Ben Franklin's '13 Virtues' path to personal perfection

Story highlights

  • Ben Franklin considered various virtues that, if mastered, would lead him to perfection
  • After 10 years of following Franklin's example, I am more industrious, patient, mindful and healthy

This essay is part of a column called The Wisdom Project by David Allan, editorial director of CNN Health and Wellness. The series is on applying to one's life the wisdom and philosophy found everywhere, from ancient texts to pop culture. You can follow David at @davidgallan. Don't miss another Wisdom Project column; subscribe here.

(CNN)Of the many inventions (bifocals, odometer), accomplishments (US postal system, Constitution) and experiments (that kite in a lightning storm) credited to Benjamin Franklin, none of his contributions to humanity, in my opinion, outshines his brilliantly simple method for self-improvement.

"A bold and arduous project of arriving at moral perfection" is how America's least controversial and most industrious statesman described his method of personal betterment in his autobiography. I'll call his big life hack "13 Virtues," and for about 10 years, I performed Franklin's experiment on myself.
He devised it so anyone could become their best possible self. And although I have fallen short of that lofty goal many times, the enjoyable years I have spent working on 13 Virtues has led to demonstrative progress toward a more virtuous life.

    How it works

    Franklin started by taking a critical look at his behavior, and he found that too often he traveled down unvirtuous roads that "natural inclination, custom or company might lead me into," as he put it.
    He fell short of his ideal in more than a dozen areas of his life, he concluded. He ate and drank too much. He talked too much, especially about himself.