What Makes a Man Strong? Defining Masculine Strength

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Hard Times Create Strong Men" by Stefan Aarnio. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What makes a man strong? Is strength purely defined by physicality?

According to Stefan Aarnio in Hard Times Create Strong Men, strength is much more than just being in top physical shape. Being a strong man means taking control of your actions and being comfortable with your emotions.

Let’s look at what truly makes a man strong and powerful.

What Makes a Strong Man?

Aarnio argues that what makes a man strong is determined by if he embraces ownership of every aspect of his life. While a weak man ignores his problems or blames them on someone else (like his family or the government), a strong man accepts that he is the only person who can solve his problems and actively works toward doing so.

(Shortform note: In The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck, Mark Manson agrees that people should take ownership of their lives. However, he argues that everyone—not just men— should do so to feel happier and more in control of their lives (not because they need to be strong). Additionally, Manson highlights the reality that even if you choose to ignore your problems or blame them on someone else, you’re not effectively avoiding responsibility: Ignoring your problems or blaming them on others is still a choice for which you’re responsible. Therefore, the question isn’t whether you take responsibility for your decisions but what values you base those decisions on.) 

Aarnio adds that strong men command respect—both from women, who view them as sexually desirable, and other men, who view them as a leader. Crucially, this respect does not stem from viewing him as “kind” or a “good person”—the definitions of which differ depending on what your culture values. Rather, this respect stems from universally appreciated virtues: A strong man always accomplishes what he says he will, no matter what. In contrast, weak men don’t command respect; notably, women are not sexually monogamous with weak men. 

How to Command Respect 

Despite Aarnio’s claim that strong men command respect by having universally appreciated virtues, studies suggest that there may be no universally appreciated virtues. One study found that honesty, respect, kindness, openness, and tolerance were valued by many—but not all—nations, prompting the study authors to deem those virtues “relatively universal.” 

So if, depending on your culture, always doing what you say you will doesn’t command great respect, how can you ensure that you become a strong man who’s sexually desirable and respected by others? In The Magic of Thinking Big, David J. Schwartz suggests that the key is to respect yourself. If you truly believe you’re an important and valuable person, you’ll act with importance—which will lead others to react to you with respect and deference.

Finally, Aarnio argues that a strong man has mastered four essential areas. First, he is in control of his mind, through which he wields financial, social, and intellectual power. Second, he is in control of his body: He is strong and healthy enough to command the respect of other men and support his family for years to come. Third, he is religious in some way, and so able to connect with and draw power from the spiritual realm. Fourth, he is comfortable with his emotions. 

How Religion Empowers Men to Prioritize Emotional and Physical Health

Many men struggle to master the domains that Aarnio deems central to being a strong man in part because Aarnio’s ideas don’t necessarily jibe with traditional notions of masculinity. Notably, many men struggle to take care of their emotional health because they view doing so as feminine. They also may stretch their physical limits to impress other men and then avoid going to the doctor because they prioritize working to support their family instead

Becoming religious (as Aarnio says all strong men are) can mitigate these struggles, as studies suggest that religious people may be better equipped to handle both physical and mental health challenges. For example, religious people can effectively rely on prayer to help control pain, and religious people who receive religious psychotherapy experience greater mental health benefits than those who receive traditional therapy. Good mental health matters because it’s essential to taking control of your mind. In High Performance Habits, Brendon Burchard warns that having poor mental health harms your ability to focus and pace yourself and so leads to burnout, which harms your social standing (by leading to isolation) and your financial standing (by causing you to skip work).
What Makes a Man Strong? Defining Masculine Strength

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  • Why modern Western men are weak, leading to civilization decline
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Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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