Developing habits

I have been reading the autobiography of Benjamin Franklin the past couple weeks.  Great book, by the way, written by the man how signed the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the peace treaty with France, created a success printing business, owned a newspaper, printed and sold Poor Richard’s Almanac for 25 years, discovered lightening was made of electricity, invented the Franklin stove, helped many young men start printing businesses in multiple cities, and dined with a King.  Part of his prodigious productivity stems from his approach to developing good habits.  In his book, he states that he identified thirteen virtues that he deemed appropriate and then each day kept written record of success and failure at maintaining those virtues.  Then, a week at a time, he would focus on improving one of the virtues in his every day dealings – 13 weeks to cycle through all the virtues, repeated 4 times a year.  This idea of regular self-reflection and focus on improvements is witnessed in a variety of self-help books since that time, including the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Reading Franklin’s book and a conversation I recently had with a good friend of mine, made me realize that I can do much more to improve my habits such that I can accomplish my goals more effectively.  To that end, I am considering how to implement the habit of self-reflection for the goal of self-improvement.  Like Franklin, I recognize that this needs to be a daily practice.  For it to work, I need to find a regular time and place to review.  It would be great if I could include my family in on this, just not sure how to implement so that we all could gain value from it.  Maybe start every morning off with a discussion on how to make today a “Great” day and get them to start thinking, not so much about specific goals and activities, but behaviors that will make the day great (not that thinking about specific goals is a bad thing).  But ideally, I should not get any grandiose ideas about developing a self-reflection system.  The bigger it is, the harder it will be for me to develop the habit quickly.  If I start small and work at improving the system over time, the greater chance it will be a success.

What type of habits do I want to focus on in myself?  Here’s a start to the list in no particular order:
  • Independence
  • Principled living
  • Justice
  • Purpose driven
  • Conscientious
  • Self-Efficacious
  • Productiveness


  1. Very cool! I'll have to add that to my reading list. I look forward to hearing how it goes. It sure would be cool if you were to help your kids develop such habits at an early age, while they are more likely to retain the habit and take it for granted as a part of life.

  2. Sound like prayer to me. :)

    Are you reading the free Kindle version like I am? Actually, I should say "like I downloaded but have yet to read."

  3. Wonderful John! Hope you attain all your goals. :-) For me, I journal for 15 minutes in the morning (which I need to pick back up on) -- you might want to consider that time of day, as your mind is less-cluttered and more fluid. Cheers!

  4. Jeff, you can download the free Kindle app on your Droid. BF autobiograhpy is one of the free books offered by Amazon.

    Curtis, yep.

    Amy, I wish it were that easy. Unfortunately, the kids wake up around the same time that I do, so I don't have an opportunity in the morning. And then in the evening, I'm often too tired to think.

  5. I found that once I started explicitly pursuing it, my self reflection system came together largely on its own, just by doing what you suggested--starting small and building as I went. You are right that trying to do too much can be counterproductive; at some point, all your energy is going into maintaining the system. Finding your optimal level of involvement is another argument in favor of starting small. Also, it's almost shocking how, when done correctly, the smallest amount of work yields immense benefits.

    My system revolves around journaling, too. Most of the advice I follow comes from Dr. Hurd (in fact, he just posted on it again in his "Life's a Beach" column), and the book Mind Over Mood. I found that I didn't have to follow the record keeping structure presented in Mind Over Mood, only let my journaling be informed by it.

    That's a great suggestion for focusing, thanks. I intend to trial it right away.