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Updated: Apr 8, 2022

Sharpen the saw

After all of the other habits, achieving both personal and public victory, our attention turns to renewal. We all are in need of renewal. There is no such thing as a machine of perpetual motion. This was the dream of engineers for centuries. They wanted to design a machine that could keep moving. The problem is essentially friction. As efficient as they could make the machine, at some point its movement would be overcome by friction. We experience emotional friction as we are living out the other habits in our daily lives.

A machine needs maintenance. We need maintenance as well. Covey identifies four areas for our renewal. We should dedicate at least an hour a day to this work of renewal. It is not a waste of time, any more than changing the oil is a waste of time for a car. If it does not happen, a major overhaul is waiting just over the horizon.


Physical health is important. There is a lot that is within our control, primarily nutrition, exercise, and sleep. It may feel like we can cut corners on sleep, but eventually, it will catch up with us. I remember one brother in the novitiate who was famous for looking for shortcuts. The only problem is that his shortcuts always turned into “longcuts.” They cost more than they could have ever saved.

Once, we were heading home after a long hike. We were hiking next to the Danube river in the south of Germany. We were going to be late, so he suggested taking an unknown trail that lay ahead of us. It seemed to be more direct, but it was not the way that we knew to arrive home. We followed him until it became clear that we were on the wrong side of the river and we had to run back forty-five minutes to take the other path and the bridge. Nutrition, exercise, sleep… It seems easy to take a shortcut until we get stuck on the wrong side of the river.


We have to make sure to maintain our mental faculties. This is something that is done for us while we are in formal schooling. But what happens when school stops? What do we do to make sure we are continuing to form ourselves? This is important. We can read, write, and reflect. It is important to make sure our mental faculties do not decline. We have to put stress on them ourselves if we no longer have professors or others to stress them. Otherwise, they will atrophy.


We all have social and emotional needs. As human beings, we are social animals. We are made to congregate. Although there are different personality types and not everybody has the same needs, we all need others. We have to make sure that in our weekly schedule, we are including moments to share with friends. We need time to feel understood and to understand others. We want to share our projects and have a laugh. This is healthy and helps to make sure we are renewed when it is time to return to work.


We want to make sure to take care of our spiritual and interior life as well. This can be more world-focused, such as a clarification of our values and commitments; or more God-focused, by growing deeper in our spirituality. We dedicate time to church and to the practice of religion. This can help renew us and makes us more complete persons.

Dangers to beware

If we do not renew ourselves, we risk burnout.

“Burnout is a result of boredom. Some salespeople, usually after they have been on the job awhile, put off challenges and slip into the habit of accepting easy sales. Before long, the job becomes repetitive and boring. Once boredom sets in, the downward spiral starts” (Birchard, 1995, p. 3). To overcome burnout, it is important to analyze the situation, set goals, and change your work pattern.

In order to avoid burnout, or reverse the process, finding the right type of rest to restore the body and soul is crucial. This is the reason behind renewal.


Covey, S. R. (1989/2004). The seven habits of highly effective people. Powerful lessons in personal change. Simon and Schuster.

Birchard, P. (1995). Overcoming burnout. The American Salesman, 40(9), 3–3.

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