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Maintaining Personal Balance

Over the years we have had a name card displayed on the desks of our course participants containing information as in the following story:

Suppose you were to come upon someone in the woods working feverishly to saw down a tree.
“What are you doing?” you ask. 
“Can’t you see?” comes the 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 inquire. “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 sawing!”
I was quite amazed when I discovered this same story in Stephen R. Covey’s book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”

Why is it important to maintain balance in our lives? It’s preserving and enhancing the greatest asset you have – YOU.

While different words are used, most philosophies of life deal either explicitly or implicitly with these four dimensions. (See diagram by Stephen R. Covey below).


Philosopher Herb Shepherd describes the healthy balanced life around four values: perspective (spiritual), autonomy (mental), connectedness (social), and tone (physical).

George Sheenan, the running guru, describes the four roles: being a good animal (physical), a good craftsman (mental), a good friend (social), and a saint (spiritual).

Sound motivation and organisation theory embraces these four dimensions or motivations – the economic (physical), how people are treated (social); how people are developed and used (mental), and the service, the job, the contribution the organisation gives (spiritual).

“Sharpen the saw” basically means expressing all four motivations. It means exercising all four dimensions of our nature, regularly and consistently in wise and balanced ways. To do this, we must be proactive. Taking time to sharpen the saw is a definite.

This is the single most powerful investment we can ever make in life – investment in ourselves, in the only instrument we have with which to deal with life and to contribute. We are the instruments of our own performance, and to be effective, we need to recognise the importance of taking time regularly to sharpen the saw in all four ways.

The Physical Dimension
The physical dimension involves caring effectively for our physical body – eating the right kinds of foods, getting sufficient rest and relaxation, and exercising on a regular basis.

Most of us think we don’t have enough time to exercise. What a distorted paradigm! We don’t have time not to. We’re talking about three to six hours a week – or a minimum of thirty minutes a day, every other day. That hardly seems an inordinate amount of time considering the tremendous benefits in terms of the impact on the other 162-165 hours of the week.

A good exercise program is one that you can do in your own home and one that will build your body in three areas: endurance, flexibility, and strength.

Endurance comes from aerobic exercise, from cardiovascular efficiency – the ability of your heart to pump blood through your body.

Although the heart is a muscle, it cannot be exercised directly. It can only be exercised through the large muscle groups, particularly the leg muscles. That’s why exercises like rapid walking, running, biking, swimming, cross-country skiing, and jogging are so beneficial.

Flexibility comes through stretching. Most experts recommend warming up before cooling down/stretching after aerobic exercise. Before, it helps loosen and warm the muscles to prepare for more vigorous exercise. After, it helps to dissipate the lactic acid so that you don’t feel sore and stiff.

Strength comes from muscle resistant exercises – like simple callisthenics, push-ups, pull-ups, and sit-ups, and from working with weights. How much emphasis you put on developing strength depends on your situation. If you’re involved in physical labour or athletic activities, increased strength will improve your skill. If you have a basically sedentary job and success in your life-style does not require a lot of strength, a little toning through callisthenics in addition to your aerobic and stretching exercises might be sufficient.

The Spiritual Dimension
Renewing the spiritual dimension provides leadership to your life.

The spiritual dimension is your core, your centre, and your commitment to your value system. It’s a very private area of life and a supremely important one.  It draws on the sources that inspire and uplift you and tie you to the timeless truths of all humanity. And people do it very, very differently.

The great reformer Martin Luther is quoted as saying, “I have so much to do today, and I’ll need to spend another hour on my knees.” To him prayer was not a mechanical duty but rather a source of power in releasing and multiplying his energies.

Religious leader David O McKay taught, “The greatest battles of life are fought out daily in the silent chambers of the soul.” If you win the battles there, if you settle the issues that inwardly conflict, you feel a sense of peace, a sense of knowing what you’re about.

This is why I believe a personal mission statement is so important. If we have a deep understanding of our centre and our purpose, we can review and recommit to it frequently.

The following statement by Bill Byrne, will give you an idea of how powerful a personal mission statement can be in your life. It directs your life; give meaning to your life. It anchors you and gives you direction.

My greatest accomplishment isn’t what I’ve done.  It’s what I’ve been. And what I’ve been is the same as what I want to be.  It’s the anchor of knowing what I want to be that gives me the freedom to choose what I want to do.
Bill Byrne, Habits of Wealth

The Mental Dimension
Education – continuing education, continually honing and expanding the mind - is vital mental renewal. Sometimes that involves the external discipline of the classroom or systematised study programs; more often it does not. There’s no better way to inform and expand your mind on a regular basis than to get into the habit of reading good literature. “The person who doesn’t read is no better off than the person who can’t read.”

Writing is another powerful way to sharpen the mental saw. Keeping a journal of our thoughts, experiences, insights and learning promotes mental clarity, exactness, and context. Writing good letters – communicating on the deeper level of thoughts, feelings, and ideas rather than on the shallow, superficial level of events – also affects our ability to think clearly, to reason accurately, and to be understood effectively.
If you can start by being victorious in these three areas of your life, the physical, spiritual and mental, as Covey puts it, by just spending an hour per day will bring you

“Daily Private Victory”. By achieving this you will be able to serve your clients better, it will affect every decision, every relationship. It will greatly improve the quality, the effectiveness, including the depth and restfulness of your sleep. It will build the long-term physical, spiritual, and mental strength to enable you to handle difficult challenges of life.

The Social/Emotional Dimension
The social and the emotional dimensions of our lives are tied together because our emotional life is primarily, but not exclusively, developed out of and manifested in our relationships with others.

Renewing our social/emotional dimension does not take time in the same sense as renewing the other three dimensions does. We can do it in our normal everyday interactions with other people. But it definitely requires exercise.

In your relationship with your client you need to communicate, because you need to work together. You need to discuss problems and find solutions to these problems.

You can go to the client and say, “I can see that we’re approaching this situation differently. Why don’t we agree to disagree until we can find a solution that we both feel good about?” Most clients would be willing to say “yes” to that.

You can then reply as follows: ‘‘let me listen to you first, how you would approach this problem.” By listening empathetically you will be able to listen by first understanding the client’s problem, before wanting to be understood by the client. This opens up an opportunity to creatively solve the problem in both peoples interest.

The only way to achieve victories in public is to have a strong value system in place that can guide you.  If you live in integrity it will serve you well we you need it most.

© Successful Salesmanship – Johann Cloete