The Benjamin Franklin 13-Week Self Improvement Challenge

By on Aug 30, 2010

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Energy and persistence conquer all things. – Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin, scientist, inventor and a principal architect of the United States Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, may have been the first self improvement expert, too.

In 1726, a young 20-year-old Franklin was crossing the Atlantic from England back to Philadelphia. During his 80-day journey, Benjamin Franklin used the time to develop a personal plan of conduct. His plan consisted of 13 virtues listed below.

Franklin committed to focusing on one virtue per week. At the end of the 13th week, he would start the process over again; thus, cycling through the plan four times a year. Ben Franklin followed this plan until his death at age 79. He found comfort and happiness in each of the virtues and used these to guide his entire life.

Benjamin Franklin’s 13 Virtues

Franklin tracked his progress on charts he created (image right). The first letter of each day was listed on the top and the first letter of each virtue was indicated down the left side. He would add a dot if he felt he fell short of meeting that virtue on a given day. Benjamin Franklin carried these charts with him as a reminder of his personal plan of conduct.

The following 13 virtues continue to be relevant today. Next to each virtue is Franklin’s definition. Underneath is my current self-critique. You are welcome to do your own analysis as you read:

1. Temperance (“Eat not to dullness and drink not to elevation.”)
My self-critique: My diet is the best it’s been in years. Donuts and French Fries are still a problem though. I have adopted the new habit of not drinking alcohol during the week, but I still have my share of beer and wine on the weekends.

2. Silence (“Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself. Avoid trifling conversation.”)
My self-critique: My goal is to limit the gossip and think before speaking, especially in contentious situations. One area I need to silence is speaking critically of others.

3. Order (“Let all your things have their places. Let each part of your business have its time.”)
My self-critique: I like order. There’s something about structure and routine that comforts me. However, my penchant for order can stifle the need for “thinking outside the box.” Creativity and being challenged to take a new approach needs its time, too.

4. Resolution (“Resolve to perform what you ought. Perform without fail what you resolve.”)
My self-critique: I take commitments and goals seriously. But there are times I ignore what my inner voice is telling me to do. Fear of change can dilute my determination to keep moving forward. Sometimes it’s just more comfortable to stay right where I am – this is when I abandon my resolve.

5. Frugality (“Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself: i.e. Waste nothing.”)
My self-critique: The past few months have been budget busters. Mary Beth and I agree we need to turn the spending habits into saving ones and learn new ways to be frugal.

6. Industry (“Lose no time. Be always employed in something useful. Cut off all unnecessary actions.”)
My self-critique: Checking email, Facebook and pointlessly surfing the Internet are my biggest time-wasters. I need to use this time more productively.

7. Sincerity (“Use no hurtful deceit. Think innocently and justly; and, if you speak, speak accordingly.”)
My self-critique: This is my big win. While there is always room for improvement, I make the conscious choice everyday to be sincere, heartfelt and transparent as possible. But sometimes I confuse sincerity with kindness. Too often, I say what I think wants to be heard, rather than what I really think.

8. Justice (“Wrong none, by doing injuries or omitting the benefits that are your duty.”)
My self-critique: There are times when I purposely hold back and not give what someone has asked to receive, or deserves to receive. I need to provide equal justice more often.

9. Moderation (“Avoid extremes. Forebear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.”)
My self-critique: I can get caught up in the moment and stop listening to my good sense. I do this with work, my blog, exercise and the nights I enjoy a glass of wine, or two.

10. Cleanliness (“Tolerate no uncleanness in body, clothes or habitation.”)
My self-critique: I’m good here, I think. I shower and brush my teeth (twice) everyday. Mary Beth has appointed me the official vacuum cleaning person at home. In full disclosure, I do have the habit of leaving my shaven hair in the bathroom sink.

11. 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.”)
My self-critique: I would never do anything that would disrespect my wife – period.

12. Tranquility (“Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.”)
My self-critique: Writing brings me the most tranquility. At night, I plug into some music and allow the words to flow. When there is conflict at home or work, my anxiety soars and my tranquility plummets. I need to learn how to keep my balance better during these times.

13. Humility (“Imitate Jesus and Socrates.”)
My self-critique: I try. My heart is open to everyone and I attempt to live the examined life.

Accepting the 13-Week Self Improvement Challenge

So, it looks like I have some work to do.

Beginning today, I’m keeping a virtue chart. Tackling Temperance first, I will monitor my weekly progress. Using a tool Franklin didn’t have in the 18th century, I will provide my updates on The BridgeMaker page on Facebook.

For me, this challenge isn’t about trying to master each virtue perfectly; it’s about acknowledging the areas in my life that could use some improving right now.

I invite you to take the 13-week challenge with me. Here’s how:

  • Download the Benjamin Franklin 13-Week Self Improvement Challenge chart (updated for the 21st century).
  • Go to The BridgeMaker page on Facebook and “Like” the page if you are not already a community member. This is where I will post my updates.
  • Read these weekly virtue updates on Saturdays – probably in the morning (U.S. Central time zone).
  • Post a comment to share your progress with the challenge.

If you need some one-on-one encouragement during the challenge, contact me at alex@thebridgemaker.com and I will be happy to support you.

History tells us Benjamin Franklin died a happy man. I’m sure his life’s accomplishments contributed to his happiness, but I think staying centered on the things that matter most helped Mr. Franklin too.

Best wishes with your personal development challenge. We’ll check in with one another next Saturday.

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The BridgeMaker Founder Alex Blackwell is the author of Letting Go: 25 True Stories of Peace, Hope and Surrender. Join the community to connect, share and inspire: Email | Twitter | Facebook | More Posts

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