What Would Ben Franklin Do?
The desire to live rich is not a new one. Seeking to add value to the world is core to most of mankind. Creating a plan to make each day better than the last is one of the secrets of living rich.
I went to Podfest18 in Orlando last weekend and saw the Liz Covart, creater of the podcast “Ben Franklin’s World”, deliver a keynote speech. She was so fascinating in her 30 minute segment about the life of Benjamin Franklin and the the virtues he instilled in himself to create the life he wanted that I was compelled to research him. I wanted to know how he went from the 10th child of middle class parents to founding father. He was not born in wealth and priviledge – he created that for himself.
At the age of just 20, Franklin worked towards creating a set of rules that would allow him to essentially be a better person.
“It was about this time I conceived the bold and arduous project of arriving at moral perfection. I wished to live without committing any fault at any time; I would conquer all that either natural inclination, custom, or company might lead me into.”
The outcome was 13 Virtues that would guide his daily life. The following are those virtues, which are as relevant today as they were in the 1700’s.
Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
An individual should not overindulge in food or drink. The first virtue essentially set the tone for the rest. Franklin believed that temperance allowed the mind and body to work at an optimal level, making the other virtues possible.
I think this applies even more today. Don’t indulge in things that dull your mind. Value you brain and body and input the things that allow you to create a rich life.
Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
Franklin learned the importance of listening at his the master mind meetings that he organized. He could easily talk for hours, but it offered little in the way of learning. Rather, he realized that to acquire knowledge he must instead listen, which often meant silence.
We have heard from many of the self-improvement gurus that we have two ears and one mouth for a reason. Interactive listening is an amazing skill. Once mastered, it will give you insight into others, move your career forward and improve all your relationships.
Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
Franklin was ambitious and had many interests. He believed that order would allow him to pursue all things, as long as they were done efficiently.
While Franklin struggled with this virtue, he appreciated the idea behind it and worked to improve it.
We talked about this in the blog Finding Focus, with the Pomodoro technique. Every task toward you goals gets 25 minutes of uninterrupted time to focus on thru completion.
Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
Simply put, you must do what you set out to. This was as much relevant to his mastery of the virtues as the rest of his life. He believed that resolve and discipline made the man.
Nike has it right – just do it! Don’t try to do so many things that you are doomed to fail. Pick one thing – just one – and DO IT. Have resolution, finish that one thing, and then pick one more.
Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e. waste nothing.
Spend less than you earn. Sounds simple enough, yet typically we do the exact opposite. Living frugally not only keeps you humble, but it teaches you the value of money.
This was the focus of episodes 3 through 8 of my podcast “Unlocking the Secret of Living Rich” where we created a spending journal to track our income and outflow. We identified our monthly requirements, listed all of our debt and created a plan to live frugally to become debt free.
Lose no time; be always employed in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
Time is money. Related to frugality, Franklin believed that being ever useful was the key to success. Being deliberate in how you spend your time can define the outlook of your life.
We all waste time on television, gaming, social media and internet surfing. What could you accomplish if you took just half of those hours an applied the toward building your own business, moving forward with your goals, talking to or reading about someone who has achieved what you want in life?
Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
Don’t gossip, spread rumors, or be deceitful. This no doubt was born from his role as a printer, but an essential virtue all the same. Think before you speak and speak the truth.
Oh, the fake new world we live in today. Media has taken this to a whole new level. But, please, don’t get sucked into this world. The negative things you say about others becomes what others remember about you. Remember our mother’s lesson – if you can’t say something nice about someone, don’t say anything.
Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
Live life by doing what is right. While we often focus too much on ourselves, it is important to also see how your actions impact others. Try not to do harm to anyone in life.
I try to live my life by the “60 Minutes Camera” rule. You know the news show “60 Minutes” where reporter and cameraman stand outside Bernie Madoff’s apartment, or the courtroom steps of someone else who has made poor choices, and pepper them with questions. It is so very, very easy to self-justify poor decisions in the moment we are making them. But if you take just 15 seconds and think about what you would say when “60 Minutes” asks you why you did that or said that, could you be proud of your response?
Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
Everything should be balanced and engaged in moderately. Extremes are rarely the answer. Our culture may guide us to the opposite, but seeking moderation in all parts of life, keeps things in balance.
Today the media rewards extremes – everyone is seeking their 15 minutes of fame. But the real reward is not the 15 minutes, it’s the lifetime of living a good life. It’s being able to look at yourself in the mirror and being proud of what you see,
Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes, or habitation.
A person should be well kept. Having cleanliness of body and home is a representation of your attention to detail and discipline. Take the time to take care of yourself and your environment.
A cluttered space is the sign of a cluttered mind. My space must be neat and tidy or I cannot focus. I find it relaxing to come into a clean, peaceful space. Don’t you feel better when you look good and the space around you is calm and clean?
Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
Don’t get upset about the little things, as it does more harm than good. Learn to be tranquil and at peace with issues that are clearly out of your control. Don’t let them control you.
This is where the term “don’t sweat the small stuff, and it’s all small stuff” must have originated. It took me a long time to let things go. I am a control freak and I know on some level you are too. The freak in me is desperate to have everything go my way. But this is a recipe for a stressful, unhappy life. When I just let it go – I am a happier person.
Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.
As always, sex is a touchy subject. Although times have certainly changed, the premise is still relevant. Sex, or the lack of it, can be used as so many things – expression of love, power, reward, punishment, pleasure, and procreation – the list is endless. Being aware of your actions when it comes to sex and the perception that it carries is as important as ever.
Be smart and be careful.
Imitate Jesus and Socrates.
Last but not least is humility. We need to keep our pride in check and not be over-confident in ourselves or our actions. Practice humility and you will be well- liked, but also well-equipped to face any challenges.
Humility was a late addition to Franklin’s list of virtues. A friend pointed out Franklin’s weakness when it came to pride. In truth, Franklin struggled with humility throughout his life, but was always mindful of it.
"Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning."
~ B E N J A M I N F R A N K L I N
Wow – this is quite the list of virtues and certainly nothing easy to live up to. Franklin worked at these virtues throughout his life, but how he did so is just as interesting.
He realized that taking on all 13 of these virtues at once was a recipe for disaster. He wouldn’t make any progress and fail repeatedly.
Instead, he devised a simple system that would allow him to focus on a single virtue every week over 13 weeks. After the 13 weeks finished, he would begin again, completing the routine 4 times every year.
The hope was that the work of previous weeks would trickle forward as he went through the cycle. He kept track of his progress in a notebook, where he marked his success or failure on every day of every week.
His approach for forming habits is impressive. The wisdom Franklin used here shows how well he understood the world of self-improvement. Let’s look at the techniques he employed.
1. Single Focus
Rather than attacking all 13 habits at once, Franklin took them on, one at a time, week by week. This is essential to any habit development. How often do we try to change our entire routine at a moment’s notice? It never works.
Instead, we need to make small changes, one at a time, until they transform from forced tasks into effortless behaviors.
2. Track Progress
Just as important was his method of tracking his progress. He didn’t just say he would live by these rules and then do his best to do so. He diligently kept track of how well he did, every day.
He kept a notebook with a grid of 7 days each week across the top and the 13 weeks down the side. Each time he forgot or broke the virtue he was working on, he put a black mark in that box.
Actually measuring progress is invaluable, not only because it helps us change, but because it shows us our strengths and weaknesses.
Franklin made this idea of achieving perfection a lifelong goal. He did it every day - every week - every year. More importantly, he realized that practice was the key to progress.
By repeating the cycle four times a year on an endless loop, he ensured that he would always be improving and striving for his goal.
While Franklin never achieved perfection, he still believed that the effort had changed his life for the better. He said the following in his autobiography:
“Tho’ I never arrived at the perfection I had been so ambitious of obtaining, but fell far short of it, yet I was, by the endeavour, a better and a happier man than I otherwise should have been if I had not attempted it.”
It’s easy to see how Franklin could be regarded as one of the fathers of self- improvement. His ideas, methods, and techniques are used everywhere today. Moreover, his ambition of achieving moral perfection is something that we often overlook in our daily lives. We focus more on careers and personal gains than we do personal enrichment and being good people.
Maybe we could all benefit from a list of virtues to build our character. Maybe Franklin was on to something.
We can get started with the 13 ways to be a better person outlined above. Make the commitment to be better each day by having better thoughts, making better choices, and taking better actions. The better person you are, the better people, life situations, and opportunities you will attract into your life.
Every day you have a brand new opportunity to be a better person. Take it. Ask yourself “what would Ben Franklin do?”
Until next week Live Rich
February 16, 2018
Join me every Wednesday on my podcast “Unlocking the Secret to Living Rich”.
If you have questions or comments you can contact me at my email firstname.lastname@example.org or find me on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram @cindybbrown777
Who is Cindy B. Brown? Cindy is a CPA, MBA, CFO, and board member of public and private companies, business consultant, entrepreneur coach and a foremost expert in the field of business mastery. Cindy’s purpose is to motivate, educate and inspire people to live their richest life. She is the host of “Unlocking the Secret to Living Rich”.