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Ben Franklin: A Perfect Guide for Yearly Resolutions    

  By: Katie Petrick
   Published : January 2, 2018

We have turned over yet another calendar year, and with this comes the obligatory annual resolutions. We resolve to get in shape, to eat healthier, and to be nicer to one another. Every year we make the resolutions, and more often than not, every year we fail at the resolutions by the time Punxsutawney Phil starts looking for his shadow.

Let’s try a different approach this year by seeing what one of the most renowned of the Founding Fathers resolved at the tender age of 20. Benjamin Franklin is known for his devotion to the colonies and fledgling United States. As a statesman, diplomat, author, scientist, inventor, postmaster, and the list continues, Franklin’s personal growth and focus on bettering himself was necessary.

To thrive in the political climate thrust upon him in the 18th Century, he needed to have a strong moral code to keep him grounded. At just 20 years old, Franklin developed his Thirteen Names of Virtues, which he viewed as necessary and desirable.

“I concluded at length, that mere speculative Conviction that it was our Interest to be compleatly virtuous, was not sufficient to prevent our Slipping, and that the contrary Habits must be broken and good Ones acquired and established, before we can have any Dependance on a steady uniform Rectitude of Conduct [original form kept],” Franklin wrote in his autobiography, which was published in 1791.

In other words, we can wish to be the most moral people, but we will fail. We must put in the work and change our bad habits before we can claim any form of moral achievement. Franklin advocated for focus on one virtue at a time, to become master of each and remain attentive.

Temperance was deliberately chosen as the first virtue, for Franklin recognized the ability of self-discipline against overindulgence of food or drink to allow clearness of the mind.

“Temperance. Eat not to dulness [sic]. Drink not to Elevation.”

It is little wonder why people choose to eat healthier and drink less as their resolutions, and why they have such a high rate of failure. But the reward is so much greater, for to live a temperate life will allow the other twelve virtues to be followed with less stress attached.

Franklin developed a journal to record his indiscretions, giving one page to each virtue. He devoted a week’s time on each of the virtues for its mastery before adding a new virtue. When he failed on a given day, he placed a dot on the respective place on the chart. The goal was to have no dots on that week’s virtue of focus before considering it to be of any mastery.

To assist in his third virtue of order, Franklin created a “Scheme of Employment for the Twenty-four Hours of a natural Day.” Franklin structured his day to include seven hours of sleep and eight hours of work, which today remains a balanced approach. What makes his chart quite interesting is how he begins and ends the day with focus on what good he provides the world. He distinctively asks himself, “What Good shall I do this Day?” Upon examination of his day, he then asks, “What Good have I done to day?”

Franklin was a visionary in numerous ways, but first and foremost he was a man who recognized the necessity for moral living. In full disclosure, Franklin did not follow his plan to the full extent. He wrote in his autobiography that he found himself surprised at how many faults he had. But he was content in seeing these faults diminish, and he understood that all men were sinners. Franklin knew his Bible and knew that there was ever only one man free of sin: Jesus Christ. As the thirteenth virtue of humility, Franklin aspired to imitate Jesus.

As the excitement of the new year permeates, help yourself so you can help others. You do not need to pay hundreds of dollars for a 21-day fix of the body, mind, or insert-pyramid-scheme-title here. Just read a little bit of Benjamin Franklin. Or better yet, read the Bible, where western morality is so conclusively spelled out. The resolutions you make will come to be habits and the habits will lead you on a path to better living.

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