Why Some New Years Resolutions Don’t Work According to Benjamin Franklin

Why Some New Years Resolutions Don’t Work According to Benjamin Franklin

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

I remember the beginning of 2019, before the quarantine; when I was still meeting with friends and one of my friends asked me what my resolution was. I said something along the lines of overcoming my fears and learning to take more risks. He scoffed. I think he wanted me to have a more specific goal in mind. Yet, that year I accomplished so many things I never thought I would just because I resolved not to let fear hold me back. I have other friends who say that new years resolutions are dumb because most people fail at keeping them. I did some research and found that many resolutions are successful after they are first initialized but by the very end of the year, many people do forget about it.

I wonder if the failure rate has more to do with the types of resolutions that people make. I have noticed that people don’t make resolutions; they make goals such as, the goal to lose weight, to save money, to get a promotion or to find love. Over the years, I found that these type of goals don’t serve me well because they focus on the goal itself and not on how I can achieve them. So I started focusing on character resolutions, because if I don’t have the character I need to reach these goals, I can’t achieve them. For example, if you lack courage, you will be too afraid to tackle that promotion or find the love of your life. If you lack discipline, how will you lose the 10% body fat you seek to shed? So if you’ve been unsuccessful in these goals in the past, perhaps make your focus all about finding courage instead.

Benjamin Franklin is one of the most accomplished people in history. He made scientific discoveries, was one of the founding fathers, owned a publishing house, published many papers, started the first American library and fire brigade and much more. When I read his autobiography, I found it interesting that his resolutions focused on character, not goals. While he did have an excellent diet, quitting alcohol or certain foods was not on his resolution list. Instead he focused on “temperance,” so he would be able to eat healthier. Though he was so accomplished as an intellectual and statesman, none of those goals were on his list. His resolution list looks like this as copied from his autobiography:

  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
  7. SINCERITY. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak
  8. JUSTICE. Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
  9. MODERATION. Avoid extreams; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they
  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 dulness, weakness, or the
    injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.
  13. HUMILITY. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

Benjamin Franklin resolved to focus on each virtue for one week at a time and cycle through them. He marked them on his calendar. He had clearly thought through these virtues. For example, he chose “temperance” as his first resolution because it would keep his head cool and clear, thus making it easier for him to reach other goals.

He chose “silence” because he realized that if he listened more than he spoke, he would learn more. He was aware that he was too much of a wise-ass, always interrupting people with jokes which didn’t make him the best company to certain types of people.

Benjamin Franklin intended to have only 12 virtues but he added “humility” because people were telling him that he was too arrogant and he realized he needed to work on that.

I learned from Mr. Franklin that to accomplish the kind of feats that he did requires great character and that I should work on that if I want to be strong enough to be better in other aspects of my life. When I resolved to tackle my resolutions in this way, many years ago, I started seeing success in every aspect of my life, from relationships and career, to money and sanity. Everything started to affect each other positively due to my growing resolutions to simply be a better person.

Unlike Mr. Franklin, I only tackled one to three character traits at a time, like the year I tackled perseverance and punctuality; two traits that improved my relationships and career tenfold. Like Mr. Franklin I tried to find books and quotes relating to these goals which is much easier today than it was back then because we have the internet. The year I made “humility” my resolution, I found these great quotes by Mike Tyson, who really struggled with humility earlier in his life:

“Fighting is a sport; if you’re not humble it’s going to bring humbleness to you.” –Mike Tyson

“I had it in my mind: to be confident, and to keep saying that until the confidence appeared. But I took it too far. Confidence did help make me champion, but, man, I took it to a whole different level. I was a megalomaniac. I was not humble and it eventually came back on me. So I want my kids to know, keep humbleness and kindness in their hearts. It will prevail. –Mike Tyson

Benjamin Franklin really struggled with humility, saying that once he had achieved it, he would probably be proud of achieving it which is so much like Mike Tyson saying that if you say you’re humble, you just contradicted yourself. Hahahaha.

Mr. Franklin also struggled with order which made me feel better about my own tendency towards disorder. He said that tackling these resolutions made him realized where his faults really lie and though he didn’t succeed in becoming as orderly as he wanted to, he ended up much better than he would have been, had he not made the resolution in the first place. So this experiment with resolutions made him understand himself more and create more resolutions to work on in the future. He also created prayers to help him with each resolution, something I never thought to do.

I learned that working on deeper character resolutions forces us to take time to really reflect on ourselves and who we truly are. This helps us to verify if what we want is really what we want and it helps us to find flaws in ourselves which we would otherwise overlook. Just spending time once out of the year to do this can lead to great improvements. Steve Jobs made it a point to take time off every year just for self reflection.

If you have been making the same worn out resolutions that everyone makes such as to lose weight or save money, maybe take a look at the goals you didn’t succeed in and ask yourself why. Is it because you lack responsiblity, resolve, punctuality, courage or perserverence? Maybe if you worked on one character flaw that has held you back, it would lead to more progress.

Once you have looked within to find where you’d like to strengthen your character, start a journal to track your progress. Do a google or library search to see if there are any books on the subject. Learn from others who have struggled with or achieved similar resolutions.

If that is too overwhelming, try picking a resolution from Benjamin Franklin’s list above and just work on that.

I like to add more books to my reading list every year and for this year, I highly recommend “The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin,” by Benjamin Franklin

Happy New Year Everyone! Sending all my love, support and blessings

For more tips on succeeding in your resolutions, check out my blog on accountability here:

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