Self-improvement is paramount to personal success. And it is all about developing positive habits, and eradicating those habits and behaviours that are not conducive to growth. With that objective in mind (of creating “good” habits and eradicating “bad” ones), Benjamin Franklin developed a framework for personal development (which he coined “Plan for Attaining Moral Perfection”) consisting of 13 goals of virtue.

These names of virtues, with their precepts, were:

  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; i.e., 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; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
  10. CLEANLINESS. Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes, or habitation.
  11. TRANQUILLITY. 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 the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.
  13. HUMILITY. Imitate Jesus* and Socrates.

(Source: The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, Chapter 9)

Using this list of virtues, Franklin devised the following plan:

“My intention being to acquire the habitude of all these virtues, I judged it would be well not to distract my attention by attempting the whole at once, but to fix it on one of them at a time; and, when I should be master of that, then to proceed to another, and so on, till I should have gone thro’ the thirteen; and, as the previous acquisition of some might facilitate the acquisition of certain others, I arranged them with that view, as they stand above.” (The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, Chapter 9)

He Continues:

“And like him who, having a garden to weed, does not attempt to eradicate all the bad herbs at once, which would exceed his reach and his strength, but works on one of the beds at a time.” (The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, Chapter 9)

Some interesting notes:

  1. He only gave himself one week to acquire each virtue. If you ever make a list of habits, I recommend at least three weeks to acquire a each new habit. This has been show to be a more effective length of time.
  2. He found the virtue of ORDER the most difficult to attain. He said that his excellent memory reduced the necessity and the benefit of organisation. Later in life, as his memory started to fail, he regretted his disorganisation more.
  3. Be warned, as much as I agree with this “one goal at a time” philosophy, this Personal Challenge blog could easily have a half dozen goal-based challenges going on at the same time. I think one can juggle several balls in the air if one makes sure that each ball has its own space to move in.

(Source: Personal Challenge Blog)

If you are interested in personal growth, why not give this model (or your adaptation of it) a shot?

*Note: Franklin’s reference to Jesus here is purely from a virtue perspective, and not intended to single out a particular religious view as “righteous” or more appropriate than others (including non-religious perspectives). In his book, Franklin insists that his moral attainment plan was intended for use by individuals of any religious orientation.