Eric Stevens

Fitness Speaker, Author & Personality

Eric Stevens is a health and fitness coach, trainer and practitioner. Eric has broadened that body focused fitness with writing, presenting and acting in order to reach people, change lives, and create dialogue.

Filtering by Tag: Being Present

The Driver’s Seat

Memory lane is perhaps the most traveled street on the planet. Many of us travel down it frequently because nostalgia and familiarity breeds a comforting and calming reassurance. Dwelling and reminiscing on the cozy cul-de-sacs of our childhood, holding on to the gratification of youth and beauty, or replaying the glory of past successes can warm the heart. But reliving and recalling the familiar can also bring about bitter regret from past mistakes, disappointments suffered and even decisions not made.

Looking back is natural, but doing so is also dangerous, for the windshield of life is in front of us. Looking where we’ve been can inform, but at a certain point, the only way to ‘drive’ is to be wholly present and make our decisions based on what we encounter on the ‘road.’ You can’t look at the rearview mirror and the windshield at the same time.

When we look back, we replay the same tape on auto-repeat and in the process we get stuck on the road to nowhere. For every individual sitting at the corner bar telling tales of the high school championship won, there are dozens more ruminating on the game lost, the dropped pass or being cut from the team. The sting of defeat and the devastation of disappointment can occupy the thoughts and actions of many for a lifetime.

Looking through the rearview takes our gaze off the road and focuses on the objects behind us with potentially dangerous consequence. Addiction, unhealthy relationships and unfulfilling careers are just a few examples of the steep cost of looking back. When we look back in anger, are consumed by regret or when we ignore our past traumas and transgressions, tragically, history has a way of repeating itself.

Conversely, many also overshoot the windshield relying solely on the navigation system. In doing so, our gaze is perpetually fixated on the end goal and destination down the road. The cousin of preoccupation with the past is a devious mental obsession with the future. This approach is marked by the mantra “when I get there” (I’ll be happy, complete, or find peace of mind). But looking too far ahead, like looking behind us, is a dangerous driving trap as well.

Granted, it’s a good thing to know where you’ve been and it’s smart to have a mapped out route for the direction you’re headed. We must use the rearview mirror wisely and cautiously to occasionally scan what is behind us to make sure the coast is clear of hazards from our past.  We must also plug our coordinates in the navigation system to make sure we stay on track and correctly identify the obstacles that might impede our progress along the way. After all, your car comes equipped with a rearview mirror and navigation system for a reason! But make no mistake, the real work is directly in front of us. Driving, like life, is about the present, the now, and what is immediate.

Recently, former NBA legend Kobe Bryant spoke about dealing with injury and what it takes to successfully overcome it: “The most important part is not looking at the finish line. It’s so far away, it’s like starting at the base of Everest and you’re looking up at the summit. That’s big.”

Injury is metaphorical of what it means to be stuck in the past or transfixed solely on the future. We all suffer injuries, whether physical, heartbreak, or profound disappointment. In assessing injury, many use the rearview mirror. But this approach is constrained by the self-centered and egoic notions ‘why me?’ or the negatives of guilt, blame and shame. Others take yet an opposite approach in addressing injury by pretending the past doesn’t exist. But as Kobe Bryant points out, a shear focus on reaching the mountaintop is problematic as well. Navigating only in the future can be hampered by the paralysis of fear (what if I fail, what if I never heal, what if I end up in the wrong destination, what comes after I reach my goal?).

Indeed, whether it’s the obstacles behind us, or our goals in front of us, they often seem to be ‘Mt. Everest’s’ - that is, overwhelming and all consuming. Many times in life, it seems we can only see the daunting peak down the road or the valley far behind us. In doing so, the blind spot ends up becoming what is directly in front of us!

Ultimately the only way to operate our vehicles is in the now. To drive the mile we’re on. In the addiction recovery world, they have a saying, “play the tape forward.” They don’t say ‘keep looking behind you’ or ‘make a plan to stay sober forever.’ Instead, the mantra is, ‘the only choice that matters is the choice you make now.’ In order to get there safely, we have no option but to operate our vehicles right here in the moment.

It’s clear that no matter what past sins we’ve committed or what direction we hope to head in the future, the work is ultimately about today and the road directly in front of us. While sometimes you have to put it in reverse and sometimes you have to pull over to check the map, when it comes to what to do next, there’s only one path - forward. 

 

You must be present to win

To be completely honest, winning doesn't come easy for me.

If memory serves me correct, in grade school I won the MS read-a-thon fundraiser by reading the most books. In junior high, by sheer dumb luck, I won a free throw competition at the Ralph Miller basketball camp…Although it was a bittersweet victory because my friend Andrew took credit for having made more free throws and ended up getting the accolades for the win. Years later, over a few beers and a lot of laughter, Drew fessed up and presented me with the winner’s certificate. I once won a NCAA “March Madness” pool by picking the Arizona Wildcats when they weren’t favored. I’ve hit a couple of numbers on the roulette wheel in Vegas and left town with a few hundred bucks in my pocket. But that’s really about it.

I’ve never won a big sporting event, hit the game winning home run, or been on a championship team. I’ve never hit it big on the lottery. I’ve never won a raffle or a car or a membership to a gym. I’ve never been given a lifelong achievement award. In the martial arts, I've probably lost more sparring matches than I have won. As an actor, though I have landed some parts here and there, I’ve never secured a role in a Spielberg film. I’m not a loser, but you certainly wouldn’t see my picture under the word winner either!

Not being born a bona-fide winner isn’t easy in our country for winning is as big a part of American culture as apple pie and baseball (I guess it’s now football). We’ve lost only one war (and had one tie). Between 1896 and 2016, the US has won more Olympic medals (2520) in the summer Olympics than any other nation (Russia holds the all-time tally for the Winter games). We have more millionaires and billionaires than any country on earth (by far). The US has had the most Nobel laureates and prize winners.

Whether it's science, commerce, or sport, we are a nation of winners. Culturally, we laud the Lombardi-esque mantra, “winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” Even our president brags, “My whole life is about winning…I almost never lose.” But everybody loses sometimes and as of late, especially us. While we are a nation of winners historically, the tide has turned...

·      When it comes to health care, America ranks as the worst among the top 11 industrialized nations and according to the WHO, the US isn’t in the top 35 globally.

·      Just over a decade ago, the US ranked third among rich developed nations for happiness. Now we rank 19th.

·      Despite boasting many of the world’s most prestigious universities, the US ranks 14th in  overall educational performance. Frankly, it’s surprising it’s that high – The World Economic Forum ranked the U.S. at 52nd among 139 nations in the quality of its university math and science instruction.

·      According to the WHO, the US ranks just 31st in the world for life expectancy.

But surely, our illustrious nation still takes the cake in something, right?? Breathe easy, we’re still tops when it comes to the following:

·      Prisoners - the US ranks first in the world with the highest prison population on the planet with an estimated 2,217,000 incarcerated people.

·      According to an annual questionnaire and conducted by Ipsos/MORI in 2016 we were number five in the world when it comes to ignorance (we were #2 in 2014, so I suppose we’re getting better!).

·      We’re ‘the best’ when it comes to gun violence! According to a study published in the American Journal of medicine, Americans are 10 times more likely to be killed by guns than people in other developed countries.

·      We’re the heaviest country in the world. Look no further than the global pandemic of obesity (started right here in the US of A) as a glaring example of corporate greed and personal excess.

·      America has the highest drug overdose rate on earth...by a wide margin. While our population comprises 4% of the world's, we account for 27% of the overdose deaths on the planet.

This for the most successful and ‘winning’ civilization in the history of the planet. Heck, we can’t even qualify for the World Cup! It’s a sad state of affairs indeed. But my purpose is not to be a naysayer or doom and gloom prognosticator. I believe in the inherent goodness of mankind and especially the ability of Americans to rise to the occasion when our backs are against the wall.

Now is such a point in history. While the tipping point may not have yet occurred, we can probably all agree that a necessary moment of drastic change is near. It’s time for us to roll up our sleeves and find our winning ways again.

As noted, I’m no expert at winning. But as far as I can tell, more than anything, winning takes the ability to be present. As the old adage states, ‘you have to be present to win.’

Many take this to mean showing up literally through the elements of discipline, desire, and determination. It’s hard to argue the importance of such qualities. But there is something even more imperative than mere tenacity when it comes to being at hand and ready. Being present essentially means the ability to see truthfully. To accept and deal with circumstances as uncomfortable as they may be. Through introspection comes humility, through humility comes perspective and perseverance, and through perspective and perseverance, character.

Being a winner isn’t just about showing up, but about expressing meekness, fortitude, and acceptance. Olympic Icon Wilma Rudolph captured the essence of what it means to win stating, “winning is great, sure, but if you’re really going to do something in life, the secret is learning how to lose. Nobody goes undefeated all of the time. If you can pick up after a crushing defeat, and go on to win again, you are going to be a champion someday.” The crux of winning is about modesty, self-awareness, and the ability to sit with the pain of our losses. With true presence we ultimately acquire qualities that champions possess - character, conviction, and courage.