Integrity is a value, like persistence, courage and industriousness. Even more than that, it is the value that guarantees all the other values. You are a good person to the degree to which you live your life consistent with the highest values that you espouse. Integrity is the quality that locks in your values and causes you to live consistent with them.

Integrity is the foundation of character. And character development is one of the most important activities you can engage in. Working on your character means disciplining yourself to do more and more of those things that a thoroughly honest person would do, under all circumstances.

To be impeccably honest with others, you must first be impeccably honest with yourself. You must be true to yourself. You must be true to the very best that is in you, to the very best that you know. Only a person who is living consistent with his or her highest values and virtues is really living a life of integrity. And when you commit to living this kind of life, you will find yourself continually raising your own standards, continually refining your definition of integrity and honesty.

You can tell how high your level of integrity is by simply looking at the things you do in your day-to-day life. You can look at your reactions and responses to the inevitable ups and downs of life. You can observe the behaviors you typically engage in and you will then know the person you are.

The external manifestation of high integrity is high-quality work. A person who is totally honest with himself or herself will be someone who does, or strives to do, excellent work on every occasion. The totally honest person recognizes, sometimes unconsciously, that everything he or she does is a statement about who he or she really is as a person.

When you start a little earlier, work a little harder, stay a little later and concentrate on every detail, you are practicing integrity in your work. And whether you know it or not, your true level of integrity is apparent and obvious to everyone around you.

Perhaps the most important rule you will ever learn is that your life only becomes better when you become better.

All of life is lived from the inside out. At the very core of your personality lie your values about yourself and life in general. Your values determine the kind of person you really are. What you believe has defined your character and your personality. It is what you stand for, and what you won’t stand for, that tells you and the world the kind of person you have become.

Ask yourself this question: What are your five most important values in life? Your answer will reveal an enormous amount about you. What would you pay for, sacrifice for, suffer for and even die for? What would you stand up for, or refuse to lie down for? What are the values that you hold most dear? Think these questions through carefully and, when you get a chance, write down your answers. Here’s another way of asking that question. What men and women, living or dead, do you most admire? Once you pick three or four men or women, the next question is: Why do you admire them? What values, qualities, or virtues do they have that you respect and look up to? Can you articulate those qualities? What is a quality possessed by human beings in general that you most respect? This is the starting point for determining your values. The answers to these questions form the foundation of your character and your personality.

Once you have determined your five major values, you should now organize them in order of importance. What is your first, most important value? What is your second value? What is your third value? And so on. Ranking your values is one of the very best and fastest ways to define your character.

Remember, a higher order value will always take precedence over a lower order value. Whenever you are forced to choose between acting on one value or another, you always choose the value that is the highest on your own personal hierarchy.

Who you are, in your heart, is evidenced by what you do on a day-to-day basis, especially when you are pushed into a position where you have to make a choice between two values or alternatives. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Guard your integrity as a sacred thing.” In study after study, the quality of integrity, or a person’s adherence to values, ranks as the number one quality sought in every field. When it comes to determining whom they will do business with, customers rank the honesty of a salesperson as the most important single quality. Even if a they feel that a salesperson’s product, quality and price is superior, customers will not buy from that salesperson if they feel that he or she is lacking in honesty and character.

Likewise, integrity is the number one quality of leadership. Integrity in leadership is expressed in terms of constancy and consistency. It is manifested in an absolute devotion to keeping one’s word. The glue that holds all relationships together-including the relationship between the leader and the led-is trust, and trust is based on integrity.

Integrity is so important that functioning in our society would be impossible without it. We could not make even a simple purchase without a high level of confidence that the price was honest and that the change was correct. The most successful individuals and companies in America are those with reputations of high integrity among everyone they deal with. This level of integrity builds the confidence that others have in them and enables them to do more business than their competitors whose ethics may be a little shaky. Earl Nightingale once wrote, “If honesty did not exist, it would have to be invented, as it is the surest way of getting rich.” A study at Harvard University concluded that the most valuable asset that a company has is how it is known to its customers, its reputation.

By the same token, your greatest personal asset is the way that you are known to your customers. It is your personal reputation for keeping your word and fulfilling your commitments. Your integrity precedes you and affects all of your interactions with other people. There are several things you can do to move you more rapidly toward becoming the kind of person that you know you are capable of becoming. The first, as I mentioned, is to decide upon your five most important values in life. Organize them in order of priority. Then write a brief paragraph defining what each of those values means to you. A value combined with a definition becomes an organizing principle, a statement that you can use to help you make better decisions. It is a measure and standard which enables you to know how closely you are adhering to your innermost beliefs and convictions.

The second step to developing integrity and character in yourself is to study men and women of great character. Study the lives and stories of people like George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Florence Nightingale, Susan B. Anthony and Margaret Thatcher. Study the people whose strength of character enabled them to change their world. As you read, think about how they would behave if they were facing the difficulties that you face.

Napoleon Hill, in his book, The Master Key to Riches, tells about how he created an imaginary board of personal advisors made up of great figures of history. He chose people like Napoleon, Lincoln, Jesus, and Alexander the Great. Whenever he had to make a decision, he would relax deeply and then imagine that the members of his advisory council were sitting at a large table in front of him. He would then ask them what he should do to deal effectively with a particular situation. In time, they would begin to give him answers, observations, and insights that helped him to see more clearly and act more effectively.

You can do the same thing. Select someone that you very much admire for their qualities of courage, tenacity, honesty, or wisdom. Ask yourself, “What would Jesus do in my situation?” or, “What would Lincoln do if he were here at this time?” You will find yourself with guidance that enables you to be the very best person that you can possible be.

The third and most important step in building your integrity has to do with formulating your approach based on the psychology of human behavior. We know that if you feel a particular way, you will act in a manner consistent with that feeling. For example, if you feel happy, you will act happy. If you feel angry, you will act angry. If you feel courageous, you will act courageously.

But we also know that you don’t always start off feeling the way you want to. However, because of the Law of Reversibility, if you act as if you had a particular feeling, the action will generate the feeling consistent with it. You can, in effect, act your way into feeling. You can “fake it until you make it.”

You can become a superior human being by consciously acting exactly as the kind of person that you would most like to become. If you behave like an individual of integrity, courage, resolution, persistence and character, you will soon create within yourself the mental structure and habits of such a person. Your actions will become your reality. You will create a personality that is consistent with your highest aspirations.

The more you walk, talk, and behave consistent with your highest values, the more you will like yourself and the better you will feel about yourself. Your self-image will improve and your level of self-acceptance will go up. You will feel stronger, bolder, and more capable of facing any challenge.

There are three primary areas of your life where acting with integrity is crucial. These are the three areas of greatest temptation for forsaking your integrity, as well as the areas of greatest opportunity for building your integrity. When you listen to your inner voice and do what you know to be the right thing in each of these areas, you will have a sense of peace and satisfaction that will lead you on to success and high achievement.

The first area of integrity has to do with your relationships with your family and your friends, the people close to you. Being true to yourself means living in truth with each person in your life. It means refusing to say or do something that you don’t believe is right. Living in truth with other people means that you refuse to stay in any situation where you are unhappy with the behavior of another person. You refuse to tolerate it. You refuse to compromise. Psychologists have determined that most stress and negativity comes from attempting to live in a way that is not congruent with your highest values. It is when your life is out of alignment, when you are doing and saying one thing on the outside, but really feeling and believing something different on the inside, that you feel most unhappy. When you decide to become an individual of character and integrity, your first action will be to neutralize or remove all difficult relationships from your life.

This doesn’t mean that you have to go and hit somebody over the head with a stick. It simply means that you honestly confront another person and tell them that you are not happy. Tell them that you would like to reorganize this relationship so that you feel more content and satisfied. If the other person is not willing to make adjustments so that you can be happy, it should be clear to you that you don’t want to be in this relationship much longer anyway. The second area of integrity has to do with your attitude and behavior toward money. Casualness toward money brings casualties in your financial life. You must be fastidious about your treatment of money, especially other people’s money. You must guard your credit rating the same way you would guard your honor. You must pay your bills punctually, or even early. You must keep your promises with regard to your financial commitments.

The third area of integrity has to do with your commitments to others, especially in your business, your work and your sales activities. Always keep your word. Be a man or a woman of honor. If you say that you will do something, do it. If you make a promise, keep it. If you make a commitment, fulfill it. Be known as the kind of person that can be trusted absolutely, no matter what the circumstances.

Your integrity is manifested in your willingness to adhere to the values you hold most dear. It’s easy to make promises and hard to keep them, but if you do, every single act of integrity will make your character a little stronger. And as you improve the quality and strength of your character, every other part of your life will improve as well.