7 Lessons on Living Right from Stephen Covey

You’re a good person. You act with integrity, take responsibility, and live by the Golden Rule.

You’ve probably read tons of books on personal development because you’re always striving to do better. You believe you can never stop tweaking your habits and attitudes to improve yourself.

Your bookshelves might even hold the self-help classic, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” by the late Stephen Covey. When he died July 16th the world lost a great teacher and champion for personal responsibility.

In honor of his life, I want you to ask yourself a tough question: How good are you? Are you honest in every thought and statement, always act from your values, and never skip the high road for the low?

Are you sure?

It’s true: you’re no Bernie Madoff. You have integrity and would never dream of hurting others.

But whether you know it or not, you’ve grown comfortable with yourself and maybe, once in awhile, you let doing the right thing slide in favor of the easy. It’s holding you back from a truly exceptional life, the life you know you’re capable of.


The thing is, you’re human. You make judgment errors. And that’s okay, as long as you notice and correct them. You can’t be hard-core vigilant all the time, but just like with Covey’s habits, you can retrain yourself to make fewer of those mistakes over time.

You need a Living Right Check-up, using the words of the master himself.

Here are seven quotes from Stephen Covey, and how you can apply them to make sure you’re living with total integrity:

“Don’t argue for other people’s weaknesses. Don’t argue for your own. When you make a mistake, admit it, correct it, and learn from it – immediately.”

The problem: You do something thoughtless or hurtful, or something bad happens like divorce or your business fails. You absolve yourself of guilt by blaming it on a misunderstanding, or someone or something else (your ex-, the weak economy).


The fix: Take a close look, and you’ll see you were at least partly responsible. Maybe you weren’t as communicative or kind as you could have been with your ex-, or maybe you didn’t do enough research before you launched your business.


You’ve got to suck it up and admit you were at fault. It stings a little, but whoever you’re confessing to will respect you for it. Then, make it right, whether that’s with a sincere apology or restorative action. Lastly, learn from the mistake so it doesn’t happen again.

“Live out of your imagination, not your history.”

The problem: Bad stuff has happened in your life. Maybe it was a difficult childhood, financial trouble, or serious illness. It slowed you down then, and stops you from moving forward now.

The fix: Acknowledge that your past is not your future. Sure, all that stuff happened and it was awful, but you’re still standing, and you still have a brain, a heart, and big dreams. (You may have doubts, too, but that’s normal.)

You also have resilience, since you survived it, so imagine a better life – a life where you’re living your dreams – and step into your excellent future.

“We simply assume that the way we see things is the way they really are or the way they should be. And our attitudes and behaviors grow out of these assumptions.”

The problem: That one teacher said you weren’t a good writer, and even though you love to draft stories or poems, you assume you’ll never get published because you believe she was right. So you don’t even try.

Or your parents taught you that money is evil, and even though you have a great idea for a lucrative, socially responsible business, you don’t start it because you’ve taken their words as truth.

The fix: Question your thoughts and assumptions. So much of what others tell us is about them, not us. There’s value in that thing you want so badly.

If you can’t banish that old negative message, get a second opinion from someone you trust. Ask for tough love, but kindness, too. Talent and good ideas need to be nurtured, so give yourself the gift of letting them grow.

“Be a light, not a judge. Be a model, not a critic.”

The problem: You see others doing things you don’t approve of. It’s easy to criticize from the sidelines, and you share it with anyone who will listen. But it leaves you feeling bitter and small.

The fix: There will always be someone doing something you don’t like. Always. Recognize this fact, and understand that judging doesn’t help either of you.

It’s frustrating to witness bad behavior. But rise above your frustration or anger and be better. Be an example of good behavior in all you do. You’ll effect positive change – the ripple effect – and it’ll leave you feeling expansive, satisfied.

“One of the most important ways to manifest integrity is to be loyal to those who are not present. In doing so, we build the trust of those who are present.”

The problem: You’re at a party and the person next to you gossips about a mutual acquaintance. Or that person makes a racial, sexist, or homophobic “joke.” You say nothing, because you don’t want to make waves or seem difficult. When you get home later you feel bad but tell yourself it was only a party, that no one will remember anyway.

The fix: No matter how trivial the situation seems, all those comments add up to negativity and prejudice. If someone says something you disagree with, speak up. It’s scary at first, and the person you’re standing up to may snap back or criticize you.

But everyone else standing there will admire you for it. They were probably thinking the same thing but didn’t have the courage to say it, so be the courageous one. Inspire someone else to do the same down the line.

“We immediately become more effective when we decide to change ourselves rather than asking things to change for us.”

The problem: You’re deep in debt, or stuck in a boring job or unsatisfying relationship. You daydream about winning the lottery, starting a business, or meeting Mr. or Ms. Right at the grocery store. But those things never happen.

The fix: Take charge and take action. It’s up to you to make your life happen, and all it takes are baby steps, one after another. Put an extra $50 a month toward your debt. Check the job listings every morning. Take a class or join a group to meet new people. Action leads to progress.

“Live, love, laugh, leave a legacy.”

The problem: You’ve let yourself get too serious and life feels, well, lifeless. Your days are full of tasks and responsibilities but you’re not having a good time. You remember getting crazy with friends, or trying new things just for the fun of it, but you don’t anymore. You worry that at the end of your life you’ll have little to show for it.

The fix: First, lighten up. You’ve got a lot of years left, and you need a joy infusion. Have some fun, love your people (and animals), laugh loud.

Next, think big. What do you want to be remembered for after you’re gone? Great art, good works, deep thoughts? Make your life stand for something bigger than yourself. Create change. Leave a mark. Start now.

Special Opportunity for Pick the Brain Readers

I’m offering Pick the Brain readers a free live training event that teaches you how to add more focus, fun, and satisfaction to your life in just 10 minutes a day.

This easy four-step process works, and after the training you’ll:

–       Add spice to your daily life, right away

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Drop off your email address at Life on the High Wire to sign up for free access. See you soon!

Oh, and one more thing – is there a quote from Stephen Covey you’d add to this list? Let us know in the comments!

DEONNE KAHLER writes at Life on the High Wire. She’s also mom to Sam the Wonder Pup and is obsessed with road tripping, national parks, and quirk.

 Photo credit: ‘Sunrise‘ by Big Stock


Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

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