Living Virtues – A Daily Self-Improvement Routine
The Pursuit of Calm: #4

In 1726, at the ripe old age of 20, Benjamin Franklin set his loftiest goal: no less than the attainment of moral perfection. In order to accomplish this goal he created a personal improvement program that consisted of 13 living virtues. 

In his youth, Franklin had studied none other than Socrates, or more precisely Xenophon’s Memorabilia of Socrates.
In the process he became obsessed with the Socratic method of questioning, and he soon realised that it was very healthy to apply the same scrutiny to his own character. He was inspired to develop this practice of moral self-examination into a daily self-improvement routine based on the ancient poem called The Golden Verses of Pythagoras.
The lines from the Golden Verses of Pythagoras to which Franklin is referring to read as follows:

“Never allow sleep to close your eyelids, after you went to bed, until you have examined all your actions of the day by your reason.”

The Golden Verses then lists three questions meant to be posed during this routine of moral self-examination:
1. What have I done wrong?
2. What have I done well?
3. What have I omitted that I ought to have done?

“If in this examination you find that you have done wrong, reprove yourself severely for it; and if you have done any good, rejoice. Practice thoroughly all these things; meditate on them well; you ought to love them with all your heart. It is those that will put you in the of way of divine virtue.”

I have in previous posts, and will continue, to advocate the importance  of seeking, learning and practicing living by our individual innate set of ‘values’ (by rote routines and rituals).
The discipline of living intentionally and in alignment with our values (most of the time), I think, is centric to our own ongoing growth that develops our confidence & courage to continue enthusiastically along our path.

If our day to day life choices (virtues) are aligned with our values…we are living consciously, and living in the now.
If we fail to recognise or ignore what we truly value, then how are we to consciously choose the actions (the virtues) to support and see our values (goals) flourish?

“Virtues are lived values, values in action, values which are achieved on a dependable regular basis…”
– Jack Krupansky

Are we unfulfilled, anxious, angry and dependant on distraction and find ourselves biased towards ‘comfort’ because our actions, habits and behaviours are in conflict with who we actually are?”

Pursuing calm, sitting quietly, doing breathe work or meditation, exercise, movement, sleeping, journaling or a daily reflection ritual are all tools to provide us that space, void of stimulus, whereby we can delve in and gently investigate ourselves and find out what it is that is important to us.
Not only that, but the process, will also highlight what actions, habits and behaviours are contrary to who you actually are and what you actually want.

How often have you audited and scrutinised yourself and asked
Who am I?
What do I want?
What is important to me?
Am I doing the best I can to live-by what is important to me?

Armed with this information, what steps (virtues) could be implemented to better support your values?

Returning to Benjamin Franklin, his 13 virtues were:

  1. Temperance. Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
  2. Silence. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
  3. Order. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
  4. Resolution. Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
  5. Frugality. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.
  6. Industry. Lose no time; be always employ’d in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
  7. Sincerity. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
  8. Justice. Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
  9. Moderation. Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
  10. Cleanliness. Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths, or habitation.
  11. Tranquillity. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
  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.
  13. Humility. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.
One of the many reasons why I invest particularly in Buddhist and Stoic philosophies is they not only require you to theoretically ‘learn’, but they also request that you put what you ‘learn’ into practice. And what greater arena is there to test-drive and practice your learnings than in the auditorium of life – in our day to day.
If patience, kindness, humility, moderation are your values – where better to put those values in practice via the virtues you attach to your actions?

We may not need nor want to pursue ‘moral perfection’ like our friend Benjamin Franklin, but I cannot recommend enough making time, daily,  to apply a healthy, gentle, kind scrutiny and honest self-examination to our own character, to our own actions and behaviours.

Amongst all the unavoidable ‘noise’ that surrounds us, it is, I believe, essential that we take time to ‘notice’ and take stock our mistakes, to witness our actions, and take note of the words that come out of our mouth, so we can hone our actions so they better align with the very things that are both important to us as individuals, that propagate and nourish our physical and mental health, whilst slowly and intentionally chipping away at the unessential and corrosive aspects of ourselves.

No One Is Going To Save You
Like Benjamin, I’m a believer that each of us must develop our own personal development program…it’s an annoying phrase, but “you need to do the work”.
And I can think of no better place to start than investing time into investigating and writing down what it is that is important to you.
Not only that, but audit your thinking and doing behaviours that are distracting you from achieving, or living, as best you can, to the values you hold close to your heart.

Yes, it takes time….(put the phone down, or turn off the TV)
Yes, you need to be disciplined…(get up earlier/go to bed earlier, drink less alcohol)
Yes, it’s confronting…(we need to bring our own light to the darkness)
Yes, it’s it’s going to raise some shit in your life…(it’s where we learn)

But unless we can ‘connect the dots’ to why we do what we do, then the distracted, anxious, “intoxicatedness” of our day to day will continue…and as Epictetus said…“you will not even notice your mistakes and you will continue to rationalise your behaviours (as normal)”