Sharpen your saw: How to build up your inner reserves

“Nourishing yourself in a way that helps you blossom in the direction you want to go is attainable, and you are worth the effort.” — Deborah Day

Imagine that one of your life goals is to run a marathon. It’s a major stretch goal, considering you haven’t done even a 5 kilometre race, let alone one that’s 42 kilometres. Undeterred, you register for the event months in advance. The weeks pass, but you don’t bother to do any training. In fact, you don’t even leave the couch. When race day arrives, you put on your untouched running attire, and join the other competitors at the start line. Not long into the race, you’re forced to drop out due to utter exhaustion. Failure. Of course, this outcome is unsurprising. It would be foolish to attempt a marathon without proper training. What would be surprising is if you somehow managed to finish the race without any preparation.

Living a life of purpose is much like running a marathon. Frankly, it’s hard work. It takes dedication and commitment to be successful. And like a marathon, there are things you can do to prepare for the challenge. The key to success is to bolster your inner reserves to help stay the course over the long run.

In 1989, the late Stephen Covey wrote a landmark business and self-help book, called The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Hugely popular, the book has sold over 25 million copies in 40 languages worldwide. Weaving together stories and advice from a wide range of successful people, the book presents seven principles, or habits, which provide guidance on being effective in accomplishing your goals.

It’s a book that everyone should read at least once, and while I won’t discuss all seven principles here, I do want to touch upon the seventh habit: sharpening the saw. Covey describes it this way: “Sharpening the saw means preserving and enhancing the greatest asset you have — you.” This means building up your inner reserves — your vitality — so you will have the strength to reach your full potential. This habit provides the foundation for your success: It gives you the energy you need to put the other six habits into practice in your life.

Let’s look at the seventh habit in more detail. Covey states that, to maintain and increase your effectiveness, you must continually renew yourself in four main areas of health:

  • Body is your physical health. Building your reserves in this area means doing things like exercising, eating healthy, sleeping and resting, and relaxing.
  • Mind is your mental health. Strengthening your reserves in this area means doing things like reading, writing, pursuing education, and learning new skills.
  • Heart is your social and emotional health. Boosting your reserves in this area means doing things like building strong relationships, doing acts of service, volunteering, helping others, as well as laughing, loving and sharing.
  • Soul is your spiritual health. Bolstering your reserves in this area means doing things like meditating, keeping a reflective journal, reading contemplative texts, attending spiritual service, and praying.

Sharpening the saw means making time in your life for doing these types of activities. It doesn’t mean you have to do them all. However, it’s important to strive for balance and do things that reinforce your reserves in all four areas.

Here’s a quick exercise you can do to assess your current reserve levels. Divide a sheet of paper into four quadrants: body, mind, heart, and soul. In each quadrant, write down all the things you regularly do to promote good health. Only list activities you are actively doing at this point in your life — not things you did years ago.

This is a useful exercise because it helps you to identify where your reserves are low. You might notice that you have more things written down in some quadrants than in others. You might want to consider devoting more time to the areas you have been neglecting. This can help you to live a more balanced and healthier life — and give you more energy to pursue your dreams and contribute to the world around you.