Between 1771 and 1783 Benjamin Franklin wrote his autobiography. It contains a great deal that you would profit from and is only about 175 pages long. Franklin could be called the grandfather of self improvement literature in the United States. His Poor Richard’s Almanac series included many stories and bits of advice for the common man. It was in fact a collection of Yankee wisdom accumulated for decades.
Perhaps the most interesting and potentially useful part of Franklin’s autobiography is his description of his self improvement project. As a young man Franklin quickly came to understand his own weaknesses and the weaknesses of those around him that led to their failure. He was a keen observer and quickly also learned those habits that led to success.
In his twenties he set out to improve himself very systematically. He first ascertained the qualities that he found most important to cultivate, including Temperance, Silence, Order, Resolution, Frugality, Industry, Sincerity, Justice, Moderation, Cleanliness, Tranquility, Chastity and Humility. He then devised a simple daily record and chose one of these virtues each week to focus upon. His record contained a matrix as follows:
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thur Fri Sat
S. * * * *
O. ** * * * * *
R. * *
F. * *
And so it continued. While the table is not totally reproduced here, it is started, and continued with all of the virtues beginning with T (temperance). Each asterisk, which was actually a dot made in ink, represented a failure on his part to maintain the virtue selected that week. His goal was to keep each week clear of any such dots.
Franklin used this method off and on for several years until he had perfected many of the virtues to the extent this method permitted. While Franklin would have been the first to admit he never achieved perfection in any of these virtues, he also was known to have mastered a number of them. As a young man, for example, he was known to be brash, argumentative and rude. Over time he came to understand how contrary that kind of behavior was to his own success. Through repeated self discipline and efforts such as these to modify his own habits and behavior he became a man of great understanding. He became known for being a good listener, rarely one to offer his own opinion and a man who everyone liked and admired.
You too can use Franklin’s method of reflection upon your own conduct and habits and efforts to modify them.
First decide what you would like to strive to change about yourself. Find what you most want to improve upon in your habits, behaviors and practices. Then make a list and decide to focus upon one such item of improvement each week or month. Franklin chose a week as it seemed neither too short nor too long. You might do the same. Reflect each night before you retire on your day’s activities and mark down any failures you might have experienced or any remarkable success in your changed behavior. Each morning focus upon what you plan to change and resolve to do so.
You will also find more success in this effort if you carry your little notebook about with you and refer to it often during the day, both to remind yourself about what you seek to improve upon, and to make sure you do not forget to record your success or failure.
You will find, as did Franklin, that while you will not likely achieve perfection, you will change yourself in ways that will amaze you and will pay off handsomely in your future success.
Try Benjamin Franklin’s method of change and improvement. It is simple and will not cost you a dime.
Daniel R. Murphy
Daniel R. Murphy
Educating people for building wealth, adapting to a changing future and personal development.