7 Maxims & 13 Virtues from Benjamin Franklin

I recently listened to Benjamin Franklin's biography written by Walter Isaacson. I walked away inspired. I was fascinated by how much his thoughts, writings and ideas shaped the American character and in particular—me. 

He's not only one of America's founding fathers, but is considered the originator of the personal development movement. His maxims (many adopted from earlier thinkers) are legend.


"Diligence is the mother of good luck."
"Little strokes fell great oaks."
"A good example is the best sermon."
"When the well's dry, we know the worth of water."
"Search others for their virtues, thyself for thy vices."
"Haste makes waste."
"No gains without pains."

Franklin, through his prolific writings and publications, championed the idea of improving yourself in an era where upward mobility was frowned upon. He preached self-improvement and believed it would come to define the new nation of America.
 

Benjamin Franklin's 13 Virtues for Self-Improvement

You may also have heard about his moral project of perfection. There came a point early in his adult life where he decided he should develop a written plan for pursuing virtue. So, he devised a list of 13 practical virtues that are worth sharing here. 

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; that is 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. Forebear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.

10) Cleanliness: Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes or habitation.

11) Tranquility: 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 to the injury of your own or another's peace or reputation.

13) Humility: Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

At the outset, Franklin tried to attain all the virtues at once, but soon realized his folly. He, therefore, hatched a plan to focus on one per week. He wrote down on a sheet of paper 7 columns for each day and 13 rows for each virtue. The goal was a clean sheet of paper; in other words, no marks (violations) in any box for an entire seven day period. In the first year of this practice, he completed the 13-week cycle four times. 

Share this image! Right-click on it to download.

I love what Franklin said about the experiment. "I was surprised to find myself so much fuller of faults than I had imagined." Uncle Ben's lesson lies just beneath the surface of his quip: Greater self-awareness comes by regularly tracking your goals on paper, on purpose.

Overall, I walked away from this 26-hour biography admiring Franklin's diligence and resolve to grow. He was not from a family of privilege, rather he was a man of the middle-class or "middling people" as he would describe it, and he was proud of it.

He may have began his career as a humble printer, but he later added to his title: author, political theorist, politician, postmaster, scientist, inventor, civic activist, statesman, diplomat and founding father.  Thanks for the inspiration and well done, Uncle Ben.