With our notions of success being so often defined by the two metrics of money and power alone, it's no surprise that stress and burnout are rampant in the corporate world. But what if a leading business expert came along and told us there was another way -- that spirituality and self-renewal play critical roles in helping us reach our highest potential?
That's exactly what Stephen R. Covey did with his iconic 1989 book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. One of the best-selling nonfiction business books of all time, it highlights personal renewal and spiritual connection as essential to achieving one's greatest potential. And twenty five years after its initial publication, the lessons of the book still ring true -- perhaps carrying even greater potency in our increasingly fast-paced world.
Covey's first three habits deal with what he calls "private victories": Be proactive; begin with the end in mind; and put first things first. Habits 4-6 are "public victories": think win-win; seek first to understand, then to be understood; and synergize. But it's the seventh habit, self-renewal, that really stands apart from and above the more conventional language of the business world.
'Sharpening the saw' is a metaphor Covey uses for renewing oneself. Only a sharpened saw will efficiently cut down a tree, he explains, as only a rested and renewed spirit has the strength to pursue real transformation. The German novelist Hermann Hesse wrote, “Whether you and I and a few others will renew the world someday remains to be seen. But within ourselves we must renew it each day, otherwise we just aren't serious. Don't forget that!”
According to Covey -- who died in 2012 at age 79 -- anything you wish to manifest in your life and in the world must first be manifest in your inner self. This necessitates renewing your spirit daily so it has the strength and clarity to do the work of your mind and body. "Be patient with yourself," Covey writes. "Self-growth is tender; it's holy ground...It's obviously not a quick fix. But I assure you, you will feel benefits and see immediate payoffs that will be encouraging."
If your life isn't on the track you want it to be, your work is unfulfilling, or your relationships are clouded by conflicts, you may be looking for a personal growth journey to help you take charge of your life. Covey’s 7 Habits guide readers through a transformational journey that involves shifting mental paradigms, setting intentions, building confidence and communication skills.
Inspired by The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People, here are seven ways to renew your spirit and get back on track for personal transformation.
Meditation is to the mind and spirit what exercise is to the body: both help to build strength and endurance. In addition to the practice’s many physical health benefits, meditation can help align your spirit and intentions. Covey's own spirit renewing practice centered on "daily prayerful meditation."
"As I read and meditate, I feel renewed, strengthened, centered and recommitted to serve," Covey writes.
2. Spend time in nature
Getting out of the city and immersing yourself in nature can refresh the mind, shake up stale thought patterns and allow you to reconnect with something larger than yourself. Such immersion has been shown to reduce stress and headaches and increase feelings of well-balance.
"Nature bequeaths its own blessing on those who immerse themselves in it," Covey writes. "When you're able to leave the noise and the discord of the city and give yourself up to the harmony and rhythm of nature, you come back renewed."
3. Send love to others
Throughout the text, Covey emphasizes the need to apply greater empathy and attention to all of our relationships. This attentiveness is a fundamental act of service that, in the words of Mormon leader N. Eldon Tanner, "is the rent we pay for the privilege of living on this earth." Altruistic attitudes and behaviors are also known to improve well-being, happiness and even longevity -- so it serves both ourselves and others to include compassion in a daily routine of self-renewal.
"Not a day goes by that we can't at least serve one other human being by making deposits of unconditional love," Covey writes.
4. Listen carefully.
Covey shares a story from author Arthur Gordon's The Turn of the Tide in his chapter on spiritual renewal. In the story, a jaded and disillusioned Gordon receives four prescriptions from his doctor. He is to spend an entire day in the place where he was happiest as a child -- for Gordon, it's the beach -- and open one of the prescriptions at nine, twelve, three and six o'clock. The first prescription says: Listen carefully. Through the simple act of listening, Gordon slows his mind and begins to recalls memories from his childhood that he had forgotten. "He began to listen to the sounds," Covey writes, "and the silence, and to feel a growing peace."
5. Write out your hopes and fears.
In the aforementioned story, Gordon opens the next two prescriptions, which guide him in recalling memories and examining his personal motives. Finally, when Gordon opens the final prescription, it says "Write your worries on the sand." After doing so, writes Covey, "he turned and walked away... He didn't look back; he knew the tide would come in." As we articulate and illuminate our fears they begin to lose their power.
Journaling has been proven to improve well-being by helping us clarify our thoughts and feelings, reduce stress and solve problems more effectively.
6. Ask for help.
For Covey, who opens up about some of his personal beliefs at the end of the book, turning to God is a significant source of self-renewal.
"I believe that there are parts to human nature that cannot be reached by either legislation or education, but require the power of God to deal with," Covey writes. "I believe that as human beings, we cannot perfect ourselves."
Sometimes it takes turning to a higher power to find strength for renewal. But we can also find strength by turning to friends, family and colleagues for help. In her book Mayday!: Asking For Help In Times Of Need, M. Nora Klaver describes her realization about the power of help-seeking. "Asking for help not only gets my needs met but, even more important, offers me a chance to be touched by another soul."
7. Practice self-love.
Embarking on a personal growth journey is essentially an act of self-love -- it's a testament to your investment in yourself and commitment to leading a happy and healthy life. We strive to renew our spirit because we have faith in its ability to carry us through extraordinary transformation. A large part of knowing and nurturing the self is aligning with our values, Covey says.
"If we have a deep understanding of our center and our purpose, we can review and recommit to it frequently," Covey writes. "If you win the battles [within], if you settle the issues that inwardly conflict, you feel a sense of peace, a sense of knowing what you're about. And you'll find that the public victories... will follow naturally."