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Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw (The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People)

Sometimes when I consider what tremendous consequences come from little things…. I am tempted to think…there are no little things. – Bruce Barton

Renewal

Suppose you were to come upon someone in the woods working feverishly to saw down a tree.

“What are you doing?” you ask.

“Can’t you see?” comes the impatient reply. “I’m sawing down this tree.”

“You look exhausted!” you exclaim. “How long have you been at it?”

“Over five hours,” he returns, “and I’m beat! This is hard work.”

“Well, why don’t you take a break for a few minutes and sharpen the saw?” you inquire. “I’m sure it would go a lot faster.”

“I don’t have time to sharpen the saw,” the man says emphatically. “I’m too busy sawing!”

You will inevitably be caught up in a routine, and of course, this will be necessary for any progress to be made. But there is a danger in falling too deeply in love with this repetitive flow. Covey advises us to systematically remove ourselves from our work, and to replenish the parts of us that are most vital. He identifies three parts: body, spirit, mind.

Body

Everyone knows the dictum of “don’t eat junk food” or “don’t eat sugar” or exercise every day”, and after these statements have been repeated enough, we become numb to them. Yet, these are the foundations for being an effective individual. Getting enough exercise helps your heart more efficiently pump blood to the rest of your body. You will be relaxed in your default state, and you will have more energy to be proactive.

Covey recalls a gym session he shared with a PhD in Physiology. As his friend was benching the weight, he asked Covey to spot him, but to not help until he told him to. Each time, Covey would see this man struggle intensely, as the weight was being lifted back up, he could see the strain and agony on his friend’s face, the inflated blood vessels, the sweat, the clenched jaw, and Covey was sure that his friend would finally stop, but each time, he kept going. After the gym session, his friend explained to him that building strength happened near the end of your workout. That was when your brain would register the pain properly, and nature would overcompensate with muscle fibers.

Working out is a relentless, arduous process that will take man hours before you can see any results. People usually go into it thinking that their bodies will transform within a few weeks or even months, only to be disappointed when the results don’t come fast enough. This discourages them, and they end up having to repeat the cycle all over again. If you are not someone who enjoys going to the gym, you can still get the required amount of exercise by finding home routines that train your endurance, strength, and flexibility.

Spirit

It is always good to step back and examine your motives. Why are you working? Why are you straining yourself? Are you doing it for money, power, prestige, fame, the approval of others? What is it that you after, and is it what you should be after? Having access to our spiritual selves allows us to question what our animal side does automatically. We will get stuck in a routine, we will become obsessed with a certain goal, but we will often lose sight of why we are doing what we are doing, until one day, we wake up miserable and unfulfilled. Constantly check in with your spiritual self, make sure that you are moving in the direction you want. Remove all distractions, put away your smart phone, and reflect. Remind yourself of the vastness of life, meditate, and connect with your deepest inner nature – that is easily suppressed by the noises of the city.

“The Lord works from the inside out. The world works from the outside in. The world would take people out of the slums. Christ takes the slums out of people, and then they take themselves out of the slums. The world would mold men by changing their environment. Christ changes men, who then change their environment. The world would shape human behavior, but Christ can change human nature.— Ezra Taft Benson

Mind

“The person who doesn’t read is no better off than the person who can’t read.”

To read and write means to replenish your mind, these activities bring you clarity, they allow you to reflect on what you are doing, to think more precisely, and to become attuned to your emotions. But make sure that you do not fill your mind with garbage, because the wrong kind of information can take you to dark places. Fill your mind with things that are great: great literature, the ideas of great minds, and the stories of great individuals.

“Just as junk food and lack of exercise can ruin an athlete’s condition, those things that are obscene, crude, or pornographic can breed an inner darkness that numbs our higher sensibilities and substitutes the social conscience of “Will I be found out?” for the natural or divine conscience of “What is right and wrong? In the words of Dag Hammarskjold, You cannot play with the animal in you without becoming wholly animal, play with falsehood without forfeiting your right to truth, play with cruelty without losing your sensitivity of mind. He who wants to keep his garden tidy doesn’t reserve a plot for weeds.”

"A gilded No is more satisfactory than a dry yes" - Gracian

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