Benjamin Franklin’s System for Breaking Bad Habits

Those of us who have studied American History may recall Benjamin Franklin. Not only did he make history with his experiments in electricity while flying a kite, he was also a true “Renaissance Man” — inventor, diplomat, writer, publisher, etc. etc. etc. A jack of all trades and master of many.

In his autobiography, Ben wrote that the one thing responsible for more of his success than any other was his system for breaking bad habits and replacing them with good habits. Those of us who set goals (or New Year’s Resolutions) would be wise to consider his method.

At one point, Ben identified 13 character traits he felt would be required to be a true man of virtue.

Rather than try to implement them all at once, Ben resolved to work on each trait, one at a time, and continue working on that trait until 7 days had past without slipping into old habits.

Only then did he turn his attention to another character trait and put all of his focus onto that one. And when he was done, he started over again with the first trait, always striving to be better than he had been.

Incidentally, recent research has shown that willpower is powered by blood sugar, so if one of your goals is to lose weight, trying to change any other habit at the same time is a recipe for failure.

And actually, since the goal of losing weight is usually accomplished by combining diet and exercise, it would be a LOT easier to acquire the “exercise habit” first, and then when that takes no real willpower to maintain, THEN start a healthier diet.

Breaking down our end goal into smaller sub-goals will, in itself, help many of us accomplish a lot more, but there’s something else that makes Ben’s program even more effective.

Each day, Ben would mark down in his journal how many times he “slipped” and allowed himself to fall back into the old habits. In other words, he kept a daily record of his progress.

Personally, I feel this system could be improved a little by adding some positive reinforcement and also keeping track of how often you followed through on the new habit.

It’s a well-known fact that any time a person is required to account for their actions, they tend to do better. This is why groups such as AA and Weight Watchers help so many succeed even when those folks had repeatedly failed in the past.

It’s also true that any time you break down a goal into smaller, more manageable sub-goals, it’s a lot easier to stay motivated. In Ben’s system above, he broke down his ultimate goal so he was working on only one thing at a time, one day at a time.

For those who want more information, I highly recommend Og Mandino’s book, “The Greatest Secret in the World“, which provides Ben’s habit-changing system in a convenient take-along format.

It’s available through

This book also includes the “Ten Great Scrolls for Success” from Og’s earlier book, “The Greatest Salesman in the World,” which has helped millions of people in all walks of life.