11 Steps and 11 Quotes to Radical Personal Change (A Tribute to Stephen R. Covey)

“But until a person can say deeply and honestly, “I am what I am today because of the choices I made yesterday,” that person cannot say, “I choose otherwise.” ~ Stephen R. Covey

The death of a personal development icon was announced last week when Dr. Stephen R. Covey, the best-selling author of The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People passed away.

Dr. Covey spent his life teaching principles of corporate and personal effectiveness, change and growth. This post is both a tribute to the man who seemed to live impressively close to what he espoused and a tribute to the ideas he so tirelessly taught.

11 Steps to Radical Change

The reasons for change are endless: A new career. An old habit. A new one. Acquiring a skill. Overcoming a fear. Ending procrastination. Becoming happier. Developing a personality or character trait. Improving a relationship. Changing something that just doesn’t feel right in your life. But no matter the reason or the kind, all change has a starting point.

“To touch the soul of another human being is to walk on holy ground.”

The human being is a spiritual being. We are part divine. Relationships are therefore sacred things, souls intertwined, spirit touching spirit.

To touch a person at that level, then, is to rise to the level of the spiritual. It is to ascend to the higher regions of human potential. It is to awaken inner potential to heavenly possibility.

It has always therefore been a very sacred moment for me when I post an article or reply to a comment or respond to an email.

Those sacred moments of mutual inspiration become the turning points in life. They are pivot points, on which sudden epiphanies or persistent motivation prompts us to begin the process of permanent change.

The more we expose ourselves to inspirational material, the more likely we will have those life-changing insights in the first place. This, then, is the first step, the spark, the ignition, the recognition and inspiration to take the initial steps into something new.

“You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage—pleasantly, smilingly, nonapologetically, to say “no” to other things. And the way you do that is by having a bigger “yes” burning inside.

There is so much in life to stop us from traveling in a particular direction, from achieving our goals, from making something truly amazing out of our lives.

Distractions. Other priorities of lesser import. Trivialities. Drama. Political or economic changes. Weariness. Anger. Apathy. The fridge. The phone. Youtube. TV. Facebook. Whatever.

It’s not necessarily that some people have stronger will power or are more self-disciplined (though that may be the case). For some, it may be nothing more than lacking the passion for what they do. They don’t have that fire that wakes them up at night to work on some project, some area of growth.

Those who experience radical change in their lives more frequently and more completely are often simply those who are more passionate about it. Our hearts beat louder when they are in sync with something we love to do.

So this is the key: When you hunger and thirst for something new (the goal, the project, the happiness, the character, the condition), you will find it easier to leave the TV off, not just because you know you shouldn’t turn it on, but because you can’t wait to get at the project, the work you do, the passion you have.

TV, Social media and other potential wastes of time become annoyances instead of temptations. They lose their pull because something else pulls harder at the heart.

So if you want to change, get passionate about what you’re changing into. That will take you much further down the road than the mere recognition that you should change.

“If I really want to improve my situation, I can work on the one thing over which I have control – myself.”

Do you find yourself frequently (always?) trying to change other people? Their attitudes, behavior or character? Or beat against life with hammer and chisel, trying to reshape it into something else. Or we bend and twist and pound and pull on circumstances trying to get them to fit into our set notion of the way things ought to be.

And perhaps some of that is fine as we become instigators of change in the world. But the only part of any relationship (with people, circumstances or life) we have any direct control over is how we respond to it.

So if we want something to change, the best use of our time (and the least futile) is to work on ourselves: our patience, perception, perseverance, forgiveness, attitude, empathy, compassion, love, courage, or whatever else will more likely and more directly change how we feel and deal with and interact with life.

“To change ourselves effectively, we first had to change our perceptions.”

Personal change starts with personal perspective. How we see ourselves, the world, ourselves in relation to that world, others, their relationship to us and the world, determines how we live, the joy associated with it, the happiness we attain, the relationships we develop, the beauty that life becomes.

The way you live, the decisions you make, the attitudes, ideology, philosophy and creed you live by is not a reflection of the way things are as much as a reflection of the way you think they are, or perhaps more precisely, they are reflections of you, of the way you are.

One political party, for instance, is not evil while the other is stupid, even if they paint each other that way. Rather, they are operating out of very different frames of reference. They see things and interpret them from within that interpretive framework. The interpretation makes sense … given what they believe, given the visions they operate from.

Since visions of reality color and texture life very differently for different people, the best way to change your life is to start with your vision of it. Interpretations grow out of those visions.

Once you have the vision thing taken care of, the rest will more readily fall into place. So start to construct a more helpful vision or philosophy of life, what Covey would call a new paradigm.

“I am not a product of my circumstances. I am a product of my decisions.”

Circumstances are real. They are the broader contexts from which we live our lives and interpret the world. They are the brick and mortar, the floorboards, walls and ceiling of life. But they do not make us.

Our life circumstances may frame our lives at the outset, but we construct the structure within that frame, and can even knock down some of the framework and go bigger, wider, add framing for a new wing, a second or third story. We are not limited by circumstance; we just have to start with its reality.

As a matter of fact, our circumstances are largely the product of the decisions we make on a day-to-day basis. Each decision accumulates, adding to each previous decision, to construct those very surroundings we operate within.

If you hate your job, all you need to do is trace history to the point you prepared or chose not to prepare for something else.

You either looked for other jobs or you didn’t. You spent thousands of hours over years in search of better work or you spent more time watching TV over that same period. You used every moment of spare time to educate yourself and learn new skills to make yourself more marketable or you chose to do something else instead.

The point here isn’t guilt. It’s about responsibility and dropping the victim mentality. There are very few exceptions to the rule that we are the products of our decisions. The very young who are trapped in abusive relationships, prisoners to parental terror, would be such an exception.

But even with that past, as adults we choose to heal or to live in the past, to seek help or remain trapped in our own histories. You can seek therapy and self-help and religious answers to life’s difficulties or booze and drug yourself to temporarily medicate the pain. Even with the ugliest of pasts, there are choices, at least as adults.

All of life is an ever-evolving reflection of those choices .

The decisions we make lead us down a path that will eventually become the history we regret or the history we celebrate.

The more we recognize that fact, the more likely we will think through each decision and plan a life that can be beautiful and richly rewarding and wildly celebrated.

“How different our lives are when we really know what is deeply important to us, and keeping that picture in mind, we manage ourselves each day to be and to do what really matters most.”

Do you know what matters most to you? Have you sat down with pen in hand and mapped out your highest and lowest priorities? Have you determined what things you would give up to keep which other things?

Now the hard part: How are you doing at allocating time to your most important values?

This is the difference between those who live deeply satisfying and exciting lives of soul-defining meaning and abundant happiness and those who live their lives trying to catch up, trying to catch hold of something they just can’t quite get their fingers around.

The more focused our vision, the clearer the picture of the goals we have for ourselves, the more passion we will be able to lend to those most important projects of our lives.

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

Do you feel trapped by a past that stabs and cuts and burns? Maybe you were called unspeakable names, told you were stupid, no good, useless and would amount to nothing. Maybe you have a history of incestuous abuse or parental violence.

Perhaps you come from a broken family. Maybe you feel financial or emotional poverty has placed severe and unbearable limits on you. Maybe your past is riddled with mistakes, shortcomings, addiction, divorce, estrangement, imprisonment.

The threads of the past can tie you to a predictable future if those are the threads you choose to leave dangling in the thick of your daily life.

Or, of course, you can cut the past loose and step into your imagination, creating a world in which the past no longer ties you. Sure, you may have responsibilities, legal and/or moral that keeps past mistakes in your present set of circumstances.

But the point is that your history doesn’t have to define you. Learn from it. Let it motivate change. But don’t live out your history. Even if it was beautiful, living out your history will still limit you to what’s been done.

Instead, open your imagination to what you want out of life, to one that inspires you at a very deep level. Imagine it in every detail. Only then will you be clear on what changes are needed to get there.

So create it in your mind first. Imagine it in lucid detail. See it. Feel it. Breathe it. Then, work to make it a reality.

“The ability to subordinate an impulse to a value is the essence of the proactive person.

Proactive people don’t wait for problems to arise from delay or neglect. They just do it. They get the job done. The only way that can happen is to subject impulse and temptation to principle, or to values based on those principles.

The ability to subject immediately gratifying impulses to higher values requires two things:

  1. It requires a long-run orientation over an immediate-gratification orientation. You have to be able to see the bigger picture, to think long term, to have a down-the-road mentality, to see clearly why the short-run temptation is a lousy tradeoff for the long-term opportunity.
  2. It requires self-control. Prisons are filled with people with very low impulse-control. To delay gratification from something that feels good for the sake of something better later is at the heart and soul of radical personal change.

So begin to lengthen the distance between impulse and action, between stimulus and response until you can subordinate the lower self to your higher self. Only then will change be sustained. And that’s because life will most certainly provide lots of immediately gratifying stimulus.

You can choose a better, values-based response that better reflects your character and aids you in long-run changes if you are able to stay focused on the long-term conditions short-term decisions tend to destroy.

“Start with the end in mind.”

When we focus our gaze exclusively on the ground under our feet, we end up hitting our heads against the sharp corners of life. When we don’t plan for the end, when we see only the moment, we end up at the end of the day, largely where we were the day before … and the week before that … and the month before that, year after year.

There’s a more deliberate way to live by planning our day, thinking at the start what we want at the end, then planning into our day those steps that will take us there.

If you fail to plan, they wisely say, you plan to fail. That’s a pretty easy plan to change.

“Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.”

Our lives are the products of the character we develop. Our character is the product of the habits we form, which are birthed directly from the actions we consistently engage in.

Thought, then, is the mother of the circumstances of our lives because thought is the mother to action.

The quality of the way you typically think produces the life you consistently live. How? Follow the steps outlined above: That’s how!

There’s no magic in it. No Law of Attraction pulling things to you. No Universe aligning with the energy you vibrate. What you think turns into reality because it etches into your soul certain qualities that form habits and character traits and therefore life conditions.

Want to change those conditions (or parts of them)? Change how you think and what you consistently think about. The rest, with time and persistence, will follow.

“People can’t live with change if there’s not a changeless core inside them.”

Change can be scary. It’s especially so when there is no internal stability, no changeless principles upon which life is established. If there is no solid core, no set of universal standards to center ourselves by, then change begins to look threatening, undermining and destabilizing our emotional footing. Life loses any predictability and with that utter loss, anxiety easily replaces excitement and passion.

Life feels arbitrary and out-of-control. Stress, anxiety and depression can be the disappointing results. But those whose lives are built solidly upon the sturdy granite of timeless principles are not thrown off balance so completely, so quickly or so easily.

The under-girding to permanent radical change in your life is to have the hand railing of universal principles in place to hold to as you walk on more unstable ground.


And so there you have it. Change can be more easily had, more permanently enjoyed when we expose ourselves to inspirational thought, focus on internal changes, mostly on perception and character, recognize the power of choice and align our decisions to serve our goals, submit impulse to values, see the bigger picture and end result clearly in our mind, use our thoughts as the mortar between the brick of our change, while centering all changes smack dab on top of universal principles.

That is your Covey-inspired blueprint for radical change. By looking at change more comprehensively, you empower yourself to take your life just about wherever you want to take it.

Tribute to Dr. Covey

This post has been my tribute to the author, lecturer, entrepreneur, business and family man who has impacted so many countless lives. His work was among the first I read in the personal development and leadership genre. I go back to it time and time again. It drips with wisdom and insight and truth. He leaves a legacy of principle-based living, the only way to live life at its highest, most profound and happiest. His example of that sort of living will be missed.