Well done is better than well said. ~ Benjamin Franklin
Ben Franklin was a man who was serious about self-improvement. I’ve always admired his self-discipline. It’s said that he sat down one day, and, looking frankly within himself, decided on the virtues that if practiced, would bring him the most benefit in the long run.
This is his list.
- 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 Uncleanness in Body, Clothes, or Habitation
- Tranquility. 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.
What’s So Special About This List?
He tried several ways to implement it. At first he started by scoring himself nightly on his practice of these virtues. Then he tried using each one as a monthly “theme”. Towards the end he just tried to be mindful of them. I think this makes sense, as a kind of continuum. First you identify your baseline, then you focus on implementing, then once the habit is entrenched you just maintain it.
The noteworthy thing about these habits is that they’re all positive. They’re not bad habits to break (it’s said that Franklin very much approved of wine and women) but by framing the habits instead as Temperence and Chastity, he allowed his mind to rest upon the benefits of the habits, instead of what he was giving up.
It’s hard for our lizard brains to give anything up. We’ll only drop the toy we have if the treat we stand to gain is far better. By first thinking about the habits that would most benefit him and then framing them positively instead of negatively Ben Franklin set up the best possible environment for success.
Making My Own List of Virtues
So I decided I was going to figure out what my Virtues would be. Instead of thirteen, I aimed for 8, but in the end I thought they were awfully sober and earnest and decided add a 9th.
- Preparation: Save assiduously for a rainy day, and remember the Ant and the Grasshopper
- Resourcefulness: Embrace constraints as a chance to think creatively.
- Fruitfulness: Eschew activity for activity’s sake— work towards achievable ends.
- Thirst for Knowledge: Always Be Questioning. Seek understanding. Test assumptions.
- Attention to Experience: Be in my body and explore my senses.
- Perspective: Insight comes from shifting your vantage point
- Fellowship: Be generous in time and attention to others. Listen and learn from their experience
- Stewardship: Take good care of your assets, Mind, Body, Relationships, etc
- Joie de Vivre: Choose to believe that the Universe is conspiring on your behalf.
There are still several of Franklin’s virtues that I like; Silence, for instance, and Resolution. But when I look inside myself, they’re clearly not something I feel the need to really work on.
What about you? Would you like to try this exercise? Feel free to share in the comments.