Ben Franklin’s Moral Perfection Project

Managing Goals
Today a guest blogger at ZenHabits.net offers some solid advice about the importance of focusing on goal at a time. Here is her post on The Power of One and below is Benjamin Franklin’s blog posting autobiography on the same topic.

While still a young man in Philadelphia, Franklin made a list of thirteen goals of virtue for himself, and devised a method to perfect these virtues.

These names of virtues, with their precepts, were:

  1. TEMPERANCE. Eat not to dullness; 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; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
  10. CLEANLINESS. Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes, or habitation.
  11. TRANQUILLITY. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
  12. 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.
  13. HUMILITY. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

His Plan:

My intention being to acquire the habitude of all these virtues, I judged it would be well not to distract my attention by attempting the whole at once, but to fix it on one of them at a time; and, when I should be master of that, then to proceed to another, and so on, till I should have gone thro’ the thirteen; and, as the previous acquisition of some might facilitate the acquisition of certain others, I arranged them with that view, as they stand above.

He Continues:

And like him who, having a garden to weed, does not attempt to eradicate all the bad herbs at once, which would exceed his reach and his strength, but works on one of the beds at a time.

A couple other interesting notes:

  • He only gave himself one week to acquire each virtue. If you ever make a list of habits, I recommend at least three weeks to acquire a each new habit. This has been show to be a more effective length of time.
  • He found the virtue of ORDER the most difficult to attain. He said that his excellent memory reduced the necessity and the benefit of organisation. Later in life, as his memory started to fail, he regretted his disorganisation more.
  • Be warned, as much as I agree with this “one goal at a time” philosophy, this Personal Challenge blog could easily have a half dozen goal-based challenges going on at the same time. I think one can juggle several balls in the air if one makes sure that each ball has its own space to move in.
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3 comments so far

  1. curt on

    As we know Ben was a fan of “venery,” it’s not surprising he put off the attainment of Chastity until week 12.

    • becky on

      …and he had to master number one before attempting the others without success. He failed.

  2. Michael on

    From the biography by Walter Isaacson:

    Franklin made a chart with 7 columns (days of the week) and 13 rows (virtues). “Infractions were marked with a black spot. The first week he focused on temperance, trying to keep that line clear, while not worrying about the other lines. With that virtue strengthened, he could turn his attention to the next one, silence, hoping that the temperance line would stay clear as well.

    In the course of the year, he would complete the thirteen-week cycle four times.”


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