How To Make The Seven Rules Of Life Work For You

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia, LCSW
Updated April 17, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Life can be complicated and challenging, but you can make it a bit easier by following some simple tips like the “7 Cardinal Rules of Life,” developed by Stephen R. Covey. These rules can remind you what to focus on and where to invest your energy to enjoy life more. They generally include bits of wisdom like making peace with your past, taking charge of your own happiness, avoiding comparison, and choosing to smile, even when times may be tough. While these rules of life can provide guidance, a licensed therapist can help you address any underlying challenges or conditions that may be keeping you from finding happiness and fulfillment. You can reach out for professional help by seeking out a local therapist or matching with one through an online therapy platform.

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The seven cardinal rules of life, according to Stephen R. Covey

  1. Make peace with your past so that it won't disturb your present.

  2. What other people think of you is none of your business.

  3. Time heals almost everything. Give it time.

  4. No one is in charge of your happiness except for you.

  5. Avoid comparing your life to others and judging others. You have no idea what their journey is all about.

  6. Stop overthinking. It's all right if you don't know the answers. They will come to you when you least expect it.

  7. Smile; you don't own all the problems in the world.

Tailor the seven rules to your life

You can apply these simple pieces of advice to practically every circumstance in your life. For example, many people find that letting go of burdensome ideas and unnecessary responsibilities can be beneficial to their health and sense of freedom. In addition, others may find that overcoming offenses and being patient with themselves can be vital forms of self-care. Below, you’ll find several ways to apply these helpful rules to your daily life.

  1. Make peace with your past

The past can affect your present in unhelpful ways. An essential aspect of mental health can be continuously looking ahead to the future and new, positive opportunities. No one may be able to change the past. However, letting go of the past can keep you moving forward each day. Here are some points to consider on that journey:

  • Forgive other people for offenses or past mistakes.

  • Forgive yourself for your missteps.

  • Let painful memories fade by choosing different thoughts.

  • Accept what has happened in your life.

  • Make new commitments each day.

  1. Move beyond what other people think of you

We can never know another person's thoughts. When we fall into the trap of constantly worrying about what others think, we may lose focus on our goals and miss new opportunities and connections. Instead, try to be true to yourself to attract the kind of people who belong in your life. 

  1. Allow yourself time to heal

The best approach in life is often to let things heal without interference. Life may seem difficult now, but by not dwelling on the past, you can often move forward and find happiness. While it can be essential to acknowledge painful and damaging experiences from the past, healing tends to be more likely when you do not let the past take over and remove your focus from the present. Sometimes, when we don’t know the correct answer to a problem or what to do about it, a successful approach can be to pay attention to what makes us feel better in the moment and let time heal old wounds.

  1.  Take charge of your happiness

Happiness can be a subjective feeling that is often hard to measure. Nonetheless, research has found that people who believe they are in control of their happiness are generally more content in life than people who think their feelings of satisfaction rest in the hands of others. 

  1. Avoid comparing yourself to others, and don’t judge others

Comparing yourself to others can quickly separate you from your natural talents and accomplishments, potentially robbing you of joy. In addition, spending time judging the behavior and choices of other people may also move you away from focusing on your own journey and challenges. In addition, we can never truly know what obstacles and problems another person lives with. A more productive path may be to view each day as an opportunity to celebrate who you are and what you have. Choosing contentment and focusing on the good in your life can be powerful ways to overcome habits of comparison.

  1. Learn to manage your thoughts

Rehashing negative interactions, continually revisiting the past, and ruminating on negative ideas can all be unhelpful behaviors. Brain researchers have found that these habits can damage the brain and nervous system, possibly contributing to an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. They also discovered that prolonged negative thinking usually has a measurable effect on the ability to reason and recall events. 

Repetitive negative thinking tends to be common in people with sleep disorders, anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and excessive life stress. However, it can be important to note that all of these mental health disorders typically respond well to treatment.

If you are experiencing trauma, support is available. Please see our Get Help Now page for more resources.

  1. Smile and let go of what you can’t control

In general, there are things within your control and things outside of your control. When people or circumstances are outside of your control, recognizing this and not trying to control the situation can improve your mental well-being. Taking responsibility for things you can’t control can make you unhappy. Accepting the right level of responsibility can help you function within your limits. In addition, psychological research suggests that smiling, even when you don’t feel like it, can help you feel better, boost your immune response, and even help you live longer. 

Getting professional help with the seven rules of life

By following these rules for life, you might find that tension and worries melt away, giving you a new perspective on life and the energy to live to your full potential. However, if you are having trouble letting go or need to talk to someone, you might consider working with a therapist to address any underlying concerns.

Benefits of online therapy

Online therapy generally eliminates some of the most common barriers to therapy. It can empower you to connect with a licensed professional who has experience in the types of challenges you’re living with, and it generally enables you to attend sessions from the location of your choice at a time that fits into your existing schedule. You can also personalize the therapy experience to your comfort level by choosing between video conference, phone call, or online chat options for your appointments.

Effectiveness of online therapy

Online therapy can be an effective form of treatment for a variety of mental health disorders and concerns. According to a 2022 meta-analysis, online therapy is generally just as effective as its in-person counterpart, and those seeking professional help may rest assured that either option can provide a valid form of treatment.

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Stephen R. Covey’s Seven Cardinal Rules of Life can offer a framework for living life to the fullest and experiencing as much happiness as possible. By taking responsibility for your own happiness, allowing yourself time to heal, avoiding passing judgment on others, and trying not to overthink, you may find your life becomes more fulfilling. However, it can be challenging to implement these rules on your own, and you may wish to reach out for professional assistance through in-person or online therapy.
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