Benjamin Franklin’s Self-Improvement Project

Between 1771 and 1783 Benjamin Franklin wrote his autobiography. It contains a lot that you could 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 advice for the common man. It was actually a collection of Yankee wisdom gathered over 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 realized his own weaknesses and the weaknesses of those around him that led to their failure. He was a keen observer and quickly learned the habits that led to success.

In his twenties, he began to improve himself very systematically. He first identified the qualities he considered most important to cultivate, including temperance, silence, order, decisiveness, thrift, diligence, sincerity, justice, temperance, purity, serenity, chastity, and humility. He then devised a simple daily journal and each week chose one of these virtues to focus on. His file contained a matrix with a list of virtues he wanted to perfect in his life down the left side and across the top a list of the days of the week. He would then mark a dot or check each box when he failed to meet his own expectations for the virtue he wanted to practice that day. His goal was to have a week without any grades showing success.

Franklin used this method intermittently for several years until he had perfected many of the virtues to the extent that this method allowed. While Franklin would be the first to admit that he never achieved perfection in any of these virtues, he is also known to have mastered many of them. As a young man, for example, he was known as brash, quarrelsome and rude. Over time, he realized how such behavior contradicted his own success. Through repeated self-discipline and efforts such as these to change his own habits and behavior, he became a man of great understanding. He became known for being a good listener, rarely able to offer his opinion and a man loved and admired by all.

You too can use Franklin’s method of thinking about your own behavior and habits and efforts to change them.

First, decide what you would like to change about yourself. Find what you most want to improve in your habits, behavior and practices. Then make a list and decide to focus on one such improvement item each week or month. Franklin chose a week because it didn’t seem too short or too long. You could do the same. Each evening before you retire, reflect on your daily activities and note any failures you may have experienced or any outstanding successes in your changed behavior. Every morning focus on what you plan to change and decide to do it.

You’ll also be more successful in this endeavor if you carry your own little notebook with you and use it frequently throughout the day, to remind yourself of what you want to improve on, and to make sure you don’t forget to record your success or failure.

You’ll find, like Franklin, that while you probably won’t achieve perfection, you’ll change in ways that will amaze you and pay off handsomely in your future success.

Try Benjamin Franklin’s method of change and improvement. It’s simple and won’t cost you a penny.

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