The One You Feed Provides Digital Buffet of Food for Thought
by Jenny Patton
***Publishers’ Note: Shortly after we went to print with this story, The One You Feed was named one of the “Best of 2014” podcasts by iTunes. Congratulations to Eric and Chris on their continued success.***
I was having lunch with Natural Awakenings co-publisher Kerry Griffith and she mentioned The One You Feed podcast. She then handed me her phone to show me the cover image with two wolves. “No way,” I thought. “That’s the Native American parable that I share with my students,” I told her. She nodded and said that is what it is based upon. The universe was trying to tell me something: “Listen to this podcast.” Since that afternoon two months ago, I have listened to every episode, and my life is richer for it.
Columbus-based podcast creators Eric Zimmer and Chris Forbes want to know what I want to know: How can we feed our “good wolves” and live a life of meaning on a daily basis? Their approach is to chat with writers, psychologists, musicians, athletes and others to ask them how they create a life worth living.
Launched just a year ago, the podcast recently reached the “half-a-million listens” mark, and its listenership is ranked within the top two to three percent of podcasts in the world.
Zimmer and Forbes begin each episode by asking guests what the parable means to them. Now, it is their turn to respond.
This parable is a reminder to live consciously, Zimmer says. “It’s very easy to get on autopilot or forget that I have a choice in the way I act,” he adds.
Forbes agrees. “The parable points out that we have a choice in the direction our lives can take and in the quality of the outcome,” he says. “This can, of course, go either direction. Ideally, if we are making the right choices, the outcome is a happy, fun and serene life, owing to how we treat ourselves and others on a day-to-day basis.”
Entrepreneur and business consultant Zimmer wanted to start an online endeavor and began listening to podcasts such as Good Life Project by Jonathan Fields. When he came up with the angle of the parable, he invited audio expert and long-time friend Forbes to join him. “I thought it would be a great chance for us to spend more time together. We both can use help in keeping these things in the fronts of our minds.”
Listeners do not just learn about podcast guests, they also learn about the show’s creators. During his interviews, Zimmer reveals personal information about himself, like his past struggles with addiction and depression, to draw in listeners. His short list of things he does on a regular basis to stay in a good frame of mind include music, exercise, and connecting with people, the community and his three dogs.
Forbes too has had his challenges. “I have always struggled with depression and negativity, and the response to both was often abusing myself, others, or simply letting them fester, unattended, into horrible results. The power of the podcast is that it is a weekly reminder of what direction I want my life to go, and I hope it helps our listeners for the same reason,” Forbes says.
Through the podcast, Zimmer enjoys hearing wisdom from “some really smart people.” He appreciates the opportunity to synthesize their ideas into his own view of the world. An essential piece of wisdom that has arisen during the podcast is not to enable mood to drive behavior. “For most of my life I thought that how I felt determined how I would live my life,” he says. “Accomplishing things in life is about doing what you’ve decided to do, not what you feel like doing.”
They are also interested in what spirituality means. “The way that I’ve most come to recognize it is that happiness really does come from inside,” Zimmer says. “We have to tend to that inner aspect of our lives. That’s where contentment comes from.”
Why I listen: How the podcast improves my life
I listen to the podcast during my commute to work and while doing housework. Here are just a few of its tips I have put into practice:
- Follow the “never miss twice” principle of not skipping good habits two days in a row. Missing one day of exercise or daily journal-writing practice, for example, has no measurable impact on my ability to stick to my habits over time, based on a study at University College London.
- Make a to-do list on Sundays and trust that “Sunday self” on Wednesdays when my mood tells me to avoid grading student papers.
- Practice Ashtanga yoga and benefit from this lineage-based method.
- Recognize how useless rumination drains my energy. When my thoughts do not lead to a course of action, I try to switch to something that requires concentration, such as reading.
On music and dream guests
While he learns from all of his podcast conversations, Zimmer said his sessions with musicians Frank Turner and Mike Scott from The Waterboys were most personally significant. Forbes says Dave Davies of The Kinks and Mike Scott were also huge standouts.
This connects to their lifelong passion for music, one of the ways they fuel themselves. In fact, Forbes and Zimmer create all the music for the podcast.
“Music has traditionally been one of the main ways I feed my good wolf and receive comfort and strength in life. To ignore it would be ignoring a big part of what matters to me,” Zimmer says. “Sometimes there’s no better strategy than to put on music and turn it on loud. That sometimes does more for my mood or state of mind than anything else.”
Musician Leonard Cohen is among their list of dream guests. They would also love to host the Dalai Lama and Pope Francis, but acknowledge spiritual leaders are rather “in demand.” Zimmer credits the work of Buddhist nun Pema Chodron, another dream guest, as instrumental in his life. Her book When Things Fall Apart “basically saved” Zimmer after his divorce many years ago. “It’s beautiful the way she sees the world,” he says.
“Most surprising to me is the success of the podcast,” Forbes says. “Eric and I knew going in that we would have fun doing it, but it quickly became much larger than just having fun.”
The podcast world is a crowded market, and the vast majority of podcasts never get more than 100 or 200 listens, Zimmer explains. He credits their success to a combination of luck and having created a good show. Strategy played a role, too. They recorded conversations for a few months before launching the podcast on iTunes last January then released three episodes on the first day and one each day after that to have more initial shows available.
“Our hope was that if we got in there that we’d find people who liked it, and that turned out to happen.” Zimmer then “pestered” people he knew to download it and write reviews. “Early on, someone within iTunes listened to the show and liked us, so they chose to feature us several times.”
Zimmer owns a company, does consulting work, runs the podcast, travels for work and has a family. He says, “Balance is not something you can define and pin down.” He used to think he could plan to spend 10 percent of his time on one task and 30 percent of his time on another, but has found that the reality is nothing like that on a day-to-day basis.
One week he may devote 90 percent of his time to his consulting work. Another week he may focus on the podcast. If one of his children is sick, then he devotes himself to caring for the child. “This idea that I’m going to get this balance in my life that is always perfect doesn’t work,” he adds. Balance is about being flexible and realizing during the short term he may be out of balance but over the long term staying devoted to what is important to him.
As Worthington natives, Zimmer and Forbes both bring an Ohio perspective to a podcast enjoyed by people around the world. “The way I view the world is somewhat Midwestern,” Zimmer says. “It’s practical and skeptical of fancy claims.” This outlook likely contributes to the way he encourages guests to dig deeper into their messages, and to ask the same questions that listeners may be thinking.
It has also opened doors to meet with guests who have an Ohio connection, such as Lewis Howes, a professional athlete who once lived in Columbus, and Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan, author of A Mindful Nation.
In the coming year, the podcast may add “man-on-the-street interviews” in which the hosts ask people what the parable means to them. Since core themes arise, Zimmer has begun to compile a list of shows by theme. He is not sure if this will take the form of a book, audio series or something else entirely. “The goal this year is to continue to make good shows, to interview people we are interested in and to grow our listeners,” Zimmer says. Most importantly, Zimmer and Forbes are committed to releasing an episode once a week, “come hell or high water.”
For more information, visit OneYouFeed.net to find details on podcast guests, topics covered during the conversations, plus links to articles, websites, blogs, and in some cases, free guides or books.
Jenny Patton teaches writing at The Ohio State University and co-leads yoga-writing workshops in Columbus. Connect at Patton.firstname.lastname@example.org.