Good Fuel / Bad Fuel

April 8, 2013 — Leave A Comment

wipedoutIn my coaching work with leaders, you might be surprised to learn that one of the key areas we explore is the leader’s relationship with health & fitness. Though we don’t usually think of developing a fitness regimen as a “spiritual practice,” I’m convinced it is. The reason is simple:

You show me a leader who’s eating poorly, not exercising, and not getting enough rest, and I’ll show you a leader who is more likely to experience overwhelm, battle discouragement, feel disconnected from God, and struggle with self-destructive coping behaviors.

While I’m not a nutritionist or personal trainer, there are plenty of great resources out there (including nutritionists and personal trainers!) to help leaders design a spiritual practice around health that works for them. Along those lines, one of the principles we naturally explore is the notion of good fuel vs. bad fuel. You know: good fuel = whole, fresh, organic foods, and bad fuel = a Big Mac. Both will power the body (after a fashion), but the gap in quality between the two can spell the difference between having all the energy and brain power you need for the daily demands of leadership, and sputtering out into a fog of lethargy and irritability by 2 pm each day. And that’s not even counting the long-term effects of either choice.

Of course, none of this is news to most leaders. For the most part they know what “healthy” looks like and just need help finding the right strategy and structures that will empower them to actually live it out.

What does surprise many leaders, however, is how transferable these health principles are to the life of the soul. Take the “good fuel/bad fuel” idea, for instance. What constitutes “good fuel” for the soul? Well, let me ask it another way:

  • When your soul is on empty, what fills your tank?
  • What restores you?
  • What activities genuinely replenish and refuel your heart?

You might need to really think about that a bit to find the answer. For some, it’s actually working out at the gym! For others, it’s long leisurely bike rides. Or reading excellent fiction. Or painting. Or playing with the kids. Or getting into nature.

You get the idea. It could be anything.

Well, almost anything…

Truth is, some of the things we do to refill our tank when we feel tapped out aren’t actually healthy for our souls. They may refuel us (after a fashion) but in the same way a Big Mac can satisfy our hunger yet not really give us the nutrition we need.

Some examples of “bad fuel” for the soul might be:

  • Watching Reality TV (or television in general)
  • Eating for comfort
  • Mindlessly surfing the internet
  • Playing video games
  • Getting lost on Facebook or Twitter or (insert your internet addiction here)
  • Getting obsessively caught up in following your favorite sport/teams

Of course, not all of these things are always bad, in the same way that a big piece of chocolate cake is sometimes a beautiful thing to enjoy. But if you’re eating chocolate cake every day, that’s not good. And if you feed your depleted soul with nothing but empty diversions every day, that’s not good either.

So what constitutes good fuel for the soul? Depends on the soul, honestly, but here are some pretty safe bets:

  • Spending time in nature
  • Poetry (writing or reading)
  • Playing guitar (or any other instrument)
  • Painting, drawing, sculpting
  • Journaling and creative writing
  • Intimate, unhurried conversation with someone you love
  • Just about any form of creative, wholehearted play, especially with people you enjoy
  • Laughing
  • Learning something new (totally unrelated to your work)
  • Meditating on Scripture
  • Reading truly brilliant writing
  • Engaging in a creative hobby
  • Gardening
  • Preparing a meal with friends
  • Getting a massage
  • Being silent

And the list goes on. In fact, that’s what I’d encourage you to do: Make a list of all the activities you can think of that not only refill your soul but also fully engage your heart. Then for the next week, choose just one of them to do instead of watching TV or getting lost on the web (or whatever you normally do to “check out”), and see if it doesn’t dramatically improve the disposition and energy reserves of your soul. Just 7 days will convince you.

Don’t believe me?

Then try it yourself for 7 days, and prove me wrong.


Michael Warden

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