When he was just 20 years old, In an effort to deal with the virtues (habits) he found most difficult, Franklin wrote in the chapter called “Self Education” the following:
“”…it was our interest to be completely virtuous was not sufficient to prevent our slipping; and that the contrary habits must be broken, and good ones acquired and established”
It was important to him to become the best he could be, and he knew it would require considerable effort, so he set out to create a method that would help him achieve his goal. He knew to create a habit, you needed too do it over and over, and it helped if you could track your progress in a visual way, so this is what he did.
The first step was to write down a list of all the virtues (habits) he felt would help him better achieve moral fortitude. According to Franklin his initial list was of 12 virtues, but then a Quaker friend pointed out that he might want to consider adding ‘humility.’ Conveniently this 13th virtue allowed for the second step, where Franklin concentrated on one virtue per week. Given 52 weeks, this meant that four (4) times a year each virtue became the center of attention. Download a PDF version of your own franklin_virtues.
The following is copied directly from his autobiography…
”These names of virtues, with their precepts, are:
- TEMPERANCE. Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
- SILENCE. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
- ORDER. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
- RESOLUTION. Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
- FRUGALITY. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.
- INDUSTRY. Lose no time; be always employ’d in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
- SINCERITY. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
- JUSTICE. Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
- MODERATION. Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
- CLEANLINESS. Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes, or habitation.
- TRANQUILLITY. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
- CHASTITY. Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.
- HUMILITY. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.
To track his performance Franklin kept a small notebook. Each day he would mark in the book whether or not he felt that he had successfully embraced the virtue. It was Franklin’s version of the quantified self, using pulp or woven-mold paper and a quill pen to create the excel spreadsheet of the 1700’s.
I’m curious whether or not Franklin really felt the need to work on 13 virtues. I think it possible he just wanted to get to a number that split nicely into the 4 quarters of the year. With this in mind here are a few tips to consider when working on your own virtues, values, or principles.
- Create Your List: here’s an A-to-Z List to get you started. List all the things you value most, then go back and pare down that list to (13) thirteen. Like Franklin, you could highlight a virtue once every 4 weeks this way, which should be about the time you’ll need to establish that habit.
- List What Needs Fixing: if you already are good with a value and don’t think it needs fixing, then take it off the list, go for those virtues you really need work on. This is an exercise in prioritization too.
- Set a Schedule: if you don’t end up with 13 virtues so that it fits nicely in thirteen 4 week blocks, don’t worry, make up your own cadence, your own review period. This is another essential in any management system, to do the review.
- One Year at a Time: sure, at age 20 Ben Franklin was a monster cool dude, but I’m sure he didn’t just do this in one year and become Mr. Perfect. Same for you. Over the course of a lifetime you will evolve and so will your values. So, revisit the process every year to reaffirm the same values or start with another list that will bring you to the next level of enlightenment.
Benjamin Franklin’s Thirteen Virtues is an awesome template for how any habit or goal is achieved. It’s a pretty simple process to write your goals down, or list them out, visualize and define them, set them to a schedule or plan, enact that plan and then go over them periodically to make sure you are doing what you set out to do. Keep in mind that Benjamin Franklin was no saint, and I’m assuming neither are you, nor I. However, it’s hard to argue with the great things he achieved throughout his life. And so, you too will get there.
Ben Franklin’s autobiography (kindle edition)
Benjamin Franklin FAQ – The Franklin Institute[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]Benjamin Franklin – Wikipedia
Benjamin Franklin Biography – History Channel[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]