“His contributions to economics, meteorology, music, and psychology expanded the reach of human knowledge and the grip of human power…Kings and emperors summoned him to court, where they admired his brilliance and basked in its reflected glory.” – H.W. Brand, The First American
How was one man able to accomplish so much? While it’s true he didn’t have to deal with smartphone distractions, email, or social media, his success was not simply a matter of fewer temptations. From the beginning of mankind we’ve always had the option to take the easy way out. We could nap rather than work, consume alcohol instead of going to bed on time, or gossip idly instead of turning our thoughts into gold.
Ben Franklin once said, “The things which hurt, instruct.” When we waste our time, we feel guilt and regret. The wise among us use those feelings to change our behaviors to more productive habits. Franklin did exactly that as he set out to gain his freedom and build his wealth. His legacy lives on because he started with personal responsibility for his life. If you struggle with self-discipline or procrastination, take heart and take notice, because things weren’t always easy for Franklin. He struggled until he created his Rules for Living.
In 1726, after a frustrating trip to London, England, a 20-year old Franklin sailed home with great disappointment over the inconsistencies in his life. He had grown weary of gossip and little-minded small talk, he was not pleased with his past decisions, particularly how he was wasting time and money. He was ready to enter a new phase in life when he returned to Philadelphia, and decided it would be most fitting to create Rules for his life to serve as an organized action plan for efficiency and success.
Franklin’s Four Rules for Living
1. It is necessary for me to be extremely frugal for some time, till I have paid what I owe.
2. To endeavor to speak truth in every instance; to give nobody expectations that are not likely to be answered, but aim at sincerity in every word and action – the most amicable excellence in a rational being.
3. To apply myself industriously to whatever business I take in hand, and not divert my mind from my business by any foolish project of growing suddenly rich; for industry and patience are the surest means of plenty.
4. I resolve to speak ill of no man whatever, not even in a matter of truth; but rather by some means excuse the faults I hear charged upon others, and upon proper occasions speak all the good I know of every body.
These were not a passing fad for Franklin. Not only did he stick to these rules for the remainder of his life, he was quite proud he had the wisdom to communicate them so soon in life. Fifty years later he looked back in reflection on his rules and said, “It is the more remarkable, as being formed when I was so young, and yet being pretty faithfully adhered to quite through to old age.”
Creating your Rules for Living and sticking to them will guide you to a life of success and wisdom. Though no one will ever be perfect at keeping to the rules, you will be better for trying.
Your Rules prevent regrets. How often have you woken up disappointed with yourself again for mistakes made the night before? You vow to never make that same mistake again. Sound familiar? Days or weeks later, you succumb to the same temptation. As you sit on the edge of your bed, head pounding or belly bloated and in a shame spiral, you repeat the conversation in your mind. This Groundhog Day goes on and on and on. It’s been years since you’ve tried to kick the habit. Nothing has worked. What are you to do?
The solution is to create a personal Rule for overcoming the biggest obstacles in your life. Create a commandment to remove temptations and destroy bad habits so you don’t have to rely on your limited supply of willpower.
If you drink too much, create a new Rule that states, “I do not have more than 2 drinks in one day.” If you eat too much too late at night, create a new Rule for Living that says, “I do not eat past 7:00 PM.” If you talk poorly of others, create a Rule that states, “I do not gossip or speak poorly of others.”
Commit to your Rule. Believe in it. Follow the Rule as if it were law or a Commandment from God. Uphold it as if breaking it would put you in jail.
Is this odd? Maybe. Is it extreme? Perhaps. But if you want advanced results you must take advanced measures, even extreme approaches to life. What have you got to lose? Where did the average approach to living ever get anyone?
Your Rules for Living will align your actions with your big goals and dreams. Your Rules will make it easier for you to stick to a life of legacy. Your Rules will bring you greater accomplishment and success. Your Rules will also bring you criticism. But you must stop worrying what others think, as the Stoic philosopher Epictetus said, and set yourself on a course of self-mastery.
Most people are unwilling to match their level of desire with their level of action and commitment. They worry too much about what others think of them. They don’t want to sacrifice tonight’s TV shows for tomorrow’s victories. Here’s how you will benefit from your Rules for Living:
- You will have fewer regrets.
- You will no longer wake up vowing to ‘never do that again’.
- You will have a strong framework for success.
- You will have solutions to your problems.
- You will have strength against temptations.
- You will have less guilt, fear, frustration, and worry.
- You will experience greater opportunity.
- You will attract success and positive people.
- You will reap extraordinary rewards.
Ben Franklin and I established Rules for our Lives (read mine here). We acted out of a desire to improve our lives, to be more successful, and to be more virtuous. Our Rules served us well. Don’t wait any longer to create this roadmap for your life and blueprint for success. Create your Rules right now.
“By adhering to a strong honest philosophy, you will remain guiltless, blameless, independent and maintain control over your life,” David Kekich says in Kekich Credo #39, but he also warns, “Without a sound philosophy, your life will eventually crumble.”
Your Rules are an essential part of success. Without them, your days threaten to descend into chaos, spiraling out of control. But with your Rules, you will own your days and move closer to your big goals and dreams.
Epictetus, Kekich, Franklin, and I all agree creating your personal philosophy and a few rules for your life, and sticking to them as well as you can, will guide you to a life of success and wisdom. Though no one will ever be perfect at keeping to the rules, you will be better for trying. Use your Rules for Living as a clear set of personal philosophies that will make your daily decisions easier. At the end of your life, all you really have left are people and experiences, not money or things. It’s not the stuff that matters in life, but the legacy you will leave. What will yours be?