If you want to develop your mental powers, get more done and move quickly toward your goals, there’s no better guide to the secrets of success than Ben Franklin. Last week’s article detailed Ben’s no-fail methods for creating a system and schedule that fosters excellence. This week, we continue with Ben’s uniquely effective methods for overcoming external barriers and transforming your internal world to greatly magnify your abilities.
There’s no better model of a self-made man than Ben Franklin. How did a boy who dropped out of school at the age of 10, came from a poor family, and displayed no special abilities in his early years go on to become one of the most prodigious authors, inventors and politicians of his era – indeed of any era?
You can read last week’s article here where I describe Ben’s stunning accomplishments in multiple fields – accomplishments that seem well beyond what one man can do in just one lifetime. That article shows how you can use the same principle-based system and scheduling techniques that Ben used to laser-focus his mind and accomplish exactly what he set out to do.
The Ben Franklin Method to Conquer Your External and Internal Worlds
Ben Franklin knew that, as important as it was to have a system and schedule, it wasn’t enough. The next step is to find a way to overcome the inevitable external obstacles that come your way, and to improve your skills quickly to accomplish your goals. Not surprisingly, Ben developed uniquely effective methods to do this.
Don’t give in to external obstacles – find a workaround instead. Quite often, the difference between those who are successful and those are aren’t is the ability to find a way around an obstacle rather than giving up in the face of the obstacle.
As a teen, Franklin apprenticed in his brother’s printing business. When his brother went on to found a newspaper, Franklin tried to write a letter for the paper but his brother refused his requests.
This is the point at which many people give up. Despite your best intentions, you face rejection. You hit a brick wall. The easiest course of action is to move on. But that’s not what Ben Franklin did. Instead of giving up and moving on, he got creative.
Knowing that his brother would not permit him to write for the paper under any circumstances, Ben Franklin became someone whose writing his brother would accept. Franklin created a pseudonym – “Silence Dogood” – who was a middle-aged widow. Upon receiving “Mrs. Dogood’s” letters, Franklin’s brother readily published them, never suspecting their true source until much later.
While I am not encouraging you to conceal your identity or otherwise take actions that some might deem less than honest, I am urging you to think creatively whenever faced with an obstacle. It’s not only how Ben Franklin handled seemingly impenetrable barriers, but also Abraham Lincoln, the Beatles, Steve Jobs and a host of others who managed to move mountains against unlikely odds.
The key to Franklin’s success (and to yours) was to focus differently on the obstacle rather than simply trying to push through. We often imagine we can overcome obstacles by gritting our teeth and continuing to push forward no matter what. Although muscling through our challenges has its place and can sometimes work, the far better and easier course of action is to focus on the problem in new ways until you find a solution.
Had Franklin continued to badger his brother with the hope of wearing him down, he would have expended far more effort and likely would not have succeeded. By focusing differently on the issue, all he needed to do was change the name of the letter writer, and have some fun being playfully creative with an adopted persona.
The next time you face an obstacle, ask yourself, “If I really wanted to accomplish this goal despite this obstacle, how else could I go about it? What else could I do to accomplish it?” When the going gets tough, the tough get creative.
Those times when there truly is no way out are incredibly rare. More than likely, if you start questioning and brainstorming, you’ll uncover novel ways to move past the obstacle and toward your goal.
Don’t give in to internal obstacles – use a feedback method to actively learn from your weaknesses instead. When Franklin began writing, he considered himself to be rather unskilled. Apparently, others thought so as well. In his autobiography, Franklin notes that his father told him he lacked “elegance of expression.”
As with many areas of his life, Franklin set out to systematically change that. He devised a method quite similar to what modern neuroscientific research now confirms is a powerful way to forge new neural connections and improve skills quickly.
Franklin developed a clear feedback mechanism by first studying models of good writing and then evaluating and improving his own writing accordingly. He focused very specifically on what lowered the quality of his writing, and then focused intensively on improving those skills.
Franklin’s method was as simple as it was effective. He found articles he liked, written in a way he admired, and that were so good he wished he had written them himself. He would then read an article and take notes on what he thought the author was trying to accomplish in each sentence.
He then put away the article and his notes for a few days. We’ve all had the experience of making progress after leaving a problem and then coming back to it, and this is exactly what Franklin did.
A few days later, with the article no longer fresh in his mind (but having percolated in his subconscious), Franklin would try to re-write the article using only his notes. He would then compare his article to the original article, noting the differences and where his article fell short. He would go on to edit his article and improve it.
In Franklin’s own words, “I took some of the papers, and, making short hints of the sentiment in each sentence, laid them by a few days, and then, without looking at the book, try’d to complete the papers again, by expressing each hinted sentiment at length, and as fully as it had been expressed before, in any suitable words that should come to hand. Then I compared my Spectator [the publication where Franklin found the articles] with the original, discovered some of my faults, and corrected them.”
The implications of this method are stunning. How many people spend years trying to incrementally improve their writing, fixing grammar issues here, trying to write with greater clarity there. Why not cut to the chase, as Franklin did? Find examples of the kind of writing you would like to produce, examine in detail what makes the writing good, and then try to do it yourself. Compare your efforts to your model, note exactly where your writing falls short, and work to correct it.
Sounds like a lot of work? Yes, it is – at first. By investing time and effort and focus at the beginning, your writing will improve quickly. Meanwhile, most of the people around you will continue to slog along and make only incremental improvements. A little focused effort upfront using feedback will put you far ahead of the pack over the long-term.
You can use Franklin’s feedback method to improve not only your writing, but virtually any skill.
Let’s say you want to become a better investor. Imagine how your investment results might improve if after learning basic investing principles, you compared your own stock picks and when you bought and sold to what Warren Buffett did. Imagine if you then noted specifically why the steps you took didn’t produce the same results as the steps Warren Buffett took, and then changed what you did to more closely resemble what Buffett did.
The chances are pretty good that your investment returns would start looking better than if you continue to stumble along by trial and error, read a book here and there on investing, and grab the latest stock picks your friend or an article suggested.
You can use the same feedback method to improve quickly in your favorite sport, playing a musical instrument, public speaking, negotiation – just about anything. Pick one area you’d like to improve. Set aside time over the next two weeks to put a feedback mechanism in place. And watch your results soar.