I know you are not a zero on the spectrum of self-awareness, but do you have even half the courage of Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) when it comes to examining and intentionally improving yourself? 

Self-awareness still eludes many people (as we know all too well), but being aware that self-awareness is a thing is progress in the evolution of humanity. It’s said to be the first step in the journey of becoming a better leader or person; however, only you personally can define what “being your best self” would look like. 

That seems obvious: how could you point to a desired destination without knowing where you are now, where your strengths and weaknesses lie? Fear of this knowledge keeps many people from any attempt at self-awareness. Some would rather not look at a column of plusses next to a column of negatives and face how they are measuring up (even by their own definition of standards). Choosing to keep blinders on as you race along your life’s track is the opposite of self-awareness, and precludes you from enjoying achievements, earning deep and wide respect, and fulfilling dreams. Other than that, the consequences are nominal. 

Among the many methods employed to better himself as a human being, Franklin created a list of 13 qualities he felt he needed to develop in order to live a healthy and conscientious life. He listed each “virtue” and also explained what it meant, what it would look like if achieved. Examples: Temperance: eat not to dullness, drink not to elevation; Resolution: Resolve to perform what you ought, perform without fail what you resolve; Sincerity: Use no hurtful deceit, think innocently and justly, and if you speak, speak accordingly; Tranquility: Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.  (For further reading, he devotes many pages to all 13 in his autobiography.) 

He then devised a system to use as he set out to improve in each area in a very methodical way. This was extraordinary at that time—creating a list of personal “being” goals to deliberately work on and track.  

On a card, he drew a grid with 7 columns (Mon-Sun) and 13 rows (each of his virtuous goals). At each day’s end, he reviewed his day by looking at the table, and giving himself a black dot in any area where he fell short that day. If he knew, for example, he’d had too much wine at dinner and it was Friday, then the “Temperance” square on Friday got a black dot. The next step I think was brilliant: he chose one of the virtues and made it the heading at the top of the card for that one week.  In this way, he focused on one desired virtue at a time, believing that this would quicken its becoming habitual. He did this daily, week after week, and after emphasizing for one week each of the 13 virtues, he started over.

He admittedly fell short of what he called “moral perfection,” but with his system, he had four weeks of focus for each desired character trait (13 x 4 = 52) each year. 

This practice of intentional planning and honest self-monitoring is certainly a recipe for success in achieving significant improvement in any skill, wouldn’t you agree? Ben Franklin thought of it and put it into practice when he was only 20 years old, and wrote in his memoir that he continued it throughout his life.

Also noteworthy is Franklin’s self-discipline with his daily schedule. Most often, he stuck to his segmented daily plan from 5 AM until bedtime at 10 PM. Every day included planned time for personal reflection. This shows that he realized it was both a vital activity to pursue and that it had its place during the day, no more or less important than anything else on his agenda. 

Self-awareness and intentional learning are paramount to good leadership. Think of what you would most benefit from improving upon and grant yourself a Ben Franklin month. For 30 days, evaluate at day’s end how you did that day with your goals. Even after only one month, you will achieve more than you think is possible. Read Franklin’s autobiography for inspiration if you want; his wisdom is evergreen.

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