What does it mean to Sharpen the Saw? It is simply an analogy used by Stephen Covey in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. You are the saw, and so Sharpening the Saw is about improving yourself. Self-Improvement (or Self Growth) is of course the theme of our website. In this habit, (Habit 7) Covey considers self-improvement to be concerned with improving yourself in the following three areas of your life: your physical body, your mind and your spirit.
To internalize this habit, you must ask yourself the following questions: what am I doing to keep physically fit, to sharpen my mind and to align my vision and mission with the universal mind of God? These questions convey the essence of this habit.
Keeping the body fit, besides being worthwhile for its own sake, serves an important function in relation to you achieving your goals because the body’s ability to process oxygen is a key to your ability to maintain high energy levels. To achieve you goals, you will need to sustain high energy levels and a high degree of physical fitness is therefore essential.
Are you engaged in a programme of education or learning of some kind? How you should go about improving your mind is, of course, for you to decide, but you should ensure that you are reading regularly. Naturally you want to put in the good stuff – so it’s not a case of reading for its own sake; it is reading carefully selected material which allows you to broaden and deepen your understanding. There are three categories of reading you should consider:-
- The Canon of English Literature
- Wisdom Literature
- Specialist Vocational Literature
The Canon of English Literature contains all the great classical works of English Literature including Shakespeare, Dickens, T S Elliot, Milton, Wordswoth, Byron and so on. If English is not your furst language, then you should seek out the great classical works written in your own mother tongue and read them. You will thereby improve your use and understanding of language, your general knowledge and your ability to express yourself.
The great works of Wisdom Literature include books such as The Psalms. In the Judeo-Christian tradition we also have the teachings of Moses, The Book of Job, The Proverbs of Solomon, Ecclesiastes, the teachings of Jesus (mostly captured in the Gospel of St Matthew), and later, those of Meister Eckhart, St. John of the Cross, and other Christian Mystics.
In the Hindu tradition we find The Upanishads, and The Bhagavad Gita. In Taoism the Tao Teh Ching and the I Ching. In Buddhism we have teachings of the Gautama Buddha embodied in the Sutras, and elaborated upon in a myriad of later works. From the Greeks we have the works of Aristotle, Plato, and Plotinus.
Systematically reading this type of literature can help to provide you with a richer perspective on life, help you to develop respect for your fellow human beings and help you to better understand your place in the great scheme of things.
The third important category of literature for you to consider relates to your chosen vocation – you simply should aim to become an expert in your chosen field. So a deep grounding in the subject matter is essential. You should therefore read the relevant books, periodicals and specialist publications and become a member of the relevant professional body. Here are my comprehensive Reading Lists that you may find useful.
The final part of the Sharpen the Saw habit concerns spiritual exercise and it is perhaps the most misunderstood. Many people seem to equate religion with spirituality – but they are not the same thing. By spiritual exercise, what is meant is to regularly review your purpose and direction in life. Naturally, if you are religious, then this is indeed tied in with your personal faith. If you are not religious, you should still do it – by learning to practice some kind of reflective meditation.