Values & Follow through

I’ve been reading Ben Franklin’s autobiography. It’s an incredible book–highly recommended.

I wanted to share the description of his personal values, and how he tracked his performance in each of them. It starts on page 87.

I think it’s relevant for a lot of people because reflecting on and listing out our personal values is a pretty common exercise in leadership and team building courses. The last time I did this was a few months ago, and here’s the list of values, people, and ideas I said were most important to me.

Franklin went through a similar exercise. Here’s his list–notice how concrete, tangible, and actionable they are.

  • 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.

It’s interesting me to reflect on the difference from my list. When I list “courage” and “integrity” above, I mean something like “Resolution” and “Justice” in Franklin’s list. And I think many making a list like this would not have an equivalent of “Order”, “Silence”, or “Temperance.”

The most fascinating part of this was the follow-through. To track his progress, Franklin made a notebook with one page for every virtue. On each page, he made a column for each weekday, and a row for each virtue.

Each week, he would focus on a single virtue, trying to improve. And he would track his performance on all 13 virtues, noting any failures–improving over the whole set of virtues by focusing on on per week. He could complete this 13-week cycle of reflection four times per year.

Here’s his template:

Franklin did this exercise for the first time in 1728, when he was about 22 years old. He recorded it for his autobiography in 1784, some 56 years later. Imagine the consistency built over 50 years of this practice!

I hope this encourages you in your efforts to live out your values today. Take care!

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