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How sharp is your axe?

Is your axe always sharp when you need it?

We never have time to prepare for every challenging situation in advance. When facing a crisis, whether it's with a spouse, a client, a child, a friend, or even a stranger, those are the times we need to be our "best self" in the moment.  And if our emotional, physical and/or spiritual "axes" are not sharp, we may miss an opportunity to change a life for the better. In other words, when the time to perform arrives, the time for preparation is past. However, if our axe is always sharp, we'll be much better prepared to act in a manner consistent with our values. Even the Bible teaches this principle. (See Ecclesiastes 10:10)

What needs to be kept sharp?

There are 3 things that especially require continual sharpening in today's tumultuous world: 

  • Our mind

  • Our body, and

  • Our spirit

Before you say you don't have time, consider this adage from Abraham Lincoln: 



It's not a matter of time: a sharp axe actually decreases the time needed to perform any given task. Rather, we should ask "What do I need to give up in order to keep my mind, body and spirit sharp?" Yes, we may miss a few silly cat videos, but nothing we give up to stay sharp will ever be a death-bed regret. By giving them up in the short run, we're much more likely to delay that death-bed scenario by years or even decades. Here are my tips for keeping our axes sharp. 

  • Exercise. We all know that we should get more exercise. But did you know that exercise is the #1 way to keep your brain healthy? Remember, exercise is about more than just staying trim. 

    • Newsflash: It is not possible to exercise your body without exercising your brain!   Groundbreaking research by psychiatrist John J. Ratey, as described in his book, Spark, The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, (see below for a link to get this book) reveals that the ONLY WAY to increase brain cells is through aerobic exercise.

    • The great news is that you only need 20-30 minutes per day--but you have to keep your heart-rate at 80-85% of its max for at least 20 minutes. (Max heart rate = 220 - your age.)

    • Added bonus: exercise is actually multitasking: you get two things done at once: building your brain and helping your body stay strong and healthy. 

  • Reading. Reading is also a glorious way to multitask in staying sharp. With a little creativity, you can feed body, mind and spirit through reading. My favorite reading falls into the following categories:

    • Business. Some business books have literally changed my life. You can benefit both technically and in self-awareness from this genre.

    • Behavioral Science. Many business books have some overlap in this area; and with good reason--the vital usefulness of behavioral science not only will help you succeed in business, but it will also transcend into your personal and spiritual life in meaningful ways.

    • Spiritual. Regardless of my schedule, I spend at least 30 minutes per day feeding my spirit. Sacred volumes of scripture are my #1 source for from spiritual uplift, but there are many books, magazines or blogs that nourish my spirit. Doing so helps me be more introspective and wanting to become a better man. 

    • Classical. There is a reason why classics endure. Some of my greatest learning and inspiration has come from classical literature. True, you need to invest more time in a classic than in more modern literature, but little does more to elevate the human spirit than reading these treasures from the past. Want to expand your heart and soul? Give "War and Peace," or "Les Miserables" a try. (See below for links to these books) You won't regret it. 

    • Historical/Biographical. Most of us have heard the following Santayana quote, or one that is similar:  "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." That alone is reason enough for us to read about history and those who have come before us. Carefully chosen historical works contain so much that enlightens us and makes our axes sharp! Reading history gives us a fresh perspective on why people did what they did. And first-hand historical accounts help us better appreciate our forebears, rather than condemn them for so-called faults as viewed from our modern-day perspective. It has been said that "The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there." Realizing this allows us to see through the maze of time more clearly, and it also enables us to cope more powerfully with our own setbacks, challenges, and uncertainties.

    • Exercise. I don't read a ton of exercise books, but "Spark" really has helped me. In addition, I pay attention to fitness blogs (MyFitnessPal) and vlogs on a regular basis. 

  • More about multi-tasking. To eliminate the "I don't have time to read" excuse, we can actually combine reading with exercise in a couple of ways: through audio books and podcasts, or through reading while doing exercise--such as riding an exercise bike or elliptical machine.

    • So in just 20-30 minutes a day, if we are careful in our selection of reading material and type of exercise, we can stay sharp and be prepared for whatever our day throws at us!

  • Prayer. Take time to connect with the Divine each day. Prayer keeps us grounded and even helps us prioritize our day. When we petition Heaven for help to know what tasks are most important, we make better decisions and use our time more wisely. Prayer also helps us see people differently and treat them more kindly; helping us become more like we aspire to be. 


Will axe-sharpening build resilience?

  • This is an element of our health that doesn't get as much airtime as it should. But with increasing levels of depression and anxiety in society, the need for physical, mental and spiritual resilience has never been greater in the history of the world. 

  • The great news is that if we follow the steps above, we're not only more sharp, but we develop greater resilience. Here's why. 

    • It's not easy to keep our heart rate up at 80% of our max for 20-30 minutes. By consistently doing "hard things" like vigorous exercise, we develop mental and physical toughness. 

    • Forcing ourselves to read and ponder important truths while exercising at a high level also builds resilience and mental focus. It trains our brain to ignore distractions and keep focused. 

    • Making our brains focus on multiple functions at once; i.e., simultaneously reading and exercising vigorously, builds brain capacity, physical stamina and critical concentration skills. 

  • Try this out for a month and prove it to yourself: hop on an exercise device that can elevate your heart rate to 80-85% of its max, and sustain that for 20-30 minutes 4-5x/week. Find a way to read something meaningful as you do this exercise. I think you'll notice a difference in just a few weeks. Just try it and see how much better your days go! 






What are the best books to keep the axe sharp? 

Here are a few of my favorite books, by genre, that have made the biggest difference in my life. Each of these images are links to where I bought the books on Amazon. 


Behavioral Science
































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