Successful People Sharpen the Saw

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Growing up and still today, I am intrigued by the civil war era. I have books upon books on the civil war and 5 or 6 on Abraham Lincoln alone. Because of my love of this time period, Abraham Lincoln has always been my favorite President. 

There is something amazing about a guy who never gave up on his bid for public office, despite so much failure early in his career. There is something amazing about a President whose plan was to still unify the country after the war had ended. Most people wanted him to punish the south. 

He had the future intuition to know that the U.S. would need the southern states, therefore he pushed for a policy of reconstruction instead of a policy of punishment. Not a lot of leaders would have done what he did. He freed the slaves and still unified the country. Because of my great admiration for this great man, I would like to start this article with one of my favorite Abraham Lincoln quotes:

"If you give me six hours to chop down a tree, I'll spend four hours sharpening the axe." - Abraham Lincoln

Why spend four hours to sharpen the axe? Because by sharpening the blade, it will take less time to cut the tree down. Not many of us deal with axes these days, but the message behind this quote can be related to almost anything in life. You should never go through life stagnant.

A relationship will never survive without constant development. Career advancement may never happen without a look toward constant professional development. Most importantly, you need to be constantly pushing yourself towards self-development.

Over the summer, I finally finished “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen R. Covey. I have written multiple articles (linked below) about the book over the course of two years, but I found myself mesmerized with the 7th habit!

Related: Put First Things First and Proactive versus Reactive

The seventh habit is of course the most important habit, because it requires you to reflect and redevelop your entire self. According to Stephen, this habit surrounds all the other habits, because it makes all the others possible. It is a habit of personal development and personal growth.

He focuses on four areas that we must grow personally to be able to grow everywhere else in our life. He refers to it as a renewal of four areas: physical, mental, social/emotional, and spiritual.

I believe the four areas are pretty self-explanatory, but I will give a brief description of each below:


A focus on exercise, nutrition and stress management. He suggests a good exercise program to include endurance, flexibility and strength.


A focus in reading, visualizing, planning and writing. Stephen starts of this section with a deep dive in the dangers of watching too much television and discusses that his family limits their television time to seven hours a week or one hour a day.

Next, Stephen conveys the importance of setting aside time to read on a daily basis. He believes it is important to train the mind to stand apart and examine its own program through reading. He suggests setting aside an hour everyday to read and develop the mind. Essentially, your character cannot be made in one or two days, but it’s developed over a lifetime of learning.

Related: Should We Rethink Streaming TV?


A focus in service, empathy, synergy and intrinsic security. A renewal in the social/emotional may look different to certain people. In my current stage of life, it could be serving my wife and kids. Developing relationships and spending time with my family is a way to serve them. As we get older, I may want to teach my children the importance of serving others. In retirement, we may use our time to serve the community.


A focus in value clarification, commitment, study and meditation. This one takes the most time, but is the most important to Stephen R. Covey. You need to reconnect with your value system. It doesn’t matter what value system, the importance is that you find renewal in this system.

Two profound statements found in this chapter of the book stuck out to me in describing spiritual renewal:

“In a flash of certainty, 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 - whatsoever. As long as you feel you are serving others, you do the job well. When you are concerned with only helping yourself, you do it less well.” - Arthur Gordon

“I have so much to do today, I’ll need to spend another hour on my knees.” - Martin Luther

The first quote is from Arthur Gordon explaining his time in spiritual renewal and how he realized the importance of serving others during this renewal time. The second quote shows the importance of finding time to spiritually renew, despite the time commitment.

Balance Your Renewal

Stephen talks about the importance of renewing each of these. You can’t just focus on physical and forget the rest. You must be continually renewing in all aspects of your life. To be honest, I am nowhere close to be balanced in anyone of these areas. I tend to do the best with the emotional, because I make it a point to spend time with my family when I am it at home.

I have been letting the others get away. I give myself time each week to do all three, but I haven’t given myself time to work on physical, spiritual or mental everyday. However, I find time to watch couple hours of TV everyday. It’s not that there is the time for these items, but its that I haven’t focussed on making these items a priority. Therefore, it’s time to set a goal:

My goal for the rest of the year:

  • Social/Emotional: Put the phone away when I am spending time with my kids.

  • Spiritual: Read from the bible at least 5 days a week and pray.

  • Physical: Workout 5 days a week and no eating after 8 pm.

  • Mental: Read for 30 minutes at least 4 days a week.

I will track my progress and report back in January. What can you do to challenge yourself to get better in these 4 aspects of life?

Why Is This Important?

Successful people are constantly bettering themselves. They are not happy with the status quo, but instead want to always be learning and improving. You should never be the same person or the same employee 5 years from today. You should evolve, learn and develop into a better version of yourself.

Essentially, you can’t just go through the motions in this life. Keep learning, keep developing and you will be successful. Success does not just fall into your lap, you have to work for it. Might as well develop yourself for the better and success will be knocking on your door.

Reaching the Financial Summit, Starts with You!

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