Male suicide rates have increased to three to four times higher than the female suicide rate. Men are twice as likely as women to become alcoholics. And males are far more likely to commit juvenile crime.
Much has been said and written in recent years about the challenges of men and boys. A sampling of book titles includes:
A common theme is that men and boys have become increasingly confused about their identity and role in society. Kay Hymowitz, author of Manning Up, put it this way:
It's been an almost universal rule of civilization that whereas girls became women simply by reaching physical maturity, boys had to pass a test. They needed to demonstrate courage, physical prowess, or mastery of the necessary skills. The goal was to prove their competence as protectors of women and children; this was always their primary social role. Today, however, with women moving ahead in an advanced economy, provider husbands and fathers are now optional, and the character qualities men had needed to play their role -- fortitude, stoicism, courage, fidelity -- are obsolete and even a little embarrassing.
It is the norm in Hollywood films, TV and cable shows, and even commercials to portray men as incompetent, immature, or self-absorbed. This underlying message has subtly and increasingly influenced the collective unconscious with devastating repercussions.
Academically, it is reported in the United States that:
- Girls outperform boys now at every level -- from elementary school through graduate school.
- By eighth grade, only 20 percent of boys are adept in writing and 24 percent adept in reading.
- Young men's SAT scores in 2011 were the lowest they've been in 40 years.
- According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), boys are 30 percent more likely than girls to drop out of both high school and college.
- In 2017, women will earn more than 60 percent of bachelor's and more than 63 percent of master's degrees.
- Boys make up two-thirds of students in special education remedial programs.
Women deserve the increased success they are getting. They've been oppressed for far too long. They're more motivated and effective than most men. And hopefully society will continue to allow them the increased equality they deserve.
However, this article's focus is on helping the struggling and confused young man. Indeed, many young men have taken the adverse cues of society as an excuse to evade responsibility and never really grow up.
If you are a young man and you're struggling, you are not alone. This article is intended to challenge you to rethink your entire approach to life. If applied, these habits will radically set you apart from the decaying norm.
1. Think beyond yourself.
Kids look to their parents for all the answers. When they become teenagers they know all the answers. Many never mature out of this stage and remain incredibly narcissistic, which is displayed in the following ways:
- believing you are better than others;
- exaggerating your talents or gifts;
- expecting constant praise and admiration;
- failure to recognize other people's emotions or feelings;
- expressing disdain for those who seem inferior;
- trouble keeping healthy relationships;
- acting as if you have nothing to learn.
Moving beyond self-consciousness requires an increase in overall consciousness.
By heightening your level of consciousness, you'll see the brilliance of humanity in general, be able to relate deeper with others, experience greater joy, and have enhanced ability to manifest the destiny of your choosing.
The following are ways to increase your level of consciousness:
- Allow yourself to experience your feelings, rather than block them out. Meditation is a helpful way to do this. You experience your thoughts and feelings, learn from them, and then let them go.
- Let go of what you think should be and genuinely accept what is. The journey is the end, not simply a means to an end.
- Identify the meaningless things to which you've assigned meaning. Happiness and security can never be experienced when dependent on the external -- they can be achieved only internally.
- Begin trusting your inner voice. If you feel like bringing an umbrella with you even when the weather report suggests it is unnecessary, bring it.
- Explore the world, experience new cultures, and have your paradigm shaken and reframed.
- Question your own intentions and motivations.
- Be humble about your own humanity.
- Act with love, and become aware when you are not.
2. Stop playing video games.
There are a host of both positive and negative effects of playing video games. However, approximately 15 percent of American youth have an unhealthy addiction to video games. Another study reported that 31 percent of males and 13 percent of females have felt "addicted" to video games.
Naturally, boys have a strong need for accomplishment and challenge. But studies suggest that some of the most popular video games are disengaging boys from real-world pursuits. Boys' need for accomplishment is satisfied by "leveling up" in the game, so they don't feel the need to go out into the world and solve real problems. Thus, society is not being served by their efforts.
Gaming often gets in the way of important relationships or meaningful life pursuits. Fifteen percent of divorces are filed by women because their husband prefers video games over them.
This point is particularly significant to me. I myself spent a large portion of my time in junior high and high school playing World of Warcraft. Literally thousands of hours logged-in and lost.
I see many of my high school friends and family members who are now in their late 20s and 30s continuing to play four or more hours of video games per day -- even those who are married and have kids.
Playing video games is being touted as a "healthy" way to escape reality. Yet, one must ask: Is escaping reality (especially for extended periods of time) ever healthy?
The need for achievement and challenge can be accomplished in real life. You can "level-up" the real you while simultaneously solving social problems.
3. Learn in healthy environments and lay off the meds.
The industrial classroom model is killing our boys. It is not a healthy environment for them. Young boys need more physical stimulation.
The result is that ADHD is improperly and lazily diagnosed in many of them. Their natural characteristics, emotions, passions, and gifts are being curbed by medications.
Although it is not a popular notion, boys and girls are wired differently. Girls are often exclusively motivated by praise. They will perfect their handwriting just to have it noticed.
Boys, on the other hand, are often motivated by tangible experiences that relate to real life. Thus, many boys see no point in having good handwriting if one day they will spend their time typing. They don't care as much what other people think. They just want to be challenged.
4. Get intensive physical stimulation.
Short and intensive learning spurts followed by rigorous physical stimulation is a powerful and positive way for boys and men to learn. Rough-and-tumble play helps develop the frontal lobe of the brain, which is used to regulate behavior. Sadly, many public schools are removing gym class and recess, further exacerbating problems among boys.
In the recent book Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, authors John J. Ratey and Eric Hagerman share some amazing science and stories. For instance, despite the removal of gym class from many schools' curricula, others have put more focus on it and found staggering results. When kids exercise in the morning, they learn far better. In fact, they improve in all areas of their lives. Human beings are holistic. Your brain, your emotions, your relationships, are all tied together.
If you're living a sedentary life as a man, you're not getting the needed stimulation you need. Research has found that males thrive in kinesthetic learning environments -- learning through moving.
Intensive physical activity, like sprinting or heavy weight lifting (followed by extended rest periods) is a good outlet for men's need of physical stimulation. Moreover, these intensive physical activities can activate healthy levels of testosterone, which produce many positive effects -- including:
Studies have found that healthy testosterone levels affect men's cognitive performance, and can improve focus, motivation, and memory.
The need for physical pain
Interestingly, boys and girls experience pain differently. For boys, physical pain can be a stimulant fueling mental clarity. On the other hand, physical pain for girls can be a narcotic, making them feel hazy and confused.
I've seen this in myself. Some of my greatest insights have come while pushing myself to the extreme while doing yard work or while exercising. This phenomenon is also seen in endurance athletes who push themselves through pain for many hours at a time.
5. Take responsibility for your life and set your standards high.
In his book Boys Adrift, Leonard Sax explains that boys need -- not want -- to be responsible. If they are not needed, they don't flourish.
Men step down if they're not needed. And because of society's message that men are no longer needed, many are staying in their parents' basements.
Although most men will not go out of their way to take on challenges and responsibility, this is the very thing they should do if they want to thrive. Indeed, it is becoming common knowledge that perception is followed by physical experience in the form of self-fulfilling prophecy. If you believe you will succeed, you often do.
If you set your sights high in life, you will achieve incredible things. To do this, you can no longer play the victim to circumstances. Blaming the world, your parents, school, or the challenges you've faced in life is not going to solve your problems. It's going to keep you stuck and bitter.
Instead, take the time to imagine and mentally create your ideal life. Mental creation always precedes physical creation.
You have the inner power to create whatever life you want to achieve. All you have to do is spend the time creating that world with intention. Write down exactly what you want in life. Set your standards ridiculously high. Don't hold anything back.
Read, rewrite, and reread your ambitions often. These will soon consume your subconscious mind creating new patterns in your brain. Eventually, you'll manifest the world you've been creating in your head.
6. Prayer, meditation, and journal writing.
Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and every other religious and spiritual tradition strongly stress the significance of regular prayer. Although the form of practice may be different, the purpose is the same:
- deepened connection to God/existence;
- the improvement of humanity as a whole.
Prayer (and modifications such as meditation and gratitude journals) is regularly found to increase physical and mental well-being.
For me, I often combine prayer with journal writing as a form of meditation. I seek inspiration, direction, heightened perspective, and gratitude.
Scientifically supported benefits of prayer include:
- improved self-control;
- a nicer personality;
- a more forgiving disposition;
- an increased level of trust;
- reduced negative health effects of stress.
People are often turned off by prayer, believing it is a strictly "religious" practice. Even if organized religion is not your thing, you can still have a positive and healthy relationship with prayer.
7. Earn good friends.
You are who you surround yourself with. There's no way around it. If you want to evolve past your current state, you need to remove yourself from the negative forces in your life. This will not be easy. Misery loves company.
However, when you decide to remove yourself from negative people -- and instead surround yourself with people who uplift and inspire you -- your life will dramatically improve.
Take the leap. Invite your friends to come along with you. If they don't understand your needed evolution, kindly bid them a loving farewell.
8. Commit fully to someone.
Ryan Holiday says, "We're supposed to believe that relationships tie people down, that they are the death knell for creativity and ambition. Nonsense."
With all the productivity and success advice going on in the world today, very little is written about the benefits of finding a spouse who supports you and makes you better.
It is quite rare for people to stay committed to anything or anyone these days. There are countless fatherless children. Many seek easy sexual prey followed by the internal pit of emptiness -- too afraid to reveal and confront their true identity.
Research has found that committed relationships can reduce the chance of illness and increase the length of life. Other benefits of long-term commitment in relationships include:
- greater sense of life satisfaction;
- increased happiness;
- a host of practical benefits, such as shared assets and children;
- decreased likelihood of substance abuse;
- decreased likelihood of depression and neglect of one's health.
"Choose your love, love your choice," says Thomas Monson.
I got married at age 24. I've never felt restrained by that decision. I've felt only liberated. Now 29, we have three foster children, what most would consider a huge blow to our freedom.
This could not be further from the truth in my experience. Instead, I'm challenged to become a better person every day. I'm challenged to think beyond my own needs and to learn patience, humility, and love.
I would never make such monumental decisions, such as becoming a parent or getting married, without prayer, fasting, meditation, and journaling. When you're in a state of clarity, you can follow your intuition and consistently make good decisions. As Malcolm Gladwell explains in Blink, snap decisions are often more accurate than well-thought-out ones.
Of course marriage isn't easy. It's the hardest thing I've ever done. But why choose the easy path? As a man, challenge and responsibility is precisely what is needed to thrive.
9. Fall in love with learning.
Ordinary people seek entertainment. Extraordinary people seek education and learning. We now live in a world where you no longer need to go to college (or high school) to become educated. At your fingertips is an unlimited and ever-increasingly well of information. You can become an expert at anything.
Many of the world's most successful people attribute their success to a love for learning. They often read one or more books per week. With a few books, you can learn how to build wealth, healthy relationships, and the life of your dreams.
With more information and education, you will make better lifestyle choices. You'll be less likely to have destructive addictions and make ignorant decisions.
You'll be more likely to surround yourself with brilliant people, learn new languages and explore the world, come up with solutions to the world's problems, and have passion and zest for life.
Stop gaming and start reading. The real world awaits. And it's amazing.
10. Take Bigger Risks
"Don't fail by default," advises the famous writer Richard Paul Evans.
Evans often tells a story of being a shy high school kid. In one of his classes, he sat next to the girl of his dreams. He spent an entire year wishing he could work up the courage to ask her out. But he never ended up talking to her.
"Why would she be interested in a loser like me?" he would say to himself.
A few years later, at a high school reunion, they met and talked.
"I just have to ask: Why didn't you ever ask me out?" she asked. "I always liked you and hoped you would talk to me."
Evans was shocked.
He had been wrong that entire time and missed the opportunity he spent over a year dreaming about. In that moment, he determined to never fail by default again.
"If I'm going to fail, I'm going to fail big," he has said. "If I fail, I'm going to fail after giving it everything I've got."
Stop playing life small. Date people who seem absurdly out of your league. They're not -- except in your head.
Don't be conservative in your career until you're in your 40s. There is little risk while you're young, energetic, and motivated. Now is the time to take huge risks. Embrace rejection and failure. In turn, embrace enormous and unimaginable success.
You can have whatever life you choose.
Don't be afraid to dream big for yourself.
Have the courage to seize that life and truly live, rather than only imagining living.
The world needs you.