It feels right that Albie Manzo became a household name thanks to a reality show (The Real Housewives of New Jersey, for the uninitiated). Ignore the knee-jerk eye roll that accompanies the term reality star; this guy actually keeps it real.

Because Manzo is involved in an industry that focuses on heavily manipulated versions of reality and people who want to look rather than be a certain way, his life can feel a lot like social media on crack. But one scroll through his Instagram, and you’ll see he isn’t presenting a carefully crafted image of himself. His feed of family photos and urban snapshots feels authentic and honest.

It could be his Jersey roots, but Manzo speaks with a frank self-awareness that comes from serious reflection, helped by a shelf full of self-improvement books and the ability to watch his life play out on television. He also recently underwent a major transformation—one that’s more than just muscle.

But that transformation didn’t happen overnight (the photos above were taken about a year apart). Last February he took a hard look at his life and knew he wasn’t where he wanted to be—physically, professionally, personally, or romantically. With his 30th birthday approaching, something had to give.

“I was just like, this is not a way to live,” Manzo says. “I was miserable. I wasn’t excited to wake up in the morning. I wasn’t as confident as I knew I could be. I just wasn’t following gut instincts anymore on anything, and I knew I was capable of more than that.”

Motivated by anger, competition with his peers, and, well, that six-pack, Manzo sat down and made a plan. He wrote out where he wanted to be in life—happier, healthier, more focused—and he took control. He hit the gym; started working with Rodrick Covington, founder of Core Rhythm Fitness and a certified Pilates and fitness trainer; cut out booze; and overhauled his diet. Intense? Kind of. But as someone “obsessed with progress,” he knew it would take hard work to see results, and he knew it wasn’t going to be easy.

“The first realization you come to is: This is going to suck; this is not fun,” he says. “The first three weeks, you question literally everything. ‘Why am I doing this? This is stupid.’ You’ve never wanted to drink so bad. You’ve never wanted to do more self-destructive things so much in your entire life.” But then, Manzo started to see change.

It’s not fun at first. But then you start seeing the results, and that’s when you start changing, because results do not lie.

So Manzo adjusted his perspective. Fast-forward a year and he’s still hitting the gym, eating well most of the time, and enjoying hanging out with friends and family. He takes it one day at a time, but he’s healthyish and happier than ever. “I’m really excited about where I am at personally right now, and I love to share that,” he says.

Even though his transformation is impressive, Manzo doesn’t believe everyone should follow his exact path. After all, there’s no formula for happy, and health is not one size fits all. But he is eager to share what he’s learned throughout his personal journey. He gave us his eight key takeaways to sustaining a healthyish lifestyle.

The “ish” is the sh*t.

“Healthyish is completely determined by the result you’re trying to achieve. For me, the ‘ish’ is the sh*t—really. Physically and mentally, I feel better when I’m eating really healthy, and not drinking or eating carbs. So Monday through Friday, I eat really well, mostly CRF meals only. I have the sundown-to-sundown rule. When the sun goes down on Saturday to when the sun goes down on Sunday, I can eat and drink whatever I want. I don’t punish myself for having fun. That’s not something that is productive toward what you want to accomplish. It’s an 80/20 rule after you’ve earned it.”

It’s not about balance.

“I hate the term balance. A lot of people use it with work and life, and that makes me want to throw up. To me, it means you’re living a double life. It means there’s a part of your life that does not make you happy. I don’t think it should ever be that. It has to be one consistent journey, whatever it is. When it’s shitty, it’s fun; when it’s fun, it’s fun. It’s entirely how you interpret what you’re doing.”

Life shouldn’t be about what you can tolerate.

“How much BS and nonsense and bad results can you tolerate until it’s not enough anymore? That’s what triggers a lot of people. To me, it should be the other way around: How much good can you bring in and bring out of other people?”

It starts with happiness.

“People look for happiness on the outside in, but really, it’s the inside out. It’s a really f*cked up thing to go through. I thought I had to achieve these goals to be happy, but you have to be happy to achieve these goals. It’s completely backward.”

Appreciate the bad stuff.

“I started taking the things that used to make me really pissed off and said, ‘Wow, I’m really glad this happened because look what I learned.’ You just need to acknowledge it as something that taught you a lesson and say, ‘OK, how am I using this lesson to make myself better?’ That is the only thing that matters, and you have to appreciate that. That’s not to say I don’t get down on myself or pissed off or angry, but I just acknowledge it for what it is and try to learn from it.”

Enjoy getting to the party.

“I went from being goal oriented (here’s something I need to get, do, hear, or feel to be successful) to path oriented, which is just being really excited about where you’re going while having confidence about where you’re at. It’s kind of like driving to a party. You’re not at the party, but you’re driving—and you know you’re going to get there. You’re not bugging out saying, ‘Oh, this ride sucks.’ You just enjoy it. You listen to music. You’re getting pumped up for what’s to come. That’s how I live life.”

It’s really just one day.

“People say results take a marathon. But in reality, it’s one day. Execute today. Don’t put too much on your plate. Don’t think about what you have to do a month from now. Just execute today. That’s really all you have. When you live in yesterday, you bring all those bullsh*t emotions with you. You have to understand what you want in the future, but just focus on executing today. That’s what’s going to get you there.”

Know yourself.

“It comes down to the one thing that I appreciate the most, and that’s being authentic to you and who you want to be. Know yourself first. It starts with you. My message to people isn’t get healthy, go to the gym, eat right. That’s what makes me feel like I’m on the path to being who I want to be and what makes me happy according to my definition. But different strokes for different folks.”