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One of my favorite books about personal growth is 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey. The final habit he discussed was the one that impacted me the most—Sharpen the Saw.

The idea is this: Picture a lumberjack in the forest trying to cut down a tree with a saw. What would happen if the saw wasn’t very sharp? The lumberjack would saw and saw, work extremely hard, and probably wear himself out. But he wouldn’t make much progress toward his goal of cutting down the tree. The smart move would be to take a break from the sawing, and spend some time sharpening the saw. Then, once the saw is sharp again, the lumberjack can get back to work, and he will make quick progress toward his goal.

In the same way, a lot of us are going through life sawing furiously on some kind of goal or task we think is important. However, we might be struggling or not making much progress, and not know why. We might even get frustrated, and think we need to work harder or longer on our task. But if our saw isn’t sharp, this extra work won’t do any good.

The key, when we get in situations like this, is to take some time off and sharpen our saw. What does sharpening your saw look like? It could be a variety of things. Maybe sharpening your saw means taking a break, and re-evaluating the task at hand or how you are approaching it. It might mean getting some help, or a mentor who can show you the way. It might mean a change in your career, or your life direction. It might mean going to counseling, or getting a life coach. Or it might just mean setting aside the task for a while, and coming back to it when you are rested and energized.

One of the most frustrating experiences in life is to do the same thing over and over again, and not get the result you want. If what you are trying to do isn’t working, take a break and sharpen your saw. Get some help. Come back to your task at a later time, armed with a razor sharp saw.

Discussion: Do you feel like you are working really hard at some area of your life, but struggling to see results? What would it look like for you to sharpen the saw?

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