Summit Highlights: 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens

Renew your body, mind, heart, and spirit to bring your life into balance.


Over the last two weeks, we’ve explored The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens leadership workshop that students attending our Leadership in Action Summits at Harvard will experience firsthand this summer. If you missed our other posts, be sure to check out the whole series here.

Today, we’ll take a look at the final habit, Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw. Of all the habits, this habit is the most important. Given how transformative the other habits are, that’s really saying something!

Imagine yourself as a tree. Your root system is The Private Victory, the life-sustaining and stabilizing habits that keep you grounded. Even if people don’t see them, roots are vital. The Public Victory is the rest of the tree: the trunk, branches, and leaves. It’s the part people see and interact with. Now, think of Habit 7 as the sun. No matter how deep the roots or how tall the branches, a tree will die without sunlight. Habit 7 is the renewing energy that powers everything else.

A person always in go-mode is destined for burn-out.

The idea here is that in order to maintain balance as a person and continue living Habits 1-6, you have to renew yourself. In today’s popular culture, this would be known as self-care. Some people write self-care practices off as frivolous or indulgent. In reality, a person always in go-mode is destined for burn-out.

The ways people renew themselves are as varied and unique as the individual, but all renewal activities fit into four big categories: body, mind, heart, and spirit. Some activities fit one category, while others fit into many. For instance, runners will tell you that the practice of running helps their bodies feel great and feeds their spirit too! Let’s break it down further.

Your body is a temple, so the saying goes. In all likelihood, you already have some habits in place to renew your body that you don’t give yourself credit for. Do you get regular exercise through a sport or have a skin care routine? That’s renewing your body!

Exercise and nutrition are major components of making sure you feel ready for whatever comes your way. Exercise improves the quality of your sleep and positively affects your mood through the release of endorphins. In recent years, scientists have discovered evidence that your gut health and what you eat also radically affect your mood and mental wellness. If you want to read more from the National Institutes of Health (which students on our Medicine and Health Care Summits get to visit!), check out this article. In short, exercise and eat well, and watch your mood improve!

Imagine yourself as a tree. Habit 7 is the sun. It’s the renewing energy that feeds your growth.

One last note about taking care of your body as a teenager: get more sleep! Did you know the optimal amount of sleep for teenagers is between 8-10 hours nightly? I’ve had whole rooms of teens break into laughter when I mention it, as if I’ve told a hilarious joke. The reality is that teenagers aren’t getting enough sleep. Sleep affects a person’s ability to focus, make decisions, and act effectively. Make sleep a Big Rock for yourself. Your body will thank you.

Renewing your heart focuses on your emotional life and personal relationships. Be sure to set aside quality time for the important friends and family in your life, and pursue passions that help you form new bonds. Remember that you’re not going to be able to be everything to everyone, but you should still strive to be the type of friend you’d want to have. For example, my best friend and I live across the country from one another, and it isn’t realistic to see each other as often as we used to. To keep the friendship strong, we set phone dates and share an online playlist. Anytime we’re missing one another, we listen to our playlist or add songs to say we’re thinking of one another. It’s a simple thing, but that playlist renews my heart.

One of the surest ways to feed your mind is to learn something new. Explore one of your hobbies in greater depth or try something you’ve never tried before. Learn something practical like how to sew on a button or something more whimsical like how to paint happy trees (a la Bob Ross). One way I renew my mind is to ask a simple question like, “How do cell phones work?” Then, I research the answer until I can explain it in my own words. Another way I renew my mind is to find an article on Wikipedia and click through the related links. I call it falling down a Wikipedia rabbit hole (my favorite book is Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, after all). However you approach it, stay curious about the world around you.

A woodsman was tasked with cutting down a tree in five minutes. When asked how he’d do it, he said he’d spend two and a half minutes sharpening his saw.

Renewing your spirit is all about doing things that inspire you or give you a sense of purpose. Service to others can be a powerful method of renewing your spirit. If you’re ever voluntarily given of yourself and had the feeling of fulfillment that comes with it, you’ll know what I mean. We are all connected. When you do something to help someone else, you benefit too.

The counterpart to service is gratitude, another way to renew your spirit. Starting today, think of two people you’re grateful for. Now send them texts or handwritten notes and let them know. Trust me, people like to feel appreciated. It’ll renew their spirit and yours.

As you can see, the ways to renew your body, heart, mind, and soul are innumerable! One last thing — the name of this habit comes from a story about a woodsman tasked with cutting down a tree. He was told he had five minutes to complete the task and was asked how he planned to get it done. He said he’d spend the first two and half minutes sharpening his saw. My point? I know life can feel too hectic to set aside time for yourself, but if you don’t, you’ll lose your sharp edge. Stay sharp, readers!

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By Corie Bales

Corie is the Academic Affairs Manager of Ambassador Leaders. As a lifelong educator and avid traveler, she believes in empowering students and teachers to learn and lead through experiential education.