In our previous post, we explored Habit #6 in Sean Covey’s “Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens,” a book that helps teens live their highest aspirations. (You can read about Habit #6 here.) This book is so life-changing, we send it to all full-time students upon enrolling! Today, we’re digging into Habit #7 in Covey’s book: “Sharpen the Saw.”
Habit #7: Sharpen the Saw
So you’re walking through the wood, and you see a man sawing away at a tree.
“How long have you been sawing that tree?” you ask.
“Four hours,” he replies. “But I’m really making progress.”
You frown, looking at the saw. “Your blade looks pretty dull. Maybe you should sharpen it?”
“I can’t stop now, you simpleton,” the man scoffs. “I’m in the middle of cutting down this tree!”
You shrug and walk away, knowing that if he just took a break to sharpen the saw, he’d fell the tree much faster.
This is the analogy Covey uses when referring to Habit #6: Sharpen the Saw. Staying sharp in your personal life means you’ll be better equipped to deal with whatever challenges life throws your way. Ever felt so overwhelmed by school or work that you stopped taking good care of yourself, lamenting you were too busy, but then as your personal edge dulled, you found yourself taking more and more time to accomplish what you wanted to do? Oftentimes when we’re busy, we cut the important things out, things that build our physical, mental, and emotional health. Ironically, in doing so, we make life that much harder. Covey explains the importance of ensuring we regularly renew and sharpen the saw by maintaining a healthy balance between our body, brain, heart, and soul. “Why is balance so important? It’s because how you do in one dimension of life will affect the other three. Think about it: if one of your car’s tires is out of balance, all four will wear unevenly. It’s hard to be friendly (heart) when you’re exhausted (body). It also works the other way. When you’re feeling motivated and in tune with yourself (soul), it’s easier to focus on work (mind) and to be friendlier (heart).”
Here are Covey’s four tips for living smarter, not harder.
First: Taking Care of the Body
“This ever-changing body of yours is really quite an amazing machine,” Covey says. “But you only get one, and you can either handle it with care, or you can abuse it.” Our bodies need quality sleep, healthy food, exercise, and-- it must be said-- good hygiene to function at peak levels.
When it comes to nutrition, Covey says: “Listen to your body. Pay careful attention to how different foods make you feel and, from that, develop your own handful of do’s and don’ts.” So if that huge plate of nachos makes your lungs feel like they’re tubing down an oil slick with each breath, or you feel energized and sharp after eating a veggie wrap? Pay attention. Our bodies tell us what they like and don’t like. (Just don’t listen to your taste-buds alone. Those rebel-rousers are mischievous!) The best practice with nutrition is moderation: if you love chocolate, have a piece from time to time. Most of us find it easier to swing to extremes when starting something new, but the issue there is that living in an extreme has a high burnout rate. Once you’re the slightest bit tired, overworked, or stressed, swinging to the other end of that extreme where you gorge yourself with treats is all too likely. Find a good balance, pay attention to what foods sharpen your edge, and stick with it! Remember, your body is like a car. Fill it with tar and it won’t work so well. You can do it, sure, but everything else you do will be like sawing down a tree with a blunt blade: you’ll be worker way harder than you should.
Exercise is another important way to sharpen your body. “Besides being good for your heart and lungs, exercise has an amazing way of giving you a shot of energy, melting stress away, and clearing your mind,” Covey says. (Not to mention all those yummy can-do endorphins that paint the world in rosy I-can-accomplish-anything tones.) Sleep is also crucial. Studies have found the hours of 10pm to 12am are when we get our most restorative sleep. Create a nighttime routine that tells your body you’re ready for sleep, and limit electronics at least an hour beforehand.
Second: Taking Care of the Brain
There’s a story about a young man who came to Socrates begging to learn everything he knows. Socrates led him to the river and had him look inside.
“What do you see?” Socrates asked.
“Nothing,” the man said.
“Look closer,” Socrates urged. The man leaned forward and Socrates grabbed his head, plunging him face-down into the river. The man flailed and sputtered, struggling until Socrates released him.
The man gasped for breath, screaming, “Are you crazy?! You almost killed me!”
Socrates said, “When your head was below water, what did you want more than anything?”
“I wanted to breathe,” the man sputtered.
Socrates nodded sagely. “Never again assume that wisdom can come so easily. When you want it as badly as you just now wanted air, come find me again.”
This is the importance of sharpening the mind. “What a naive young man to think that he could gain a lifetime of learning without paying the price,” Covey writes. “But are we any less naive when we think that we can secure a good job and a promising future if we haven’t paid the price to develop a strong mind?” The greatest tool toward doing this, is getting a good education and broadening your experiences. This is why we at CMASAS know just how important providing a personalized education is-- it allows our students to grow more quickly and fully into their most essential selves, while also absorbing all the smarts and skill they’ll need to succeed.
Covey recommends getting as much education as you can. “Statistics have shown that a college graduate earns about twice as much as a high school graduate. And the gap seems to be widening. Don’t let a lack of money be the reason you don’t get more education.” After all, as former president of Harvard Derek Bok said: “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.”
But sharpening your mind doesn’t just mean finding a good school program that works for you. It also means seeking out activities that will grow your edge. Covey suggests several, like setting your homepage to a trusted news source, planting a garden, learning a musical instrument, or traveling. Speaking up in class, going to a ballet, visit a library, and always, always, reading books. He lists twenty ways you could sharpen your mind, but maintains you could likely come up with fifty more on your own. Sharpening your mind means expanding your horizons. Jump into new worlds; try something new! The experience will grow and hone your mind.
“The mental dimension of Habit 7, Sharpen the Saw, means developing brain-power through your schooling, extracurricular activities, hobbies, jobs, and other mind-enlarging experiences.” - Sean Covey
Third: Taking Care of the Heart
“Do you ever feel that you’re the moodiest person in the world and that you can’t control your emotions?” Covey asks. “If you do, then welcome to the club, because those feelings are pretty normal. You see, the heart’s a very temperamental thing. It needs constant nourishment and care, just like your body.” The best way to nourish the heart is by building solid relationships both with others and yourself. Covey’s calls these “deposits,” invested either in yourself or toward others. Some examples of deposits you can make into your “personal bank account” are keeping promises to yourself, being gentle with yourself, taking time to renew yourself, recognizing and magnifying your talents, and committing small acts of kindness. Deposits you can make toward “relationship bank accounts” are being kind to others, keeping promises to them, being loyal, listening, and setting clear expectations. Covey notes that the deposits for both your PBA and RBA are similar, because typically deposits made into another’s account end up showing up in your own.
A final way to nourish your heart is through laughter! Laughter is proven to lower blood pressure, speed healing, reduce stress, and help us think creatively. It also is proven to heal relationships. As comic musician Victor Borge once put it, “Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.” Watch a comedy, read a joke, or begin asking yourself how you can find humor in everyday experiences. There’s even a new phenomenon called “Laughing Yoga” where people congregate in a room and start laughing. At first it’s forced, awkward, but soon the silliness at what you’re doing takes over, and people begin genuinely giggling, then laughing, and soon an entire room is a-roar with big, gut-busting laughter!
“As you set out each day, look for opportunities to make deposits and build lasting friendships. Listen deeply to a friend, parent, brother, or sister without asking for anything in return. Give out ten compliments today. Stick up for someone. Come home when you told your parents you would.” -Sean Covey
Fourth: Taking Care of the Soul
What inspires you? Awakens you? Returns you to that pure state of child-like joy? This, Covey explains, is your soul. “Your soul is your core, wherein lies your deepest convictions and values. It is the source for purpose, meaning, and inner peace. Sharpening the saw in the spiritual area of life means taking time to renew and awaken that inner self. As the famous author Pearl S. Buck wrote, ‘Inside myself is a place where I live all alone and that’s where you renew your springs that never dry up.’”
Your soul is very private, and everyone feeds theirs in different ways. A few methods Covey suggests are: Meditation, Journal-writing, Walking in nature, Listening to music, Helping others, Drawing, Playing an instrument, Watching the sunset, Being around people where you’re authentically you, and having a spiritual practice. Find a method-- or several-- that works for you, and take time to tap into this most essential part of yourself.
CMASAS student Izzy knows the importance of this step very well. She opened her ice cream shop “Huck and Bean” when she was just ten years old. Armed with nothing but an entrepreneurial spirit, an old family recipe for vanilla ice cream, and her trusty Labs, Huck and Bean, Izzy’s enterprise began as a driveway ice cream stand. “I started Huck and Bean Ice Cream with two flavors, the ‘Huck’ that combines handpicked local huckleberries with creamy chocolate chunks; and the ‘Bean’ a vanilla ice cream made with Madagascar vanilla beans that created an ice cream that tastes just like your grandparents used to make,” she told us. Within three years, her driveway business had turned into a tourist attraction with local weddings, events, and festivals clamouring for her now nine fresh-made flavors.
This is how Izzy uses Habit #7 to sharpen her entrepreneurial spirit:
“I go on a hike or a trail ride daily and I listen to the sounds Mother Earth makes all on her own. I see and hear a strength much greater than me and it balances me mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. That rejuvenates me to come back and be a better person, daughter, sister, and business owner. When I am balanced I am able to improve myself, my business, and be apart of the greater good.”
Covey closes this chapter by saying: “Let me just say this. There’s a time for everything. A time to be balanced and a time to be imbalanced. There are times when you’ll need to go without much sleep and push your body to its limit, for a day, a week, even a season. And there will be times when eating junk food out of the vending machine is your only alternative to starving. This is real life. But there are also times for renewal.”
Abraham Lincoln was once asked, “What would you do if you had eight hours to cut down a tree?” He replied, “I’d spend the first four hours sharpening my saw.”
Join us next time as we close out this series with a 7 Habits reflection and essential take-aways. Be sure to join our newsletter so you won’t miss a post!