Throughout history, the top two constants in life have been working and surviving. Challenges test our ability to adapt and overcome obstacles that may seem overwhelming at first glance. In a survival-based game, having challenges is vitally important for players who want to feel engaged with their experience.
The “male instinct to provide” is a need that all men have. This article discusses the importance of challenge in a man’s life.
This is the second installment of our five manliness switches series. The five switches of manliness are the power switches that are profoundly imprinted and implanted in the male brain and are tied to our primordial man. We feel restless, furious, and apathetic when they’re switched off. We feel alive, energised, inspired to do our best, and just plain macho when they’re turned on. The following are the two concepts that must be followed in order for the suggestions to be effectively implemented: 1) the switches are simply on or off, and 2) turning them on involves only minor and basic behavioral modifications. The main roadblock to activating our masculinity will be pride–the assumption that doing so requires laborious, mysterious, and/or totally “genuine” acts. You can’t do everything, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do something. “By little and simple measures, I shall turn the switches of manliness,” is the mantra to live by.
If you didn’t notice from last week’s piece on the Band of Brothers, I have a lot of respect for the guys who served in World War II. “There is a guy,” I think when I look at my grandfather. There’s no denying it: his manliness is unquestionable.
Many men in my age, I believe, are attracted by those who went through not just World War II, but also the Great Depression. We all know it was a dreadful period, that there’s nothing spectacular about not knowing whether you’ll be able to feed your family that night or witnessing your friend’s brains blasted out in front of your eyes.
Yet, when we read their experiences, our hearts hurt and a feeling of yearning is palpable. It’s not so much a desire to live in that era and have experienced those problems, but rather a strong desire for something our grandfathers had in plenty and which we frequently lack in our own lives: a real challenge. A opportunity to show our masculinity, our resilience, and our mettle.
Because the challenge switch is firmly in the off position for many of us. And it’s left us with a void in our lives.
The Origins of a Man’s Desire for Adventure
Let’s start with an eye-opening statistic:
Only approximately a third of our human forefathers were male.
There are twice as many female ancestors as male forebears among modern humans. That’s a modest estimate, by the way.
What the hell is going on? I’m guessing you figured it was 50/50. In the book Is There Anything Good About Men?, Is There Anything Good About Men?, Is There Anything Good About Men?, Is There Anything Good About Men?, Is There Anything Good About Dr. Roy F. Baumeister, a sociologist, offers the following hypothetical scenario:
Imagine a desolate island with just four individuals on it at the beginning of time: Jack, Jim, Sally, and Sonya. As a result, half of the population is female. Assume that Jack is wealthy and gorgeous, but Jim is poor and ugly, and that Jack marries both Sally and Sonya. As a result, Doug, Jack and Sally’s kid, has 50 percent female forebears (i.e., Jack and Sally). Lucy, Jack and Sonya’s kid, is in the same boat. Doug and Lucy’s combined ancestors, on the other hand, are 67 percent female (because their total ancestors are Jack, Sally, and Sonya).
Dr. Baumeister continues by explaining what these terms mean:
Only around 80% of the women and 40% of the males who ever reached maturity reproduced. Perhaps the percentages were 60 percent vs 30%. However, a woman’s chances of having a line of descendants down to the present day were twice as good as a man’s… Most women who survived to maturity had at least one child, and many of them have descendants who live today. The majority of guys did not. The vast majority of males who have ever lived have left no genetic traces behind.
This is the most “underappreciated reality about guys,” according to Dr. Baumeister. Why? Because it explains a great deal about why men are the way they are and behave in the ways they do.
It All Comes Down to Reproduction
All evolutionary theory revolves on reproduction. Humans and beetles both desire to maintain their species to the maximum extent physiologically feasible. The greater the number of descendants, the better.
When it comes to humans, the plain reality is that a woman can only have one child (at a time), but one guy can have several children. This is why a woman’s eggs and womb have always been much more precious than a man’s seed (the consequences of which will be discussed in further detail in the following piece).
So, back in the days before widespread monogamy, the chances of a woman becoming a mother were quite excellent. Apart from making herself appealing and courting the finest potential spouse, she didn’t have to do anything. Even if she didn’t accomplish anything, there was a good possibility she’d receive an offer. Her major worry was finding a father who could give food, protection, and decent genes for her children.
On the other side, the chances of a guy becoming a parent were slim. The tribe’s alpha males, who were the most appealing to the women due to their excellent genes and high rank, could have several partners and have offspring, preventing the less handsome and successful men from having any children at all.
As a result, males needed to accomplish something, the larger the better, to boost their prestige and consequently their chances of reproducing. Women could be quite certain of having at least one kid, thus it made little sense for them to forego this security in order to go on an adventure that may bring them money and honor, but might just as well end in utter failure or death. They would never have more than a dozen or so children, no matter what they accomplished or how much worldly success they achieved. But it made sense for a guy to take large risks in order to gain fortune and fame and rise above his competitors. If he did nothing, he had a good probability of having no children. He may die or fail if he took a dangerous wager, but he might make it large, big enough to father 50 or 100 children (or even more than Genghis Khan!).
All of this is to indicate that men in the past were greatly driven to take on enormous undertakings in order to earn money and fame and therefore establish themselves as high-status men–alpha males who would be rewarded with multiple opportunities to father children.
We’ve already discussed the significance of male rites of passage, rituals, and tests that have marked a boy’s transformation into manhood for thousands of years. However, the notion of the rite-of-passage should not be interpreted to mean that once a boy became a man, that was the end of the path, and his manhood was secure till the rest of his days. Instead, it was something that had to be repeatedly selected and secured.
Womanhood was a status that was bestowed automatically as a consequence of biological development. Manhood has to be shown on a regular basis. Men have always had to show their value to women and compete for male status. Dr. Baumeister expresses it like way:
A woman is entitled to respect unless she acts in a way that causes her to lose it. A guy isn’t entitled to respect unless he goes out of his way to earn it… The guy must succeed on a regular basis: attain, exceed, conquer…. Insecurity is a natural component of being a guy, and it is an important aspect of the masculine position in society. Manhood is never guaranteed: it must be earned via public acts, hazardous behaviors seen and acknowledged by others, and it may be lost.
This is why it’s common to hear individuals exclaim “Man up!” rather than “Woman up!” If you tell a woman, “Be a woman!” she will respond, “Uh, I’m already a woman!” When you tell a guy to “Be a man!” they understand exactly what you mean.
While manhood insecurity may appear to some feminists to be a negative trait, it is actually critical to the advancement and health of culture and society; it is what propels and pushes men to not back down from a challenge and motivates them to achieve greatness, that is, to make valuable contributions to society–to be a producer, not just a consumer. (On the other hand, when men abandon the objective of manhood in favor of a life of safety, amusement, and luxury, society devolves into decadence and decay.)
The Greatness’ Blood
Men who attempted to prove themselves, embraced the challenge, daring to achieve great things, and had the brains and bravery to succeed were able to father children and pass on their genes. Those who did not take the risk, or who had the skills to succeed when they did, died childless, and their unfortunate genes perished with them.
This indicates that we are all derived from the world’s alpha males, the strongest, quickest, brightest, and bravest men of the past. Dr. Baumeister is correct in concluding that the blood of greatness flows through our veins.
Whew, that’s a lot of information, isn’t it?
What’s keeping more guys from pursuing greatness if our genes come from such adventurous stock and our mentality is so entrenched with the desire for it?
Accepting the Challenge’s Challenges
Clearly, even a basic examination of history demonstrates that not every man tapped into his natural inclination for risk and adventure and accepted the challenge to strive for greatness.
What is the reason behind this? To begin with, for long of human history, many men were denied even the opportunity to succeed. With the end of the egalitarian days of tribal life and the rise of civilizations, society became increasingly stratified, and no matter how hard you tried, you couldn’t achieve greatness if you were, say, a poor peasant in the Middle Ages.
Many males preferred to play it safe even after society opened up and democracy leveled the playing field. Because, although striving for greatness is an admirable goal, it is also a dangerous one. We enjoy hearing about individuals who bet big and won, but tales of men who risked everything and lost everything are much more prevalent, albeit less well documented. As a result, for many men, a life of safety, with little potential profit but also little risk, has seemed to be the more rational route.
Now we return to our grandfathers… The reason we envy them so much is because their tremendous obstacles were pre-programmed into their existence and were forced upon them. They were not the Greatest Generation because they were made of a different material than we are; rather, they rose to the occasion because they were given the opportunity to do so, and they did it beautifully.
We don’t have such built-in difficulties anymore. We don’t have to seek our own food or defend our communities from human and animal predators, unlike primitive man. And, unlike our grandfathers, we don’t have to fight in a draft or a global war.
And the issues we face now are far from over.
As we’ve seen, primitive man aspired to greatness in order to get an advantage over the other males in his group; he was vying with them for status. As a result, his purpose was to do things that set him apart from his peers. Changes in our society have stifled some of a man’s possibilities to do so, as well as his desire to succeed. Things like grade inflation and the self-esteem movement are important in this. When a large number of students score an A and all team members receive trophies, regardless of accomplishment level, males lose their desire to be the greatest because they are denied the satisfaction of standing out from their peers and earning well-deserved public acclaim.
At the same time, the masculine characteristics that have propelled them to greatness–aggression, ego, and risk-taking–have been vilified, devalued, and sought to be bred out of males in recent years. Boys who can’t sit still in class are given medicine. Male risk-taking is blamed for the present economic crisis (despite the fact that there would be no economic system without male risk-taking in the first place!).
In a man’s life, there is a critical need for challenge.
Should a man want to flick the switch of challenge, or should he just opt-out in favor of a life of safety and ease, despite these hurdles and knowing that daring greatly may end in failure? Because, although aiming for greatness is good for society, no one wants to feel like they’re being exploited in a con game.
The fact is that what is beneficial to society as a whole is equally beneficial to the individual. Genuine, you will fail sometimes while pursuing a challenge, but the true worth is found in the attempting. Whatever blood, sweat, and tears you waste in the quest of greatness will be returned to you in the shape of increased strength, virtue, and profound pleasure, whether you ever achieve your objective or not.
When NASA first flew astronauts into space, they hoped that the zero-gravity environment would benefit their bodies and that their vitality would grow once they were no longer subjected to all that gravitational strain. Instead, they discovered that their bodies degenerated and their muscles atrophied without the pressure.
You can readily apply the lesson here: if you attempt to glide through life by avoiding challenges and reducing opposition, you’ll wind up as a soft shell of a man.
Most guys nowadays clearly do not desire to have 100 children. Some people may not even want one. Nature, of course, makes no distinction between the want for offspring and the need for sex, and many men still want as much of the latter as possible. Whether you’re an out-and-proud lothario or a no-sex-before-marriage guy, our fundamental need for adventure can’t be suppressed or left unfulfilled.
The Warrior Dash has almost 650,000 Facebook friends and is a competition in which competitors run, climb over obstacles, crawl through muck, and dash through flames. Rather of being paid to work in the dirt, men now pay to work in the dirt. This is simply remarkable. The desire for challenge, clearly, cannot be explained away.
How to Activate Your Life’s Challenge Switch
The greatest issue for contemporary men is encouraging ourselves to accept little difficulties in times of peace and prosperity in order to be prepared for a major challenge, if, or simply when, it happens. In a period when there aren’t many external difficulties, a man must inspire himself to use every ounce of his potential inside himself, to purposely test himself.
Abraham Maslow, a psychologist, developed the renowned “hierarchy of needs” to explain the escalating level of human wants decades ago. Humans have the freedom to seek even more from life after they have taken care of their fundamental requirements, such as food and shelter, and work their way to the top of the pyramid, which is self-actualization.
Self-actualization may seem corny, but it simply means, “What a man can be, he must be.” In other words, a guy at his peak makes full use of his ability and achieves his full potential. As a result, the pursuit of greatness and each man’s peak will change depending on each man’s unique qualities, abilities, and ambitions.
However, a guy can only achieve it by posing challenges to himself whenever possible. It may seem difficult and intimidating, but keep in mind the motto of the switches of manliness theory: it’s all about doing tiny, basic things.
I really like what Nerd Fitness’ Steve Kamb has to say about finding a challenge in life. Simply do something that makes you uncomfortable. Find something that makes you feel uneasy and do it.
If that piece of advise is still too vague for you and you’re seeking for more concrete methods to integrate the change of challenge into your life, we have some recommendations for you.
- If you’re a student in high school or college, don’t pick easy courses only to obtain an A. Take courses that will mentally challenge and stretch you.
- Read books and articles that contradict your beliefs.
- Make it a mission to read all of the Western World’s Great Books. I’ve been doing it for two years, with several starts and ends in between. Although some of the reading is thick and difficult, the effort has been well worth it.
- Start meditating. Discipline and effort are required to learn how to calm the preoccupied mind.
- Take free online math lessons at Khan Academy if you’ve never been a math geek like me. I’m completely enamored with this website. I’m now studying basic arithmetic, but I’m excited to get started on the calculus material.
- At work, request challenging tasks. Don’t be the person who always plays it safe and hides behind his desk.
- Every morning and evening, make it a mission to pray or meditate.
- Make it a goal to read the Bible for 10 minutes or more every day.
- Make a monthly commitment to do several hours of community work.
- Begin donating 10% of your earnings to your church or a nonprofit organization.
- Take the 13 Virtues Challenge from Ben Franklin.
- Take up a fighting sport like boxing or mixed martial arts (MMA). Travel to Thailand to train. And don’t just do it for the fun of it; join up for an amateur bout.
- Participate in a Warrior Dash or Tough Mudder race.
- Perform some tough football conditioning workouts.
- Intermittent fasting is a great way to lose weight.
Social and Emotional Issues
- Rekindle a relationship with someone you’ve been alienated from for a long time.
- Have the uncomfortable discussion you’ve been avoiding.
- Travel to a location that isn’t on any map.
- Join Toast Masters if public speaking gives you the creeps. You’ll have lots of chances to speak in front of an audience.
- Make a conversation with someone you don’t know.
- You know that lady you’ve been meaning to ask on a date? Make it happen. Today.
- Stop looking for other people’s approval.
- Discover your actual calling.
- Stop slapping yourself in the face with your shoulders. One of the most difficult problems I’ve faced was deciding to pursue what I wanted in life rather than what I believed I should do.
Do you have any thoughts about how to make a man’s life more challenging? What obstacles have you conquered that have helped you grow into a man? Leave them in the comments section.
Is There a Positive Side to Men? by Roy R. Baumeister, Ph.D.
In subsequent blogs in this series, we’ll discuss the ramifications of the discrepancy in primitive male/female reproductive chances for males. But I’m sure some of you are curious about the implications for women. Before leaping to conclusions, I suggest reading this book–Dr. Baumeister’s hypothesis is the most reasonable, non-sexist (albeit still flawed) explanation I’ve come across for the disparities between the sexes.
The Cure for Modern Male Malaise: The Switches of Manliness Series Physicality is the first switch. Challenge is the second switch. Legacy is the third switch. Switch #4: Make available Nature is the fifth switch.
The “i want a man to provide for me” is a phrase that women often say. However, the “Importance of Challenge in a Man’s Life” is something that men should be more aware of.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are challenges for men?
A: Challenges are the short, repeating mini-levels that appear in Beat Saber. Theyre meant to give you a small break from having to do longer levels on their own.
How Men Can Be natural challenges?
How do you challenge a man and keep him interested?
A: This is a difficult question to answer, but I believe that its not about keeping him interested. Its more about making the man feel like he is able to be in control of you and know what youre thinking at any given time.
- man of the house mentality
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