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About Our Guest
Eric Zimmer is a dad, serial entrepreneur, podcast host, behavior coach, and author. He is endlessly inspired by the quest for a greater understanding of how our minds work and how to intentionally create the lives we want to live. At 24, Eric was homeless, addicted to heroin, and facing long jail sentences. In the years since, he has found a way to recover from addiction and build a life worth living for himself.
He currently hosts the award-winning podcast, The One You Feed, based on an old parable about two wolves at battle within us. With over 200 episodes and over 10 million downloads, the show features conversations with experts across many fields of study about how to create a life worth living. In addition to producing the show, Eric works as a behavior coach and has done so for the past 20 years. He has coached hundreds of people from around the world to make real, lasting change in their lives.
LASTING CHANGE SHOW TRANSCRIPT
Editor’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.
Narrator 1: Welcome to the Psych Central show, where each episode presents an in-depth look at issues from the field of psychology and mental health – with host Gabe Howard and co-host Vincent M. Wales.
Gabe Howard: Hello everybody and welcome to this week’s episode of the Psych Central Show podcast. My name is Gabe Howard and with me as always is Vincent M. Wales. And this week we are going to be speaking with Eric Zimmer. He’s a dad a serial entrepreneur behavior coach and an author and he’s gonna tell us really about a lot of things and I don’t want to read your bio, Eric. Eric, welcome to the show.
Eric Zimmer: Thank you for having me on.
Gabe Howard: Eric, of course I have your entire bio in front of me but, rather than read it off, can you introduce yourself to our audience please?
Eric Zimmer: Well, what I do these days is I am the host of The One You Feed podcast which has been out for about five years and we we do you know kind of similar to you guys. We talk with lots of different people about what it means to live a good life. And so I’ve been doing that for about five years. We’ve been listened to I think something like 15 million times. And so that’s been good. And then I also do behavioral coaching with people. And before that, I’ve got a long history of various entrepreneurial things like a software startup company. I started a solar energy company. I’ve got a son who is 20 and is at college and as I mentioned to you guys sort of in the beginning, and I’ve also got a mother in law who has Alzheimer’s that we’re taking care of. So that’s a big big part of my life these days. But it’s kind of a brief overview.
Vincent M. Wales: I want to tell you I love the title of your podcast, The One You Feed. Can you share with our listeners where that came from because it’s one of my favorite stories?
Eric Zimmer: Sure. It’s an old parable. Nobody really knows where it comes from. Some people insist it’s an old Cherokee story, other people insist it’s not a Cherokee story, so I don’t I have not been able to find anybody who really can prove one way or the other. But yeah it’s an old parable and in the parable, there’s a grandfather who’s talking with his grandson. He says, in life there are two wolves inside of us that are always a battle. One is a good wolf, which represents things like kindness and bravery and love, and the other’s a bad wolf, which represents things like greed and hatred and fear. And the grandson stops and he thinks about it for a second. He looks up at his grandfather and says, Grandfather< which one wins? And the grandfather says, the one you feed.
Vincent M. Wales: That’s beautiful.
Eric Zimmer: So that’s the parable. And I use it to kick off every episode. I just you know I start off by asking my guests kind of what that parable means to them in their lives and in the work that they do.
Vincent M. Wales: I love that. Awesome.
Gabe Howard: And of course, you’re from Columbus, Ohio, which is awesome because I’m from Columbus, Ohio and usually we’re interviewing people from all over the country and not in my back door. But what’s really cool is many years ago, you had the band Watershed on your podcast and I love the band Watershed. And besides people who know me or who are from Columbus, they’ve never heard of them, so from one watershed fan to the other, it’s great talking to you.
Eric Zimmer: Yep. A local Columbus band that was great and still is when they play sometimes.
Gabe Howard: Yeah they don’t play a lot because they got old and had kids.
Eric Zimmer: Yup, yup, yup.
Gabe Howard: You know, when you say serial entrepreneur, you know I’m very interested in that because you know most people say, I’ve started a business or I’m an entrepreneur, but you say serial entrepreneur because, well you’ve started a lot of businesses. Can you explain what serial entrepreneur means to you?
Vincent M. Wales: It means he can make cereal.
Eric Zimmer: Exactly, yes. You know, off-brand Frosted Flakes and Cocoa Puffs and… No, I think by serial, it just means that yeah it’s I’ve been in one sort of startup business after the other for most of my career. So that’s where most of my career has been spent is in, you know very small startup companies that are very entrepreneurial by the nature of them being pretty new and small, although some of them got big, but they started small.
Gabe Howard: And that sort of… you like to do this. I mean that’s like the crux of your career. You like to take small things and help start them, make them bigger, you like to turn ideas into substance. This is what being a behavior coach is. I mean, actually explain that better because I’m just butchering it to hell.
Eric Zimmer: Well I do love, I do love the early stages of a company. You know I love sort of yeah like you said, they’re building something, taking an idea getting it out there. And I love that really, in early stage companies, you do a little bit of everything. So your job description is very broad and very wide. And so that’s always suited me well. I do a fair number of things pretty well. And so that always suited me. And so yeah, I would do one and then the company would get about to the size where it started needing specialization, where it was more operational than it was you know building, and then you know for both the company and me it wasn’t usually the best fit at that point and it would be better for me to go on and do something.
Vincent M. Wales: So, Eric, I understand that you had in your in your history some issues with alcohol and other substances could you talk about that for a bit?
Eric Zimmer: Sure. At the age of 24, I was essentially a homeless heroin addict. I was really sick. I had hepatitis C, I weighed about 100 pounds. I had a lot of potential jail time staring me in the face. And so, at the age of 24, I got sober, recovered from heroin. I stayed sober about eight years and then I drank again for a few years and now I’ve been back sober again for about 13 years, so I’ve got sort of two distinct stories of getting sober.
Gabe Howard: And you also struggled with depression, if I’m not mistaken.
Eric Zimmer: Yeah. And you know I never know whether to say I still struggle with it or not. I don’t really know. It is not the prominent factor of my life like it was for a long time. But you know it’s still sort of there. I think I manage it way way better than I did and it’s far less of a heavy thing in my life. But I think it’s still something that I work with. It’s a feature of my inner landscape.
Gabe Howard: This is a constant discussion in mental health circles. You know I live with bipolar disorder and I say I’m in recovery from bipolar disorder, but I still have bipolar disorder, I still have to manage it. I still spend some part of my day worried about it. So am I in recovery with? Am I in from? Some people are like well there’s no cure or so recovery is the wrong word.
Eric Zimmer: Yeah.
Gabe Howard: It is a difficult thing to try to manage because you don’t want to wander around and tell everybody that you’re depressed because then people might try to render care or aid and you’re just trying to live your life. But by the same token you don’t want to tell people that you’re fine because this is something that you… it’s impacted your life in many ways.
Eric Zimmer: Yeah you know I think for me with the show, you know I’m talking about these kind of topics all the time and I’m pretty open about it on the show and in other shows I go on to just because there’s lots of people out there that also struggle with it and and wrestle with it. And yeah I agree with you. I don’t know, like I said, I don’t know whether it’s am I recovered, am I in recovery, is it gone? And what’s remainder is sort of a natural melancholy temperament. I don’t know any of those answers. But I do know that the things that I’ve done to treat depression, most of them are things that I continue to do today, because they seem to keep depression at bay and they’re just kind of all around good for my mood state.
Gabe Howard: It is a common discussion that people have. Where does mental illness end and my personality begin? When is it a mental health issue versus a mental illness? When is it just an emotion? When is it… you know it’s why podcasts like ours can really exist, because there’s a lot of discussion and varying opinions on the subject. So thank you for lending your voice to the landscape. It’s very much important.
Eric Zimmer: You’re welcome.
Vincent M. Wales: So now Eric, how did your history with alcohol and drugs… how did that lead to what you do today? How did it impact your life and what was the process there?
Eric Zimmer: So like I said originally, I got sober at 24, stayed sober about eight years, got sober again, and I think that in my case, recovery from addiction and alcoholism took sort of a wholesale change in the way I viewed the world and how I moved in it. And it made me take my internal state much more seriously and really pay attention to what’s happening there and then also you know look at how am I interacting with others and connecting with others. And so I’ve kind of always had that. And that drove an interest in me in all things mental health related, spirituality related. And so that was kind of always there. And then about five years ago, five and a half years ago at this point, I had a solar energy company that I eventually just decided I didn’t… I was going to shut it down. And so I shut it down and I was doing some consulting work and I was just kind of bored. You know I didn’t really have like a thing that was, that I was really into and passionate about and love. And so the idea to do this podcast just kind of hit me. And it’s turned out to be wonderful. I started it for a couple reasons. Like I said, I started it because I was bored. I also started it because what I realized was that my mind, when it’s left to its own devices, heads towards less than optimal places. And so I wanted to sort of feed the good wolf in my own life. And I thought you know what if I interview people every week and then I read their book to prepare for the interview like I’ll be immersed in and swimming in these ideas, these concepts,these topics, and it’ll help me just overall do better. And that turned out to be totally true. And my best friend was an audio engineer and I thought that by doing it I get to spend more time with him, which turned out to be very true.
Vincent M. Wales: Well that’s convenient.
Gabe Howard: That is really cool. And you know it’s not unlike it’s not unlike the story of the Psych Central Show. On our hundredth episode, we sort of talked about how this show came to be and there’s a lot of similarities there. I ran my mouth. Next thing you know I thought hey I can spend more time with my good friend, which is Vin. And here we are. And we’re glad that we did because we definitely need to stay out of trouble for sure.
Eric Zimmer: I agree. I understand that that motivation.
Gabe Howard: We’re going to step away for 30 seconds to hear from our sponsor. We’ll be right back.
Narrator 2: This episode is sponsored by BetterHelp.com, secure, convenient and affordable online counselling. All counselors are licensed, accredited professionals. Anything you share is confidential. Schedule secure video or phone sessions, plus chat and text with your therapist whenever you feel it’s needed. A month of online therapy often costs less than a single traditional face-to-face session. Go to BetterHelp.com/PsychCentral and experience seven days of free therapy to see if online counselling is right for you. BetterHelp.com/PsychCentral.
Vincent M. Wales: Welcome back everyone. We’re here with Eric Zimmer talking about making lasting change in our lives. So Eric, tell us about how this became your coaching work. You say it’s a behavior coach. Is that correct?
Eric Zimmer: Yeah, you know it started a couple years into the podcast and I started having listeners ask me if I ever did any one-on-one work with people. And I originally you know I initially said no I don’t. You know it’s not really something I’ve done. But I kept getting people asking me and I thought you know what? Let me give this a try. Let me see what it’s like to coach people. And you know about partway through the first call, it hit me that I had done this hundreds of times in recovery by being the sponsor to people. You know I had done that over and over and over and so I really realized it was something that I really felt like I knew how to do. And by behavior coach, what I generally mean by that is that it’s very difficult to… We all know you can’t just change your emotion, you can’t just grab your emotion and move it where you want it to be. And we can certainly work with thoughts, but some thoughts are what they are. But the thing that we seem to have the most control over is our behavior. You know there’s an old line I heard early in my recovery time, which is, sometimes you can’t think your way into right action. You’ve got to act your way in the right thinking. And so I would say that that line sort of underlies the whole idea of behavior coaching, that there are behaviors that we can do. There are activities that we can do that move us in the direction of our goals and our dreams. And also, there are behaviors and actions we can do that help our emotional and mental states of mind also. So that’s really where I focus is on what what behaviors are we going to change and how do we change them? I think we all have some idea like, well you know what? I know exercise is good for my mental and emotional health and I hear that eating right is good and meditation might be good. But a lot of us struggle to make any kind of lasting change with those things or to really stick with them. So that’s a lot of what I focus on with people is how do you make the change in your life you want to make? From things like I just described exercise or eating right to people who are trying to finish a dissertation or I’ve helped people finish novels or people who are trying to start businesses. If there’s a behavior, if there’s something you want to change, that’s kind of what I think I’m an expert at.
Vincent M. Wales: Now a lot of us have experience with making changes, but just not being able to keep at it. You know this is… we’re recording this in late January so recently it was all, you know, New Year’s resolution times, right? People are going to make their insistence on eating better and exercising and yet, come March, they’re not doing it. So what is a way that we can make the change going over the long term?
Eric Zimmer: So one of the things that happens to a lot of us is we we have this narrative in our head that says you know what? I’m the kind of person that just can’t stick with anything or I’m the kind of person who can never finish anything. So we start to make a change and it’s going along well. And then like I mentioned something knocks this off track, our kids get sick, our dog needs to go to the vet, we get sick, and then all of a sudden that voice in our head starts to say again to us, see? I knew you couldn’t stick with it, I knew you wouldn’t stick with it. And then that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. So a lot of it is about really learning how to get back on track quickly. Some of it is learning how to adjust as your life changes. So you might have a routine that’s going really well, but you start traveling for work. So how do you keep the routine going while you travel for work, or you enter a busy season at work or it’s summer and the kids are out of school. It’s about being able to sort of adjust to what you’re doing, how much you’re doing, when you’re doing it, how you’re doing it. All of that to kind of adjust as life changes, because the same routine usually won’t work for people forever and ever and ever. It needs to be adjustable. But what happens is that when life starts to move around in ways we don’t expect, we get off track and we tend to give up. So that’s one really big one is to just get back on track as soon as possible. There’s another one that’s really important that I sort of call… the analogy I make is like don’t kill the plant, right? So if you think of your habit as like a plant, there are times that when you’re at home you can water the plant and you can take good care of it and you talk to it if that’s your thing, right? But then inevitably something happens. You go out of town for a week. When you go out of town for a week, all you’re really after you might ask your mom to come by and water the plant once a week. You just don’t want to kill the plant. And sometimes habits are this way. If you get a really busy week, what we want to do is not kill the habit. So if your routine is to go the gym every day for an hour, but the week just is really really busy, you’re better off to go to the gym every day for 10 minutes. You know reduce the scope, stick to the schedule is what well-known habits person says, because that keeps the habit alive. And that’s really the key is how do you just keep the habit alive so that when circumstances are better you can kind of get back to the full version of the habit? So those are just some of the ways to get through when things change a lot and how to really make a habit stick long term.
Gabe Howard: I really like all of that. I can relate to a lot of it even in my own life and in my own recovery and you know from personal goals to business goals, that all resonates and makes a lot of sense. So I’m about to throw a wrench in it and ask what happens when somebody like me gets off track? Because I know I’m going to get off track. So what are the strategies to get back on track?
Eric Zimmer: I think that the most important is just to almost expect that that’s going to happen. Right? Because if you expect that getting off track is part of the process, if you recognize that that’s going to happen to most everybody at some point or other, then it’s a lot easier to get back on track because you don’t assign a whole lot of moral judgment to it. You don’t think it says something about you. You don’t do what I said just a minute ago, which is you start telling yourself, see I knew I couldn’t do it. You just know like, oh yeah that happens sometimes. I’m going to get back on. The other thing you can do that can be really helpful is if you get off track, is it’s often important to start the habit smaller than it was. So let’s take exercise as an example. Maybe you’re used to exercising for an hour a day, right? And you get off track for a couple of weeks or you get off track even for a month. A lot of times we try and pick right back up where we were and often that is too difficult. And so a lot of times what can be helpful is to start doing something that’s a little bit easier. A smaller version of it and build up to it. And that’s often one of the key ways to start a good habit is start smaller than you think you need to do. Find something that you could do every day and succeed at to build a habit. And so the same thing can happen if you get off track. Often it’s helpful to sort of step back a little bit. So I like to meditate you know 20 to 40 minutes a day, but there have been some times over the last couple of years where I’ll get off track and I’ll miss some days of meditation and what I’ll find is that all of a sudden jumping back up to 40 minutes feels like a lot. So I’ll give myself permission to start back over at 10 minutes a day and build my way back up. So that can be a way to get back on track when it feels really hard to get started again.
Vincent M. Wales: So what if you’ve been off track for say, I dunno, 20 years? How small can I start?
Eric Zimmer: [laughs] Joking aside, as absolutely small as you need to. So let’s… I’ll use meditation again, right? I have been an on again off again meditator since I was 18 years old. That was a long time ago, right? And so I would try and meditate for 30 minutes a day. I pick up a book and it’d say you should meditate for 30 minutes a day. So I would try and meditate for 30 minutes a day. And in my particular case, sitting down to meditate is kind of like inviting the circus to come to town and 30 minutes was too long. It was too hard. So I would manage to gut it out for a few days or a few weeks, but eventually I would stop. And so finally about five years ago, I decided that I was going to meditate for three minutes a day, but I was going to do it every single day. That was the tradeoff. I’m not going to try and do 30 minutes; I’m going to do three, but I’m going to do it every day. And from there, I was able to build to four to five… you know finally up to 20, 30, 40 minutes by slowly slowly building up, but in the beginning you look at three minutes you go, that’s ridiculous. Nobody is going to get any benefit out of three minutes of meditation or you know if you’re trying to get in good shape you know say, well I’m not going to get any benefit out of taking a walk around the block. But what you’re doing is you’re building the habit, you’re beginning to put that structure in place you’re beginning to feel better about yourself and you’re beginning to build some momentum. So seriously, no amount is too small. When I work with a client, if they’re struggling, like if we if we try and build a habit and it’s not taking, we will just keep trying a smaller and smaller amount until they are able to do it. Consistently and frequently. And then we’ll build from there. If we go too far, too fast, it’s often difficult to do. And there’s a really good reason for all this. There’s actual a behavioral model out there that a Stanford professor B.J. Fogg developed, and I’m not going to go into it, but it lays it out in sort of a graphic where you can see very clearly why that principle works.
Gabe Howard: Eric, I like that you use conventional wisdom, facts, and just support in order to help people get to where they’re going. You know, so many people want to focus you know just on the goal or just on the science or just on the hugging and while all of those things are important, they often you know, we kind of need to put them all together. I mean I need somebody to tell me what to do just as much as I need somebody to tell me how I can do it when it comes to certain things in our lives and I think that’s one of the things that has made you a successful coach and no doubt why people listen to your podcast.
Eric Zimmer: Yeah I think you’re absolutely right. I love when I start to see modern science back up something that comes from you know more of an ancient tradition and you sort of see both those things agreeing. I always feel like that’s like… I like that because it’s so he gives me reinforcement from two sources. And I also agree with you, I think that all of us are told over and over and over and over what we need to do, but a lot of the problem is in actually doing it.
Vincent M. Wales: Yes indeed.
Gabe Howard: Hear hear. So Eric, please plug your podcast one more time. I am assuming that it can be found on every single podcast player imaginable, but does it have a web site?
Eric Zimmer: It does. The podcast is called The One You Feed. So like you said, search any podcast player or oneyoufeed.net.
Vincent M. Wales: Eric, thanks for being on the show. This was very informative and we really appreciate you taking the time to be with us.
Eric Zimmer: Thank you so much for having me on. I really enjoy talking with both of you.
Gabe Howard: You’re very welcome and Vin, I think I know what you might be getting for your birthday. Eric sells gift certificates.
Vincent M. Wales: Ahhhh…
Gabe Howard: Thank you Eric for being here and thank you everyone for tuning in. And remember you can get one week of free, convenient, affordable, private, online counselling anytime, anywhere by visiting betterhelp.com/psychcentral. We’ll see everybody next week.
Narrator 1: Thank you for listening to the Psych Central Show. Please rate, review, and subscribe on iTunes or wherever you found this podcast. We encourage you to share our show on social media and with friends and family. Previous episodes can be found at PsychCentral.com/show. PsychCentral.com is the internet’s oldest and largest independent mental health website. Psych Central is overseen by Dr. John Grohol, a mental health expert and one of the pioneering leaders in online mental health. Our host, Gabe Howard, is an award-winning writer and speaker who travels nationally. You can find more information on Gabe at GabeHoward.com. Our co-host, Vincent M. Wales, is a trained suicide prevention crisis counselor and author of several award-winning speculative fiction novels. You can learn more about Vincent at VincentMWales.com. If you have feedback about the show, please email [email protected].
About The Psych Central Show Podcast Hosts
Gabe Howard is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar and anxiety disorders. He is also one of the co-hosts of the popular show, A Bipolar, a Schizophrenic, and a Podcast. As a speaker, he travels nationally and is available to make your event stand out. To work with Gabe, please visit his website, gabehoward.com.
Vincent M. Wales is a former suicide prevention counselor who lives with persistent depressive disorder. He is also the author of several award-winning novels and creator of the costumed hero, Dynamistress. Visit his websites at www.vincentmwales.com and www.dynamistress.com.