Four Human Endowments to Distinguish Reality From Illusion

By Stephen R. Covey in Success on March 4th, 2007 / 4 Comments

As human beings, we have four unique endowments: self-awareness, conscience, independent will, and creative imagination that not only separate us from the animal world, but also help us to distinguish between reality and illusion, to transform the clock into a compass, and to align our lives with the extrinsic realities that govern quality of life. Self-awareness enables us to examine our paradigms, to look at our glasses as well as through them, to think about our thoughts, to become aware of the psychic programs that are in us, and to enlarge the separation between stimulus and response.

Self-aware, we can take responsibility for reprogramming or rescripting ourselves out of the stimulus-response mode. Many movements in psychology, education, and training are focused on an enlarged self-consciousness. Most popular self-help literature also focuses upon this capacity. Self-awareness, however, is only one of our unique endowments. Conscience puts us in touch with something within us even deeper than our thoughts and something outside us more reliable than our values. It connects us with the wisdom of the ages and the wisdom of the heart.

Out Internal Guidance System
It’s an internal guidance system that allows us to sense when we act or even contemplate acting in a way that’s contrary to our deepest values and “true north” principles. Conscience is universal. By helping companies and individuals develop mission statements, I have learned that what is most personal is most general. No matter what people’s religions, cultures, or backgrounds are, their mission statements all deal with the same basic human needs to live (physical and financial), to love (social), to learn (educational), and to leave a legacy (spiritual).

Independent will is our capacity to act, the power to transcend our paradigms, to swim upstream, to re-write our scripts, to act based on principles rather than reacting based on emotions, moods, or circumstances. While environmental or genetic influences may be very powerful, they do not control us. We’re not victims. We’re not the product of our past. We are the product of our choices. We are “response-able,” meaning we are able to choose our response.

This Power to Choose is a Reflection of our Independent Will
Creative imagination empowers us to create beyond our present reality. It enables us to write personal mission statements, set goals, plan meetings, or visualize ourselves living our mission statements even in the most challenging circumstances. We can imagine any scenario we want for the future. If our imagination has to go through the straightjacket of our memory, what is imagination for? Memory is limited. It’s finite; it deals with the past. Imagination is infinite; it deals with the present and the future, with potentiality, with vision and mission and goals with anything that is not now but can be.

The man-on-the-street approach to success is to work harder, to give it the “old college try.” But unless willpower is matched with creative imagination, these efforts will be weak and ineffective.

Nurturing Our Unique Gifts
Enhancing these endowments requires us to nurture and exercise them continuously. Sharpening the saw once a week or once a month just isn’t enough. It’s too superficial. It’s like a meal. Yesterday’s meal will not satisfy today’s hunger. Last Sunday’s big meal won’t prepare me for this Thursday’s ethical challenge. I will be much better prepared if I meditate every morning and visualize myself dealing with that challenge with authenticity, openness, honesty, and with as much wisdom as I can bring to bear on it.

Here are four ways to nurture your unique endowments:

1. Nurture self-awareness by keeping a personal journal.
Keeping a personal journal a daily in-depth analysis and evaluation of your experiences is a high-leverage activity that increases self-awareness and enhances all the endowments and the synergy among them.

2. Educate your conscience by learning, listening, and responding.
Most of us work and live in environments that are rather hostile to the development of conscience. To hear the conscience clearly often requires us to be reflective or meditative, a condition we rarely choose or find. We’re inundated by activity, noise, conditioning, media messages, and flawed paradigms that dull our sensitivity to that quiet inner voice that would teach us of “true north” principles and our own degree of congruency with them.

I’ve heard executives say that they can’t win this battle of conscience because expediencies require lies, cover-ups, deceit, or game playing. “That’s just part of the job,” they say. I disagree. I think such rationalization undermines trust within their cultures. If you have back-room manipulation and bad mouthing, you will have a low-trust culture. A life of total integrity is the only one worth striving for. Granted, it’s a struggle. Some trusted advisors, PR agents, accountants, and legal counselors might say, “This will be political suicide,” or “This will be bad for our image, and so let’s cover up or lie.” You have to look at each case on its own merit. No case is black and white.

It takes real judgment to know what you should do. You may feel that you operate “between a rock and a hard place.” Still, with a well-educated conscience or internal compass, you will rarely, if ever, be in a situation where you only have one bad option. You will always have choices. If you wisely exercise your unique endowments, some moral option will be open to you. So much depends on how well you educate your conscience, your internal compass. When my kids were in athletics, they paid the price to get their bodies coordinated with their minds. You’ve got to do the same with your own conscience regularly.

The more internal uncertainty you feel, the larger the grey areas will be. You will always have some grey areas, particularly at the extremity of your education and experience. And to grow, you need to go to that xtremity and learn to make those choices based on what you honestly believe to be the right thing to do.

3. Nurture independent will by making and keeping promises.
One of the best ways to strengthen our independent will is to make and keep promises. Each time we do, we make deposits in our personal integrity account the amount of trust we have in ourselves, in our ability to walk our talk. To build personal integrity, start by making and keeping small promises. Take it a step and a day at a time.

4. Develop creative imagination through visualization.
Visualization, a high-leverage mental exercise used by world-class athletes and performers, may also be used to improve your quality of life. For example, you might visualize yourself in some circumstance that would normally create discomfort or pain. In your mind’s eye, instead of seeing yourself react as you normally do, see yourself acting on the basis of the principles and values in your mission statement. The best way to predict your future is to create it.

Roots Yield Fruits
With the humility that comes from being principle-centered, we can better learn from the past, have hope for the future, and act with confidence, not arrogance, in the present. Arrogance is the lack of self-awareness; blindness; an illusion; a false form of self-confidence; and a false sense that we’re somehow above the laws of life. Real confidence is anchored in a quiet assurance that if we act based on principles, we will produce quality-of-life results.

It’s confidence born sp; of character and competence. Our security is not based on our possessions, positions, credentials, or on comparisons with others; rather, it flows from our own integrity to “true north” principles. I confess that I struggle with total integrity and do not always “walk my talk.” I find that it’s easier to talk and teach than to practice what I preach. I’ve come to realize that I must commit to having total integrity to be integrated around a set of correct principles.

I’ve observed that if people never get centered on principles at some time in their lives, they will take the expedient political-social path to success and let their ethics be defined by the situation. They will say, “business is business,” meaning they play the game by their own rules. They may even rationalize major transgressions in the name of business, in spite of having a lofty mission statement.

Only by centering on “timeless” principles and then living by them can we enjoy sustained moral, physical, social, and financial wellness.

More Information at: FranklinCovey, &

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4 Responses to “Four Human Endowments to Distinguish Reality From Illusion”

  1. gloria Says:

    inspiring! I will start a journal today. thankyou

  2. Matthew Says:

    Nice. The module was way so far along the list with google’s modules that I feel very lucky to have found it. I’ll be adding this to my daily net routine! Thanks!

  3. marcia siegel Says:

    it is extremely important to live your life with your values as your guide. it is also important to be true to yourself. but first you need to spend some time with yourself and find out what you are all about. “soul searching” is something you must make time for.

  4. Harold Says:

    You can hardly complain about that. I might comment on a comment. I get out of the article that you can’t live with only your values as your guide, but in the universe we have to keep in mind that everything needs to be looked at from at least two angles. We most likely don’t fully understand our values well enough to know how to apply them to every situation. This gets people in so much trouble when the don’t us their intuiiton or inspiration to see how the value fits into a circumstance or doesn’t even fit. That is easier said than done without intuition. Thinking requires using deduction and induction. Actually both are necessary in science and thinking. We are so rule bound, left brained, using the right brain only a little more than 30% of the time, so creativity is more important than rules, but both are crucial or no game. Thats the apparent contradiciton. Life is made up of these paradoxes and we will succeed it we keep that in mind and see the truth in both sides of any argument. Only one is true for us at any time, but it may seem to be opposite of what we would think. Lawyers say, situations alter laws. That’s not situational ethics. That’s the nature of life and language. Every word is altered by the words it modifies. Subject is also object, and object is subject, two eyes see a slightly different view, but both are correct, for them. This may seem unsettling at first, but seeing things multidimensionaly or at least duality is required somethimes, if not always to some degree. The paradox is that in a way, never seeing multidimensionaly is valuable too. The left brain takes care of that and the right brain, the imagination, takes care of the other. Of the two, the right brain answers the questions the left brain asks. I would emphasize the right brain, but we have both, because we need them and we need to look at things from two sides like that, even is the other side isn’t for us right now, it usually is later. A coin can’t exist in reality without two side, and one side isn’t better than the other except when it is. Look at it like this, the bible says of itself, the literal view kills, the spirit bring life. That’s the matter of putting life into the word by adapting them to the situation and let your intuition, the spirit of the rule or value, be your guide, while testing the intuition, because we fool ourselves sometimes. The value is valuable if it helps and not hurts people.
    I hope that’s clear. It is hard to see since, like everything, it has two sides. lol Hey, life is infinitly comlex, this all is relatively simple. You build your thinking on putting all these pairs together to form other insights, but the mind pretty much does it for you behind the scenes, if you ask. Nothing worked very well for me until I started listening to my intuition. Einstein agreed. He said that, “The only real valuable thing is intuition.” If it connects us to the infinite, infinity and infinite possibilities of life, then certainly he was right.
    Thanks for letting me try to explain this. I will figure it out how sometday. luv

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