Few people have been more successful or better remembered than Benjamin Franklin. During his long life, he made an impact on almost every area of human endeavor. Political science, literature, technology, diplomacy, economics, and philosophy are just a few of the disciplines to which he contributed.
It should not be surprising that this remarkable man did not go about life without a strategy. He lived by established moral principles and approached decision-making with scientific precision. Those who would aspire to greatness would do well to consider the Benjamin Franklin Method of Living.
Franklin’s 13 Virtues
At the young age of 20, he developed a set of rules and moral guidelines that would govern the next 64 years of his life. These principles are known as Benjamin Franklin’s 13 Virtues. He identified them in his autobiography as:
- “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 uncleanliness in body, clothes, or habitation.”
- “Tranquility. 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.”
His choice of thirteen was not random. He intentionally created thirteen virtues because they fit nicely in the calendar. Multiply thirteen by four, and you have fifty-two — the number of weeks in a year. Franklin worked on a single virtue at a time. Each week would be dedicated to one of the virtues. During the week he continually assessed how he was doing in that area, where he had stumbled, and what changes he would need to implement to make sure he did not stumble in that way again. Every thirteen weeks, the cycle would repeat. This allowed him four times each year to dedicate himself to one of these important moral principles.
Franklin tracked his progress on a chart and shared his findings with others. In doing so, he applied the proven principles of measurement and accountability for life goals.
His Daily Routine
Every day followed a pattern for Franklin. He reported in his autobiography that each day started at 5:00 a.m. He began by asking himself, ”What good shall I do this day?” Before going to sleep for the night, he would reflect, “What good have I done today?”
The hours in between were structured. The first three hours of his day were spent getting ready physically, spiritually, and mentally. He worked for four hours before taking a two-hour break for lunch. His lunch period had a purpose beyond eating, however. During those two hours, he purposed to read or look over his financial accounts.
From 2:00 to 6:00, he was back at work. At 6:00, work was done. He put things away, intentionally focusing on returning everything to its proper place so the next day’s work would not be hindered by trying to locate missing material. The evening meal transitioned to or was accompanied by music, diversion, or conversation. Bedtime was at 10:00, almost without fail.
Service to Others Through Productivity
The structure of Franklin’s day freed his brain to be incredibly creative. Throughout his life, he worked as a printer, postmaster, ambassador, author, scientist, and Founding Father. Throughout all of these vocations, he was always an inventor. He delighted in coming up with solutions to common problems and developing innovative technology.
Franklin’s inventions and innovations are almost too numerous to list. Among the more notable of these are:
- Lightning Rod
- Franklin Stove
- Mapping of the Gulf Stream
- Properties of Electricity
- Swim Fins
- Library Chair
- Street Lighting
- Glass Armonica (musical instrument)
- Flexible Urinary Catheter
- Long Arm (to reach high bookshelves)
Despite developing some of the most innovative and popular inventions of his era, Franklin never patented any of them. He believed his creations were to be of service to everyone. He wrote, “That as we enjoy great Advantages from the Inventions of others, we should be glad of an Opportunity to serve others by any Invention of ours; and this we should do freely and generously.”
Success rarely happens by accident. It is the result of consistently making good decisions. Recognizing that, Franklin developed a system for decision-making. In a 1772 letter to Joseph Priestley, Franklin laid out the earliest known description of what is today known as a Pro & Con list. This now-common decision-making technique, sometimes called a decisional balance sheet, was the method that guided the important — and not-so-important — life choices.
The major obstacle to good decision-making, he concluded, is that we tend to be blind to all of the consequences at one time. He wrote, ”In the affair of so much importance to you, wherein you ask my advice, I cannot for want of sufficient premises, advise you what to determine, but if you please I will tell you how. When these difficult cases occur, they are difficult chiefly because while we have them under consideration all the reasons pro and con are not present to the mind at the same time; but sometimes one set present themselves, and at other times another, the first being out of sight. Hence the various purposes or inclinations that alternately prevail, and the uncertainty that perplexes us.”
To compensate for our inability to see all the consequences at once, Franklin proposed slowing down and thinking through all the good and not-so-good potential outcomes of a proposed course of action. He wrote, “… my Way is, to divide half a Sheet of Paper by a Line into two Columns, writing over the one Pro, and over the other Con. Then during three or four Days Consideration I put down under the different Heads short Hints of the different Motives that at different Times occur to me for or against the Measure. When I have thus got them all together in one View, I endeavour to estimate their respective Weights; and where I find two, one on each side, that seem equal, I strike them both out: If I find a Reason pro equal to some two Reasons con, I strike out the three. If I judge some two Reasons con equal to some three Reasons pro, I strike out the five; and thus proceeding I find at length where the Ballance lies; and if after a Day or two of farther Consideration nothing new that is of Importance occurs on either side, I come to a Determination accordingly.”
In brief, his approach was to list the pros and the cons, assign a level of importance to each, reflect on them, and let the weightier factors prevail.
Does all of this structure seem stifling to you? If so, remember that Benjamin Franklin was one of the most creative people of all time. What he discovered was that too much of his creativity was being consumed by dealing with things that happened without a plan. By wrapping a little bit of structure around the routine things that sapped him of his energy, he unleashed his brain and his body to pursue true ingenuity.
Give the Franklin Method a try. Who knows? You may end up changing the world.
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