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.

The Dare

“When we make the choice to dare greatly, we sign up to get our asses kicked. We can choose courage or we can choose comfort, but we can’t have both” – Brené Brown

I had it pretty easy as a kid. After school, Mom used to come out with trays of homemade brownies and fresh lemonade for me and the neighborhood kids as we lounged by the pool. We vacationed in Hawaii as a family and I always had new clothes from Nordstrom. I had loving, supportive parents. My group of neighborhood friends and I were thick as thieves. If I had to summate one word to encapsulate my childhood, the one that jumps out is “comfortable.”

Believe me, comfort is easy to get used to. Mom used to call me “Little Lord Fauntleroy” as if I were a spoiled prince and to be truthful, I was. As a teenager, I popped the collar on my polo shirt and drove around town in the family Mercedes without a care in the world. In college, life on easy street continued and I was the social chair of my fraternity, both literally and figuratively. Other than having a couple of high school break ups and losing a couple of childhood pets, I didn’t have a hard day of labor, trauma, or difficult period in my childhood. I even have the soft hands to prove it. It wasn’t until my first job out of college where I finally faced a challenging stretch.

Actually, it was more like a wake-up call than a challenging stretch. In the media business, I was expected to sell if I wanted to get paid and consistently produce if I wanted to keep my job. I couldn’t believe my seeming misfortune. Looking for some reprieve I inquired to my boss “When is spring break?” The boss raised an eyebrow and smirked, “Umm yeah, we don’t do spring break. This is the real world.”

The ‘real world.’ Those words haunted me for years. If you believe what you see on TV or read on the internet, it’s a scary place out there…the rising cost of living, corporate greed, the collapsing environment, dysfunctional government, health epidemics, fear, death, destruction, impending doom…where is there any relief!?

To many, the antidote to the real world is comfort. Like my childhood version of comfort, to some, relief is found in the seclusion of their ‘mcmansions,’ luxury sedans and fancy vacations. Others seek comfort at the bottom of a bottle or soothing effects of a pill.

Comfort is found in both escape as well as a in a sense of certainty – job titles, money in the bank, and surrounding ourselves with constant entertainment and interaction. We become defined by our stuff, our accomplishments, the jobs we have, our relationships and our activities - I am a successful wife, father, business executive, golfer, home owner.

None of these things (other than the drugs of course) are inherently bad things. Money, cars, houses, vacations, jobs, family – can all bring satisfaction. But these things also tend to bring only temporary satisfaction. The real world also has a way of inserting its will – sickness, divorce, downsized. What about when certainty suddenly becomes uncertain - Then what?

At such times, we have two choices – fight or flight. ‘Flight’ is the familiar story and puts you back in the matrix - the escape of a new car, new activity, new partner, new sofa. Whereas ‘Fight’ puts you up against your biggest, baddest and toughest opponent – you. If you choose fight, you choose uncertainty over certainty and the quest for truth. Choosing fight means you choose the dare.

My first real dare happened after the perfect storm of a failed long-term relationship and my first career ending as a dot-com casualty. Without the stability of a career or comfort of a life partner, I stared in to the abyss. What now?

I started my dare process with a pen and a notebook at various Seattle coffee shops the throes of the 2001 recession. With no job or money, I had lots of time to ponder my next step and future path. After struggling to ask the right questions, eventually I settled on ‘who am I?’ and ‘what do I want?’ Answers flowed naturally into my notebook:

Who am I?

I am creative, I am passionate, I am empathetic, I am unique.

What do I want?

I want to express my artistry as an actor and writer, I want to find the perfect partner, I want to get married, I want to get a stable job, I want to demonstrate fitness, purpose, and wellness, I want to grow spiritually…

These desires, while well-intentioned, have been failures and uncertainties more than they have been successes. In part, I didn’t find the satisfaction, freedom, peace of mind I was looking for because I wasn’t digging deep enough. The questions I was asking were self-centered, self-directed and all about me.

Daring isn’t just about defining what you like and what you want, daring is about defining what and who you are at your core. While changing jobs, changing cities, and starting or ending a new relationship are courageous endeavors, they still are just about changing labels. Labels ultimately don’t define us, ‘dares’ do. For me getting divorced wasn’t the dare, facing a failed marriage was. Trying a new job or activity wasn’t the dare, facing the challenge and uncertainty was. Rather than making a new label, to dare is to face yourself without the label.

To dare means the willingness to strive for authenticity. The existential question that looms for all of us is ‘outside of my job, family, and activities, what truly defines me?’ The only way to know is to dare, or as Brené Brown puts it "Dare Greatly."

Daring is about exploring what you can be and what difference you can make…another way to think about it is the question, “How can I demonstrate my real purpose?” The essential nature of the dare is authenticity. The requirements are introspection, vulnerability, and courage. Sometimes we dare because we are called to, whereas other times we dare as a last resort.

Three cities and many, many attempts and failures later, I’m still standing. I don’t know where my next dare will take me, but I know that each day, I have a choice. Like the famous scene in The Matrix we all have a choice to make - the blue pill keeps us exactly where we are, the red pill is to dare greatly and strive for truth.

 

 

 

 

CONTEMPT AND RESPECT

John Gottman can tell if you’re going to get a divorce. For decades Gottman has been observing couples and can predict with over 90% accuracy which couples will remain married and who will get divorced in the future. Gottman’s research suggests that one criteria sticks out more than any other.

There are many reasons couples don’t get along and ultimately decide to part ways. You might guess that the deciding factor in the declaration of divorce is rooted in disagreement over money, issues of faithfulness, the ability to get along, or frequency of fighting. But it turns out that those aren’t the primary causes of divorce. There is one simple quality above all others that is indicative of a marriage fractured beyond repair – contempt. When Gottman observes contempt in just a short interview with couples, he knows with almost certainty that the marriage is doomed.

While disagreements happen, money issues are stressful, and trust can break down when we act with less than noble intentions, all of these situations can be remedied. Trust can be regained, disagreements can be negotiated, and money, while an ever-present dilemma, is not as important as we make it out to be. But contempt is a deal breaker.

After all, what can be done (other than leaving) when someone treats you with disdain, in a vile manner, or with utter scorn? To use a self-defense analogy, once someone puts their hands on you, it’s time to defend yourself any means necessary or it’s time to go. Similarly, once you’re on contempt street, it’s time to move on to a different avenue.

But contempt isn’t just a marriage issue, it has become a societal issue and an all too frequent occurrence. With political polarity, dysfunctional government, income inequality, health care disparity, and corporate greed at all-time highs, contempt is a full blown cultural epidemic. Compounding the problem, the media (and the mediums with which we use) exacerbate this phenomenon. We insulate our newsfeeds and social media with like-minded followers, we interact only with those who hold similar views and we ‘play the game’ at work because corporate America is predicated on collective thought, not critical thought.

The reality is that we as a society are divorced from one another – right from left, rich from poor, religious from secular, and corporate employee from entrepreneur. We are in uncharted and strange times where civility and healthy debate seem like unattainable and impossible concepts. If we are ever to ‘re-marry’ as one nation and one planet unified in thought and deed, then we have some serious work to do. Addressing any systemic issue starts with getting at the root of the problem.

Contempt is easy to spot but difficult to resolve. Evidence of contempt is everywhere we look - the current political tone, the sensationalism of the media, viral videos of angry airline passengers, road rage, and police shootings. Indeed contempt is easy to diagnose, but much harder to cure. In finding the solution, we must first name the cause.

Any time you’re looking for a root cause of something, looking at its opposite usually paints a telling picture. Contempt comes from a misguided feeling of superiority and the irony in a feeling of superiority is that such a state arises from a state of inferiority. Historically, extreme nationalistic movements occur from a feeling of being marginalized or defeated. From this context, such a reaction seems logical – what better way to respond from being judged, conquered, or overwhelmed than to instill a healthy dose of pride?

But pride comes before the fall and while pride is perhaps a logical reaction, it’s a faulty one. Pride leads to contempt and contempt leads to divorce. While the self-justified feeling that accompanies contemptuous action feels good in the moment, the end result is always a poor if not a fractured one.

If contempt is the root of many of our societal issues, the remedy once again lies in looking at its opposite. The opposite of contempt is respect. Contempt is the proverbial chip on your shoulder on steroids - hating each other, hating ourselves and most of all, hating viewpoints that differ from ours. The quick litmus test of contempt is the ability and willingness to sit with uncertainty or opposing forces. If you can’t bear to hear, read, confront or spend time around those who look, act and think differently than you do, that’s a “you” problem.

Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin famously sang about respect, but the tone of their narrative was about getting respect. Demanding respect especially for those for have been wrongfully persecuted and stigmatized is understandable. But our modern contempt epidemic calls for giving it. The great teachers in history from Jesus to Gandhi to MLK show us that love and respect is only gained through giving and empathy.

The great challenge of our times is to realize we are not special but one. We are not a great nation but a great planet. We are not defined by what makes us different and unique, but by what makes us similar and brings us together. We don’t respect the planet, we don’t respect our bodies, and we certainly don’t respect one another. It’s about time we started to.

Build the Bridge

“A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not bridges, is not Christian. This is not in the Gospel” - Pope Francis

I recently spent a holiday in Mexico. Our driver from the airport to the hotel was a man fittingly named Jesus. Filled with humility, gratitude, and joy over the recent birth of his daughter, Jesus spoke impeccable English, was college educated in the US, and has two sisters living in California. After a graduating from university, Jesus hired a lawyer hoping to immigrate legally to the US along side his sisters. His lawyer told him they had a 50/50 shot in gaining legal residency. He didn’t get in.

Rather than speak bitterly about his experience, Jesus spoke with a sense of appreciation for the opportunity he had to get an education in the US and the silver lining of coming home to Mexico to meet the love of his life and raise a family. Still, I couldn’t help but ruminate on his seeming lack of opportunity in Mexico and the poetic injustice of a well-spoken college graduate having to drive a car for a living due to geographic circumstances. While I don’t know much about immigration law or political science for that matter, I do know that the country I live in needs more people like Jesus (pun intended).

I half jokingly mentioned to him that if things continued in the direction we were headed in our country, soon we Americans would be hopping over the wall the other way to live in peace on Mexican beaches. As I encountered more of his fellow country men and women on my trip I couldn’t help be bothered by the notions of building walls, profiling certain races and religions, and sending droves of poor and downtrodden people to prison. To the Pope’s comment, such responses seem very un-Christian.

As our trip drew to a close, on the way back to the airport, this time our driver was named Jaun. Unlike Jesus, he spoke very little English, although he did have a thing for Eminem! As he dropped us off, I paid him the $1600 pesos that the hotel had quoted as the rate for the ride. A few minutes later as we were rolling our bags into the terminal, the driver circled back and in broken English said “you paid me too much.” It turns out that the going rate was $1200 pesos, not $1600. I was dumbfounded. I couldn’t imagine any cab driver in the States circling back around thinking they were overpaid and not simply deserving of a huge tip.

Such examples confirmed my faith in humanity and the notion that we are not ultimately defined by our borders, politics, or beliefs. In the end we are all defined by character. Throughout history, character has been demonstrated and created by tearing down walls and ego, eliminating fear, and by standing up for justice. While the ego strives to protect itself at all costs, character is enhanced and forged by building bridges, not walls.

We live in a tumultuous time filled with great change. A natural reaction to any unsettling transition is fear and a basic manifestation of fear is anger. But while anger understandable…it’s also infantile (A four year old gets angry when they don’t get their way). We must evolve from anger and contempt towards acceptance. Further evolving means embracing the uncertainty of our times; for change is also synonymous with opportunity. In the acceptance of change, we will gain much greater clarity in and around the best policies and resolutions necessary in addressing these issues. But we must first address our thinking.

I’m not a political writer and while I generally try and stay in my lane of health and wellness, it appears to me that greater acceptance, greater compassion, and greater tolerance (to those who think act, pray and live differently) has everything to do with health and wellness. As love and hate directly correlate to our well-being both mentally and physically, all of these problems and questions are also questions of health. Our societal afflictions – our political problems, our weight and health problems, our drug problem, and our fear & hate problems are questions that only have love, compassion, and acceptance as answers.

Our common responses politically and philosophically are frequently rooted in fear at a tremendous cost to our collective health. Furthermore, fear manifested in action and reactive policy doesn’t work in the long run. Whether you’re a student of health or a student of history, the conclusion should be clear - you can’t fight drugs with wars, you can’t fight illegal immigration with walls, and you can’t fight things that threaten your belief construct with fear and hate. Doing so only worsens the symptoms.

My narrative may seem idealistic and naïve to many considering there are policies in place which are oft ignored or broken. I certainly respect that there are legal ways to do things and generally speaking, the rule of law is a good thing. That said, many laws are flawed, rigid, unjust, if not institutionally and/or overtly biased. Furthermore, while policy has its place, systemic problems are ultimately addressed and solved through right thought, empathy, and inclusion. Extremism isn’t best remedied with anger, isolationism, and more extremism. It starts individually with the simple acknowledgement that we must open our hearts and broaden our thinking. To paraphrase Gandhi, we must work towards world peace by finding inner peace. Oh and in case you’ve been looking for 'Jesus' and wondering where he is…he lives in Punta De Mita, Mexico!