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One Simple Secret to Success in School

Simple Secret to Success in School balance

One of my favorite books is The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey. Though it was first published in 1987, it has remained a best seller, and I have reread it several times. I consider the seven habits it highlights to be my “true north” principles of character, and I’ve taught these principles to new college students for many years.

Although all seven habits are good rules to live by, habit #7, “sharpening your saw,” is, in my mind, a highly important secret to success in school. The chapter starts off with a story about a lumberjack:

One morning, a lumberjack goes out into the woods to start cutting trees. He sees another lumberjack already hard at work. The man is sawing furiously, but progressing quite slowly because his saw is dull. The other man says to him, “What are you doing out so early?” The man sawing says, “I’ve got a lot of trees to cut today, so I wanted to get an early start.” “Well,” the first man says, “why don’t you try sharpening your saw?” The second man, still cutting furiously, says, “No time! Have to keep cutting.”

The point is, if you don’t take time to sharpen the saw—to renew yourself—you’ll fail to accomplish any of your goals. Everyone needs time to relax, renew, and feel balanced. Think about it. If your car has one tire that’s out of balance, it affects the other three. They’ll wear unevenly. That’s how you’ll feel if you are out of balance.

Our bodies and our brains are essential tools, and only with proper routine maintenance can we expect them to perform at optimal levels. We are no good to anyone unless we are also taking care of ourselves.

There are four different elements that comprise your personal “saw”—your heart, mind, body and soul—and you need to regularly “sharpen” each of them to remain balanced. When I teach this to students, I challenge them to brainstorm ways to sharpen their saw in all four areas. These are a few of their ideas:

• Heart – Your social and emotional side.
To renew your heart, have lunch with a friend, send a card, get on the floor and play with your kids, tell the people you love that you love them, or do kind things for others without acknowledgement.

• Mind – Your thinking, logical side.
To renew your mind, read a favorite book, go to the library, solve crossword puzzles, learn a new skill, do a jigsaw puzzle, play trivia games, watch/read the news, or take a class for fun.

• Soul – Your “spiritual” side; your deep-down, inner self.
To renew your soul, go for a hike, meditate, simply go out and enjoy nature, watch the sunset, do some yoga or Tai Chi, go fishing, reflect on the things for which you are grateful, learn about another faith, go to church/pray, listen to music, or talk to a spiritual friend.

• Body – Your physical self; literally what keeps you going.
To renew your body, ensure you get the proper amount of sleep/rest your body requires, eat fresh fruits and vegetables, dance in your living room, drink more water, take the stairs instead of the elevator, make a conscious effort to eat breakfast, avoid fast food, take time to stretch, go swimming, or jump rope.

I can hear you right now… “I don’t have time!” I have heard this statement hundreds of times over the years while working in higher education. But when students take just a moment of time to put themselves first, they find that they feel better, get more done and are happier. And these things are essential if you want to achieve success in school.

Living a life in balance means taking the necessary time to renew yourself. And it’s solely up to you to do this. You can either take a little time out to renew yourself, or you can totally burn yourself out and accomplish very little by trying to do everything at once.

To get past the “I don’t have time” response, I now schedule time in my planner every week. I can’t always do something to address four areas, but I plan something in at least one or two each week. Most of these activities don’t take a lot of time, but what they give back is immeasurable. For example my activities for this week are: take a 30 minute walk—something that is good for my body and gives me more energy; take time to stop to smell the flowers—something to help me slow down and refresh my soul; and be mindful of looking up at the world instead of looking down at my phone—pretty much priceless on every level.

Remember that every day provides an opportunity for renewal, a new opportunity to recharge yourself and sharpen your saw. My challenge to you is this: take time this week to do one thing that will help to sharpen your saw. Do it to be a successful student. Do it for you.

What kinds of things help you regroup and find balance in your life as a student? Tell us in the comments below, then be sure to share these tips with others who will find them useful.

1 thought on “One Simple Secret to Success in School”

  1. this is one of the best reads i have had for the last few months, it sums up my belief and how you need to take the time and assess the situation, invigorate yourself and reboot your brain. You have given me food for though on my next article, thanks!

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