In Stephen Covey’s book ‘The 7 habits of highly effective people’, he shares the following story:

    Suppose you were to come across someone in the woods working feverishly to saw down a tree.

    “What are you doing?” you ask.

    “Can’t you see?” comes the impatient reply. “I’m sawing down this tree.”

    “You look exhausted!” you exclaim. “How long have you been at it?”

    “Over five hours” he returns, “and I’m beat. This is hard work.”

    “Well, why don’t you take a break for a few minutes and sharpen that saw?” you enquire. “I’m sure it would go a lot faster.”

    “I don’t have time to sharpen the saw,” the man says emphatically. “I’m too busy working!”

    Covey uses the ‘sharpen the saw’ metaphor in relation to looking after yourself so that you can be the best version of yourself more of the time.

    One thing I’ve noticed during lockdown is that some people have woken up to this idea and are consequently using their time to ‘sharpen the saw’.

    As I go out on my bike, I’m noticing far more people cycling, running and families out together generally.

    I’ve read how normally sleep-deprived people are taking much needed rest. Other people are learning new skills or nurturing their spiritual growth.

    Yet under usual circumstances I wonder how many of us neglect our physical, mental, emotional and even spiritual well-being?

    We fool ourselves that we are too busy, or it is not important enough.

    You can’t compartmentalise your life

    You cannot expect to get the best out of yourself in some areas of your life if you are neglecting yourself in others.

    One of the most valuable insights I ever got was from psychologist George Pransky.

    George pointed out that the level of mental well-being of the practitioner is the most significant component in the impact their work has on people.

    The conventional wisdom is that impact comes from using techniques.

    But what lead me to discovering George Pransky’s work was several years of accumulated evidence that techniques are not what create impact.

    If you are a financial planner, coach or leader a crucial question to ask yourself is:

    “Am I displaying the level of well-being I want to bring out in other people?”

    Caring instincts

    When your mind is clear and healthy you look after yourself because it is built into life. How do we know this?

    Simply by observing nature.

    My office looks out onto my garden and I watch birds taking a bath in the pond. They preen their feathers. They sing. They fly.

    They instinctively know what to do to stay healthy because their life depends upon it.

    Humans become disconnected from instinctively looking after themselves because they ‘go unconscious’. They get into a state of mind where they ignore their innate wisdom.

    But it is always there. You either pay attention to it or you do not.

    Why are more people looking after themselves in lockdown?

    Some people will say it is because they now have time, but this isn’t the whole picture.

    It’s because they are more conscious. Their mind has quietened down enough so they reconnect rather than living with a mind constantly full of ‘noise’.

    From this place, ‘sharpening the saw’ makes complete sense.

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