Make “self-renewal” a habit - (2024)

A reminder from The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

Revisiting a classic book reminded me we can’t be effective without prioritizing our own self-care. Address these four dimensions of self-renewal to make it a habit.

Stephen R. Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change may be over thirty years old, but the lessons still hold true today. At the foundation of his definition of personal effectiveness is self-renewal. This metaphorical recharging of our batteries is a necessary investment in ourselves. To make self-renewal a habit, we must prioritize our own self-care and address all four dimensions of self-renewal.

Old lesson, new application

I was sitting at my desk this weekend in need of some motivation. After getting all the tax info sent off to the accountant, answering emails, and completing other equally boring but necessary tasks, my mind was mushy. Feeling uninspired for the day, I turned to the bookcase on my left and spotted an old classic tucked between my other management books. Revisiting The Seven Habits was a great reminder of the value in prioritizing my own self-care. It inspired me to step away from the to-do list and focus on more valuable activities.

My copy of this classic leadership and management book was probably printed 30 years ago and has the yellowing pages to prove it. I read it when I was a new management consultant. My boss at the time was a big proponent of Covey’s lessons, and he wasn’t the only fan. The book was a New York Times bestseller, selling over 40 million copies.[1] Although there’s nothing revolutionary about any of the habits, the book was successful in addressing the human side of management – management of others and oneself. Covey gives both personal and professional applications, but the habits are really about living a principled life.

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As I flipped through the pages this weekend, I was struck by “Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw,” which Covey defines as fundamental to the other six habits. To sharpen the saw refers to Covey’s story of an ineffective tree cutter. He is exhausted from the grueling work of cutting down a tree with a hand saw. Despite his fatigue, the tree cutter is focused on finishing the task at hand. He is unwilling to take the time to stop and sharpen his saw. He has no time! His determination to finish the task makes him blind to the fact that if he just stopped to sharpen his tool, he would be more effective.

This story is analogous to our need to prioritize self-care in order to be more effective in everything else we do. Sharpening the saw, or balanced self-renewal, is the habit that makes all other habits of effectiveness possible. Covey argues our own effectiveness lies in the balance between what we produce and our capability to produce. If we live a life focused on producing while neglecting self-care, we will deplete our capacity to be productive.

When I originally read the book, this point was lost on me. As a Ph.D. student and new management consultant I had a full plate. Other than working out in the morning (which was more about punishing my body than being healthy), I didn’t have time for self-renewal. My life was unbalanced, with a heavy focus on producing. I focused on the first six habits, which I needed to be good at my job and complete my graduate training. In other words, I was the tree cutter and didn’t even recognize it. Rereading this portion of Covey’s book with my working on calm mindset, was educational and inspiring.

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Four dimensions for balanced self-renewal

Unlike the other habits of effectiveness, self-renewal requires focused attention. Self-renewal rarely feels urgent, and therefore we have to be proactive in engaging in the principles until this becomes a second nature habit. For example, I tend to check things off the list before making time for myself. Whether it’s guilt, the difficulty in creating new habits, or getting sidetracked by endless tasks, I have not historically prioritized my own self-care. The detrimental effects of my failure to prioritize self-care prompted my recent Commitment to Calm. Similarly, Covey recommends a planned, consistent approach to self-renewal.

According to Covey, we can preserve and enhance our greatest asset (ourselves), by focusing on these four dimensions of renewal.

1. Physical renewal

This dimension includes activities that maintain and enhance our physical health, like exercise, nutrition, and stress management. Covey recommends an exercise program you can do at home which focuses on endurance (cardio), flexibility, and strength. See my “moving” posts for multiple exercise ideas.

2. Spiritual renewal

A variety of activities can expand the spiritual self. Since this is often centered on our values, time spent on these activities provides leadership or direction to our lives. Creating a personal mission statement is one way to get clarity and direction. Additionally, some people turn to religious studies, but this could easily be fulfilled by spending time in nature, meditation, art, or music.

3. Mental renewal

Reading, visualizing, planning, and writing are ways to sharpen our mental saw. Once we’ve finished formal education, it’s really up to us to continue to educate ourselves. Covey argues we spend too much time on brainless activities like TV, and decreasing this frees up time for more beneficial self-renewal. I would argue in today’s world, cell phones have become more of a problem. My discussion of Digital Minimalism gives similar advice to put down the phone and focus on more valuable activities.

4. Social/emotional renewal

Engaging in activities that promote more meaningful connections with others fosters this dimension of self-renewal. This could include anyone you have a relationship with, from a co-worker, to family member, to neighbor. Covey sees every interaction we have with others as an opportunity to build connections. Consider a random act of connection or a gratitude letter as two means of social renewal.

Self-renewal as a habit

Covey recommends a proactive approach to making self-renewal a habit. Planning ahead of time and scheduling these activities is the only way to routinize sharpening the saw. He refers to this as an upward spiral of learn, commit, do, repeat, in which we get better and better at self-care until it becomes second nature. At first, it may seem burdensome to plan this type of self-care. However, the need to be proactive decreases as the habit is solidified.

Covey argues attention should be given to all four dimensions since they support and enhance each other. The better we get in one area, the better we will be in all other areas. Similarly, neglecting one aspect limits the impact of the others. He recommends an hour a day be devoted to the first three dimensions, what he refers to as a Daily Private Victory.

According to Covey, unlike the other three dimensions, social/emotional activities don’t require a daily time commitment since you naturally engage in social and emotional activities all day long. Simply, we need to approach these interactions as growth opportunities. I think this point is a bit dated. Instead, I would argue nowadays, many of us feel even more isolated with remote working and pandemic distancing. Our society focuses on social media over in-person interactions. I find it useful to schedule activities with my friends so I can’t neglect this dimension. Thus, I still find the social/emotional dimensions requires some intentional planning.

When I started my Commitment to Calm, I had to be structured in my self-care since none of it was habitual. This stuff wasn’t happening on its own. But the more I engaged in these acts of self-renewal (because I promised myself I would) the more I wanted to do them again (because I actually developed the desire to do them). Now, I don’t need as much external motivation to do yoga or meditate; the motivation is becoming intrinsic. But I’m still in the process of changing, which doesn’t happen overnight. I’m still working on all of it, particularly the gratitude and contentment pieces.

Start small

So much of Covey’s discussion applies to what I’ve been learning and writing about on the blog. I was happy to realize I’ve been sharpening my saw this year. His emphasis on the need to commit, plan, and evaluate progress are spot on. It’s just too easy to put this type of self-care off, as I’ve done for years. But I would suggest starting small.

It could be easy to read something like The Seven Habits, and make self-renewal one more task to do. However, the real value comes in being, not doing. Although the hour a day Covey recommends would be a daily victory, I think it’s better to just start somewhere. An hour can feel overwhelming and therefore cause stress or feelings of failure. Instead, approach your efforts to build a new habit with self-compassion. I recommend meeting yourself where you are, right now. Think of the power of one: choose one act of self-care you can do better today than yesterday. Start there and repeat each day.

Just as Covey instructs, we have to force ourselves to engage in self-care until it becomes a habit. That’s what I did this weekend after revisiting his book. I stepped away from the desk, did yoga, and meditated. I felt energized afterwards, giving me energy to make a homemade meal and play some family dodgeball. My small time investment in self-care rewarded me with even more. These are moments I might’ve missed out on if I were depleted from continuing to tackle the never-ended to-do list.

Inspired to make self-renewal a habit? Tell me about it. Leave me a comment!

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Make “self-renewal” a habit - (2024)


What is the habit of self renewal? ›

The Habit of Daily Self-Renewal

It means having a balanced program for self-renewal in the four areas of your life: physical, social/emotional, mental, and spiritual. As you renew yourself in each of the four areas, you create growth and change in your life.

What is an example of habit 7 sharpen the saw? ›

By eating a good diet full of nutrition and focusing on regular exercise, you can easily sharpen yourself physically, reflecting on your work. Reading books that increase your knowledge and participating in a course that relates to your work helps you become mentally sharp and boost your efficiency at work.

How to renew yourself mentally? ›

How to Renew Yourself – Best 12 Ways
  1. Improve your self-awareness. ...
  2. Surround yourself with good people. ...
  3. Give yourself a timeout. ...
  4. Reveal your purpose. ...
  5. Build a new blueprint. ...
  6. Examine your limiting beliefs. ...
  7. Break your patterns. ...
  8. Transform your habits.

Which habit has to do with renewal? ›

Habit 7 is all about keeping your personal self sharp so that you can better deal with life. It means regularly renewing and strengthening the four key dimensions of your life- your body, your brain, your heart, and your soul.

What does it mean to renew yourself? ›

What Does Self-Renewal Mean? Self-renewal — self-re·new·al is the process of renewing oneself. It is also the process of bringing ourselves more in line with our life purpose and values. In doing so, we also set the direction of progress in our lives (and by extension, humanity).

How do I renew yourself spiritually? ›

10 Ways to Renew Yourself Spiritually
  1. Has Your Spiritual Practice Plateaued? For ages, human beings have longed to know their true nature. ...
  2. Time to Refresh. ...
  3. Go on a Retreat. ...
  4. Be of Service. ...
  5. Immerse Yourself in Nature. ...
  6. Start a New Morning Ritual. ...
  7. Observe a Sabbath. ...
  8. Read a Spiritual Text.
Feb 27, 2019

How can you apply Habit 7 in your life? ›

Habit 7: Sharpen the saw

This habit emphasizes the importance of continuous improvement and self-care. Allocate time for personal development and self-care, whether through further education, regular breaks, or exercise. Consciously invest time and energy in your own health and personal development.

What are the 4 dimensions of renewal 7 habits? ›

It surrounds the other habits on the Seven Habits paradigm because it is the habit that makes all the others possible. It's renewing the four dimensions of your nature: physical, spiritual, mental, and social/emotional.

What is a real life example of sharpen the saw? ›

For example, doing exercise can be “sharpening the saw” if we do intense cardio to stay fit. But it can also be “putting down the saw” if we go for a slow walk in a nature to recharge our energy levels. Sometimes you need the first one, sometimes the latter.

How do I constantly renew my mind? ›

Here are ten simple ways to renew our minds.
  1. Read and study Scripture with an openness to God changing your thinking. ...
  2. Pray. ...
  3. Think about your thoughts. ...
  4. Act quickly. ...
  5. Game-plan based on an honest knowledge of our weaknesses. ...
  6. Talk to Yourself rather than Listening to Yourself. ...
  7. Fight lies with truth and promises.
Nov 5, 2018

How to sharpen your soul? ›

Finally, let's look at some things you can do to strengthen your soul.
  1. Practice gratitude. Gratitude trains your brain to let go of negative thoughts and look for things to be grateful for instead. ...
  2. Spend time in nature. ...
  3. Connect with something greater than yourself. ...
  4. Be compassionate to yourself and others.
Nov 5, 2021

What is the process of self renewal? ›

Self-renewal is the process by which stem cells divide to make more stem cells, perpetuating the stem cell pool throughout life. Self-renewal is division with maintenance of the undifferentiated state. This requires cell cycle control and often maintenance of multipotency or pluripotency, depending on the stem cell.

What is the golden rule of habit change? ›

The Golden Rule of Habit Change says that the most effective way to shift a habit is to diagnose and retain the old cue and reward, and try to change only the routine. The psychologist knew that changing Mandy's nail biting habit required inserting a new routine into her life.

What is the concept of self renewal? ›

Self-renewal is the process by which stem cells divide to make more stem cells, perpetuating the stem cell pool throughout life. Self-renewal is division with maintenance of the undifferentiated state. This requires cell cycle control and often maintenance of multipotency or pluripotency, depending on the stem cell.

What is the principle of self renewal? ›

Self renewal must include balanced renewal in all four dimensions--physical, spiritual, mental and social/emotional. Neglecting any one area negatively impacts the rest. The same concept also applies to organizations.

How do you engage in self renewal? ›

Ideas for Personal Renewal
  1. Sleep. It sounds basic, but it's a necessary fundamental. ...
  2. Get some type of exercise. The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate to intense activity each week. ...
  3. Pay attention to food choices.
Jun 1, 2023

What is self-renewal day? ›

Self-Renewal Day is celebrated on February 2 each year and offers an opportunity for individuals to focus on self-renewal in all forms, including self-care, self-assessment, and self-improvement.


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