FH Picture 1.jpg
How challenging yourself physically can not only make you smarter, but it can also lead to physical changes in your brain.

One of my early morning rituals over the years has been to hit the walking track just as the sun comes up. Mornings are the best part of the day for me. My head is clear, the day is fresh and it’s the start of another day God has so graciously made me a part of. I used to live near a lot of bushland and on my early morning walks I would come across kangaroos, walk past cows and horses, and take in the beauty of everything around me as the sun came up. 

Every morning there would be something different to see, despite walking the same track over many years. When I first started my fitness routine, I would set myself a new goal at the start of every week to walk a little farther in a shorter amount of time, sometimes even running as my fitness level increased. Challenging myself and setting goals, not only in my exercise routine but in other areas of life, has given me something to aim for, and has grown my capacity. It has helped me develop confidence in new skills and has made my life so much more interesting as a result. 

According to Harvard Medical School[1] :

“…the human brain has a great potential for something called neuronal plasticity, or in other words, being highly malleable. It appears that challenging our brains — for example, by learning a new skill — leads to actual changes in the adult brain.”

So, not only can challenging yourself make you smarter, but it can also lead to physical changes in your brain.

Some of the things I have challenged myself with have been to read a book a month, parachute out of an airplane at 14,000 feet, go to university as a mature aged student, and most recently –learn how to play golf. As a Christian leader it has been important for me to challenge myself so that I can be constantly growing and learning and effectively leading others to grow. I believe I can best serve God out of my personal growth, rather than staying in my comfort zone which can often lead to a lack of motivation in my life and in my ministry.

Personal growth means challenging myself and setting goals for my physical, spiritual and emotional wellbeing, which, in turn, flow into all areas of my life. I need to be intentional about challenging and setting goals for these three areas. This helps to ensure that my life thrives, my relationships thrive and my ministry thrives. I also know I need to break my goals down into portions that are not too far out of reach, but far enough to be a challenge and something to aim towards.

Stephen Covey says, in his book ‘7 Habits of Highly Effective People':

“Begin with the end in mind.”

So, let’s have a look at these three areas of wellbeing, and what I have found to be helpful in setting challenges for each.


1. Thriving physically


According to Harvard Medical School: “Exercise…stimulates the production of endorphins, chemicals in the brain that are the body's natural painkillers and mood elevators”.[2] I have found that exercise, paired with a reasonably healthy diet, helps me sleep better and feel more ready for the day. By keeping my routine interesting and enjoyable, and changing it up from time to time, I continue to enjoy the whole process. On those cold winter mornings it has sometimes been hard to get out of bed, but I know I need to plan to succeed. My advice is: If you like to exercise in the morning, do whatever it takes to get yourself out of bed! For me, I know I have to put my walking clothes on the floor, within eye shot. So, when my alarm goes off, the first thing I see when I open my eyes are those many layers of clothes waiting to hit the road. Despite the cold, despite my lack of motivation at times, they are coaxing me to get up. Once out the door, the exhilaration is incredible.


2. Thriving emotionally


Exercise has been a great source of reflection and learning over the years. I have walked and thought and prayed, I have walked quietly, and I have walked while listening to words in a song. This time has helped me make decisions, as well as plan events and speaking engagements – all on the dirt road behind my home. Exercise has been extremely good for my emotional wellbeing.

But there are other parts of emotional wellbeing that are important too. I have also found that thankfulness is so important; it is so easy to slip into a negative mindset if thankfulness is missing in my life. I have challenged myself to catch any unnecessary negative talk coming from my mouth and change it around to a more positive way of communicating. To thrive emotionally there needs to be space to do the things that fill my tank. It is so easy to get busy, and – especially in the helping occupations – to lose sight of any boundaries and end up feeling drained and emotionally spent.

It is important to have good people around you who don’t demand anything from you; those friends you laugh with, the friends who have your best interests at heart. I also have a pastoral supervisor, who I meet with regularly, who supports and helps me see other perspectives in my ministry/workspace. When we set emotional goals, we take charge of life rather than allowing our circumstances to control our thoughts and feelings. Our relationships will improve when we are intentional about setting goals in this area.

“A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.  Laughter is a gift from God. Laughter is a great way to stay encouraged.” – Proverbs 17:22

Remember to have a laugh, have fun doing what you are doing and try not to take life too seriously. This is a key to emotional stability.

3. Thriving spiritually


As a Christian leader it’s easy to get caught up in the busyness of serving people. Sometimes our time with God can be rushed and maybe missed in the midst of it all. The challenge for me is to read God’s word slowly, to allow it to speak to me. Reading the Bible isn’t a race; there is no law to say we have to read the Bible in a year. Whatever pace you read God’s word at, the goal is to read for revelation, for inspiration, for encouragement, for wisdom, and to know how great God is. It is vital to have that special space/seat where you and God can commune; to refuel spiritually away from the hustle and bustle.

Over the years God has challenged me and those challenges stay with me; they change my heart and grow me as a person. On my walks, as I have combined my exercise with talking to God, I have sometimes ranted to him about an issue I have been facing, and He has challenged my thinking and spoken to me about my attitude – even when I have been complaining about someone else! Time with God looks different for everyone, although the goal is to know Him and make room for Him, so that all that we do is directed by our all-knowing creator God. So that we can live our best life!

Life has its challenges, but I believe if we set in place ways to look after our physical health, our emotional health and spiritual health, these can help sustain us in the ups and downs of life.


Be blessed,

Francine Hunt


Page Comments

Ready to take the next step?

Contact us