In 1726, at the ripe age of 20, Benjamin Franklin created a habit-tracking system to help him live a more successful life. On each day of the week, he would give himself a crossmark for the virtues he failed to practice.
“I might mark, by a little black spot, every fault I found upon examination to have been committed respecting that virtue upon that day.” — Benjamin Franklin.
Benjamin’s 13 Virtues: Temperance. Silence. Order. Resolution. Frugality. Industry. Sincerity. Justice. Moderation. Cleanliness. Tranquility. Chastity. Humility.
Build Your Internal Compass
This checkmark system alone wasn’t enough for Benjamin.
Each morning, he would ask himself “What good shall I do this day?” before he wrote a short journal as he jotted down his ideas. Each evening, he would reflect on his day with this single question: “What good have I done today?”
“The quality of your life comes down to the quality of the questions you ask yourself on a daily basis.” — Tony Robbins.
His check-mark system, alongside his morning and evening questions – served to steer his life in a far more focused direction. It made him continually think about ideas he could implement each day to practice goodness, both for his benefit and the benefit of those around him. His three daily habits, gave him an internal compass from which to measure his life’s success. His systems not only affected his daily actions but they also positively influenced his thought patterns each day. “The outer conditions of a person’s life will always be found to be harmoniously related to his inner state…Men do not attract that which they want, but that which they are.” ― James Allen, As a Man Thinketh
All the plaudits he received in his lifetime were secondary.
In the end, his success wasn’t determined by others.
It was determined by his own standards.
His Circumstances Didn’t Determine His Success
Benjamin Franklin only had two years of education during his youth. He was the 15th child of seventeen children from a poor family background. He ran away from his family at the age of 17 after being violently beaten for writing under a pseudo-name in his brother’s newspaper.
Yet he found a way to move away from any sort of mental victim mentality.
Life’s storms, in his case, created more resilient roots.
Benjamin Franklin didn’t measure his success or failure through extrinsic rewards or his past experiences— he forged a deep internal locus of control which he then extrapolated into his three daily habits.
Are you operating based on external standards, or internal standards dictated by yourself?
In my life, just like everyone else, I’ve had my fair share of storms. From growing up with a violent stepfather, to being homeless, and being forced to move country at the age of eight.
But pain is never an excuse for mediocrity.
It wasn’t an excuse for Benjamin, and it shouldn’t be for you.
“People with an internal locus of control believe that they are responsible for (or at least can influence) their own fates and life outcomes. They may or may not feel they are leaders, but they feel that they are essentially in charge of their lives.” — Daniel J Letivin.
Did Benjamin Franklin’s Daily Habit System Help Him Live a Meaningful Life?
In his autobiography, Franklin wrote that through his daily habits, he never “arrived at the perfection he had been so ambitious of obtaining, but fell far short of it.”
Yet, he admits his attempts made him a happier and far more productive man than he would otherwise have been. While he may have not reached a state of perfection, he did indeed live a life of true excellence.
The truth is, our lives will never be “perfect”. But the more relentlessly we move towards that “perfection” in our habits and character, the more our lives will reflect everything we’re yearning for.
“Men are anxious to improve their circumstances, but are unwilling to improve themselves.” — James Allen
Just Some of Benjamin Franklin’s Accomplishments Include:
- Inventing bifocal lenses that allow people with presbyopia to see in the distance through the upper half of the lens, and read through the lower half.
- Creating lightning rods which protects millions of buildings from the hazardous effects of lightning strikes.
- Founding the University of Pennsylvania and the American Philosophical Society, which have both positively influenced thousands of students lives and shaped America’s cultural landscape.
- Publishing Richard’s Almanac, which contained the calendar, poems, sayings and astronomical and astrological information which pioneered the way information was presented in many books thereafter.
None of those accomplishments would have been possible had he not focused on living each day that was offered to him, with the utmost focus.
And one of his secret weapons was his daily habits.
“The Secret of your future is hidden in your daily routine.” — Mike Murdock
Look Inside Yourself for Your Sense of Self-Worth
The moment we begin to look outside ourselves for our measures of success, the more we run the likelihood of feeling like failures. And it’s also the moment we limit our potential success.
We’re all living within the confines of our own orchestrated reality. The moment you think someone is better or inferior then you, you limit your thinking — according to research in Nany Kline’s book Time to Think. And when you judge someone’s accomplishments in relation to yours, you perpetuate an illusion that masks your real self-worth.
Unless you’ve built your own internal measures of success, then you will always run the risk of comparing yourself to others. And that’s dangerous — you can end up risking your sense of self-esteem and unique individuality for some external standard “you’re supposed to meet”.
- You’re not supposed to meet anyone’s standard.
- You’re only supposed to be inspired by other people’s example.
- It’s up to you to create your own standards.
“Comparing yourself to others is an act of violence against your authentic self.” ~ Iyanla Vanzant
Build a System of Accountability for Your Daily Habits
Between 1707 and 1770, Benjamin Franklin lived a life of purpose, character, and excellence. While you can take great lessons from his daily habits, the reality is that your systems need to take into account your uniqueness and the times we live in.
A digital approach to tracking your habits, on a phone app or on your computer can be just as effective. You can build upon Benjamin’s ideas and refine them to suit.
If you want to cultivate the practice of tracking your daily habits, then you don’t have to necessarily track thirteen qualities and ask yourself a question every morning and night.
Experiment, and discover what works for you.
In the end, the most effective system, is the one that you can stick to.
My Daily Habits System
Differently to Benjamin Franklin, I track the actions that lend themselves to the state and emotion I want to experience each day.
In Eric Barker’s book ‘Barking Up the Wrong Tree: The Surprising Science Behind Why Everything You Know About Success Is (Mostly) Wrong” the author cites that the more we can “gamify” our lives, the likelier we’ll stick to our disciplines.
At the end of each week, I have a call with a friend (who also tracks her habits) to share how it all went — just to make this practice of discipline a little more playful.
Potential Areas to Track in Your Life
- Your Finances
- Your Health (How many workouts are you doing per week and month)
- Your Knowledge (Which books are you reading, which conferences are you going to?)
- Your Highlights of the Month (Gratitude)
By measuring your progress in the important areas of your life, you will always be proactively comparing yourself to who you were yesterday, and to no one else.
Life isn’t designed to give us what we need, it’s designed to give us what we earn. And we can more easily earn what we want, when we stop comparing ourselves to others, as we focus on maximizing our daily habits to their full potential.