Benjamin Franklin’s 13-Week Success System

All of the wisdom, experiences, techniques, and observations of the most successful men and women throughout history are found in books. Some are autobiographies and some are written by their friends and followers. Some are compilations by historians and journalists. But the point is… you can learn what these successful people did and thought and created because their story is in a book. You can benefit from their lifetime of experiences and thoughts, and it costs you only a few hours to read that book.

At the end of the year and, in this case, the end of the 2010 decade, it is appropriate to select one final, ultimate thought for the last blog post of 2019. I have chosen to publish a short excerpt from my book, It’s That Simple, which is a series of letters for my young son to read in the future. The particular lesson is about Benjamin Franklin, and it is suitable for anyone who is trying to improve, control, and reinvent our life.

Thanks, Ben.

Happy New Year! Happy New Decade!

This letter is about the success system created by a famous American, Benjamin Franklin.

Dear Son,

Perhaps I should have written this as the first letter; it contains a very important idea. With almost any problem or challenge in your life, you can save time and energy by answering the question, “What did other people in this situation do?” As an example, I offer the story about Benjamin Franklin. More than two centuries after his death, he is remembered as a wise and accomplished man whose words are still appropriate today.

As an old man, Benjamin Franklin wrote his autobiography. In it, he wrote of his many experiences, friendships, and honors, his part in the historical event of creating a new nation, the United States, and his many scientific discoveries and inventions. Yet, with all this to write about, he devoted more pages in the book to one idea than any other subject. This was the idea he credited as the basis for all his success. Would you like to know this idea that he thought was so important?

Ben Franklin wrote that, as a young man, he was intelligent and talented but impetuous and vain. He hoped that people would like and respect him but he actually made himself unpopular with his behaviors and his speaking habits. In his autobiography, Franklin describes how he created a self-improvement system. His 13-week system led to a life of accomplishments, financial success, and worldwide respect that lasts to this day.

Here is Franklin’s 13-week system as he used it – and you can use it also:

First, Franklin created a list of 13 qualities which he believed he needed to develop in himself. Then he chose the first one to concentrate upon for an entire week. The important part to remember is that he chose only one. For the whole week, he would do his best to remain conscious of this one trait and to improve himself in this area. He thought he would make the greatest gains by focusing on one thing only, instead of trying to improve 13 qualities simultaneously. Each day, he would critique himself about his improvements and failures in that one quality; he would think of ways he could apply his new insights and habits to further strengthen himself. He kept it in the background of his thoughts throughout the day, for each day of the whole week. Naturally, he improved since he was working for seven consecutive days on something he regarded as important.

The second week, he exclusively applied himself to the second trait from his list, with the assumption that the gains he had made in the first trait during the first week would continue. The third week, he applied himself exclusively to the third trait, etc. He continued this until he had completed the entire 13-week cycle.

Then, he began again. He concentrated on the first trait for another full week, the second trait for another full week, etc. Thus, in a year, he was able to apply himself diligently for four full weeks to each of these 13 qualities which he considered most valuable to himself. Can you see why he continually improved himself until his reputation for a wise and effective man made him famous?

Here are Franklin’s Thirteen Subjects (and the order in which he applied them) in his own words:

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 and yourself; i.e., waste nothing.

6. Industry – Lose no time; be always employ’d 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, cloaths, or habitation.

11. Tranquility – 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.

If you are interested, here is my own current list of traits for the 13-week system:

1. Eternally busy – Always know what you should do next. Work with your own hands.

2. Concentration – One thing at a time. Minimize distractions and interruptions when working.

3. Follow Through. If it is important enough to begin, it is important enough to finish. Put things away, ready for the next use.

4. Excellently – If it is important enough to do, it is important enough to do well. Begin with a clear vision of the ideal end in mind.

5. Prioritize – Do what is most important first. Eliminate the non-essential.

6.  Be prepared – Anticipate needs and problems. Stockpile resources when appropriate.

7. Don’t Wait – Avoid excessive planning before commencing. Do first the things you most dread.

8. Enjoy – Keep smiling. Act as if it were easy.

9. Briskly – Move quickly, avoid interludes between activities.

10. Patience, Silence – Tolerate small irritations. Avoid trifling conversations.

11. Healthy Habits. Consciously choose health habits. Moderation in all things.

12. Look Down, Look Up. Focus on one chosen activity. Periodically review direction and progress.

13. Relationships – Treat people as you wish to be treated. Treat everyone with respect.

My last words: I urge you to take the advice of that great and wise man, Benjamin Franklin. If he were here talking with you today, I am sure that he would suggest that you make up your own list of the 13 traits you consider most desirable to develop. Then take one thing at a time, giving a whole week’s strict attention to that one thing, leaving all the others to their previous levels.

Regardless of your situation or your choice of qualities to choose, you will make more improvements with this 13-week system than you could with any other method. By concentrating on one thing at a time, you focus your mind on that trait. At the end of the first 13-week cycle, you will feel new confidence. You will feel that you are beginning to control your emotions, your thinking, and your own destiny. If other people have not seen changes in you during the first 13-week cycle, they certainly will in the ensuing cycles. With each completed cycle, you will feel more in control of your thoughts and actions. You will be more peaceful and more productive in many aspects of your life.

Ultimately, the quality of your life is determined by the quality of your self-discipline to control your actions and thoughts. If you learn to control yourself, you will be able to make the maximum contribution to the world around you.

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