of fully expressing your thoughts and intentions.
If you do start, or join, a men’s group, use it as a laboratory to learn about, play with and stoke this energy.
3. Spend more time in your body
Want to feel more grounded, peaceful, confident, directed, and energetic? Get out of your head and into your body. Everything else on this list, and everything else in your life, will be served by you getting more physically centred.
Being disembodied and distracted is the hallmark trait of modern men. If you’re not involved in physical labour, most guys operate like their bodies are just meat vehicles for the part of them that thinks and watches TV. But the mind and body are intimately connected. We didn’t go through millions of years of evolution to be sedentary, digitally obsessed creatures. We evolved to move.
Between our mobile devices and the exhausting list of options for pretty much everything in our lives, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and lost without even knowing it. It just sneaks up on you over time, until you feel like you’ve fallen asleep in the middle of your life and nothing has changed for years.
Getting physical clears all the static in your mind and reconnects you to your feelings and gut instincts. It makes you feel more self-respect for taking care of your own body. It relieves stress and calms negative thinking and anxiety. Overall, you’ll be a sharper, happier man for it.
Spending time in your body doesn’t just mean lifting weights and working out (though that has a huge list of benefits). Meditation, tai chi, yoga, and all other practices like them are massively effective at quieting the mind and bringing you into the present moment. From this place, all of your decisions and feelings about yourself and the world will change.
4. Accomplish tasks
“You know what’s better than building things up in your mind? Building them up in real life.” – Ryan Holiday
Get. Shit. Done.
It’s so easy to sit back and consume endless content and feel “busy”, or procrastinate and avoid tackling life.
Internal power, confidence, and fulfillment comes from building momentum. It’s a series of wins and triumphs over the bullshit in your own mind, which comes from seeing things through to completion. The only way to do that is to get to work.
Accomplishing things will make you feel a kind of electricity that comes from nothing other than taking action. You will feel effective, purposeful, and more confident in actualizing any possibilities you dream up. There’s something about knowing you’re capable of executing and handling yourself that makes you feel powerful. It’s the definition of confidence.
Accomplishment can be as simple as crossing items off of a “to-do” list for tasks around the house. It doesn’t have to mean building an empire or doing something drastic.
Sit down with a notepad and take 15 minutes to let your mind roam and think about all the things left you need to get done in your life. It could be picking up toilet paper, cleaning your room, getting your car repaired, paying a bill, making a call or writing e-mails, etc. It’s allowed to be this simple.
This puts you in a state of leadership, and taking control, which is extremely powerful. It changes the way you think and feel. Start small and let the fire grow naturally. Over time, you’ll be applying this energy to things you didn’t see coming, or projects you didn’t think you could do.
5. Forgive your father
Our relationships (or lack thereof) with our parents set the stage for the rest of our lives. We all leave so much shit unsaid within our family system. And most of the time it kind of has to be that way. It’s rarely a good idea to do therapeutic work at the dinner table during the holidays.
But left unexamined, the dynamics of your mother/father connections will affect the way you feel, think, act and connect, without even knowing it. This is especially the case if you had a less-than-ideal experience with your parent(s).
The father connection is particularly important for men. So many guys carry silent wounds and resentments around their dads, whether he was absent, critical, soft, loveless, controlling, rough, or outright abusive. The list goes on, but you have to explore your own experience to mine the issues out for yourself.
Whether we know it or not, the father (or the empty space our father was supposed to occupy) is massively important to us. He is supposed to be our doorway to initiation into manhood. His approval and acceptance is a big part of what makes us feel a sense of worth and belonging.
Many guys had either absent or abusive fathers. But even if your father simply didn’t attend to you in the right way, or spend enough time making you feel seen, or was soft in his own life, you will carry the effects of that forward in your life.
Forgiving your father is an act of maturity and becoming your own man. You need to reach the place where you realize that he’s just a person, with his own flaws and shortcomings. You see all the factors that led to him becoming who he was, and leading the life that he did. He did the best he could with what he had, even if his “best” wasn’t the ideal outcome that you would have hoped for.
The truth is, the things we hate in our father’s are likely within us. This anger clouds our ability to see just how much like them we really are. Letting go of our mental bullshit and acknowledging this is a huge and necessary step in healing our father wounds.
You don’t have to say all this to his face (or even say any of it to his face). But if you’re lucky enough to have a father who is around and also willing to have such a conversation, go for it. It’ll change things in amazing ways. But this process is still super effective to do within yourself, or to share with other men you trust.
Get past blaming your dad for “making you” be anything. Whatever happened, happened. So what the fuck are you going to do about it? Complain, or grow? Be bitter, or be better? Radically accept all circumstances in your life, and move forward from there. Don’t get stuck in victim, boyhood consciousness.
The path to manhood is a gnarly one. Nobody said it better than Sam Keen in his book, Fire In The Belly:
“After a man passes through arid numbness, he comes to a tangled jungle of grief and unnamed sorrow. The path to a manly heart runs through the valley of tears.”
That path will be confusing, painful, joyful, and tiring. It’s a long-term, consistent effort – a new way of living. But you will never regret it. If you ever need motivation to keep going, just imagine being on your death bed.
How would you feel reflecting on your life knowing you never put in the effort, or gave up because living an incredible life was too hard?
Begin now. Pick up your fucking machete and charge into the forest. This journey is yours to take. Remember, having other men alongside you is crucial, but they can only support you while YOU take the steps forward. No one else can do this vital work for you.
Follow these five steps, do the work, and you’ll become the man you’re meant to be.
Dedicated to your success,
Ps. If you enjoyed this article, you will also love checking out: