It seems like every January, I make the same set of predictable goals, like losing 20 pounds, getting to the gym on a more regular basis, or de-cluttering my garage. Here it is, almost the end of February and I’m no closer to my goals. I’m thinking that its time to stop writing a big list of un-related goals and look at the bigger picture.
While there are many modern books out there on the topic of goal setting, I recently came across an article outlining Benjamin Franklin’s 13 Principles for Achieving Success in life. Recognizing that Ben certainly achieved a great deal of success in so many areas, I wondered if his blueprint from the past has something to teach business professionals today.
1. TEMPERANCE – “Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.”
Obviously Ben believed it is wise to be in control of both our mind and body. Well he’s got a point there. It’s always a good idea to be more aware of what we eat and drink. Perhaps being mindful of what, and how much, we eat is actually the best way to lose or maintain our weight As for drink, whether it’s coffee, tea, soda, or alcohol, too much of a “good thing” just isn’t good for you. Except for water, water always does a body good.
2. SILENCE – “Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation. “
This is good advice that most of our mother’s drilled into us as kids, “If you can’t say something nice then don’t say anything at all.” Sometimes the best thing to say is… nothing at all. One of the best business assets we can acquire is to become a better listener. When we really hear our customer talk about their problem, we are better prepared to present the solution.
3. ORDER – “Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.”
My father was an engineer who believed that “everything had its place”. His garage was a masterpiece of organization, while mine is a disaster zone. However, my office and computer files are extremely well organized. Personally, life seems a whole lot less stressful when I have more order in my life.
4. RESOLUTION – “Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.”
Like the Nike commercial, sometimes we need to: “Just Do It!” Having a clear plan on how to spend my time each and every day boosts my productivity immensely. This is why I am strong believer in using a computer based project management system. The Launch4Life team uses Asana to manage all of our projects. I also think this principle involves always keeping your word to your clients and yourself.
5. FRUGALITY – “Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.”
I kind of think of this principle of all savvy business professionals. It is always a good idea to really weigh the pros and cons before we make any purchase. “A penny saved is a penny earned”. While nobody likes to waste money, we should also think about what other things we might be wasting. Are we wasting time pursuing goals that no longer inspire us? Are there business books that no longer serve you…maybe it’s time to sell them or give them away? Waste not… want not, truly is a noble idea.
6. INDUSTRY – “Lose no time; be always employed in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.”
This is a tough one. It’s always hard to admit to which things in your life waste your time. It might be time spent reading email, surfing the internet, or trying to organize your ever growing To Do list. When you take a good look at where your time goes every day, you may find pockets of time that could be spent working on your dreams and goals.
7. SINCERITY – “Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.”
Aim to live your life with integrity. Don’t do to others what you wouldn’t want others to do to you. I always nudge my clients to be cautious regarding their personal posts on social media. This is especially true if you have very strong feelings about a particular subject. Remember that your clients may not see the world that same way that you do. Since everything you “say” online can be seen by anyone, choose your words carefully.
8. JUSTICE – “Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.”
This principal seems to suggest we strive to meet all of our responsibilities and obligations with the utmost integrity. I like to think of this as choosing to “do the right thing”.
9. MODERATION – “Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.”
To me, this means not being so hard on people. We need to forgive people (and ourselves) when there is a mess up. Most importantly, when we are upset with someone (especially ourselves), we need to stick to the event at hand, instead of every wrong doing in the history of time.
10. CLEANLINESS – “Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes, or habitation.”
Again, this is another no-brainer. It’s always good to look and feel our best. This is especially relevant for those of us that run our business from home. While we may be tempted to start the work day wearing pajamas, many of us may feel unprofessional when we do. So it’s a good idea to dress for success.
11. TRANQUILLITY – “Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.”
This reminds me of the book, “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff”. When our days are jam-packed with “things to do”, it’s a good idea to schedule in some quiet time. We all need downtime to reflect, think, and recharge… even if it’s just taking 15 minutes to sit and have a cup of tea, listen to music, or go for a walk.
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.”
For this one, I actually had to look up the word “venery.” Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines the word as: “the art, act, or practice of hunting”. Hmm. So I took this principle to mean we shouldn’t “go after” things that are either not in our best interest or lead us down the “low road.” When I was a kid, my mother always told me that if I wasn’t sure if something I was doing was right or wrong, I needed to ask myself “how I would feel if what I did was published on the front page of the newspaper?” Adhering to my mom’s advice has worked like a charm.
13. HUMILITY – Imitate Jesus and Socrates.
Throughout history many great leaders have led lives that epitomize the virtue of humility: Moses, Jesus, Socrates, Washington, and Ghandi, to name just a few. When we think of humility, it’s easy to think that means mild mannered and weak. However, humility can actually be a great strength. Humility can lead to having confidence in yourself and your abilities, allowing you to push through obstacles to achieve success. I think this principle encourages us to be introspective about what we believe in and stand behind our convictions.
I found it interesting that Benjamin Franklin penned this list of principles, when he was only 20 years old. Wow! I sure wish I’d been that intuitive when I was his age. The story goes that after writing this list, Franklin made a plan to focus on one principle at a time. Once he’d conquered one virtue, he’d move on to the next. To track his progress, he’d record his successes and failures in a book each night.
I think Ben was onto something good. It’s great to have a list of general principles to help you make improvements in your life. However, it’s not enough to just make a list of what we want to achieve, instead, we need to find a way to record our progress. We need to keep our goals constantly in front of us and evaluate whether we’re on track or derailed.