Benjamin Franklin was a man of many virtues.
He was a Founding Father of the United States, a diplomat, a scientist, and a writer. But perhaps his greatest virtue was his commitment to self-improvement.
Franklin was not only a statesman and inventor, but also a philosopher who believed in living a virtuous life.
His approach to life was guided by his belief in the importance of pursuing virtues that would help him achieve his goals and live a fulfilling life.
For Franklin, the pursuit of virtue was not simply a matter of personal philosophy or moral code but rather a way of life that encompassed every aspect of his being.
In “The Art of Virtue: His Formula for Successful Living, Franklin said:
“We stand at the crossroads, each minute, each hour, each day, making choices. We choose the thoughts we allow ourselves to think, the passions we allow ourselves to feel, and the actions we allow ourselves to perform. Each choice is made in the context of whatever value system we have selected to govern our lives. In selecting that value system, we are, in a very real way, making the most important choice we will ever make.”
Franklin believed that living a virtuous life would lead to greater personal and professional happiness and success.
The first step in pursuing a virtuous life is identifying the virtues you want to focus on. Benjamin Franklin identified 13 virtues that he believed were essential to living a virtuous life.
For over 20 years, Franklin kept a detailed journal in which he tracked his progress in developing 13 virtues: temperance, silence, order, resolution, frugality, industry, sincerity, justice, moderation, cleanliness, tranquillity, chastity, and humility.
Start with one virtue at a time.
While you do not have to focus on all 13 virtues, choosing the ones that resonate with you and that will help you live a virtuous life is essential.
Franklin’s method for developing his virtues was simple but effective.
He would choose one virtue to focus on for a week, and then make a daily effort to practice it.
He would also keep track of his progress in a chart. At the end of the week, he would assess his progress and adjust his plan as needed.
Once you have identified the virtues you want to focus on, set personal goals based on your chosen virtue.
For example, if you have chosen the virtue of frugality, you might set a goal to save a certain amount of money each month.
If you have chosen the virtue of industry, you might set a goal to work on a project for a certain number of hours each day.
Whether you want to pursue a career, start a personal project, or simply improve your relationships with others, a clear goal will help you stay on track and make real progress towards achieving what you want in life.
The third step is to develop habits that support your pursuit of a virtuous life. Set aside time each day for implementing the virtue.
For example, you can focus on working on one or two essential things on your “work list,” meditation or reflection, practicing gratitude, engaging in regular exercise, and healthy eating habits.
When you identify and practice good daily habits, you can create a strong foundation for your pursuit of a virtuous life and ensure that you stay focused on your goals.
He wrote in his autobiography;
“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. As I knew, or thought I knew, what was right and wrong, I did not see why I might not always do the one and avoid the other.”
Another key aspect of pursuing a virtuous life is to hold yourself accountable.
Franklin created a system where he would track his progress on each of his virtues each day.
At the end of each day, he would reflect on how well he had done and make notes for improvement.
By holding yourself accountable in this way, you can stay focused on your goals and make progress towards living a virtuous life.
Surround yourself with people who share your values and support your pursuit of a virtuous life.
Family members, friends, mentors, or colleagues can inspire you and help you stay motivated as you work towards your goals.
By building a solid support network, you can overcome obstacles and challenges that may arise along the way.
Franklin created a group called the Junto, which was made up of people who were committed to self-improvement.
You can create your own version of the Junto by joining a book club or a group that shares your values.
Practice self-reflection and be willing to make changes.
Franklin believed that virtue could not be achieved overnight but required constant effort and self-reflection.
Be willing to evaluate your actions and make changes when necessary.
Throughout his life, Franklin remained committed to pursuing a virtuous life. He recognized that it was not an easy path, but he believed it was worth the effort.
He wrote in his autobiography:
“But on the whole, though 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 happier man than I otherwise should have been had I not attempted it; as those who aim at perfect writing by imitating the engraved copies, their hand is mended by the endevour, and is tolerable while it continues fair and legible.”
Franklin’s method can be applied to any area of your life.
If you want to improve your health, you could focus on the virtue of temperance. If you want to improve your relationships, you could focus on the virtue of sincerity. And if you want to improve your career, you could focus on the virtue of industry.
The key to success is to be patient and persistent.
When you commit to self-improvement, you are investing in your future. You are becoming the best version of yourself, and that is something that everyone can benefit from.
Benjamin Franklin’s pursuit of a virtuous life is a powerful example of how to live a fulfilling and meaningful life.
Identify your values and virtues, set clear goals, develop habits supporting your pursuit of a virtuous life, and surround yourself with supportive people. It’s a powerful framework for living a fulfilling life.