October 7, 2023




Benjamin Franklin’s 13 Essential Values

At a glance

Today’s Fast Summary:

  • Modern historians often refer to Benjamin Franklin as ‘America before America was founded.’ His practicality, self-reliance, and enthusiasm for civic virtue make him the hallmark of American values.

  • Throughout his life, Benjamin Franklin was on a path to improvement, setting high moral standards for himself. He had a unique ability to analyze himself and execute necessary adjustments.

  • Benjamin Franklin is among the first authors in the self-help genre. He realized early on that bad habits were dangerous and easy to form.

  • Follow Franklin’s virtues to optimize productivity, declutter your mind, and become more inquisitive of those around you.

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Benjamin Franklin’s 13 Essential Values

Benjamin Franklin, American founding father and polymath, is considered to be among the greatest thinkers of all time.

During his life, he was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, helped draft the United States Declaration of Independence, and made significant contributions to science.

An abbreviated list of his inventions and achievements are listed below:

  • The lightning rod

  • The odometer

  • Successfully aided in negotiating the Treaty of Paris, ending the American Revolutionary War

  • Founded the University of Pennsylvania

  • Helped in drafting the U.S. Constitution, and was an early proponent of First Amendment rights

  • Bifocal glasses

His early life wasn’t so illustrious, however. Benjamin Franklin was the tenth child of seventeen, and his family had few resources. At age 12, he was legally indentured to work for his brother until he was 17 and left his hometown of Boston for Philadelphia.

Benjamin Franklin is often called ‘America before America was founded.’ According to an interview with Franklin expert, H.W. Brands, Benjamin Franklin “began a model for the American character.”

Franklin’s practicality, self-reliance, and enthusiasm for civic virtue make him the hallmark of American values. Unlike his forethinkers, Franklin identified as uniquely American, not British, and maintained “a real sense of an American identity.”

Franklin came to Boston with $1 in his pocket. As Brands says, “[Franklin’s] a guy who left home, came to a new city and began a new career, started a new life for himself. He was a striver, especially early in his career, and it was through that kind of effort that he made his success.”

He’s truly the embodiment of what it meant to be an early American.

Franklin’s 13 Essential Virtues

“It was about this time I conceived the bold and arduous project of arriving at moral perfection.” - Benjamin Franklin

Throughout his life, Benjamin Franklin was on a path to improvement, setting high moral standards for himself. He had a unique ability to analyze himself and execute necessary adjustments.

Bred from his interest in self-improvement, Benjamin Franklin is regarded as among the first authors of the self-help genre. In his essay, “Way to Wealth,” he advised, “There are no gains, without pains,” which sounds oddly recognizable!

Franklin realized early on that bad habits were dangerous and easy to form. He recognized that these bad habits impede one’s ability to live a full life. As a young man, Franklin realized that simply trying to live a good and worthwhile life wasn’t possible.

In his 1793 autobiography, which is widely considered the first self-help book, he notes 13 virtues to live by.

Here are Benjamin Franklin’s 13 Virtues and how you can use them today:

1. Temperance. Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.

I interpret this literally. It’s widely known that overeating and drinking to excess are poor choices for our health.

The body operates most efficiently when it is fed well, moved, and made to think. Substances and a poor diet interfere with that process.

Take care of your body for maximum efficiency.

2. Silence. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.

Benjamin Franklin understood that if he only communicated his point, and didn’t ask questions, he wouldn’t learn from those around him. This is much like Jim Collins’s fourth suggestion for young people, “What is your questions to statements ratio? And, can you double it?”

Active listening skills are important professionally and personally. These skills make others feel heard and supported, while you gain the necessary information to act.

As Franklin suggests, silence allows you time to listen.

3. Order. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.

In this virtue, Franklin is referring to strong organizational processes and time management skills. We can take this both literally and figuratively.

If we take it literally, we can conclude he’s talking about well-organized organizations and processes that increase efficiency, as well as keeping a clean space.

First, examine your organizational strategies. Examine your home’s organization, your car, your desk, etc., and optimize it for efficiency. Then, examine your cleanliness, and take time to clean your space. Create a cleaning calendar or alternative method to keep it that way.

Thinking more figuratively, time is just another thing to organize. Franklin was a strong proponent of optimizing his productivity.

Keep a calendar diligently for 2 weeks, and track all of your habits. Then, examine your patterns. Try the Energy Audit method to optimize your productivity.

4. Resolution. Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.

In other words, “do what you say you will, how you say you’ll do it.” Or, ‘put your money where your mouth is.’ Talking about something is performance, but action and delivery determine success.

To enact this, employ Greg Mckeown’s Strategic Underinvestment method.

5. Frugality. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.

Benjamin Franklin believed that spending less than what you earn is key to financial independence. He retired at age 42, so I’m inclined to heed his advice.

Maintain a zero-based budget, and pay yourself first (i.e., contribute to your savings, pay your rent, utilities, etc.). Research your investments, and consult a professional for advice.

Most importantly, spend less than you make.

6. Industry. Lose no time; be always employ’d in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.

As we noted, Franklin was a proponent of optimizing one’s productivity or doing something useful at all times. He believed that distractions impeded one’s success.

The previously mentioned Energy Audit, as well as Naval Ravikant’s Aspirational Hourly Rate Framework, are helpful tools to focus on your best opportunities.

7. Sincerity. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.

Franklin was an early advocate for free speech, but he understood its propensity for abuse.

He advises us to speak honestly and candidly and to be sincere in our communications with others. Not only that, he advises us to mean what we say.

8. Justice. Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.

This common governmental value tells us to do the right thing by ourselves and those around us. Or, do to others what you wouldn’t want them to do to you.

The word ‘duty’ is understood to mean civic duty. Franklin believed it was one’s civic duty to provide aid to those in need.

Do well by yourself and those around you. When you’re in an advantageous position, donate and volunteer for those in need.

9. Moderation. Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.

A bit like the first virtue, moderation can be understood to mean overconsumption and emotional moderation. This extends to knowledge and information.

Overconsuming anything—information, sunlight, water, food, etc.—comes with dangerous consequences.

Use breathing techniques to calm your emotions, and try the 5-step Resilience Method to regain clarity on what’s happening. Don’t overindulge in news or online content. Live a well-balanced life.

10. Cleanliness. Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths, or habitation.

Much like virtue three, this virtue suggests that cleanliness is needed to maintain order and efficiency. Unlike the third virtue’s figurative nature, this one is literal.

Keep yourself clean with regular showers, and take care of your living space. Make your bed each morning. You feel your best when you feel clean and healthy.

These habits lay the groundwork for success and discipline.

11. Tranquility. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.

This virtue refers to employing one’s self-control and maintaining a clear head in difficult situations.

Life’s disturbances can be frustrating, but small inconveniences and rejections are a fact of life.

Check out A Practical Guide to Overcoming Rejection for practical advice on maintaining emotional clarity in the face of difficulty.

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.

This virtue is no longer culturally relevant in today’s world, but it can be understood to mean: Don’t use others for intimacy, and don’t use someone’s intimacy advantageously.

13. Humility. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

Benjamin Franklin had a few key flaws, and one of them was his poor humility. However, because he recognized it, he acted on it. Franklin sought to be like Jesus and Socrates, each symbols of humility.

Avoid overconfidence. Understand and accurately estimate your strengths and weaknesses, and optimize both to your advantage. Don’t brag or talk about yourself too often.

Franklin’s Advice on How to Apply Them

Franklin says of his practicing these virtues, “[I didn’t want to] distract my attention by attempting the whole [list] at once, [so I decided] to fix it on one of them at a time.”

He decided he’d adopt one at a time, only moving on when he’d mastered the last. He arranged them for this purpose.

Do the same.

This week, we’re going to take Benjamin Franklin’s advice and start incorporating his thirteen virtues at the beginning. Examine your current habits and behaviors honestly. Think critically about what you can practically change.

  1. Incorporate Franklin’s definition of ‘temperance.’ 

    a. Examine your current health habits. Identify areas of weakness and strength.

    b. Prepare a plan to address your weaknesses. Break the issue into its small, important components. Enact the plan.

    c. Strengthen your strengths. Address any plateaus and set KPIs for improvement.

  1. Tackle Franklin’s ‘silence’ virtue.

    a. Find your questions-to-statements ratio. For 1 week, dutifully track your conversations. In your phone, tally the number of times you make a statement versus ask a question.

    b. Double that ratio. Develop a way to ask more questions of those around you.

  1. Employ ‘order.’

    a. Organize your working space. Break cleaning into smaller tasks to lower activation energy and finish quickly.

    b. Organize your living space. Employ decomplication for large tasks.

    c. Develop a plan to maintain what you did. Look at your calendar and add time to revise and maintain your clean space.

In his book, Poor Richard’s Almanac, Benjamin Franklin says, “Wish not so much to live long as to live well.” Heed his advice.


I’d love to hear from you:

  • What did you learn about Franklin’s life? Were you inspired?

  • Which of these do you find most difficult to solve? Which are easy?

  • Can you incorporate these 13 virtues?

Tweet at me (@_alexbrogan) or respond to this email — I’ll try to respond to everyone.

Have a wonderful Saturday, all.

Until next time,


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