If you have been around VoiceNation for a while or have followed us, you know at the core of our business is our staff development program. As a “People Growth Business”, we take the development and training mindset very seriously, and this past year was no different. Yesterday we wrapped up our development series on the book, “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey. Over the past year or so we have walked through many habits and ideas that have radically changed people’s approach to not only their jobs but their lives; habits like Begin with the End in Mind, Put First Things First, Think Win-Win, and Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood. But possibly, well at least for me, the most important habit that we can learn is the one that encompasses all of the other habits – Sharpen the Saw. Read the very short story Covey shares about “Sharpening the Saw”.
Ok, so what does “sharpen the saw” mean and what is this habit all about? Take a moment and think about or make a list of everything that is stressing you out right now. Those things that are keeping you up at night – how you will pay your bills, relationships, maybe it is a repair that your car needs, or maybe it is the fact that you did not win the $1.5 billion dollar Powerball jackpot last night (Or maybe you did…if so, please give me a call!). Now once you have your list, close your eyes and think about everything on your list. How does it make you feel? What kind of emotions are you having? What kind of physical effects is it causing in your body? Maybe Anxiety? Bad attitude? Lack of sleep? Pain? No appetite? Too much appetite? The effect of stress is a personal thing. It is different for every single person, but overall it is the same – stress is bad for our bodies, life, and our well-being on all levels. All of this plays in into the habit of sharpening your saw. It is all about personal renewal. (By the way, credit to Brenda, our Staff Development Director for the exercise above and for teaching a rock-star training session yesterday!)
Self-renewal is the single most powerful investment we can make in life. But, what does personal renewal look like or mean to us individually? Well, it can be very different for each person, but it is exercising and expressing the following four dimensions: Physical, Social/Emotional, Spiritual, and Mental. Within each of the motivations revolves many different mindsets, activities, and practices.
Physical – exercise, nutrition, stress management
Social/Emotional – empathy, synergy, service, intrinsic security
Spiritual – commitment, study, meditation
Mental – writing, visualizing, reading
When we take time to rest, repair, and relax through these different avenues, we are reestablishing our inner core of well-being, stable mindset, and balanced emotions. All of these play into being a successful, effective person day in and day out. The thought of taking time to focus on these things might even stress you out, but think about how better you would feel if you detoxed your mind, body, and spirit ever so often. It leads you to the thought of how can you afford NOT to take the time to do it.
For me personally, this is probably my favorite of the habits in the book that we have discussed in our training. Not just because it talks about relaxing and taking time out from the rat race of life, but because it is a lesson I had to learn the hard way a couple of years back. I did not consider myself old. I understood I was not like I was when I was in my 20’s but being 37 still was not bad. I was in relatively good health, at least, I tried to take good care of myself when I could or when I wanted to. Life overall was interesting for me. Just like everyone else I had the stresses of family issues, paying bills, a very chaotic work environment (not VoiceNation), caring about friends’ burdens, figuring out where I was serving in church, etc. Normal stuff. Then something happened. Our work went through a transition and we laid off a third of the employees, one of them being one of my best friends for many years. This in itself was bad enough, but then on top of that, I had another very good friend that started going through a divorce. Then both my parents had health issues come up. Then my water pipe burst under my garage floor. It seemed like it was one thing after another in a span of a few weeks.
Stress began taking its toll – mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically. My body began to rebel against me during this time. I had heart problems creep up. I had allergy issues start. I had major acid reflux issues start up. From the stress I was under, I started breaking out in rashes and hives daily. It was nuts! I was going nuts! Those were just the physical effects of everything I was going through, but the emotional, mental and spiritual effects were just as bad, if not worse. This continued for about 10 months. Now imagine all of these issues on top of all the issues that caused the stress in the beginning…crazy, huh? Remember, I was a relatively healthy individual to begin with. Over this time,I worked with about 5-6 different doctors/specialists to figure out what was going on during that time period. I spent thousands and thousands of dollars on tests, medicines, and visits. (I met my insurance deductible for the year in a 2 week time period.) It was crazy…and of course, all of this causes even more stress financially. Great…sigh…
One day I was sitting in my regular doctor’s office for a normal check-up visit. Just like normal, everything was fine, but I was still having all of these problems. My doctor, who has always been very straight-forward with me about things, sat down and looked at me and just said these words that I will never forget, “You are just going to have to chill out!” It caught me off guard and was completely out of the blue. So, of course, I had the only response a person could give at the time, “Huh?” He said that I was healthy, probably healthier than he was, but that I had allowed stress to attack my body and mind. He said the only prescription that he could give me that was truly going to help me was for me to chill out and starting doing things that were fun for myself and relax. I didn’t know whether to be mad or relieved. We talked for a while about everything that had happened and all of the stresses in my life, and the timeline of when everything started. Then the light bulb went off, and after it sunk in, it was like a weight was lifted off of my shoulders. Over the next 2 months, I began taking time for myself to do things I wanted to do and disconnecting from the world and my problems at opportune times. Even with all of the other issues still going on, I found myself becoming more relaxed, more balanced, healthier, and happier again. The outside situations did not change but through the renewal process I went through and disciplined my life with, my inside situations did. These disciplines have become an important part of my everyday life and have enabled me to handle some of the most stressful times in my life since the health collapse I experienced.
The lesson of personal renewal and the importance of it could very well be the biggest thing that you learn this year. Maybe developing habits of self-renewal, sharpening your saw, and re-centering yourself on a regular basis could be your New Year’s resolution. or maybe it is something you just do for yourself because it could radically change your life and the lives of those around you. And if things get bad or stressful you will be able to handle them. Just remember, “You just need to chill out!”