Have you ever heard the term alpha male? Highly intelligent, successful alpha males make up 70% of all senior executives. Let’s break down exactly what it means to be an alpha male and the cues you can use to spot one (and become one!)

What Is an Alpha Male?

An alpha male is a man who is highly intelligent, confident, and successful. Alpha males are generally considered great leaders and prefer to be in positions of power. Common traits alpha males possess include:

  • Being in a position of power
  • Being comfortable with high levels of responsibility
  • Liking to call the shots
  • Being the most powerful, impressive, or successful person in the room
  • Ability to draw people to them and have high levels of influence

An alpha male mindset is being confident and comfortable with yourself, having self-control, and staying in the moment, knowing you can handle anything.

In 1000 BCE, the Greeks created their alphabet, with the first letter being alpha. In the centuries that followed, the most dominant creature in a pack of wild animals (or supposedly more evolved humans) was alpha too.

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How Do You Become an Alpha Male?

Your fingers don’t match Diagram A, and you don’t fit for movie stardom. So that must mean you’re “outta luck” in the alpha male game. Right?

The definitive answer is no.

Today’s modern alpha male doesn’t need a finger test to pass muster. And here’s some more groundbreaking info about real men today:

  • The old hard-line between alpha men and beta “nice guys” is blurry.
  • Alpha men are traditionally characterized as being unemotional and highly analytical, with little curiosity for others and their feelings.
  • Men today are being encouraged to be knowledgeable about emotions and feelings, creating a new generation of strong, confident, and empathetic alpha male leaders.

If you want to be a modern alpha male, you need to aim high, elevate your brain, and practice your alpha male cues.

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Let’s get into the essential traits and cues of the alpha male so you can learn these traits from successful alpha men and incorporate them into your mindset.

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Cue #1: Congruent Nodding

Alpha males signal others that they are very confident by aligning their nodding with their words. For example, they’ll say, “Yes,” or “I agree” and nod their head as well. Likewise, if they disagree, you might see them shaking their head, “No.”

Alpha males nod not only as they speak but also as they listen.

Podcaster and actor Dax Shepard is incredibly good at using nods—both nodding while speaking and while listening. Nodding is so great because researchers found that when someone nods at us, we may speak 3-4 times longer.

Why?

Because his nodding allows him to not only voice his opinion but also show empathy. He’ll nod when he agrees with something and also nod “No” if he empathizes with them (“That’s terrible!”). For Shepard, nodding builds rapport with others and makes them feel accepted.

Action Step: Nod with your words while speaking and while listening.

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Unlock the Secrets of Charisma

Control and leverage the tiny signals you’re sending—from your stance and facial expressions to your word choice and vocal tone—to improve your personal and professional relationships.

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Succeed with People

Master the laws of human behavior and get along with anyone, increasing your influence, impact, and income as a result.

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Cue #2: Reassuring Touch

Researchers found that charismatic alpha males touch themselves less and others more. They engage in less nervous self-touch cues like:

  • Rubbing their neck
  • Cracking their knuckles
  • Massaging their arm

Instead, they are constantly reaching out to others to give them reassuring touches:

  • High-fives
  • Pats on the back
  • A reassuring shoulder touch
Kevin Hart and Tony Robbins

Reassuring touches are great because they’re a nonverbal “I understand you” gesture.

Action Step: Use touch to reassure, calm, or recognize people.

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Cue #3: Claiming Space

The more confident a person is, the more space they claim:

  • Using armrests
  • Draping their arms around a couch
  • Standing with feet wide apart

Watch as Samuel Jackson sits on the couch and claims his space.

Samuel Jackson claoming space

You can also claim space, too! But keep in mind when claiming space not to do it in a domineering or aggressive way. Alphas do this because they’re comfortable in situations others might generally be anxious in.

You might even notice the alpha at the table taking space in the boss’s chair.

Action Step: When you feel confident, claim your space.

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Cue #4: Eye Openness

People who are not confident or alpha might close up—they may block their chest with their arm or hold something close to it. Alphas, on the other hand, sit, stand, and walk openly.

See as Sylvester Stallone sits open, broad, and expansive:

Sylvester Stallone sitting

Another example is John Wayne—when he walks into the room, take note of his open body and slow, purposeful movements:

John Wayne walking

Or Marlon Brando walking into a bar, claiming space by touching the chairs:

Marlon Brando walking in a bar

Action Step: To inspire openness, show openness.

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Cue #5: Invites Others to Participate

Alpha males invite others to participate—even in dire situations!

Watch this clip and see how Tom Cruise handles it:

Tom Cruise doesn’t get super angry or lose his nerves. He takes control of the guy who threw water in his face by actually taking his hand and saying, “What’s so funny about this?”

Tom Cruise getting water splashed in his face

This kind of behavior is ingrained. They are used to bringing people in and getting answers, even in challenging situations.

Action Step: Take charge by inviting others to participate more.

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Cue #6: Use a Variable Tone of Voice (and Volume)

Researchers found that alphas are dynamic in their voice. They use a louder voice when they are passionate and a quieter one for important things. Or, they speak fast when telling a story and slow down for emphasis.

Lee uses dynamic vocal range, going high up when he introduces the martial arts moves and coming back down when he’s in explanation mode. His vocal dynamism helps us feel hooked to every word he’s saying.

Jason Mamoa also goes big and bright but also drops down low. We love that in alphas! But not all alphas need to be big and loud like Mamoa. Some can be quiet yet confident such as Brad Pitt.

Action Step: Use lots of vocal variety and dynamic volume

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Cue #7: Gaze More (Especially at the End of a Statement)

Alphas typically make more eye contact—but specifically at the end of statements. Alphas might be processing while talking, but at the very end, they might want to see how you feel about that.

You can see this in action by seeing Leonardo DiCaprio talking to Ellen:

Alphas don’t feel the need to make eye contact all the time, but they will when they want to drive in a point or gauge reaction.

Action Step: Gaze more, especially at the end of statements.

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Cue #8: More Hand Gestures

Alpha males use a lot of their hands to explain their words. They underline or bold their words with their hands with purpose and impact.

And a great example of an alpha male who uses a lot of hand gestures is The Rock. He uses hand gestures expertly, as well as a handful of other cues that makes him alpha.

Want to know the cues that make The Rock so charismatic? Check out our analysis below!

Dwayne Johnson: The Most Charismatic Man Ever, Analyzed

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Cue #9: Perseverance

Perseverance means to keep on trying through challenges and difficulties. For example, here is a successful alpha billionaire who wouldn’t have succeeded without perseverance:

Richard Branson started his first business at age 15. He eventually founded worldwide brands like Virgin Records, Virgin Gaming, Virgin Airlines, and Virgin Mobile. He even got knighted by a Queen!

Then, in 2021, Branson took his alpha male game to outer space with the first spaceflight of Virgin Galactic.

Branson’s business empire is awe-inspiring, but he faced huge difficulties with Virgin Galactic that made him want to quit:

  • In July 2007, a fatal explosion delayed the building of Virgin Galactic’s rocket engines.
  • In October 2014, Virgin Galactic’s fourth rocket-powered test flight killed its copilot when the vehicle broke apart.

If you think you can only learn perseverance through terrible moments and tragedies, Branson learned perseverance before he’d even made a dime.

Take a look at this text:

“A fired who has dyslexia described to me how she eerpcexenis rdaeing. She can read, but it taeks a lot of creatnnoitocn, and the Itrtees smees to “jump aruond.” I remibmeeed rniadeg aoubt tipmcylyogea. Wduoln’t it be psbslioe to do it ietlvrciatney on a wibstee with Jpsiacarvt? Sure it wloud. Feel like miankg a bikoeorakmt of tihs or soinetmhg? Frok it on ghitub.”

That’s not a foreign language (or broken spell-check). Where others see normal-looking text, a person with the learning disability dyslexia sees this instead.

Richard Branson has dyslexia. It’s why he failed at every subject in school and why his teachers wrote him off as an idiot bound for failure—or prison. But Branson persevered.

Action Steps: Researchers studying perseverance discovered that this mindset is essential in predicting long-term achievement. Here’s how to build your perseverance.

  • Imagination is a powerful alpha trait, but don’t stop there. Use it to make your dreams a reality. Branson’s vivid imagination fueled his dreams when traditional learning was impossible. He said this about his learning disability: “My dyslexia has shaped Virgin right from the beginning, and imagination has been the key to many of our successes.”
  • Use elbow grease and think abundantly. Branson’s success is an example of the abundance mindset. With hard work and faith in your abilities, you can step outside of your comfort zone and use your talents in other areas to reach greater success.
  • Don’t get angry when people doubt you. Instead, use grit (determination!) and follow your gut.

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Cue #10: Humility

Humility means being free of pride or arrogance and not acting like you’re better than others. For example, this warrior alpha didn’t achieve true happiness and success until he chose humility:

Years before his pro-wrestling days as “The Rock,” Dwayne Johnson was an angry college kid in Miami. Johnson’s “scary past” included:

  • being homeless and forced to leave Hawaii at the age of 14
  • watching his mother attempt suicide in Nashville when he was 15
  • knockout fighting a football teammate in college and wanting to maim the guy

When Johnson’s NFL dreams soured, he turned to the WWE, and all that pent-up anger became his arrogant wrestling persona.

While Johnson did win WWE championships, he suffered more serious injuries, and he privately battled chronic, debilitating depression. Johnson knew he was on a self-destructive path.

Johnson began to reevaluate his life. He left the WWE at the height of his fame to attempt a film career—with no guarantee of success—accepting his supposed failures and negative experiences and turning to humility.

Action Steps: The book Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t by Jim Collins examines successful CEOs who combine drive with humility. Here’s how to acquire humility like Dwayne Johnson.

  • It’s not a secret. Johnson says there’s no secret to humility. Work hard, stay hungry, and never behave like a stereotypical dominant alpha male. Remember: the only thing a modern alpha male ever beats into submission is his ego. You also don’t have to keep your vulnerabilities a secret. Being an alpha male is not about being perfect.
  • Your mistakes are a learning experience. Johnson has revealed that he didn’t always behave with humility, and he looked down on fans during his WWE days. It was a mistake, and Johnson treats everyone with respect now. When you make a mistake, lose your temper, or misbehave, own it and learn from it.
  • Don’t be afraid of authenticity. If you’re unsure of yourself, your reservations or lack of confidence may seem arrogant. Instead, Johnson demonstrates “authentic pride.” Your authentic pride comes with self-esteem and seeing yourself as valuable but not superior to others. Alpha males focus on achieving, but they’re agreeable and attuned to the thoughts and feelings of others.

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Cue #11: Self-Control

Self-control is disciplining yourself over the impulses, emotions, or desires that aren’t in your best interest. This compact but highly skilled alpha fighter is beloved for his unyielding self-control:

Manny Pacquiao was born into extreme poverty in the Philippines. His family struggled to eat once a day, and Pacquiao’s earliest dreams were about eating until his belly felt full.

Pacquiao often slept in the street. Although he was emaciated, Pacquiao survived street life by self-defense with his naturally quick fists.

At age 14, Pacquiao escaped to Manila with dreams of boxing professionally. He remained unbeaten in his first 11 matches, but he struggled with new, unfamiliar temptations like alcohol and gambling.

When Pacquiao lost his 12th match, he turned to his biggest weapon: self-control.

Pacquiao dedicated himself to boxing and found his way to America. In 2001, he met boxing coach Freddie Roach, and his career took off:

  • Pacquiao is one of the greatest prizefighters in boxing history, with a 62–8–2 record.
  • He’s also a record-breaking world-boxing title holder, winning in eight weight divisions from flyweight to junior middleweight.

His unbelievable life trajectory is a testament to Pacquiao’s self-control, and Pacquiao is perhaps the greatest living example of this alpha trait.

Action Steps: Countless strategies exist for developing the pillars of self-control, including willpower, self-confidence, and balance. Self-control combines a “why” and “how” mindset, as reflected in Pacquiao’s self-control.

  • Self-control means a “can-do” attitude. Pacquiao fell victim to temptation because of the indulgences offered to him he’d never experienced before. But Pacquiao never wanted to go back to poverty, hunger, and defeat, so he used the “how” mindset to resist temptation through self-control. Academic research shows how self-control allows you to function better and deal with stress with a “can-do” attitude—when you believe that you can control yourself, you will.
  • Commit to motivating yourself. Pacquiao motivated himself through self-control and seeing the value in what boxing fans wanted: in his words, “two guys that aren’t afraid of going toe-to-toe.” He’s never looked down on his fans, and he honors his opponents as “great warriors,” posing “a different style and threat.” Make a strong commitment to yourself, and motivate yourself to achieve what you want or deserve by controlling your life and reaching your goals—self-control drives you there.
  • Always know why. Pacquiao is passionate about boxing, and it has been his focus for decades. When he announced his first retirement from boxing in 2016, Pacquiao focused on politics. He wanted to make life better for his countrymen because he’d walked in their shoes. But something was missing, and Pacquiao knew why. After being elected to the Philippines senate, Pacquiao missed the camaraderie of boxing—and he stunned people when he re-entered boxing while serving in politics. Although it was physically and mentally exhausting, Pacquiao used self-control to manage both jobs, and his passion fueled it. Always keep a “why” mindset and use your passion to fuel your self-control.

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Cue #12: Decision-Making

While opponents of President Obama have disapproved of his political record, his decision-making skills define him as an alpha male leader. Putting his politics aside, here is the trait we can learn from him: his incredible decision-making ability.

Decision-making is leading others in the act of deciding on important and complicated issues. Barack Obama is renowned as a decision-maker who made history as the first Black president of the United States.

Obama has an international background called a “little mini-United Nations.” His Kenyan-born father met his Kansas-born mother at the University of Hawaii in 1960. When Obama’s parents married in 1961, dozens of US states still outlawed interracial marriage.

During his two presidential terms, Obama faced three times as many threats as previous presidents. He became credited with his tough decision-making abilities during his time in office:

  • ordering the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound that resulted in bin Laden’s death
  • handling the US bank crisis that had crippled the world economy
  • championing the divisive Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. “Obamacare”)

Anyone can make an easy decision, but tougher decisions induce greater anxiety in people—especially the president of a country.

Action Steps: Here are practical ways that President Obama made some tough decisions:

  • 100% is not the answer. Obama constantly faced tough issues with no perfect solution, and he got comfortable with the fact that he would never find a 100% solution. Don’t believe you’ll never find an answer when facing tough decisions because there’s no perfect solution. This mindset podcast explains the difference between big choices (positive states) and hard choices (negative states) with valuable strategies. 
  • Be open to the best possible option. Obama focused on facts, reason, and logic from the smartest people on the subject, gathering intel to make the most well-researched decision possible. Before making an important decision, do web research, poll your friend network, and seek guidance from a mentor. Your best, most positive decision is an informed one.
  • Control negativity and anxiety. Academic researchers have studied how anxiety and negativity impact anyone’s ability to make a tough decision. You can learn how to cope with anxiety! Check out this link for some great tips: 24 Powerful Tips to Deal with Anxiety.

Bonus Trait: Vocal Power

Barack Obama also uses specific vocal power techniques. A full breakdown of Obama’s vocal power here:

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Cue #13: Goal-Oriented

Being goal-oriented means being purpose-driven to accomplish a task or succeed at an objective. This alpha music superstar created his success from a dream nobody believed in:

Shawn Corey Carter grew up amidst drug dealers and gun violence. He flirted with that lifestyle as a teenager, but he stayed in school and got good grades. Carter’s real escape was rap music, and when he couldn’t convince a record company to sign him, Carter reinvented himself as Jay-Z.

Jay-Z founded Roc-A-Fella Records in 1996 with two friends, and his first release climbed to a modest #23 on the Billboard rap charts. Jay-Z didn’t stop there. He continued to set goals and reach them across multiple business ventures based on his philosophy of being committed to greatness.

Jay-Z has received honors and acclaim for his purpose-driven successes:

  • He made TIME magazine’s list of Most Influential People in the World in 2013.
  • Forbes named him the first billionaire rap artist in 2019.
  • He’s the first rapper to get inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. 

While alpha traits like being goal-oriented contribute to success, it’s harder to be goal-oriented without defining what you want. Read on…

Action Steps: Researchers say that emotions like gratitude and compassion are essential to accomplishing your goals, and examining Jay-Z’s success, you see how these qualities contributed to him being a goal-oriented alpha:

  • Proudly define your goals. Jay-Z is a former part-owner of the NBA New Jersey Nets. He later launched a sports management company, Roc Nation Sports, and became a certified sports agent. As Jay-Z raps, “I’m not a businessman / a business, man.” When you’re proud of your goals, you become your own business. Learn to set your goals: Goal Setting: 5 Science Backed Steps to Setting and Achieving Your Goals.
  • Be grateful for the competition. In 2003, Jay-Z briefly retired from rap at the height of his career. He’d always been thankful to compete against other great MCs, and he’d gotten bored because the competition wasn’t inspiring him. Be inspired by great competitors and thankful when it makes you stronger.
  • Be compassionate. In 2012, Brooklyn-tough Jay-Z spoke out to support gay rights and same-sex marriage. Not doing so, he said, was “no different than discriminating against Blacks.” Inclusivity allows everyone to succeed, and a goal-oriented, compassionate alpha is unafraid of that. Check out this article on compassion to build your skill set in this essential alpha trait.

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Cue #14: Mental and Physical Strength

When most people think about being an alpha male, they think about being the strongest, biggest person in the room. However, strength is not just physical.

Being mentally and physically strong means your brain and body are aligned, whatever stage of life you’re in. This alpha male leader has been an NFL quarterback for over two decades, and he epitomizes mental and physical strength:

Tom Brady was a happy, middle-class kid who excelled at baseball and football in high school. Brady got drafted into Major League Baseball in 1995, but he chose the University of Michigan to play college football instead.

With Brady as a quarterback, Michigan won the 1999 Orange Bowl. He was described as a smart and determined player and written off as a physically unexceptional quarterback.

Brady experienced rejection until the sixth round of the 2000 NFL draft. However, during his first season with the New England Patriots, Brady worked tirelessly to bulk up his muscles, improving his strength and technique, and it worked.

This far into his career, Brady has racked up the following impressive stats:

  • He led the New England Patriots to Super Bowl victories in 2002, 2004, 2005, 2015, 2017, and 2019.
  • He led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a Super Bowl Victory in 2021.
  • He was named the Super Bowl’s Most Valuable Player in 2002, 2004, 2015, 2017, and 2021.

It’s a common fact that Brady isn’t the strongest or quickest QB in NFL history, and Brady had to defend himself against the Deflategate scandal too. But Brady is now well into his 40s, and his combined mental motivation and physical strength make a remarkable alpha trait.

Action Steps: It’s common among psychologists and elite athletes that mental toughness is crucial to winning at sports. Because Brady looks physically weaker, he motivated himself by continually making physical and mental conditioning his combined priority:

  • Make time for brain games. Brady swears by cognitive exercises to stay mentally prepared for the anxiety of the pro-football arena. While some researchers say there’s no evidence that brain games work, billionaires like Bill Gates play bridge to stimulate their influential minds, and there’s no reason you can’t play hard at a stimulating brain game too.
  • Lead like a champion and a mentor. Brady has the unique alpha leadership quality of elevating those around him like he did with the talented, troubled (and formerly terminated) wide receiver Antonio Brown. When you mentor someone who may not believe in themselves, it elevates the greatness in both of you.
  • Be a Method Man. Brady designed a comprehensive lifestyle plan of exercise, nutrition, rest, and mental stimulation that he calls the TB12 Method. Suppose you want to hone your psychological and physical strength. In that case, Brady’s regime is sleeping nine hours a night, eating 80% plant-based foods and 20% healthy proteins to limit inflammation, and eliminating distractions by surrounding yourself with positive influences.

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Real-Life Alpha Male Examples

Here are some real-life examples of alpha males.

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The Power of Touch

Tom Cruise and Rebecca Ferguson aren’t a couple, but the chemistry of these Mission Impossible co-stars speaks volumes about the power of touch by an alpha male. Cruise is protective of Ferguson in a more vulnerable state; at one point, he even touches her pregnant belly (make sure only to touch when invited and welcome!):

Another great example is motivational speaker Tony Robbins interviewing actor/comedian Kevin Hart, which is an excellent example of two different alpha male personalities engaging in touch without awkwardness.

Check out this video to see Robbins’ display of interest and encouragement:

Action Step: Use the power of touch wisely in your conversations. A brief, nonsexual touch on another person’s upper back or elbow displays your emotional openness and maturity.

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The Strength To Laugh at Yourself

While the FX in Jason Momoa’s commercial is incredible (some of us thought it was the best part of the Super Bowl!), it’s the twinkle in Momoa’s eye telling us he’s not afraid to poke fun at himself that’s super appealing.

Action Step: If you ever find the joke’s on you, use it to your advantage by laughing along with others. A secure alpha can take the teasing, and you’ll deflect any negativity or meanness by demonstrating how well you handle yourself.

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Being Badass Without Bullying

Bruce Lee is considered the greatest martial artist of all time, and his hybrid style helped create mixed martial arts (MMA) today. A quiet, confident alpha, Lee changed how America viewed Asian men in films.

Action Step: Watch how Lee receives direction in this video—he isn’t controlling the situation, but he never loses self-control. He empathizes with the man he’s demonstrating and moves on without sacrificing his alpha authority. Lee’s calmness is the mark of a true alpha leader. Practice calmness like this in your daily life.

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Being Ready for an Alpha Standoff

Watching these two presidents meeting on the world stage is a perfect example of two alphas wanting to be the top dog in the room. Watch them try to outdo each other’s handshake, sharing a slightly forced laugh and a flurry of tapping.

Academic researchers have studied how to make body language your superpower. For example, nonverbal cues for alpha leaders might include standing up straight and taking up more space.

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How an Actual Alpha Handles a Bad Beta Situation

It’s easy to imagine Hollywood stars have a perfect life, but we all have bad days and trying experiences. In this clip, a fidgety and insecure interviewer pressures Robert Downey Jr. with some humiliating questions. Watch the alpha actor handle this mess.

Downey Jr. is cool under pressure when others would have tossed a chair. The actor is visibly annoyed, but he deflects this bad interview technique with a joke and a manly exit. Practice maturity and composure with these leadership tips—these are true skills for any alpha male’s toolkit.

As you watch these examples, you might wonder: what truly embodies an alpha male? Most alpha men share the same desirable characteristics of developing an alpha male mindset.

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Live Long and Be Alpha!

It’s inspiring to read about real alpha men and to put their alpha traits to work in your life. But it’s not always easy shooting for the stars and leading the pack!

Being a confident alpha male means setting your goals and having the self-control to pursue them. When you’re the best version of yourself, you can make life better for everyone around you.

Ready for the next steps? Check out this impactful article that everyone should read to learn how to be the best version of themselves.

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