Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Force of Habit

Even though personality stabilizes by 20 and is virtually solidified by 50, this doesn't mean that all opportunity for growth stops in midlife. No matter what your age, it's still possible to change some of those habits that are holding you back from fulfilling your dreams.

In a new book titled Making Sense of People:  Decoding the Mysteries of Personality, leading neuroscientist Samuel Barondes cites the example of Benjamin Franklin

From his early twenties until he died at 85, Franklin worked to "guard...against the unremitting attraction of ancient habits and the force of perpetual temptations."

He settled on 13 virtues he wished to acquire:  t
emperance (eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation),  silence (speak not but what may benefit others and yourself), order (let each part of your business have its time), resolution (perform without fail what you resolve), frugality (make no expense but to do good to others or to yourself), industry (lose no time), sincerity (use no hurtful deceit), justice (wrong none by doing injuries), moderation (avoid extremes), cleanliness (tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes, or habitation), tranquility (be not disturbed at trifles), chastity (rarely use venery but for health or offspring), and humility.

Focusing on one virtue per week, Franklin methodically worked his way down his list. Every 13 weeks, he’d start over again, keeping meticulous track of his progress in a tiny book in which he marked “by a little black spot, every fault [he] found upon examination to have been committed respecting that virtue."

Even in old age, Franklin carried his list with him.  In looking back at his life, he concluded:  “[T]hough I never arrived at the perfection I had been so ambitious of obtaining, but fell far short of it, yet I was, by the endeavor, a better and happier man than I otherwise should have been if I had not attempted it."


  1. I'll need to get this one - perfect for writing & creating characters, too.

  2. I enjoyed the book, Diane. It was a quick, but provocative read. (I read practically the whole book, minus the Endnotes, on a plane ride home from California the other day.) And you're right that it provides great material for creating characters.