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The Plan from Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography

Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin recounts in his autobiography that, at age 20 in the year 1726 while on an ocean voyage from London to Philadelphia, he developed a “Plan” for regulating and improving his conduct. He followed the plan even to the age of 79. He was determined to stick with it for his remaining days because of the happiness he enjoyed by following it.

His “Plan” was made up of 13 (13!) virtues, each with short descriptions:

Temperance: Eat not to dullness and drink not to elevation.

Silence: Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself. Avoid trifling conversation.

Order: Let all your things have their places. Let each part of your business have its time.

Resolution: Resolve to perform what you ought. Perform without fail what you resolve.

Frugality: Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself: i.e. Waste nothing.

Industry: Lose no time. Be always employed in something useful. Cut off all unnecessary actions.

Sincerity: Use no hurtful deceit. Think innocently and justly; and, if you speak, speak accordingly.

Justice: Wrong none, by doing injuries or omitting the benefits that are your duty.

Moderation: Avoid extremes. Forebear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.

Cleanliness: Tolerate no uncleanness in body, clothes or habitation.

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.

Tranquility: Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.

Humility: Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

He committed to giving strict attention to one virtue each week so after 13 weeks he moved through all 13. After 13 weeks he would start the process over again so in one year he would complete the course a total of 4 times.

He tracked his progress by using a little book of 13 charts. At the top of each chart was one of the virtues. The charts had a column for each day of the week and thirteen rows marked with the first letter of each of the 13 virtues. Every evening he would review the day and put a mark (dot) next to each virtue for each fault committed with respect to that virtue for that day.

His goal was to live his days and weeks without having to put any marks on his chart. Initially he found himself putting more marks on these pages than he ever imagined, but in time he enjoyed seeing them diminish. He went through the series only once per year and then only once in several years until finally omitting them entirely. But he always carried the little book with him as a reminder.

Benjamin Franklin’s 13 virtues are unique and obviously served him well since he is one of the most respected and most accomplished men in the history of the United States.

If you were to draw up such a list, what virtues would you plan to follow?

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