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: Ego

Learning to Fail

One of the more poignant moments I can remember in recent years is getting the crap beat out of me shortly after one of my biggest life failures. Just weeks after signing my divorce papers in 2012, I had to endure a few rounds of hard sparring at a martial arts testing and I got pummeled. Already bloodied and bruised, in the third round I was kicked so hard in the ribs that I doubled over and took a knee. In order to pass my test, I had to make it through all three rounds - I was literally saved by the bell.

In a twisted way, it was actually sort of cathartic to have my body feel the way my heart did – battered and broken. While getting beaten up isn’t something I’d necessarily recommend, I can also tell you that failure is almost a certainty in life and learning to cope with pain is a critical part of progression in anything.

Yet culturally, everything and everyone seems to be telling you the opposite – that success happens by finding your bliss and seeking pleasure. The quick fix is everywhere you look. Get rich quick seminars, crash diets, and fad exercise programs tell you the news your brain loves to hear – that there’s a convenient solution and a comfortable change - it just takes hard work and the right program.

But what if it wasn’t about the program, the right timing, or even how hard you worked? What if advancement was simply about the willingness to face the pain and the certainty of failure.

If I’ve learned anything, I’ve learned that I may or may not reach my goals, dreams, and aspirations, but I will most definitely fail while trying. The silver lining is that failure brings with it the opportunity to find authenticity and wholeness through introspective work and forgiveness. While more life lessons are surely on their way through my next mess up, here’s what I have learned so far:

o   Ego can take you to the depths of hell. In every major failure I’ve had, ego was in the driver’s seat. You are not your body, your job, or even your relationships, but you become the thoughts you give power to. Ego says you are defined by quantities, while your true self is defined by qualities.

You may lose your job, but you haven’t lost the qualities that got you that job. You may lose your relationship, but you haven’t lost the opportunity to love with your whole heart. Next time your ego tells you that you are defined by what you have, remind yourself that in the end, you will be remembered by your qualities.

o   Honesty isn’t your best policy, humility is. Your failure is an opportunity to perfect your virtue which is simply the opposite of your vice. My vice is pride. When others wrong me, I cast them aside and never, ever turn back. Puffing my chest up may be my default, but when I am at my best, humility governs my thoughts and actions. The problem is that when we fail, we often look for something or someone to blame, even if it’s us. In doing so we can lash out to those who have wronged us, and frequently, that lashing out is self-directed. Here’s the thing though – playing the blame game ultimately proves nothing. What matters is the humility to face the wreckage and move on.

o   Quitting is sometimes your best option. Anyone who’s ever been divorced can attest to the utter devastation associated with such a separation. You don’t get married before friends, family, and God to see it fail miserably. Compounding the effects of a trauma like a divorce are the prospects of acute pain, loneliness, and the loss of companionship. But if love, justice, and truth are worth fighting for, abuse and hatred are worth leaving behind. Leaving a relationship, job, or bad habit is sometimes our best option as something built on a false foundation isn’t worth salvaging, it’s worth tearing down and starting over on the right footing. 

o   Victims don’t heal. One thing I have seen over and over again in my in life both personally and professionally is that no one ever makes a lasting change that they don’t genuinely want to make. People make changes when they’ve had enough and their back is against the wall.

It sucks to get downsized. It sucks to get hurt or heartbroken. It sucks to get sick. It sucks when your genetics aren’t perfect. A lot of life’s setbacks aren’t our fault. It wasn’t your fault that your parents were lousy role models or your boss is an asshole. But it is your fault that you hold on to your pain, anger, and self-justification. True freedom can only come about by releasing negativity and allowing wounds to heal though the natural order of time and forgiveness. The statute of limitations is now – you aren’t a victim, you have the power of choice.

o   You must face the pain. Sometimes you’re going to get your ass kicked and it’s going to hurt - maybe even worse than you think. It’s tempting to run the other way. But the great irony of the things that mask our pain (booze, sex, food, etc.) is that these temporary reprieves only prolong and compound the inevitable pain. One of the best ways to cope with pain is to find support. If your body hurts, treat it gently and get a massage. If your heart hurts, join a support group and seek those who can understand your plight. If your mind hurts, force yourself to sit with your thoughts until they pass.

More than anything though, we have to face the hurt and the trauma. Peace is only found on the other side of it. There’s no way around the storms of life – our job is to face the pain and release its grip by swimming with the current.

Learning to fail isn’t something covered in school. There are no participation trophies in the game of life. We’ll have many wins if we’re fortunate and few failures if we’re lucky. But failure is going to happen and regardless of circumstance, the work is clear – peace of mind and character are forged with finding the resolve to face the mess and the courage to clean it up.

 

 

 

Question Authority

"Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen."   Winston Churchill

Back in the day when John Cougar Mellencamp fought the authority, the authority always won. And so it seems for many of us – authority appears to hold infinite power. Our mega companies and bosses, our churches, pastors and priests, and certainly the literal authorities seemingly hold all of the cards. Even in the construct of our communities and families, there is a powerful underlying influence of conformity that keeps many of us in check.

America hates a loser and the cultural norm is to hold contempt for failure. Because of such immense societal pressure, many would rather sit down and stay quiet than face the prospect of a lost battle. After all, when you pick a fight, you don’t fight to lose. And if Mellencamp was right - the authority always wins - then what’s the point of fighting ‘the man’ in the first place? With such logic, many of us choose to avoid conflict and stay on the sidelines of apathy, comfort, and complacency.

The predominance of passivity and apathy may seem like trends that are here to stay, but it hasn’t always been that way. America was founded on the ideals of resistance to authority and standing up for the rights of the oppressed and marginalized. That said, the great irony of the American ideal (success at all costs) is that it also carries with it a dark underbelly of oppression, abuse, and violence. ‘Me first’ can also mean ‘you last.’

This ebb and flow cycle of resistance and avoidance has played itself out throughout the history of our nation. In modern history, the resistance movements of civil rights, women’s rights and LBGT rights have also been paralleled by the movements of corporate consolidation and greed, bigger and increasingly gridlocked government, and inequality through the disparity of wealth.

In the hangover of the tumultuous 1960’s, the notion of conflict avoidance gained continuous momentum. Rocking the boat lost its luster and in its place, comfort and complacency became en vogue. If the 80’s was the “Greed is Good” decade, the presiding themes that seem to hold sway in modern times are that of ego, image, and self-preservation.

Pop culture promotes such a zero-sum equation played out salaciously on reality television and in our constant mind-numbing newsfeeds. The end goal is the top of the pyramid (famous, rich, and beautiful) and the way is paved with playing the game, a carefully manicured self-image, and how many ‘followers’ one can amass. I have a dream has been replaced by what’s in it for me.

Greed and selfishness seem to be top American values, but that isn’t what we’re built on. We’re build on resistance. We’re built on fighting for the rights of the little guy. We’re built on the rising tide that lifts all boats, not just the yachts.

As cookie cutter monopolies have come to define our way of business and inept government has become the norm, more and more folks are stepping out to challenge the status quo. And yet it’s evident that in many ways, in the haze of our comfortable slumber, we’ve forgotten how to stand up and resist. It’s time for a crash course:

Resistance isn’t insulating yourself with those that agree with you.

Resistance isn’t simply putting up a hashtag and feeling like you’ve done your part.

Resistance isn’t shouting and screaming louder…it’s letting others do the shouting and screaming and holding a mirror up to hatred and insanity.

Resistance starts with the most important battle you can wage - challenging your own ego and limiting self-serving beliefs.

Resistance is humility, the willingness to listen, and an unwavering commitment to justice and truth.

Resistance is putting your money where your mouth is and putting your ass on the line.

I tend to agree with John Cougar Mellancamp - it does indeed seem like the authority wins a lot of the time. But the pages of history tell a different story. All important and significant political, scientific, and cultural movements start with ideas counter to the establishment. The authority may win a lot of battles, but truth always wins the war.

Corporate America, our news/social media, and the polarizing political landscape can seem like lonely and terrifying places to reside these days. But as the truly great advancements in history corroborate - there are a lot more of us than there are of them. If enough of us resist the forces of ego, selfishness, and greed, then justice will prevail.

 

 

 

Moral Courage

"Our lives no longer belong to us alone; they belong to all those who need us desperately."  - Elie Wiesel

My mom used to read to me at night…until I was in high school! She read children’s books to me when I was little, sports books when I was in grade school, and as I matured, she read biographies and history. One theme was consistent in the books she chose – moral courage. Moral courage is defined as the courage to take action for moral reasons despite the risk of adverse consequences.

I’m not sure if it was Mom’s intention to instill the virtues of being some sort of moral crusader, but those books made a big impression on me. My main take away from those readings on the likenesses of individuals like Anne Frank, Malcolm X, or Jackie Robinson is that the true mark of success isn’t defined by what assets you have, your resume, or even how long you live, but by your willingness to stand for what you believe in.

How many of us are willing to take such stands? How many of us are willing to truly stand up - to our employer, our church, our government and risk persecution, our job, and even our freedom? To many, the comforts of modern life, validation on social media, and the distractions of technology hold sway over urgent and pressing systemic problems. We are too busy being distracted and seeking comfort to be burdened by life’s inconvenient truths.

Moral courage is seemingly in short supply these days although there are glimmers of hope if you look closely enough. Ishrad Manji is the founder of the ‘Moral Courage Project’’ at the University of Southern California where she teaches students to “do the right thing in the face of four years.” Manji is a Muslim who has openly stood up for the rights of women and minorities calling for reform in her faith in her bestselling book, The Trouble with Islam Today.

A recent example of moral courage is also former NFL player Ed Cunningham quitting his lucrative job as a television football analyst because he believes that football has negative long-term health ramifications. He felt could “no longer be in that cheerleader’s spot” in promoting a game he believes in hazardous to your health. In announcing his decision Cunningham added “I just don’t think the game is safe for the brain. To me, it’s unacceptable.”

The point isn’t whether people like Manji and Cunningham are right. Personally, I like football and though the studies on football appear to be fairly damning, I have no idea if the science is absolute or conclusive with regard to long-term brain damage and its correlation to football. The point is that Ed Cunningham quit one of the top jobs in sports broadcasting because of his convictions. The point is that Manji stood up to her faith at the risk of being ostracized or worse and has dedicated her life’s work to furthering the movement of moral courage.

The point is also that such stands of courage are notable because they are a rarity in our times. Moral courage tends to be the exception to the rule of the day – ‘me first.’ The mantra of me first is at the root of almost every major problem we face today – disparity of income & wealth inequality, dysfunctional government run by lifelong politicians, the epidemics of addiction, crumbling infrastructure and the failing environment. And it’s not just ego and selfishness that drives these problems, but they are compounded by a modern culture of apathy, indifference, and contempt.

Said Noel Prize winner and Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel: “The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it's indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference.” Wiesel goes on to say that “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”

Elie Wiesel wrote about perhaps the most glaring example of such neglect which occurred in the 1930’s & 40’s in Nazi Germany. Many protected their own self-interest - Their families, their jobs, their possessions. In doing so they contributed to one of the biggest crimes against humanity, not to mention their own countries demise and destruction. Indeed, when we put only our needs first, we neglect the moral necessities of our time.

These days there are also many who want to put their family, country or company first. While in some ways it’s natural and understandable to put you and yours first, frankly the sentiment is misguided and ultimately wrong. 'Me first' presents a self-absorbed narrative that puts blinders on the many extremely important issues of the day – poverty, failing societal health, the environment, education – things that affect us all in one way shape or form.

To right this ship, the single most important question we can ask ourselves is ‘what do you love in life more than you love yourself?’ Said another way, ‘what are you willing to die for?’ It’s a strong question, but one we all need to ask in our daily lives if we have a shot at correcting the sentiments of indifference, selfishness, and greed. Rather than responding to the issues of today with apathy, we have an ethical responsibility to stand up and ask, ‘what is going on here?’

We live in important and tumultuous times where a desperate need exists for leadership and the willingness to take stands. Even at the cost of a job, relationship, or personal gain we must put our conscious and community first. In a world of limited resources, interconnected economies, and common problems, the notion of me or even America first is archaic. As Thomas Paine said, “My country is the world. My religion is to do good.” Our ultimate task is to put the collective needs of the community first and as Paine rightly stated, “to do good.”

 

 

 

Listen Up!

Hearing yourself is easier said than done. In addition to the constant noise that engulfs our busy lives, many of us also play other ‘tapes’ that don’t serve us - That of a parent who said you weren’t good enough, a teacher who said you weren’t smart enough, or a coach who said you weren’t talented enough. Sometimes those voices push us harder...

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