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The 7th Habit: Sharpen the Saw

Author, teacher, and management consultant, Dr. Stephen Covey, died in 2012 due to complications related to a bicycle accident.  In 1996, Covey was named one of the top 25 most influential people in the country by Time magazine.

Covey’s most prominent book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, has sold over 25 million copies in 38 different languages since it was first published in 1989.  The publishing of the “The 7 Habits” is credited for spawning the massive “self-help” segment of non-fiction.  Indeed, Wikipedia (the ultimatesource of truth) describes “The 7 Habits” as a “self-help” book.  The taxonomy “self-help” irks me.  I have a friend who, more than once, has told me, “Oh, you are reading one of those self-help books.”  That comment always drives me crazy.  “The 7 Habits,” along with the rest of Covey’s books, are not “self-help” books.  Napoleon Hill and Tony Robbins write self-help books.  Covey writes books that provide the theoretical foundation to create and sustain change at the very core (no, I’m not referring to abdominal musculature) of an organization (or an individual).  Covey’s material does not focus on techniques for “closing” the sale, simple ways to boost revenue, or quick-fix methods for revamping our personality.  Instead, Covey takes a deeper and admittedly, a slower route to change.  An “inside-out” approach, if you will.

I have been profoundly influenced by Covey and “The 7 Habits.”  I have read the book multiple times and have listened to it and its iterations on CD more than a few times.   Covey’s teachings have influenced my relationships with clients, co-workers, friends, and family.  When he died, I found myself reflecting on his material that has had the greatest influence on me.

In the book the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Covey defines the 7th Habit as: Sharpen the Saw.  This habit embodies the principle of self-renewal.  In short, “Sharpen the Saw” means that we must take a step back from our fervor for sawing down the tree and take the time to sharpen our saw.  In doing so, we vastly increase the fruits of our labor.  Covey would argue that most people don’t take the time to Sharpen the Saw.  Why?  Because they are too busy sawing.

To be clear, Covey does not say we need to take a step back from our hectic lives to simply rest.  Instead, he states that we need to take a step back from the daily grind to work on improving ourselves.  To be more effective in our careers, we must take time away from our “jobs” to work on ourselves (Jim Rohn counsels wisely: “We need to work harder on ourselves than we do at our job”).  In our professional lives, we sharpen the saw by reading, attending conferences, and engaging in meaningful interchange with colleagues.

Covey goes to great lengths to articulate the importance of taking the time to “Sharpen the Saw” as it pertains to our physical being.  That is, we must take the time to improve ourselves through exercise.  From this vantage point, exercise is anything but a selfish act.  Instead, we must make an appointment with ourselves to exercise so that we can maintain or improve our health.  In effect, when we Sharpen the Saw via exercise, we are better prepared to be effective in all of the roles that we play.  We must Sharpen the Saw through exercise so that we can care for and love our families, lead our organizations, and contribute to our communities.

For one of the first times in a Friday Fit Tip, I’m not referencing peer-reviewed research of any kind.  This is simply what I believe.  This is how I view exercise.  I have spent the last 17 years of my career teaching the physiological benefits of high-intensity resistance training.  Benefits that include stronger muscles, improved body composition, fat loss, enhanced cardiovascular function and improved athletic performance (to name a few).  But potentially just as important as these benefits is a less tangible or quantifiable benefit, the benefit that manifests from being pushed to our psychological and physical limit, only to come back stronger next time.  To have our muscles, our grit, and our mental toughness tested at a level almost impossible to imagine if you haven’t experienced it.  Sharpening the Saw prepares us to confront the challenge we will face in our personal and professional lives and allows us to serve those around us more effectively.

“This is the single most powerful investment we can ever make in life – Investment in ourselves, in the only instrument we have with which to deal with life and contribute.  We are the instruments of our own performance, and to be effective, we need to recognize the importance of taking time regularly to sharpen the saw.”
Dr. Stephen Covey

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