Sharpening the Saw

Recently during my flight to present “How to Deal with Difficult Students,” an airline attendant asked me if my name was Marvin Marshall.

Since I was not wearing a name tag, I inquired of Janet (not her real name) how she knew who I was. She whispered to me that she is leaving the airline industry to enter teaching. She said that she is reading my book for the SECOND time before lending the book to her sister who is having a challenging time with her two children.

I inquired how she found out about the book. She said that one of her professors at the university she is attending mentioned that the book was one of his favorites. She bought “Discipline without Stress” because she thought it would be the most beneficial.

Reading a book a second time reminds me of an old story that exemplifies the point I am going to make.

Two woodcutters were engaged in a four-hour woodcutting contest. They cut wood in front of each other and an audience of eager onlookers. One woodcutter took a 10-minute break each hour while the other did not stop. At the end of the competition, the woodcutter who took the breaks had cut much more wood. The other woodcutter was shocked. “How could this be?” he asked. The other woodcutter replied, “Maybe it’s because I sharpened my axe each hour.”

Stephen Covey’s seventh habit of highly successful people is, “Sharpen the Saw.” It means refresh. In this case it refers to revisiting what you have already learned. Because, as the axe gets dull with use, the human mind cannot remember all that it learned. Just as the brain and the body require sleep, so does learning need to be refreshed.

Have you ever seen a motion picture more than once? Didn’t you pick up something on the second viewing that you did not notice or remember from your first viewing. Didn’t the whole become clearer after revisiting the various scenes?

Have you ever read a book twice—expanding your learning the second time?

Whenever I listen to an audiocassette or a compact disk that is worth hearing, I inevitably listen to it a second time. This practice reinforces what I have learned. Oftentimes, I pick up points that I didn’t fully retain during the first listening.

Janet is not the first person who told me she has read the book more than once. It’s simply impossible to grasp, remember, and implement all the strategies in one reading.

Sharpening the saw is surely a habit of highly successful people.

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