Principles of Balanced Self-Renewal
Sometimes when I consider what tremendous consequences come from little things.... I am tempted to think...there are no little things. -- Bruce Barton * * 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!" Habit 7 is taking time to Sharpen the Saw. It surrounds the other habits on the Seven Habits paradigm because it is the habit that makes all the others possible. Four Dimensions of Renewal Habit 7 is personal PC. It's preserving and enhancing the greatest asset you have -- you. It's renewing the four dimensions of your nature -- physical, spiritual, mental, and social/emotional. Although different words are used, most philosophies of life deal either explicitly or implicitly with these four dimensions. Philosopher Herb Shepherd describes the healthy balanced life around four values: perspective (spiritual), autonomy (mental), connectedness (social), and tone (physical). George Sheehan, the running guru, describes four roles: being a good animal (physical), a good craftsman (mental), a good friend (social), and a saint (spiritual). Sound motivation and organization theory embrace these four dimensions or motivations -- the economic (physical); how people are treated (social); how people are developed and used (mental); and the service, the job, the contribution the organization gives (spiritual). 187 "Sharpen the Saw" basically means expressing all four motivations. It means exercising all four dimensions of our nature, regularly and consistently, in wise and balanced ways. To do this, we must be proactive. Taking time to sharpen the saw is a definite Quadrant II activity, and Quadrant II must be acted on. Quadrant I, because of its urgency, acts on us; it presses upon us constantly. Personal PC must be pressed upon until it becomes second nature, until it becomes a kind of healthy addiction. Because it's at the center of our Circle of Influence, no one else can do it for us. We must do it for ourselves. 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 to 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 in all four ways. The Physical Dimension The physical dimension involves caring effectively for our physical body -- eating the right kinds of foods, getting sufficient rest and relaxation, and exercising on a regular basis. Exercise is one of those Quadrant II, high-leverage activities that most of us don't do consistently because it isn't urgent. And because we don't do it, sooner or later we find ourselves in Quadrant I, dealing with the health problems and crises that come as a natural result of our neglect. Most of us think we don't have enough time to exercise. What a distorted paradigm! We don't have time not to. We're talking about three to six hours a week -- or a minimum of thirty minutes a day, every other day. That hardly seems an inordinate amount of time considering the tremendous benefits in terms of the impact on the other 162-165 hours of the week. And you don't need any special equipment to do it. If you want to go to a gym or a spa to use the equipment or enjoy some skill sports such as tennis or racquetball, that's an added opportunity. But it isn't necessary to sharpen the saw. A good exercise program is one that you can do in your own home and one that will build your body in three areas: endurance, flexibility, and strength. Endurance comes from aerobic exercise, from cardiovascular efficiency -- the ability of your heart to pump blood through your body. Although the heart is a muscle, it cannot be exercised directly. It can only be exercised through the large muscle groups, particularly the leg muscles. That's why exercises like rapid walking, running, biking, swimming, cross-country skiing, and jogging are so beneficial. You are considered minimally fit if you can increase your heart rate to at least 100 beats per minute and keep it at that level for 30 minutes. Ideally you should try to raise your heart rate to at least 60 percent of your maximum pulse rate, the top speed your heart can beat and still pump blood through your body. Your maximum heart rate is generally accepted to be 220 less your age. So, if you are 40, you should aim for an exercise heart rate of 108 (220 - 40 = 180 x .6 = 108). The "training 188 effect" is generally considered to be between 72 and 87 percent of your personal maximum rate. Flexibility comes through stretching. Most experts recommend warming up before and cooling down/stretching after aerobic exercise. Before, it helps loosen and warm the muscles to prepare for more vigorous exercise. After, it helps to dissipate the lactic acid so that you don't feel sore and stiff. Strength comes from muscle resistance exercises -- like simple calisthenics, push-ups, and sit-ups, and from working with weights. How much emphasis you put on developing strength depends on your situation. If you're involved in physical labor or athletic activities, increased strength will improve your skill. If you have a basically sedentary job and success in your life-style does not require a lot of strength, a little toning through calisthenics in addition to your aerobic and stretching exercises might be sufficient. I was in a gym one time with a friend of mine who has a Ph. D. in exercise physiology. He was focusing on building strength. He asked me to "spot" him while he did some bench presses and told me at a certain point he'd ask me to take the weight. "But don't take it until I tell you," he said firmly. So I watched and waited and prepared to take the weight. The weight went up and down, up and down. And I could see it begin to get harder. But he kept going. He would start to push it up and I'd think, "There's no way he's going to make it." But he'd make it. Then he'd slowly bring it back down and start back up again. Up and down, up and down. Finally, as I looked at his face, straining with the effort, his blood vessels practically jumping out of his skin, I thought, "This is going to fall and collapse his chest. Maybe I should take the weight. Maybe he's lost control and he doesn't even know what he's doing." But he'd get it safely down. Then he'd start back up again. I couldn't believe it" "Almost all the benefit of the exercise comes at the very end, Stephen," he replied. "I'm trying to build strength. And that doesn't happen until the muscle fiber ruptures and the nerve fiber registers the pain. Then nature overcompensates and within 48 hours, the fiber is made stronger." I could see his point. It's the same principle that works with emotional muscles as well, such as patience. When you exercise your patience beyond your past limits, the emotional fiber is broken, nature overcompensates, and next time the fiber is stronger. Now my friend wanted to build muscular strength. And he knew how to do it. But not all of us need to develop that kind of strength to be effective. "No pain, no gain" has validity in some circumstances, but it is not the essence of an effective exercise program. The essence of renewing the physical dimension is to sharpen the saw, to exercise our bodies on a regular basis in a way that will preserve and enhance our capacity to work and adapt and enjoy. And we need to be wise in developing an exercise program. There's a tendency, especially if you haven't been exercising at all, to overdo. And that can create unnecessary pain, injury, and even permanent damage. It's best to start slowly. Any exercise program should be in harmony with the latest research findings, with your doctor's recommendations and with your own self-awareness. 189 If you haven't been exercising, your body will undoubtedly protest this change in its comfortable downhill direction. You won't like it at first. You may even hate it. But be proactive. Do it anyway. Even if it's raining on the morning you've scheduled to jog, do it anyway. "Oh good! It's raining! I get to develop my willpower as well as my body!" You're not dealing with quick fix; you're dealing with a Quadrant II activity that will bring phenomenal long-term results. Ask anyone who has done it consistently. Little by little, your resting pulse rate will go down as your heart and oxygen processing system becomes more efficient. As you increase your body's ability to do more demanding things, you'll find your normal activities much more comfortable and pleasant. You'll have more afternoon energy, and the fatigue you've felt that's made you "too tired" to exercise in the past will be replaced by an energy that will invigorate everything you do. Probably the greatest benefit you will experience from exercising will be the development of your Habit 1 muscles of proactivity. As you act based on the value of physical wellbeing instead of reacting to all the forces that keep you from exercising, your paradigm of yourself, your self-esteem, your self-confidence, and your integrity will be profoundly affected. The Spiritual Dimension Renewing the spiritual dimension provides leadership to your life. It's highly related to Habit 2. The spiritual dimension is your core, your center, your commitment to your value system. It's a very private area of life and a supremely important one. It draws upon the sources that inspire and uplift you and tie you to the timeless truths of all humanity. And people do it very, very differently. I find renewal in daily prayerful meditation on the scriptures because they represent my value system. As I read and meditate, I feel renewed, strengthened, centered, and recommitted to serve. Immersion in great literature or great music can provide a similar renewal of the spirit for some. There are others who find it in the way they communicate with nature. Nature bequeaths its own blessing on those who immerse themselves in it. When you're able to leave the noise and the discord of the city and give yourself up to the harmony and rhythm of nature, you come back renewed. For a time, you're undisturbable, almost unflappable, until gradually the noise and the discord from outside start to invade that sense of inner peace. Arthur Gordon shares a wonderful, intimate story of his own spiritual renewal in a little story called "The Turn of the Tide." It tells of a time in his life when he began to feel that everything was stale and flat. His enthusiasm waned; his writing efforts were fruitless. And the situation was growing worse day by day. Finally, he determined to get help from a medical doctor. Observing nothing physically wrong, the doctor asked him if he would be able to follow his instructions for one day. When Gordon replied that he could, the doctor told him to spend the following day in the place where he was happiest as a child. He could take food, but he was not to talk to anyone or to read or write or listen to the radio. He then wrote out four prescriptions and told him to open one at nine, twelve, three, and six o'clock. 190 "Are you serious?" Gordon asked him. "You won't think I'm joking when you get my bill!" was the reply. So the next morning, Gordon went to the beach. As he opened the first prescription, he read "Listen carefully." He thought the doctor was insane. How could he listen for three hours? But he had agreed to follow the doctor's orders, so he listened. He heard the usual sounds of the sea and the birds. After a while, he could hear the other sounds that weren't so apparent at first. As he listened, he began to think of lessons the sea had taught him as a child -- patience, respect, an awareness of the interdependence of things. He began to listen to the sounds -- and the silence -- and to feel a growing peace. At noon, he opened the second slip of paper and read "Try reaching back." "Reaching back to what?" he wondered. Perhaps to childhood, perhaps to memories of happy times. He thought about his past, about the many little moments of joy. He tried to remember them with exactness. And in remembering, he found a growing warmth inside. At three o'clock, he opened the third piece of paper. Until now, the prescriptions had been easy to take. But this one was different; it said "Examine your motives." At first he was defensive. He thought about what he wanted -- success, recognition, security, and he justified them all. But then the thought occurred to him that those motives weren't good enough, and that perhaps therein was the answer to his stagnant situation. He considered his motives deeply. He thought about past happiness. And at last, the answer came to him. "In a flash of certainty," he wrote, "I saw that if one's motives are wrong, nothing can be right. It makes no difference whether you are a mailman, a hairdresser, an insurance salesman, a housewife -- whatever. As long as you feel you are serving others, you do the job well. When you are concerned only with helping yourself, you do it less well -- a law as inexorable as gravity." When six o'clock came, the final prescription didn't take long to fill. "Write your worries on the sand," it said. He knelt and wrote several words with a piece of broken shell; then he turned and walked away. He didn't look back; he knew the tide would come in. Spiritual renewal takes an investment of time. But it's a Quadrant II activity we don't really have time to neglect. The great reformer Martin Luther is quoted as saying, "I have so much to do today, I'll need to spend another hour on my knees." To him, prayer was not a mechanical duty but rather a source of power in releasing and multiplying his energies. Someone once inquired of a Far Eastern Zen master, who had a great serenity and peace about him no matter what pressures he faced, "How do you maintain that serenity and peace?" He replied, "I never leave my place of meditation." He meditated early in the morning and for the rest of the day, he carried the peace of those moments with him in his mind and heart. The idea is that when we take time to draw on the leadership center of our lives, what life is ultimately all about, it spreads like an umbrella over everything else. It renews us, it refreshes us, particularly if we recommit to it. 191 This is why I believe a personal mission statement is so important. If we have a deep understanding of our center and our purpose, we can review and recommit to it frequently. In our daily spiritual renewal, we can visualize and "live out" the events of the day in harmony with those values. Religious leader David O. McKay taught, "The greatest battles of life are fought out daily in the silent chambers of the soul." If you win the battles there, if you settle the issues that inwardly conflict, you feel a sense of peace, a sense of knowing what you're about. And you'll find that the Public Victories -- where you tend to think cooperatively, to promote the welfare and good of other people, and to be genuinely happy for other people's successes -- will follow naturally.