“A bold along with also arduous project of arriving at moral perfection” can be how America’s least controversial along with also most industrious statesman described his method of personal betterment in his autobiography. I’ll call his big life hack “13 Virtues,” along with also for about 10 years, I performed Franklin’s experiment on myself.
He devised the idea so anyone could become their best possible self. along with also although I have fallen short of of which lofty goal many times, the enjoyable years I have spent working on 13 Virtues has led to demonstrative progress toward a more virtuous life.
Franklin started out by taking a critical look at his behavior, along with also he found of which too often he traveled down unvirtuous roads of which “natural inclination, custom or company might lead me into,” as he put the idea.
He fell short of his ideal in more than a dozen areas of his life, he concluded. He ate along with also drank too much. He talked too much, especially about himself. He spent more money than he should. He didn’t finish all his goals. along with also so on. In some other words, he wrestled with the very same human urges, flaws along with also proclivities of which at This kind of point fuel our brand new Year’s resolutions along with also the ever-booming market of self-help books.
Then he considered various virtues of which, if mastered, would likely counteract his unwanted behavior. His list of 13: Temperance, Silence, Order, Resolution, Frugality, Industry, Sincerity, Justice, Moderation, Cleanliness, Tranquility, Chastity along with also Humility.
Thirteen wasn’t a nod to the original colonies, nor was the idea random. He chose 13 because of which number fits neatly into a calendar. Multiply the idea by four, along with also you get 52, the number of weeks in a year.
Franklin would likely take one particular virtue at a time, work on the idea for a week along with also then move on to the next. Trying to fix everything of which’s wrong with you all at once can be overwhelming, he decided. The virtuous path needs to be broken down to give each area some concentrated time of intention along with also effort. Every 13 weeks, the cycle repeats itself.
He accounted for his progress on a chart along with also shared his scheme with others. Modern social science has since proved of which tracking along with also accountability are two key components of successful habit formation. He was also hundreds of years ahead of the curve for the fun along with also addictive trend of gamification.
I came across 13 Virtues in college. the idea was mentioned in a couple of paragraphs from the middle of a magazine article about Franklin, nevertheless reading the idea was like of which key tied to the end of Franklin’s kite from the storm: the idea charged a sudden desire to try the method myself.
Adopting along with also adapting
In his autobiography, Franklin recommends of which all his readers take the 13 Virtues challenge if they seek moral perfection. He defines each virtue, explains how they build upon one another along with also outlines how to chart one’s progress.
As excited as I was to try the idea out, I hacked the experiment slightly in a way of which I desire Franklin would likely have approved.
First, I didn’t adopt his list of virtues wholesale, although the idea was a Great starting place. I took my own long, honest look from the mirror along with also chose virtues of which better countered my personal shortcomings. I even asked my friends about my faults, because we’re easily blind to them. Franklin explained how Humility was added to his list after a friend told him he needed to work on the idea. “To be aware of one particular shortcoming within oneself can be more useful than to be aware of a thousand in someone else,” His Holiness the Dalai Lama has since pointed out.
Secondly, I didn’t simply track how well I thought I exemplified a given virtue, as Franklin did. Instead, I gave myself specific tasks to complete each week. For me, these were more measurable along with also helped me take a step closer to of which virtue. I volunteered for a charity, stopped procrastinating over a project, meditated, wrote poetry, wrote letters to friends, read interesting books, tried brand new ways to save money along with also started out brand new workout routines.
along with also I tracked my progress in a notebook. I first wrote down the definitions for my own 13 virtues, kept a list of ideas for weekly goals for each virtue along with also then made entries stating my goal along with also my self-assessment at the end. I kept This kind of up over all 5 marble notebooks for a decade.
I also reassessed my list every year or two, swapping out virtues over time. My final list, 10 years in, was Morality, Industry, Friendliness, Erudition, Frugality, Flexibility, Civic Duty, Introspection, Patience, Spirituality, Creativity, Mindfulness along with also Healthfulness. Two were lifted by Franklin’s list.
The weekly tasks were often fun. One week, for Friendliness, I’d call a friend every day. Another week, I’d attempt going vegan for Morality. Erudition sent me looking up every word I came across along with also didn’t know. Sometimes, I just learned something — or something about myself — along with also some other times, 13 Virtues became a reason to do something enjoyable or interesting, especially in categories such as Creativity or Erudition. some other weeks weren’t as enjoyable, nevertheless they all felt like self-improvement. Because 13 weeks can be a predictable schedule, I could plan ahead along with also incorporate vacations along with also holidays.
The road to perfection can take many routes along with also can be worth the journey, even if you never arrive at the destination.
some other long-lasting effects are less tangible nevertheless no less real. After all of which time thinking about these virtues along with also trying to embody then, the net effect can be of which I am, for example, more industrious, patient, mindful along with also healthy than before I started out.
Virtues along with also vices
The experiment also sparked a brand new interest from the subject of virtues. What they are, along with also how did human progress reach the notion of personal ideals? Philosophically, I found the idea interesting to consider how fine a line there could be between a virtue along with also a vice. For example, frugality can be a virtue, yet being stingy can be a vice. Self-confidence can be a virtue nevertheless egotism a vice. There are some virtues, the idea seems, where too much of a Great thing falls back into the category of shortcoming, such as being “too nice” or “too busy.”
My 13 Virtue notebooks contain lists of them as defined elsewhere, including the Puritan Cardinal Virtues, Socratic virtues, Gandhian ones, Islamic, Buddhist, journalistic, Girl Scouts along with also bushido (the seven virtues of the samurai warrior), to name a few.
The notion of which there are guideposts pointing us from the direction of our better selves can be as old as religion, along with also yet the idea doesn’t need religion to perpetuate them. 13 Virtues can be secular dogma anyone can easily adopt.
After 10 years, I stopped tracking 13 Virtues. I’m perfect at This kind of point — except for Humility, I suppose.
No, the real reason can be of which I decided to move on to some other self-improvement experiments, along with also I did This kind of one long enough to prove to myself its effectiveness. I can always pick the idea back up again, as I did before writing This kind of column to see whether the idea held up. I concluded of which the idea’s as solid at This kind of point as when I first took the plunge back in college.
Franklin didn’t reach the peak of the virtue mountain, either.
“On the whole, tho’ I never arrived at the Perfection I had been so ambitious of obtaining, nevertheless fell short of the idea,” he wrote. “Yet as I was, by the Endeavor, a better along with also a happier Man than I otherwise should have been if I had not attempted the idea.”
I couldn’t agree more. I am a better along with also happier person for my years of enjoyable labor from the virtue labor camp. along with also like Franklin, I can’t recommend the experiment enough, no matter how long you endeavor at the idea.