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Feeling Overwhelmed? Lasting Change through Present State Awareness

I just returned from Orlando, Florida, where I was fortunate enough to attend the 2010 NSCA National Conference.  The NSCA (National Strength and Conditioning Association) serves nearly 30,000 professional members from the sport science, athletic, allied health, and fitness industries.  They are recognized as the worldwide authority on strength and conditioning; their aim is to “support and disseminate research-based knowledge and its practical application to improve athletic performance and fitness” (

The conference featured a long list of highly qualified and well-respected professionals, including 2010 Olympic Gold Medalist Steve Mesler (USA, Bobsledding), who delivered a very motivational opening ceremony speech.  Although many interesting and relevant topics were discussed, most are best applied in an in-person setting (movement screens and associated corrective drills, new research in managing shoulder disorders, new concepts in athletic speed and agility training, etc).  Over the next little while, I will share relevant information pertaining to injury prevention, new concepts in nutrition, etc.  However, for the time being, I am compelled to write about something else: behaviour change.

It’s funny, with all the new and exciting research being discussed at the conference, most of my personal discussions with other health and fitness professionals ended up stemming from the question, “how do you get your clients to adhere to their programs outside of their training sessions?”  We in the fitness industry no longer live the lie that everyone has the same passion for healthy living that we do.  Ok, we get it, we’re fitness nerds.  We now understand that the obesity epidemic we are experiencing across the world would not be present if exercise and healthy lifestyle habits came naturally.  We also understand that one of the biggest hurdles to overcome with a new client is assisting in the modification on their behaviour patterns to more beneficial ones.  So what can be done to change our behaviour patterns towards our wilful engagement in healthy living?

The key here is awareness.  Awareness is the ability to be present in the moment; neither lingering in the past (worrying about the fact that you shouldn’t have made that comment with your boss standing right behind you) nor daydreaming about future expectations (when I finish all of this work, then I’ll have free time).  Be here, now.  Understand the reality of this moment…as it is.

When we start to feel overwhelmed by life and all that “has” to get done, there are a few truths we must all be aware of:

There is a finite amount of time allotted to us each day
Therefore, we cannot do everything we may want; something has to give
Therefore, we must prioritize and plan out our day ahead of time
In order to adhere to our prioritized action plan, we must stay aware of the reality of the present moment
However, understand that unexpected disturbances may arise and it may be necessary to be flexible to go with the flow

As we enhance our practice of present state awareness (I will discuss specific exercises/techniques below), we become leaders rather than followers.  We can no longer subscribe to a life of merely “going through the motion”…we are compelled to open the shutters of ignorance and enter a state where we take full responsibility of our lives through conscious thought, word and action.  By staying present throughout the day, we place ourselves in a position where we are very conscious of the decisions we make and their associated consequences.

Theory into practice…what is required for awareness:

Honesty (with yourself)
  • Do you enjoy physical activity and healthy living?  Whether you do or not, examine why you answered the way you did.  What may be acting as a barrier?  Is it an external or internal barrier?
  • Once you have examined your response to this question honestly and free of judgement, you are now aware of why you may have shied away from healthy choices.  Through this new awareness, you will be in a better position to catch yourself in the act; i.e. when it comes time to make a decision to exercise/eat healthy or not, you will know why you may feel like withdrawing and you can consciously make the decision not to subscribe to that old behaviour pattern.
  • This by no means is a one-time deal.  This must be willingly practiced time and time again until the old behaviour pattern is broken and replaced by this new one.  It requires you to gently catch yourself as you fall in the thoughts of the past or future.  At first, it may take 10 minutes for you to realize that your mind is not in the present moment; without judgement, just bring yourself back to the present.  As you continue, you will notice that the 10 minutes becomes 8, then 5, then 3, and so on.  If you are open to it, practicing meditation will greatly aid this transition to present state awareness.
  • Like anything in life, the more you do this, the easier it gets (given it’s done frequently).  Recall the first time you got behind the wheel during driving lessons.  Personally, I experienced hesitation due to what I now know to have been the internal barrier of fear.  However, by engaging in this activity repeatedly over the course of several weeks, it became easier and easier to overcome the barrier.  At this point, two scenarios were present: there were those who now enjoyed driving and those who didn’t.  For those who enjoyed it, it was not seen as a chore.  For those who did not fancy driving, the behaviour pattern had been set where the sense of fear had been eradicated or at least dampened to some degree through enhanced self-efficacy and/or building new habits.
  • After examining your barriers and practicing awareness every time you are faced with the option to make a healthy decision, it is important to examine your intent.  If you lack the intent to dedicate energy to your own health and well-being, then sadly there is no one else in the world that can do this for you.  As long as there is even an ounce of intent to better yourself, then there is hope (which, for the most part, we all have).
  • Now to nurture this intent:
    • Examine what you like about yourself and acknowledge you love yourself (yes…I’m serious!)
    • Practice exercises in self-confidence (one Google search will keep you busy for months!).
    • Understand that you are absolutely worthy and deserving of your time and energy.
    • Examine how you can dedicate time (even increments of 10mins) into your daily life for physical activity
    • Examine your eating habits and where you can make small positive changes, etc.
  • By realizing your intent and nurturing it, you develop a solid foundation from which positive change can be spring-boarded.
  • Desire and intent can work hand-in-hand but this is not always the case.  You may have the intent to lead a healthier life, but simply have no desire to exercise (again, even though I was in denial for years, it is not everyone’s favourite thing to do!).
  • Desire is a powerful fuel and does not always come naturally.
  • To foster desire:
    • You must once again understand that you are worthy and deserving of leading a healthy life.
    • Appreciate that the more love, compassion and forgiveness you have for yourself, the more desire you will have to continually better yourself.
    • Be aware that healthy choices not only affect you, but affect all those around you.  Leading by example works to directly inspire others to take conscious action to better themselves.

Although this article is getting to be quite lengthy, the message is simple.  Challenge yourself to be aware; aware of your thoughts, as they affect you words, which affects your actions, which affects you and those around you.  Every time you are faced with a crossroad, allow your choice to be directed by present state awareness through honestly examining your intent and fostering desire by understanding how that choice will direct your life.  If you want an orange tree, you must plant orange seeds…if you want a healthy life tomorrow, you must plant seeds of health now!