The first American Self-Help Guru, Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin accomplished much in his long life and it wasn’t by accident. He made a point to try and improve himself daily and even recorded his progress. The habit came to him when he was only twenty years old.

“It was about this time I conceived the bold and arduous project of arriving at moral perfection. 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.”

Franklin created methods and defined characteristics – which he called Virtues – to guide him. Some of the gems he developed and lived by are still a part of Americana, such as ” Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise” and “Never leave that till tomorrow which you can do today.”

His methods led to great success, in addition to being one of the founding fathers of the country, he became a noted writer, publisher, inventor and scientist.

Here are Franklin’s thirteen Virtues:

1. Temperance

Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.

Eating and drinking to excess prevented the body from performing at an optimal level, making the other virtues possible.

2. Silence

Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.

Franklin could easily talk for hours, but realized it offered little in the way of learning. To acquire knowledge he must instead listen, which often meant silence.

3. Order

Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.

He believed that order would allow him to pursue his many interests, as long as they were done efficiently. This was difficult for him to follow, although he worked hard to improve.

4. Resolution

Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.

Simply put, you must do what you set out to. This applied to the Virtues and all other areas of life.

5. Frugality

Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e. waste nothing.

Spend less than you earn. Living frugally not only keeps you humble, it teaches the value of money.

6. Industry

Lose no time; be always employed in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.

Being useful was the key to success. Being deliberate in how you spend your time can define the outlook of your life.

7. Sincerity

Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.

Don’t gossip, spread rumors, or be deceitful. Think before you speak and speak the truth.

8. Justice

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

Do what is right and try not to harm others.

9. Moderation

Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.

Everything should be balanced and engaged in moderately. Extremes are rarely the answer.

10. Cleanliness

Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes, or habitation.

One’s self home and place of work or leisure should be well kept. It is a representation of your attention to detail and discipline.

11. Tranquility

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

Don’t get worked up over the little things, as it does more harm than good. Be at peace with issues that are out of your control.

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.

 Be smart and be careful, sexually speaking. It’s interesting to note that he has been thought of as somewhat of a ladies man, especially while serving as ambassador in France.

13. Humility

Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

Last but not least is humility. We need to keep our pride in check and not be over-confident in ourselves or our actions. Practice humility and you will be well-liked, but also well-equipped to face any challenges. Franklin had trouble with this one, but knew it was important.


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