Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues: Week Four, Q1

Resolution: “Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.

Personal notes:

  • Act like you would if someone challenged you.
  • Do not approach things mildly when you could approach it aggressively.
  • Be indomitable; not lackadaisical.
  • Act with purpose in everything.

Fuck this hurts. All the pressure is on my neck. Pain shooting down my back. Eyes hurt. Can eyes hurt? I don’t know. Focus dummy. Need to get out of this choke. Try one more escape. Damn. He countered. I’m gassed. Got nothing. Choke is tightening. All right, I’m done. Waaaait a minute. Is he talking shit?

I can’t explain the rage that exploded inside but I can tell you that at that very moment I violently threw him over my shoulder. If we were in a bar, I’d roar like the Hulk and pretend to throw a tree like a Scotsman. But why focus on a moment like this? Because those 5 minutes sum up one of my greatest weaknesses in life: the failure to use resolve unless directly challenged.

Why is it so difficult? Why does it take a lack of oxygen for my brain to wake up? Am I alone in this? Is Resolve a muscle? Do I need to focus on it at the gym? Whip it into shape? Maybe. I guess that’s why we’re here.

In the weekly email I asked you to come up with a long term goal. What’d you do? I signed up for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and paid for a year in advance. Another goal is this blog. Write for one whole year. To cement the commitment, I invited a group of close friends to follow along. Nothing keeps you honest like peer pressure and the risk of wasting money.

Some observations:

  • Find something that will help you build your resolve. I specifically focused on martial arts as a means to bring focus and discipline back in my life.
  • There’s a lot out there. Groupon is a fantastic place to start. Do something.
  • When I joined, I was surprised how many moms were in the Jiu Jitsu class. Don’t restrict yourself to what is expected or typical of your demographic. Experiment. Expand.
  • It felt good to share this blog with close friends. To be honest, I was nervous and embarrassed but forced myself to bite the bullet. Their surprising words of encouragement and support were heartfelt and motivating. It was a kind reward. Don’t be embarrassed to share with those closest to you. 
  • Don’t be your own obstacle. Sometimes, just getting there is a victory. I intently walked to the Jiu Jitsu school but then walked right passed it. About a block away I stopped, turned around and forced myself to go in and sign up.
  • It feels good to stand tall.

With this blog we’re choosing to change who we are and build a better life. This is not without setbacks. Last week I had a few failures. The key component missing in Order was Resolve. I’ll spare you the joy of finding an accountant – wahoo midlife excitement – but it felt great to get a win. As for legal stuff, I got yelled at for using LegalZoom. Apparently it’s much better to find an actual lawyer that deals in Estate Planning. Friendly tip, Family Law is a euphemism for Divorce Law. Made for an awkward phone call.

In the end, I’d love to hear your own thoughts below. Share your comments. It may help with your own process. It certainly helps me with mine. 



Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues: Week Three, Q1

Order: “Let all your things have their place; let each part of your business have its time.

Personal notes to start the week:

  • Stick firmly to a prearranged schedule.
  • “Seize the day.” wake before/by 6am (goal 5am).
  • Focus on tasks at hand/block out noise.
  • Navigate pain points by preparing for them.
  • Ensure time is scheduled for critical pursuits +exercise +personal development +new skills
  • Allow flexibility to enjoy family; plan “cheat time” for one off events.

This week was a failure. All my attempts at Order were botched. One thing after another brought disorder: inclement weather, daughters sick, winter blues, winter break, mother-in-law, helping a friend. Worse still, I couldn’t stay focused. Aiming for “Order,” I bulls-eyed “Distraction.”

When I derailed, I tried to get back on track but it was no use; bad habits reappeared. Despite spending the last several months weening myself away from the internet, I easily drifted towards email, Facebook and the iPhone. Mindless distractions and sore thumbs followed.

There were some wins but not enough to offset the feeling of failure. To get rid of clutter I organized the office and the bedroom. Spent some time tackling the retirement plan. Cleaned up the garden. But nothing you would call a home-run. Maybe that was the problem. I should have been swinging for singles.

A few observations:

  • In the beginning of the week I “Ordered” my schedule into 1 and 2 hour segments. It did not work. 2 to 5 hour blocks were superior.
  • 1 hour segments resulted in being busy but not productive. If I organized bigger chunks of time, I was productive and not busy.
  • Small time blocks worked for email – if you stick with it! I did not and found my day destroyed by email. When email was limited to 15 or 30 minutes at 9am, 12pm and the close of the day, I was effective. When email controlled me, I went down the rabbit hole of distractions.
  • Having a check list for the day was helpful but my goals were unrealistic. Need to lower the success hurdle.
  • There were periods when the kids needed more from me than planned. I organized around that time so we could hang together. If I tried to do something during those needy periods everyone ended up angry.
  • Ah, and about that goal, “wake up super early this week.” Up by 6am? Yes (begrudgingly). Up by 5am? Not even close. Kids are exhausting and I’m not a morning person. I also haven’t been drinking coffee.

Looking back, I had a great week. Seriously. Despite sickness and interruptions, everyone was happy. My family was all smiles. The gratitude journal provided a solid base for the day.* The angst stemmed from “Order.”

It’s odd that by aiming for Order, I achieved the opposite result. That was frustrating. If I could distill it to 2 failures it would be 1) email and 2) lofty goals. By setting impossibly high goals each day, I paved the path for failure. My outlook was clouded as more and more items did not get addressed. Failure became self fulfilling – swing for singles and aim for consistent wins. As for email, it was a gateway drug that opened up a million avenues of distraction. Remember 9am, 12pm and end of day.


*This was a challenge listed in the Bens13 weekly email.

Subtlety of Silence

Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues: Week Two, Q1

Silence “Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.

Younger and dumber, I was on the phone, sitting on a bench and looking at my feet. There happened to be some recently chewed gum on the hot, gator concrete. Still wet, the bubbly saliva glistened in the Florida sun. Ants picked up on the sweet smell. An army of them crawled all over the discarded treat. Wow. Nature is super interesting. I spit on the ants.

“Are you listening?!?” interrupted my shrill phone.

“Wait? What? Of course I’m listening.” My back straightened, head tilted, eyes looking to the back of my brain for an answer. “I think your phone cut out. What’d you say?”

“I JUST said that ‘I feel like you never listen to me!’ ” yelled my now ex-girlfriend.

Haha. Well, sometimes that stuff happens. But it’s true. I wasn’t listening. I was checked out. And it wasn’t isolated to her. There were times I barely listened to anyone. During conversations my brain silently contemplated what I was going to say next. I was more important. My wisdom will blow people away. A superior intellectual experience.

It sounds terrible because it is.

When I saw that this week was entitled “silence” it didn’t do much for me. As the week went on, the act of being silent was harder than imagined. After all, we talk. We talk a lot. We’re social animals. But in my effort to be heard I was not giving those I care most about my honest attention. I didn’t listen. To listen, I had to be silent. To be silent, I had to constantly remind myself to shut-up.

There were times I wanted to cut off my wife mid-sentence. Say something sarcastic. A quick quip. Move on to something else. “What’s for dinner?” I mentally had to remind myself to stop and listen. Repeatedly whispering “silence” in my head. If I forgot she would gesture her fingers in the “shut your mouth” motion. It’s an effective reminder.

At dinner one night I intently focused on a good friend. Active listening required effort. The effort yielded surprising results. There was a gush of emotion. Words waiting, burst out. He opened up: anxieties about life, the difficulty of saving for his wedding, the lack of joy at his job. Gone was the traditional “How ‘bout them Yankees?”

How did it take me so long to realize the importance of listening? A common courtesy to be quiet and attentive to those closest to us. Our friends our families, our loved ones. The impact of this week was far more subtle than the physical impact of Week One but maybe more important. I’m almost ashamed to write this because it forced me to be honest about myself. I have to apologize to my loved ones for the courtesy I did not give you. But today is a new day. I promise to be quiet and listen.


Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues: Week One, Q1

Temperanceeat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.”

Wow. This week knocked my socks off. I couldn’t believe it. As stated in the Week 1 email, the goal was simple: purge alcohol, caffeine and junk food.

In the past I’ve focused on one item. If I gave up drinking for a week, the impact wasn’t as noticeable. The other 2 vices kept me happy (or should I say “stable?”). Take away all 3 and it was a punch to the stomach.

Almost immediately, I began to notice that in times of stress my gut reaction was to reach for one of the prohibited items. Kids are insane in the morning – “God, I need some coffee.” Kids insane at dinner – “I need a glass of red.” Bored during the day – “Give me the fattest, greasiest sandwich you have.” These thoughts, these mental obstacles, eventually gave way to physical hurdles.

I like a large coffee in the morning and maybe a small coffee mid-afternoon. I do not consider myself addicted. Within 2 to 3 days both my wife and I started experiencing headaches late afternoon. To the point we both needed aspirin.

At around 730-800pm each night we were both exhausted. I mean falling asleep on the couch with the kids climbing from the ceiling exhausted. It was like we were slipped Ambien.

Irritability shot up in the beginning. Little things were extremely annoying (I did not mentally prepare for this). Plus, I began experiencing significant body aches that revealed themselves during Jiu Jitsu. It felt as if I had injured my back through my rib cage.

A quick Google search reveals these are common symptoms of caffeine withdrawal. I found it shocking that I would be suffering withdrawal symptoms from a small coffee habit.

Now for the upsides:

  • My sleep vastly improved. Despite having an evening routine that normally results in a solid night sleep, the lack of caffeine (and/or alcohol) caused us to be unconscious at night. In bed by 9/930. Morning alarm goes off 2 minutes later.
  • After the initial upshot in irritability, it went down significantly. Periods that normally caused increased irritation (mornings/witching hour) were calmer. Emotional highs and lows were smoothed out. My wife commented on how nice it was when she came home late from work. Everyone was calm.

We all know the science behind cutting alcohol, fats and caffeine but I was still so surprised by the physical response. Guess you have to feel it to believe it.

In the end, I’m not going to completely drop any of these vices – that would be a lie. Some of my happiest memories have been over a glass of wine and a fatty steak. But this experiment has hammered home the importance of Temperance. I’ll continue to substitute more tea for coffee and limit the intake of alcohol. It also reminded me to be mindful of my habits. If you’d like to learn more about habits, I’d recommend “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business” as the place to start. My wife and I used this book to help change sleep patterns, daily routines and more.

Before we begin

First, before we begin, a few words about this blog.

Not too long ago I was laid off. Don’t worry, the feeling was mutual. It was time to go. I volunteered and someone else got to keep their job – that simple. But it began a more complex journey.

Stepping out the door, on the last day, I took a breath… and that breath was great. An instant warmth and smile. The proverbial weight lifted. And coincidentally, without any change to routine, weight disappeared. The waist line was excited too. Body and mind happier.

We, my family and I, took some time off. Burned through savings. Drank too many daiquiris on the beach. Happy weight made an appearance. Sun tanned and warm. Things were great… but I couldn’t shake the feeling it was temporary. Burning through everything and running to the Caribbean? Certainly that’s a great Jimmy Buffet song but not sure it makes for a productive life.

Happiness was easy in that moment. Moments, like youth, pass. Trying to capture that time felt like folly. So how to become a better person? Grounded. Strong. Happy. Steadfast.

Things weren’t clicking. Maybe if I got a more engaging job? I don’t know, maybe I’d feel better? I was searching, and picked up a book that would normally be ignored: “How I Raised Myself Up from Failure to Success in Selling.”

The book has some good points but the best part was the introduction of Benjamin Franklin’s 13 Virtues – of which I had never heard. In the book, the author committed 1 year to follow Ben’s 13 virtues. Seemed easy enough. So I borrowed the idea.

It seems silly in retrospect, but I didn’t grasp what I was doing. Now it makes sense. It’s a commitment to re-build your life and base that new life on virtue. Friends who know me well may laugh. But chasing toys, money, jobs wrought nothing but anxiety, depression and separation. Why stay on that path?

This choice is another path. A choice to become more mindful. A commitment of one year, one week at a time, to build a better self and construct happiness within.