I’m not a fan of New Year’s Resolutions; but if you’re looking for an alternative to resolutions, why not take Benjamin Franklin as your model?
New Year’s resolutions are promises that we make to ourselves that are poorly formed or unachievable. Some of them are so huge in scope that they can’t be obtained (“I will lose 100 pounds”). Some of them are so vague that they can’t be done (“I will exercise more”). Some are just steaming piles of promises upon promises (“I will eat a balanced diet, exercise, write in my journal, read a book, be kind to strangers…every day”).
Ben Franklin had the right idea, though. He produced a virtues list that he used to make self-improvement. These little virtues were concrete, plain, and easily trackable. And best of all? He didn’t expect perfection of himself.
Franklin had a list of 13 vitures, which he tracked on a simple grid.
- Temperance.Eat not to Dullness. Drink not to Elevation.
- Silence. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself. Avoid trifling Conversation.
- 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.
- Industry. Lose no Time. Be always employ’d in something useful. Cut off all unnecessary Actions.
- 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.
- Moderation. Avoid Extremes. Forbear resenting Injuries so much as you think they deserve.
- Cleanliness. Tolerate no Uncleanness in Body, Clothes or Habitation.
- Tranquillity. Be not disturbed at Trifles, or at Accidents common or unavoidable.
- 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.
There is a great picture of the grid that he used at http://www.thirteenvirtues.com/
Each time he succeeded, he put a dot in the box. Then at the end of the week, he could see how he had done.
Extracting the Concept
It would be easy to do the same sort of thing if you are on a quest for self-improvement. You just need to figure out what each of the vitues means to you.
Franklin went about it by picturing those qualities he thought most desirable. He then applied those principles to his life and spelled out what it meant to him.
I find great insight into the “moderation”, which mentions resentment, rather than the typical way we would think of moderation. He obviously felt this was a character flaw that needed to be corrected, and chose to place it in with moderation.
Setting Up Your Own Virtues List
You could take Franklin’s virtues and spell out what they mean to you, or you modify them to your own liking. Since I am bouncing what I know about Franklin’s venal practices against what I know of his chastity, I don’t see that applying to myself…so I can choose to substitute another virtue such as Compassion, which I find slipping away in today’s world.
If you’re in the market for some virtues, check out the Virtues list at http://www.virtuesforlife.com/virtues-list/.
Once you have your list, phrase what they mean to you. It might be the accepted definition of the word, or it might be something more personal, as Franklin did. The one thing to note is that he spells out what each of these things means to him.
This is not a task list!
If you choose to embark on this project of self-improvement, Do Not Make These Virtues A Task List. These are ideals to strive for, not things to be checked off daily.
Over To You
So what do you think? Are these things worth striving for? Or is the idea of self-improvement via virtues hopelessly old fashioned? Let me know what you think below.