13 Virtues in a Regular Cycle of Self-Improvement


One of my all time favorite American heroes is Benjamin Franklin. Although not a perfect person by any means, with his historic profile showing a rather hefty man for his time, which we now call obese, Franklin was a known problem solver and a visionary beyond his time as well as a dedicated patriot.

Identifying his own personal problems and working on them with his plan known as “Thirteen Virtues in a Regular Cycle of Self-Improvement” was a big part of his life. Realizing that you cannot fix everything at once, he concentrated on one habit for a week over thirteen weeks and then repeated the cycle four times in a year.

Whether our habit is smoking, eating cookie dough, staying up too late to be efficient at work the next morning or just being a couch potato which impacts weight, breathing and strength, we can learn from Ben that it takes time and practice to overcome. There is no instant fix.

Identify the habit to change, locate the tools to assist you and begin the practice. If you fail to succeed at the first try, come back to it and try again. Do not give up or give in.

“Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation,” was the first of Franklin’s virtues. And while perhaps not visible to others, what Ben knew is that by working on himself, he was a better man than he might have been had he not tried to improve. Large he may have been but still healthy enough at age 70 to attend and participate in the Congress that created the Declaration of Independence. In 1776, when medical science could not be credited with saving him from a lot of the illnesses we are treated for today, he must have worked on himself enough to make a difference.

Avoid extremes – moderation is another key element in Franklin’s principles.  Taking steps to shrink your bad habits before you try to just get rid of them will bolster your efforts by making some improvement quickly.  I once read a children’s book that boasted “I can eat an elephant, one bite at a time”.  It is a quote I often use when leading others. Whatever the task, break it down into smaller pieces and accomplish by steps.

Franklin charted his progress as well.  Writing down or logging on your smart phone how well you have done at the end of each day helps you prepare for the next day and more improvement.  Sharing with a family member or friend helps you keep honest with yourself.

Maybe you do not need to work on thirteen different traits, but how ever many you have that need improvement, make a list and get started. For over 200 years Americans have copied from this amazing American and lived better for it. Now it is your turn.


*Image courtesy Flickr creative commons.

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