Ben Franklin & Self-Improvement

Courtesy artztsamui & FreeDigitalPhotos
Courtesy artztsamui & FreeDigitalPhotos

Early in Ben’s career, somewhere in his late twenties, he determined that he needed to continuously work on improving his attitudes and service to those around him.  He penned the 13 virtues at that time and proceeded to work at improving himself of at least one virtue per week.

He sets an example for us by taking control of his life and continually setting a higher standard for himself, developing a plan to achieve it and developing a method of measurement to indicate growth.  He began by examining his life and determining what vices he partook in and what virtues he felt could best serve to better himself and the community.  He understood the importance of self-awareness in being successful, understanding the motivations that drive us, which are positive, and which were negatives.  This should be a prime example of how one can improve their circumstances by developing personal integrity and authenticity.

We can break the 13 virtues, that he felt would have a major impact, into two categories, Personal and Social.  Each of the attitudes would, if implemented in one’s life, create a positive impact on the success of the individual and those with whom they come into contact.  Now, it has been a few years, albeit 230 years, since he penned them and began his experiment of application.  He admits that he was not always successful in meeting his own standards but he did continue the process and I believe it made him more effective personally, professionally and socially.  Below are the personal attitudes or virtues with his description of the process attached:

  • Temperance: “Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.”
  • 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.”
  • Moderation: “Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.”
  • Industry: “Lose no time; be always employed in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.”
  • Cleanliness: “Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes, or habitation.”
  • Tranquility: “Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.”

Below are the five attitudes that we consider to be Social Attitudes or Virtues.  These are the ones that have an impact on those around you make people more willing to work with you and assist in success for all.

  • Silence: “Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.”
  • 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.”
  • 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.”

Franklin placed each one of the virtues on a separate page in a small book that he kept with him for most of his life.  He would evaluate his performance with regard to each of them on a daily basis.  He would also select one of the virtues to focus on for a full week.

Franklin also often emphasized these virtues in his Poor Richard’s Almanack.  Later, in a letter to his son William, Franklin listed the virtues and recommended that William also follow them.  We can adapt this to our lives today and use his recommendations to enhance our relationships.

It doesn’t take a whole lot of imagination to determine what vices are the exact opposites of these attitudes so we will not discuss these at this time.  The focus on the positive implementation of each of these will be sufficient to see a change in attitudes and performance in family and business.

Our lives today are very busy, stressful and overwhelming with so many things trying to capture and divert our attention from those attitudes that would have the best impact on us.  The focus of this article is to see if we can refocus our thoughts on putting a spotlight on the power of self-examination and emphasis on the attitudes that Ben Franklin espoused.  It is up to us individually to accept and implement a code of conduct for ourselves that will have a positive and long term

When you choose to live by your own Code of Conduct, based on shared and socially acceptable values, you will feel a new freedom and self-control that you may have not known before.  Happiness can come from experiencing progress in establishing the disciplines and habits that come because of focusing on these attitudes.  Now, if my experience can be any model, you will not be perfect but when the pressure is on you will be able to respond rather than react and employ a more positive influence and keep you on the right course.

My suggestion would be to create a quadrant diagram on a piece of paper with each quadrant labeled with Vices, Virtues, Aspirations and Plans.  While my preferences are to work on strengths first we must also know that vices or negative attitudes can be improved if we desire to do so.

For example, if you identify a vice that you need to work on such as procrastination then you will have a resulting plan to monitor and avoid that virtue in the plan quadrant.  If you couple this with a daily checklist they will make a powerful self-improvement tool that can have a major impact on your success and growth.

Which of these attributes would you choose?  Are there other attributes that you would consider more relevant to your situation?  If you would like help in developing your own program, contact us at Transformative Leadership Group today!