Self-help books are a dime a dozen, and even then, they are rarely worth the cost or the time to read them.
In the past month, even before starting my All Things Great Project, I read the following books:
- Benjamin Franklin, An American Life by Walter Isaacson
- Primary Greatness by Stephen R. Covey
- The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
I don’t consider these books to be self-help books per se, but they do focus on some of the foundational things that lead to a more fulfilling life. I was surprised to find a common theme in all three books. The authors intentionally created a set of principles to improve their lives and, most importantly, they tracked their progress.
In the early 1720s, the famed American printer, inventor, scientist, and diplomat, Benjamin Franklin, embarked on a moral perfection project which included 13 virtues (temperance, silence, order, resolution, frugality, industry, sincerity, justice, moderation, cleanliness, tranquility, chastity, humility) which he systematically measured in a journal. Knowing the difficulties of working on all 13 virtues at once, he focused on one per week. Throughout the course of one year, he went through the cycle four times. In the pages of a notebook, he made a chart with seven columns for the days of the week and thirteen rows for each virtue. When he committed an infraction, he would put a black dot in the box. He was surprised how full of faults he was. (Isaacson, pgs. 89-92)
Dr. Stephen Covey, in his book Primary Greatness, believes there are 12 levers, or principles to success—integrity, contribution, priority, sacrifice, service, responsibility, loyalty, reciprocity, diversity, learning, renewal and teaching. He dedicates a chapter to each lever and encourages readers to keep a personal journal to track their progress toward what he calls “primary greatness”. For additional details on what primary greatness means, see my blog post called, Book of the Week: Everyday Greatness. (see chapters 6-17).
Gretchen Rubin in her book The Happiness Project created 12 personalized principles which were: “Be Gretchen”; let it go; act the way I want to feel; do it now; be polite and be fair; enjoy the process; spend out; identify the problem; lighten up; do what ought to be done; no calculation; and there is only one love. Rubin chose these particular principles because they embodied the changes she wished to see in her life. She kept a blog of her progress and later turned her discoveries into a book.
Prior to now, I never considered creating a set of principles for myself nor did I ever think to track my progress. I am beginning to wonder if this is the next step in my project.
While we may be hopelessly flawed, we are unique in that we can improve upon these flaws with time and effort. And maybe, just maybe, discover that we are in fact doing great things in small ways.