Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues

Ben Franklin, one of the greatest minds in history and one of my personal favorite people, is known for achievements in a dozen fields of human endeavor. We know him as a scientist, inventor, humorist, entrepreneur, composer, diplomat, revolutionary, public servant, principal architect of the United States Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and so much more and, possibly, as the first self-improvement/personal development expert, too.

According to his Autobiography, when Franklin was 20 years old, he was returning to Philadelphia after spending some time in England. He decided to use the almost 3-month journey to develop a plan of conduct that would help him become a more virtuous and successful person. His plan consisted of working on integrating the 13 virtues listed below into his daily life.

Franklin’s plan was to commit to focusing on just one virtue per week, rather than trying to transform himself all at once. At the end of the 13th week, he would start all over again and continue cycling through the list four times a year. He followed this plan, as closely as possible, every week until his death at the age of 79. Working on these virtues gave him a sense of comfort and happiness and an effective guide through all the struggles to come for his entire life.

Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues Chart

Franklin created a chart for each virtue and used it to track his progress. The first letter of each day was listed on the top of the chart and the first letter of each virtue was indicated down the left-hand side. Each day, He would add a dot to the appropriate spot on the chart if he felt he had fallen short of meeting that particular virtue. He was known to have carried these charts with him as a reminder of his personal plan of conduct.

These 13 virtues are no less relevant today than they were in Franklin’s time. Next to each virtue on the list is Franklin’s definition. Read through the list and maybe you’ll want to take a crack at this program, yourself.

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. Tranquility (“Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.”)
13. Humility (“Imitate Jesus and Socrates.”)

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