Living away from home and keeping up with things on my own, I constantly find myself falling behind on the things I mean to do. For example, my laundry has been at the cleaners for two weeks now, and I always remember just after closing time that I need to go by and pick it up. Sometimes I get so focused trying to do one thing perfectly, I end up with tunnel vision and neglect other parts of my life. Sometimes I don’t even realize I have been loosening my standards for how I conduct myself until one day I wake up and see that they’re missing. It’s a little too easy to lose sight of goals when there is no one to check up on me or when there is no good way to measure my progress.
For precisely this reason, companies have productivity and cost effectiveness reports, and coaches chart out check points for their athletes’ fitness throughout the year. It’s a really common process to create checkpoints in any organization that is run like a business. It only stands to reason that individuals adjusting their personal goals into a form that can be systematically monitored would also help to increase their personal quality.
Benjamin Franklin believed in a similar idea, and was famous for practicing self-regulation throughout his life. From the age of twenty until he died, he carried around a notebook that had a list of his thirteen virtues: temperance, silence, order, resolution, frugality, industry, sincerity, justice, moderation, cleanliness, tranquility, chastity, and humility. He defined each of these with specifics of how they should be carried out. Each week he chose one virtue to focus on, but at the end of each day he would routinely place a check next to each virtue he fell short of. He could then see if he was living up to his own standards and which area of his life needed improving. He openly shared this practice with the public because he believed if everyone followed his lead that everyone could have a more fulfilling life.
Collegiate classes and ambitious individuals still set out to follow in his footsteps, but they quickly learn that following Franklin’s protocol is trying to say the least. Aside the difficulty of following his virtues, keeping up every day with placing check marks by the failed virtues requires a discipline that most don’t have. Which, let’s face it, is no surprise. Franklin was an extraordinary and dynamic individual who was very driven to carry out his self-improvement, of course; however, I think his success following the virtues is quite unfair to measure ours against. Franklin was so inclined to keep up with his list because he made it. He was living out the qualities that he saw important. No doubt they were great virtues, but they don’t hold the same weight for everyone.
My idea is to make my own list of virtues- qualities that are important to me and my life. We will all create our own. Make it complete with the qualities you strive for and define each specifically, so that you will know for sure if you have successfully upheld them. Then find a small, attractive notebook that you can easily carry with you and write down each virtue on one page. Start with the first virtue and promise yourself to focus on that one the entire week. At the end of each day place a check by each of your virtues you fell short of. It may take some work, but we can see how we measure up to our own standards and decide if this practice might be one that’s worthwhile to fit into our own lives.