A Frank(lin) guide to self-improvement

Benjamin Franklin was by all accounts a fairly prolific character. His modest resume includes, being a founding father, an author, a printer, a scientist, an inventor, a soldier and a diplomat. In his time aboard planet earth, he invented the lightening rod, bifocals, a stove.

Many of us are plagued by an overwhelming plethora of self-improvements we’re just waiting to subject on ourselves. New Years eve is perhaps the perfect example when resolutions come a-tumbling forth and you decide you’ll become a vegan non-smoking teetotal exercise freak (and mini-dictator). Sure enough, after a week of self-flagellation, you relapse and become a cigar chomping, meat-eating slob (a republican? – whoops, sorry).

Franklin realised that despite the will to improve, doing so all at once was confusing, often contradictory and almost impossible. So, at the tender age of 20 (fret not, people grew up a lot earlier in those days) he came up with 13 virtues, which he focused on, one per week, meaning 4 sets each year.

His “Plan” was made up of 13 virtues, each with short descriptions:

1. Temperance: Eat not to dullness and drink not to elevation.

2. Silence: Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself. Avoid trifling conversation.

3. Order: Let all your things have their places. Let each part of your business have its time.

4. Resolution: Resolve to perform what you ought. Perform without fail what you resolve.

5. Frugality: Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself: i.e. Waste nothing.

6. Industry: Lose no time. Be always employed in something useful. Cut off all unnecessary actions.

7. Sincerity: Use no hurtful deceit. Think innocently and justly; and, if you speak, speak accordingly.

8. Justice: Wrong none, by doing injuries or omitting the benefits that are your duty.

9. Moderation: Avoid extremes. Forebear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.

10. Cleanliness: Tolerate no uncleanness in body, clothes or habitation.

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.

12. Tranquillity: Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.

13. Humility: Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

I’m following the same idea, with my own variations and so far, it’s proving to be a much easier, simpler way of dealing with the process of working on the self. Here are mine, in brief:

1)    Health, 2) Eat and Drink, 3) Happiness, 4) Patience, 5) Humility, 6) Tranquillity, 7) Industry, 8 ) Fun, 9) Mind, 10) Kindness, 11) Compassion, 12) Impermanence, 13) Do whatever the hell I want.

I’ve yet to do a full cycle, and I definitely moved the eat and drink away from Thanksgiving week, but I’m enjoying the process and by writing about it and throwing it out into the ether, I’ve goaded my stubborn self to keep at it. My happiness week resulted in only one blemish… my eat and drink week looked a bit more like Franklin’s ‘Order’ week in the photo above, even without Thanksgiving temptations. When you take one step at a time, it’s easier to ‘be the change you want to see in the world’. It’s also easier to see where you’re going wrong.

I’m leaving his daily schedule for a decade or two which, if currently implemented, would leave me grumpy, tired and a little middle/old-aged before my time. Baby steps, but steps nonetheless.

7 thoughts on “A Frank(lin) guide to self-improvement

  1. Nice post, I enjoyed it. Thank you, I think I might try something similar and see how it impacts my everyday thinking and actions.

  2. Very interesting, though Franklin was never President. Trivia: Franklin’s is the only face on American (paper) money who was never President.

  3. I’m intrigued Tom (although it seems I’ve stumbled on your blog 3 months too late for this post)…about the aspiration towards impermanence…can you elaborate a little what you’re after with this impermanence? As in, get thou not into a rut?

  4. By impermanence, I wanted to remind myself that a) I’m only here for a relatively short period of time, b) No matter how hard I work, or how much I achieve – I’m pretty unimportant… sorry completely unimportant in the grand scheme of things. c) Life can change at any moment, d) All that we know is very transient, even if it seems fixed to us.
    Hope that helps!

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