1, 2, 5! (Three, sir.) Three! / by Will Ringland

Each virtue on its own is a broader concept of action or intent a person puts into the universe. They can be quite abstract and trying to have "humility" can be confusing. Franklin afixed a precept, or short rule, to each of his virtues. Having a rule or set of rules for each of the virtues you choose makes them concrete, it gives you something specific to do or not do while you gain better facility with each.

Examples from Franklin's virtues.

  • Temperance: eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation
  • Silence: speak not but what may benefit others or yourself
  • Industry: lose no time; be always employ'd in something useful; cut off all unnecessary action

(This is part 3 in a multipart series. See the other posts here!)


The number of precepts you choose matters less than your ability to stick to them. While I took Franklin's virtues, I did not take all his precepts for the entirety of my project. The expedience was nice, as mentioned before, especially as I was otherwise entirely overwhelmed with where to start. As I became more familiar with each of the virtues, I started to adjust the precepts I ascribed to each.

Then shalt thou count to three, no more, no less.

I took two approaches for my defintions.

  1. The harder the virtue, the more precepts I created.

    The vaguer a concept is for you, the harder it will be to accomplish. Adding extra definition to your virtues will make it easier to get results. Take where I ultimately ended my temperance precepts. I limited my definition of temperance to include only alcohol and food, relegating other restraint to moderation or other virtues. In particular, creating very mechanically limited interactions with alcohol made it much easier to routinize into my life which made it easier to follow.

  2. The better internal definition I had for the virtue, the fewer precepts I kept.

    Anything that you already grok will be easier to follow. Be it because you have a natural incliniation to demonstrate the particular virtue or something about how it turns in your mind is especially concrete, you likely will not need as many or as specific a set of precepts for it. Tranquility was, for me, strongly associated with lack of anger and keeping cool when my emotions started to bubble. Thus, I ended with only two precepts - "Be not disturbed by trifles" (one of Franklin's own) and "Step away when upset to breathe."

In short - do what ever helps you visualize and internalize your virtues. Simpler is almost always better than crafting a labyrinth of byzantine rules are requirements that compound in complexity as you cycle through your virtuous cycles.

Four shalt thou not count, neither count thou two, excepting that thou then proceed to three.

When Franklin first started, he tracked his virtues on a single piece pf paper carried with him everywhere. Over time the paper sheet fell apart from constant erasure, he switched to a small ivory memo book that was easier to erase and stalwart against regular use. He found that having the paper with him at all times made it easier to stay on track and, if he was falling to vice, kick himself back on track.

"I enter'd upon the execution of this plan for self-examination, and continu'd it with occasional intermissions for some time. I was surpris'd to find myself so much fuller of faults than I had imagined; but I had the satisfaction of seeing them diminish. To avoid the trouble of renewing now and then my little book, which, by scraping out the marks on the paper of old faults to make room for new ones in a new course, became full of holes, I transferr'd my tables and precepts to the ivory leaves of a memorandum book, on which the lines were drawn with red ink, that made a durable stain, and on those lines I mark'd my... I always carried my little book with me."

The realities of modern life make this both easier and harder to do. The constant drone of "busy" makes it less practical to stop in the middle of the hrovery store to add a mark for Tranquility because you just barked at the cashier for refusing to take a coupon. That's worse than the people who wait until they have the purchase total to start writing their checks.

Don't be that person. (Either of them)

Five is right out!

There are any number of great options for tracking your daily virtues, many of which can be as simple or as fiddly as you like. The important thing is that you do so. I have only one requirement for your grids - use something you enjoy using. Don't select tools that add friction to your life as it will be all the easier to drop the project. Myself, I went through a number of different methods until I landed on one that really stuck but three years later, I am still tracking my virtues.

Next time, we'll count the number of things I tried before finding the right way to track. I may be less than five, I'm not telling yet.