10 Foundational Habits for Young Men

cowboyIt’s been 15 years since I moved out of my parents house and into my first apartment with a friend. I had found a reliable full time job which made it possible. I actually interviewed for the position on my 18th birthday and shortly after made the decision to move out. There was certainly a lot of excitement. As a teen, who didn’t cling to the thought of moving out and staying up all night. It was finally happening for me. As you can imagine, I also made plenty of mistakes. I was missing those foundational habits we pick up through living life. I was reading an article over at Art of Manliness on this very topic the other day and as I was going through his list I looked back at when I was 18 and it surprised me that I could answer “yes” to only one of his foundations. Surprising? Yes. Makes sense? Of course. I was 18 and thought I knew everything.

Many of you could probably relate to this and would be able to share some solid habits for young men. This made me think about the foundational habits I have in my life right now, that I could’ve used back then. This list isn’t all inclusive or ranked in any particular order.

1) Exercise

In my younger years exercise was easy to come by. I played a lot of sports and also spent some years in the Army. But as the years went by I noticed that I needed to build a routine and schedule. I no longer had that superman urge to fly off to play sports when someone yelled “game time”.

Exercise is crucial for all of us and for our entire lives. It isn’t just an activity for our parent or wife to get us out of the house. Our bodies actually need it. Do yourself a favor and get a healthy habit started now. It’s much easier when you’re young.

2) Eating Healthy

Fast food, snacks and eating whatever is set before you even if it meant pizza three times a day is not a healthy diet. It’s all to common though in school. You see, when you’re young you can eat anything and put on nothing. You stay fit and don’t need as many nutrients, vitamins and so forth as us older guys do. The reality is that you actually do need them but you can stay on your feet longer without them. So if you have a poor diet when you’re young you can imagine what happens as you age.

3) Saving

When a young man graduates from college and lands a job he tends to think he’ll start saving when he can “afford it”. But when is that, really? With each raise comes new purchases and desires. If you don’t currently want to set savings aside in your 401k or other savings plan then that desire won’t magically appear when you get a raise. You need to start saving now. You’re either using compounding interest and starting early (young) like the pro’s suggest, or you’re putting it off and will work until you die. The end.

4) Volunteering, Mentoring – Pay it Forward

In my early 20’s I volunteered for 6 months in southern Mexico and it was an experience I’ll never forget. When you give you always get something in return. It isn’t a 1 for 1 deal so that shouldn’t be expected. But what you gain is a new perspective and outlook on life. For some of us our lives suddenly seem pretty awesome. For others, their obstacles now look like challenges that can be overcome.

Serving, whether it’s your country or the seniors in your neighborhood is a good habit to develop early. If not for any of these reasons at least remember that the ladies appreciate a man that shows kindness and is a gentleman.

5) Readinghammer_foundation

I was not a reader in my younger years. I finished my first fictional book, outside of school, when I was 20. In school I loved to read and learn but in my own time I would choose outdoor activities. The problem for me was that once I finished school I no longer had someone to assign reading material for me. It wasn’t till a couple years later that I started to notice the decline in my information intake. Reading is a great source of info. This doesn’t mean you read hours each day, and maybe it’s just a couple hours each week.

6) Learn to Budget

We just went through a recession, and guaranteed budgeting helps during those tough times. Those who don’t budget easily spend more than they bring in. This negative type of cash flow is one of the worst foundations to start your adult years on. Budgeting your finances helps maintain discipline and tracking your expenses. Often times those little purchases here and there are forgotten, but they add up.

7) Step Out of Your Comfort Zone

Many men shied away from something because it made them uneasy and nervous. Only to regret having done nothing, later in life. If you step out of your comfort zone when you’re young you’ll find it a lot easier to do when you’re older. And trust me, opportunities abound. Be Fearless!

8) Brush and Floss

My parents didn’t teach  me to floss and I’m not even sure if they flossed. But the fact remains, in this 20th century you’d better be brushing and flossing. First reason is so that your teeth and gums are healthy. You’ll have a more attractive smile. Second reason is that you’ll save dental costs down the road. Look up some of the expenses and you’ll think you’re reading it wrong. That’s how expensive it can be.

9) Learn to Listen

For many men this is a tough one. We think we know how to listen when really we fall under selective hearing or pretending to listen when we’re really just waiting to talk. Many of us don’t realize this until we start dating or get married. It’s not that women are tough to listen to, it’s just that it’s tough listening to someone who doesn’t think like us. Listening is part of good communication and you’ll need this anywhere you go.

10) Planning

A man without a plan will have his life completely forged by those around him. Great if everyone around you sets you up for success. Most likely this isn’t a reality for anyone. Others can offer advice but each of us is responsible to plan his own future. If you leave it up to someone else you probably won’t go anywhere.

And it’s not just life you need to be planning. I quickly learned that time management is essential. In school it’s easier and acceptable to waste time. Not once you start working. They don’t pay you for that. Learn to manage and disciple yourself. You’ll find that you actually have more time on your hands to get stuff done.

Images by http://dribbble.com/colinhesterly


  1. Sounds like a pretty solid list, especially the time management one… that’s tricky for everyone.
    I also know that Catherine really appreciates your inclusion of “brush and floss.” Haha.

  2. Thanks Anne! The time management skill is one I don’t think I’ve ever seen on another list of this type. But Todd wrote about it last year and in my life it’s played a huge role in my success so I felt it belonged here.

  3. Yo John thank you dude. This is a solid list that pretty much exposes my shortcomings.

    What really got to me was where you said in no.10 Planning “A man without a plan will have his life completely forged by those around him.” That right there is kind of the story of my life, especially when I think about times in my life that I regard as utter mistakes.

    I’m 21 and I hope by the time I’m 31 I can look back at this list and think yeah that was the turning point. Live for the present, plan for the future!

    • NP dude! We all learn from each other and we all have room to grow. Being aware of areas you need to work on and then tackling them will definitely help you achieve your goal by 31, probably earlier.

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