This article originally appeared in the January/February, 2018 issue
of Mailing Systems Technology.

To help you — and your team — achieve full potential, we must proactively and continually “sharpen the saw.” The concept of sharpening our saw is the pinnacle habit of Stephen Covey’s timeless classic 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Sharpening the saw means we have optimum performance by having a balanced program for continuous self-renewal in the four areas of our life: Body (physical), mind (mental), heart (social/emotional), and soul (spiritual). By taking time to continuously renew ourselves in these four dimensions, we will be much more effective and successful when engaging in life’s tasks and pursuits — including leading our teams to success. Abraham Lincoln illustrated this truth by saying, “if I had only two hours to chop down a tree, I would spend the first hour sharpening my axe.”

The key is to embrace the concepts of continuous learning and improvement. We have all experienced success in our lives, but future growth and success is contingent on avoiding complacency and being intentional about growing and developing. To begin this process, let’s explore ideas that can help us continually renew ourselves in each of these four important dimensions.

Body (Physical)

The following basics for good physical health are well known — but not consistently practiced. Being physically healthy improves the quality and expected quantity of our lives. When we are physically healthy we are happier, have more energy, are more productive, and are stronger mentally (“the body feeds the mind”). Here are four proven keys to being physically healthy:

Eat healthy. We can benefit from reducing fat, sugar, refined flour, and salt intake while increasing whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables. Eating healthier isn’t all bad. In fact, I’ve heard that dark chocolate is good for us! And for coffee drinkers, recent studies show that drinking coffee also has health benefits!

Exercise regularly. Exercise revs our body's production of feel-good endorphins, can help regulate our sleep, lowers the symptoms associated with mild depression, boosts our energy, and helps us remain calmer and more focused, all of which can go a long way toward good health and stress management. For me, I enjoy walks with my wife and playing tennis with friends, and I always feel physically and mentally energized and less stressed afterwards.

Get enough sleep and rest. Experts say that most adults need at least seven hours of sleep to function optimally. It may be tempting to scrimp on sleep to get more work done, but there is a price to pay if we do. Numerous studies have found a link between insufficient sleep and serious health problems such as heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.

Manage stress. The first three items on this list all help us manage stress, but it is important enough to have its own place on the list. My column in the July/August 2017 issue of Mailing Systems and Technology discusses in detail 10 ways to manage stress —including ideas like getting fresh air, talking to and caring for others, cultivating gratitude, and play (you can access this issue on my web site or at

Mind (Mental)

Exercising our mind (brain) is one important key to good mental health. Here are four of the important ways we can exercise and develop our minds:

Life-long learning. Henry Ford challenges us when he said, “anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.” As a long-time university teacher, I believe in the value of formal education. Whether it’s pursuing a degree or taking a class just to learn more, college and university classes are worthwhile. But informal learning is also valuable, and nowadays, there are numerous opportunities to learn from webinars, seminars, online classes, etc. We can also learn by getting involved with conferences like National Postal Forum; professional organizations like postal customer councils (PCCs), Mail Systems Management Association (MSMA), and the National Association of College and University Mail Services (NACUMS); and trade journals like Mailing Systems Technology.

I am inspired by the example of Pablo Casals, who bore the nickname “Mr. Cellist.” A young reporter once asked, “Mr. Casals, you are ninety-five and the greatest cellist who ever lived. Why do you still practice six hours a day?” Pablo smiled and said, “Because I think I’m making progress.”

Reading. The simplest and most straightforward way to expand your mind and keep your brain sharp is by reading. Joseph Addison was right when he said, “Reading to the mind is what exercise is to the body.” We especially grow and develop when we read books and other materials that force us to think and engage our minds. Studies have shown that an enthusiasm for reading is a common characteristic of successful leaders and individuals. It’s been said that the most ignorant among us decided they know everything they need to know, while the wisest among us decided they could never know enough. What about you — where do you fall?

Writing. Writing is another powerful way to sharpen the mental saw. Keeping a journal of our thoughts, experiences, and learnings promotes mental clarity. Writing letters, blogs, articles, and the like in which we go beyond the shallow and superficial develops our abilities to think clearly, organize our thoughts, and to communicate effectively.

Puzzles and other mental activities. A study of American nuns and retired priests found that those who pursued various kinds of cognitive activity — including doing puzzles — were 47% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s than those who undertook such activities infrequently. So, if you want to exercise and keep your brain sharp, take out your Sudoku, crossword puzzles, and jigsaw puzzles and start solving them! Challenging games like Words with Friends or Scrabble are also helpful.

Heart (Social/Emotional)

We develop and grow our social and emotional dimensions primarily by developing meaningful relationships with others. Harvard has been conducting a nearly 80-year monumental study on the key to happiness and health. Is it fame? Is it wealth? Is it high achievement?

According to the study, it is none of these things; rather, the key to long-term happiness and health is having close, loving relationships! So, how do we develop these relationships? Here are some ideas:

Build emotional bank accounts. We have emotional bank accounts with people in our lives. We can build large positive balances over time by making “deposits” into these accounts, or we can end up with negative balances by making “withdrawals.” We make deposits by our positive actions and words — including writing letters and notes, phone calls, texts, social media messages, small gifts, and favors. We make withdrawals by our negative actions and words. Just as we like to keep our financial bank accounts positive, we should strive to keep our emotional bank accounts positive as well.

Practice the magical 5:1 ratio. The Magical 5:1 ratio means we should have at least five positive statements or interactions with people for every one negative/critical statement or interaction. Multiple independent studies have landed on the importance of this ratio, including the landmark work by Dr. John Gottman. In one specific study using the 5:1 ratio as the standard, he and his colleagues predicted whether 700 newlywed couples would stay together or divorce by scoring their positive and negative interactions in one 15-minute conversation between each husband and wife. Ten years later, the follow-up revealed that they had predicted divorce with 94% accuracy!

Serve others. N. Eldon Tanner has said that “service is the rent we pay for the privilege of living on this earth.” Serving others makes deposits into emotional bank accounts, and is a win-win for us that serve and the recipients of our service.

Laugh and have fun, and shed tears when appropriate. Laughter and having fun is good for our physical and mental health — and when done with others help to build better relationships. Spending enjoyable time with others eating meals, playing games, and attending fun events all help build personal connections. There are also times when we can empathize and even shed tears when others are going through tough times. The Bible speaks about “rejoicing with those that rejoice and mourning with those that mourn,” and both dimensions help us build stronger connections with others.

Soul (Spiritual)

Covey described the spiritual dimension as “your core, your center, your commitment to your value system.” He added that for him, daily prayerful meditation on the scriptures was important because they represent his value system. I resonate with this.

However, there are several other ways to feed our souls. Examples include nature, music, art, great literature, and service. I find that being actively involved with a faith community (my local church) is valuable to my spiritual development as I worship, love, serve, learn, encourage, and grow alongside others on the same pathway.

I would like to close with the following inspiring quote by Dr. Covey: “This is the single most powerful investment we can ever make in life — investment in ourselves, in the only instrument we have to with which to deal with life and to contribute. We are the instruments of our own performance, and to be effective, we need to recognize the importance of taking time regularly to sharpen the saw in all four ways.”

Wes Friesen is is a proven leader and developer of high performing teams. He is also an accomplished university instructor and speaker and is the President of Solomon Training and Development, which provides leadership, management, and team building training.

His book, Your Team Can Soar! Powerful Lessons to Help You Lead and Develop High Performing Teams, has 42 valuable lessons that will inspire you. Wes can be contacted at or at 971.806.0812.