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Published on December 12th, 2013 | by Dan Walsh

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13 Virtues of Benjamin Franklin

The pursuit of moral perfection.

Benjamin Franklin is the unofficial godfather of the American self-help movement. In his autobiography, he described a method he developed for the daily practice of self improvement. Franklin identified 13 personality traits – or virtues – which he believed would result in moral perfection when mastered. Every day he would check his list and determine if he fell short on any of them. If he did, he would make a mark on his paper and resolve to focus more attention on this trait the following day.

These 13 virtues offer a rare opportunity for self-reflection. Take a minute to read the list and think about how you stack up.

In the nature of full disclosure, I’ve confessed my own sins in red.

1. Temperance
“Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.”

I should work on temperance. I eat healthy food as the norm, but when I do splurge and eat a cookie, I eat a whole bunch of cookies. Some would call that binging, I call it batch-processing. Either way, I could use more self control in these instances.

2. Silence
“Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; Avoid trifling Conversation.”

Social media creates a lot of trifling conversation. I don’t partake in this digital kind too much, but I have always been a chit-chatter in real life and could stand to put a sock in my mouth on occasion.

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.”

I am typically a frugal guy. I keep a pretty tight view of my finances, spend less than I earn, contribute heavily to my retirement savings and donate to charity. But I fail when it comes to “good intention spending”. I hate to admit it, but I’m one of those people who paid for a gym membership that they never used. I had the best intentions to go rock climbing, so I kept the membership for almost two years even though I only hit the wall 4 or 5 times in the very beginning. I have since gotten rid of this membership, but I can identify a few more “good intentions” that I can eliminate.

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.”

I do not gossip often, but when I do I sometimes dress it up as me expressing concern for the 3rd party. I always feel bad about this. If I am so concerned, I should take it up with that person or resolve to keep my mouth shut.

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

9. Moderation
“Avoid extreams; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.”

10. Cleanliness
“Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths, or habitation.”

I’m kind of a clutter bug. I’m not dirty, but I can definitely move through a room like a tornado. I don’t mind the mess, but I’ve realized that if nothing else, it’s an inefficient system. I would rather spend my time doing something more productive than cleaning. If I don’t leave a mess in the first place, then I don’t have to clean.

11. Tranquility
“Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.”

12. Chastity
“Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dulness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.”

13. Humility
“Imitate Jesus and Socrates.”

 

Ok, I showed you mine. How’d you do? If you found something you’d like to work on, join other motivated members of the T&D community by using the Lift app to track your progress on any of Franklin’s 13 Virtues. I setup one goal for each virtue. Search for “13 Virtues” within the app to find them all.

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5 Responses to 13 Virtues of Benjamin Franklin

  1. This is a great site! I like your attitude and your eye for interesting information. Looking forward to reading more of your work. :)

  2. Lauren says:

    What an interesting article! Franklin is a great study because he is both virtuous to the extreme and flawed like the rest of us. I remember in his autobiography, he talks about making a chart with the virtues he believed in and every day marking whether he followed them or not. Yet, he also had several mistresses throughout his life and fathered an illegitimate son, among other struggles typical of politicians then and now. Franklin is a perfect study on self-improvement: for the obvious reasons – he inspires us to be better, but also for unexpected reasons – his life shows that those of us most obsessed with virtue are sometimes the ones that need the most help and that knowing how to make yourself better never equals a perfect life. It makes me feel better knowing that even Franklin, “first american” and father of self improvement, had his major faults too… mainly chastity!

  3. Steve says:

    I seem to repetitively break virtue #4 reading through all these #tangents and #distractions :)

    For the better.

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