Johann Berlin on Living a Fulfilling Life (Interview on The One You Feed Podcast)

 Johann Berlin

I really live by this principle and believe that what you put your attention on grows.

Introducer

Welcome to the one you feed. throughout time great tinkerers have recognized the importance of the thoughts. We have quotes like garbage in, garbage out or you are what you think ring true. And yet for many of us, our thoughts don’t strengthen or empower us. We tend toward negativity, self-pity, jealousy or fear. We see what we don’t have instead of what we do. We think things that hold us back and dampen our spirit. But it’s not just about thinking, our actions matter. It takes conscious, consistent and creative effort to make a life worth living. This podcast is about how other people keep themselves moving in the right direction, how they feed their good wolf. Thanks for joining us. Our guest on this episode is Johann Berlin, CEO of the TLEX Institute in North America. He creates resilience in business by strengthening the connection between individuals, teams and organizations to achieve a greater purpose. Johann’s work has been mentioned in the Harvard Business Review, New York Times and Washington Post. He has spoken at TEDx London, Stanford Center for compassion, the Harvard Executive MBA alumni summit, Wharton School of Business and the Yale School of Management. This episode of the one you feed is sponsored by health IQ. Health IQ is an insurance company that uses science combined with data to secure lower rates on life insurance for health conscious people like runners, cyclists, strength trainers, vegans and more to see if you qualify. Get your free quote today at healthiq.com/wolf. You can also mention the promo code wolf when you talk to a health IQ agent, that’s health iq.com/wolf. And here’s the episode with Johann Berlin.

Interviewer

Hi Johann, welcome to the show.

 Johann Berlin

Great to be on, thanks for having me.

Interviewer

Yeah, I’m very excited to have you on. Let’s start, like we normally do with the parable, where there’s a grandfather’s talking with his grandson. He says “in life, there are two wolves inside of us that are always at battle. One is a good Wolf, which represents things like kindness and bravery and love. And the other is a bad wolf, which represents things like greed and hatred and fear” and the grandson stops. And he thinks about it for a second and he looks up at his grandfather and he says, “well, grandfather, which one wins?” And the grandfather says “the one you feed”. So I’d like to start off by asking you what that parable means to you in your life and in the work that you do.

 Johann Berlin

Sure, the parable strikes for me in a number of ways. But I really live by this principle and believe that what you put your attention on grows. And I found that on a very interpersonal level, where I choose to put my attention is what my reality is. But I also think it’s very interesting and what we’re learning about biofeedback and neural plasticity. And so I think that these, these two things converge for me and it’s so beautiful, but actually prepared a story that I think is apt to this to this. So it would it be okay, if I just share that and then lead from there.

Interviewer

Absolutely.

 Johann Berlin

Great, so there was a billionaire. And he found out that a very wise Sage was coming through town. And he asked “can I speak with the sage to one of the people organizing?” And they said, “yeah we’ll see it” and they came back to me said, “Yeah, you can come”. But you can only ask one question. So he’s thinking all night what should I ask, you know, should I ask how to gain more wealth? Should I ask, you know, the secret to enlightenment And he decides on a very practical question. He was a person of principles who build habits. And so he decides that if I could cultivate one quality with the time I have left in this life. If I could focus on one thing, what would it be? And so he goes to the sage and any asked this question and the sage pauses and he looks at him and he says discernment. And the man’s a little taken aback. He’s not used to somebody. He’s a, you know, very powerful person, like, what do you mean I need to be more discerning and so he can’t but help ask a second question, which is what do you mean discernment? Why discernment of all things. And the sage looks at him and smiles. And he says, “discerning that which is important from that which isn’t, is the most important quality you can develop in life”. And so I feel this story is very beautiful. And it goes to the parable as well, which is, we can really choose where we tend to land and when we can’t control the situations around us, but we can choose what we feed ourselves. And so for me, I’ve been asking myself this question what is important in life? And in our work also, I’ve been asked you what is important in meaningful work? I’m running the Leadership Institute. And the answer that is coming up for me right now and has been consistently is, the love is the most important thing. And it takes people aback a little bit, especially in a fortune 100, fortune 500 kind of setting. Anyway, I would be curious to hear your thoughts. What is most important to you if you have to discern something that’s important?

Interviewer

That’s a great question. It’s very difficult to get it down to one word. And so I’ve thought about this actually, recently, because there was something I was doing that was sort of this idea of getting down to a fundamental value. And I sort of oscillated between freedom, not just freedom, like from oppression externally but internal freedom. You know, freedom from the burden of self freedom from being shackled to my thoughts. I think also presence was another one you know being present to myself to the people around me and then love was the other so I’m cheating with three.

 Johann Berlin

Yeah, I love it though I love this thing of agency and freedom. And so I just wanted to share though that in a corporate context how love could apply. Because a lot of people say like Tina Turner, you know, what’s love got to do with it? Like, what’s it got to do with you know, transformation in work and it’s an incredible thing. You know, we spend most of our life at work for most of us and most of people probably listening to this podcast. If you think about, you spend the majority of your days for sure. Now, if you’re working there and it seems crazy to me that actually you wouldn’t worry about the effective side or this has been important. But I’m just maybe demystifying it and on a more practical note, what is a lack of love but disengagement, not loving what you do? Or what is the huge disorders and lack of care for mental health and companies? But maybe a lack of caring for the affective side of the people who work in those institutions? Maybe too much prioritization on money or something else right. So it’s actually to me, it’s really at the heart of all of it. And when you see people who love what they’re doing, it seems to me you love doing this show. Very beautiful things come out of it, it becomes an expression, you know. Yeah, so for me, I’ve just been thinking a lot about this, what is important and what is not important? And where will I choose to put my energy of life and what would I want to help other people with?

Interviewer

So I’ve got a question for you sure. Which would be this idea of loving what you do. And I think this is a question that a lot of people wrestle with, because not everybody loves what they do, right. A lot of people are like, I don’t and even know what I would do if I could do what I loved right. And or the thing I love doesn’t make enough for me to make a living. So I’m doing something else, how do I be engaged in and make the best out of that situation. And bring love to that that thing that I’m struggling with being really interested in.

 Johann Berlin

So first of all, fantastic question and I’ll take my best shot at it. But I think it’s more than an answer. I would just say to everybody listening, what you’ve just asked is a beautiful wonder. And I would the difference between a question and a wonder for me is that a question needs an answer right away. And a wonder is something that can be new again and again, when you reflect on it. And this thing of what is my purpose in life? It’s kind of like the ultimate wonder or what is what is it that gives me freedom or agency or lights me up. And it could change, right. It could be different, but I’ll give you three categories on a more practical level that I think are really important. So the first one is moving from desire. finding things that bring you contentment. Because the thing with if you jump into action and you’re looking for fulfillment in desires and we all have them, desires are fleeting. They’re constantly changing and we get one thing and then our mind races on to the next like a carousel right. And we avert discomfort whenever we have it and we’re chasing desire. So I think there’s a big difference whenever you set an intention around something you want to do, or you wonder about something you want to do. Of having this discernment of is this just a desire and it’s just going to lead to more desires and more desires after that. Kind of a never ending chain, which is quite honestly how you see most people live their life. If we think about it, when we’re a kid when we’re 16, what do we want? We want to driver’s license, we want freedom, right? Then we have curfew and we have to be home and then we think man, I just want my freedom. Or I want to go to college or whatever. And then yep, so there were 18 we’re college, it’s cool at first and then you know what, three years four years into that you’re tired of top ramen. What do you want?

Interviewer

A job.

 Johann Berlin

You want to, some ego like a place in life, right? And then we’ve got a job and you know, our first job and for most of us it wasn’t that awesome. After a while, you’re usually at the bottom of the totem pole making less than you would you know, then you need and so anyway, then you then why do you want a promotion? You know, some people want a family and they even have kids. And then, you know, what do they want? When you talk to like, two parents it’s beautiful, but man, I just want a minute to myself. And then you just work your way all the way down the chain right. And then kids leave the house in what you’re feeling this thing of, man, my kids are leaving the nest. And it’s, you know, it’s a biggest pain for a parent in some ways. And if you talk to old people, they’re just looking back and they’re saying, remember those good old days? And so this thing of chasing from one thing to the next. It’s very fleeting. So the first thing I would say is don’t look for meaning in desires and instead, find things that bring you contentment. Find spaces in yourself that bring you stillness, where it’s enough, where this moment is enough. Whatever I’m doing, whether I like it, whether I don’t like it, I feel grateful for this moment. And then something very big happens, something very beautiful can dawn in any situation or any moment and a lot of freedom to and expandedness. So the second thing I would say is, it’s not always what you do. But a lot of times, it’s that you have meaningful relationships when you do it. So for sure, we can’t all control our jobs. But I think the research on this is, I think one of the longest longitudinal studies on happiness. And purposeful life out of Harvard, showing that the number one indicator was meaningful relationships. And what’s really crazy about this is we live in this digital age. But actually our mutual friend Emma Sepalla, she talks about this in her TED talk and her book. We have more social isolation today than we did 20 years ago. In the United States, more people feel that they don’t have somebody that could confide a serious problem. And it wasn’t even that great 20 years ago. So this illusion, where we get the dopamine from these iPhone hits. And all this stuff and we getting these rewards, they’re kind of like false positives. So that would be the second thing is put value on invest in cultivating meaningful relationships. And this will probably be one of the best things you could ever do if you want to live a happy life. And then the third thing I would say is do service and we can make this in a macro context, but also in a micro context. If I think of like a job as just the sum of its importance, or its income, or whatever. Then maybe it’s bringing me reward and fulfillment and maybe it’s not. But if I think of whatever I put my life force into as an expression of something beautiful. And I treat even the most mundane things with an honor, with the reverence, there’s this beautiful I love this text. It’s potential Yoga Sutras. And it talks about like the value of honor just honoring something added up listed, you know, it makes even the most mundane, very special you know. Yeah, anyway, so those would be the three things and I think I think science supports all three of those, in that sense. But anecdotally in my own life and working with people I’ve seen that as well.

Interviewer

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 Johann Berlin

I love that in this thing of what you resist persist, I think it’s so beautiful. And by the way, there’s something there’s in research called thought suppression, which is we tried to suppress the thought is a professor at Harvard had done this research. My wife actually did her dissertation at Harvard on this. But what you try to suppress, it comes back. But what’s amazing to me, I want to go back to one of the earlier things which is freedom, right? So often when we’re resisting or when we’re mad, or when we’re resentful. It’s almost like a false sense of agency. Like, it’s almost like, feel like, I don’t like this and this is my way of taking control of it. But what’s totally wild about it is you’re the one who suffers. Yeah, when you’re burning up inside or when you’re resisting a situation. Other people like maybe it’s making it harder for them. But your internal experience is your internal experience. And actually, it’s the total opposite of agency in that sense. I mean, I guess it’s an agency toward a very unpleasant feeling but it’s certainly not freedom. It’s I just find this ironic in some ways that we look for power in those sorts of things. Again I think it speaks to the two Wolf’s that you’re talking about, in some respects,

Interviewer

I was looking at some things of yours online. And one of the things that I caught was you mentioned that you were a little bit of a troubled youth. Talk to me about your story about how you got where you are today.

 Johann Berlin

Yeah, I don’t know if you saw that London TEDx. But I started by saying, you know, I was one set at like a very prestigious Leadership forum, which is kind of this space. I’m in and they were asking, you know, introduce yourself and I don’t like big long introductions of yourself. I think it’s important for credibility for you know, but I think when it’s too much sometimes like, we’re all human beings at a certain level. And it’s just more authentic to connect on that level for the most part, but I was really reflecting like, I was feeling a little insecure. And I was wanting to at least, you know, have some credibility in my introduction. And I was trying to think, well, what have you really done? And this thought just came to me like, man; you have not done so much if I really am honest with myself. And the thing that has been the biggest attribute is other people’s kindness and I feel like other people’s kindness has been. Yeah, it’s just amazing if I think about my own life, I should not be where I am. But if I can say it’s all me and agency but really, like for example, I write. I grew up totally not writing like dyslexic is not like a little dyslexic, but literally. I would a certain classes history entrepreneurship and I would just bomb classes like English. And so this thing of other people who step in and moments of need other people who mentor you. Maybe when you’re you don’t deserve it or the merit isn’t there maybe the merits there on some bigger level. But for me, it was really whenever I learned to understand my own mind and emotions. And I think this is one of the things we don’t teach in school is how to understand our own mind and emotions. At the end of the day, we’re an affective people. And we have to go through life with this human experience. But what we learned is like, you know, this kind of base rudimentary stuff. And if you don’t have good early childhood experiences, maybe you know, you’re not on such a good track in those things. It becomes very difficult. And so for me that was breathing and meditation. I have a spiritual teacher in Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. And in particular, I think the Bhakti sutras. I was studying the Bhakti sutras was like a very transformational time for me. For those who don’t know Bhakti sutures or aphorisms of love and I was actually very tough guy like, whenever I was young. I lifted weights at very young age middle starting in middle school and somehow whenever I found this, maybe it was my better wolf cultivated or I fed. That was when I started to feed my better wolf. And yeah and then people, lots of people somebody mentored me in entrepreneurship. But yeah, whenever I was 12 I went to juvie. And I was just on track. Both my brothers have been in and out of prison my whole life that look like where I was going. And now I’ve met heads of state and programs all over the world and from multiple companies, so it’s a blessing. I just take it with gratitude and I can’t give any attribution anything other than kindness and luck and maybe I fed my good wolf. And this this helped me

Interviewer

Yep, the case to serve other people is so critical certainly has been for me when I look back on it. There’s so many that I could probably never think of them all. And yet, then there are a few that are so looming, you know that they’re very much there. In your TEDx talk that you did you talked about kindness. And you ended with three reflections on kindness. So maybe that would be a good place for us just to run through those briefly.

 Johann Berlin

Yeah, sure yeah, I’m happy to so the first is that I’ll have to remember the order here. I haven’t seen it many years.

Interviewer

Yea we evaluate who we are kind to that’s the first one.

 Johann Berlin

Yeah, we choose like we decide who’s worthy of our kindness. And this is, you know and often, to be honest, if we really think we have so much unconscious bias. One neuroscientist who’s one of the top neuroscientists the world. He says “he believes, after looking at all of the global literature and integrated or the majority of credible literature, that 80% of our decisions are unconscious”. But we think some people are deserving some people aren’t. And some people were perfectly comfortable kicking to the curb or treating like dirt and then somebody else usually somebody we’d like. And we have no idea. We have no idea, their story. And to my own life, we have no idea, their potential in terms of what they could be with a little bit of kindness. And I feel there’s this thing that, you know, when life is hard on people, they become very hard and they kind of kick life back. So that’s one and then the second one is that no act is too small. And I think I shared the starfish story. Do you know the starfish?

Interviewer

I do know the starfish story. We’ve had a guest on and we told it once before, but it’s so good let’s tell it again go ahead.

 Johann Berlin

Alright, so it’s also a grandfather and a grandson story. So that’s appropriate. So a grandson is walking with his grandfather and there was just a huge storm. So all these storms Fish washed up on the beach and they’re walking. And at first it’s very entertaining for the young boy, he thinks, oh, wow, look at the starfish. And then he says, “you know, Grandpa where does the starfish limp” and the grandfather said, “Oh, they live in the ocean”. So they walk a little bit longer and then the boy thinks about any set. Well, then, what’s gonna happen to them out here? He says, “No, don’t worry about it”. You know, this is there was just a big storm. This is the nature of life, the cycles of nature. And then the little boy thinks about anything. He asks again, well, “why can we help them?” Why can we put them back in you know, you see this altruism and kids. A lot of times you see this innocence, they want to help they see a problem or they see somebody not doing well. And they that empathy that that ability to that wiring for connection hasn’t been so jaded and and they want to help. And so, at one point, he just runs and he just says “I’m going to help grandpa”. And he starts picking up the starfish and throwing them in the ocean. And the grandfather gets a little bit upset and goes over and grabs him and says,”you know, this is something you’re just gonna have to learn in life. And it’s not gonna make a difference, you know, it’s not going to make a difference. I just want you to know that this is a lesson you need to learn”. And a little boys Look, he’s standing there looking confused and he has a starfish in his hand. He looks down at the starfish and says, “grandfather, it’ll make a difference to this one”. And he throws it back in and the water. And I just think this is such a beautiful story of you know, sometimes the problems that we have in our world human trafficking, environmental degradation, political instability, they feel bigger than our ability to respond. Our perception is that we can’t fix these things on our own. So we’ll just go on with our lives and I’m sure you’ve experienced in this life, there’s no act is too small. In that sense, like in an even a small act can have a huge ripple effect across many things you just don’t know. And oftentimes big things have changed by small acts at the right time and the right way in a sincere way. And we all have the agency to make a difference in whatever way it is. And if our intention is right and we’re aligned in that way, it can be very beautiful.

Interviewer

If you’re enjoying this conversation, I hate to be the bearer of bad news. We are nearing the end of it. I wish you could keep listening once the episode ends. Well, I’ve got some good news too, you can, the interview continues over at oneyoufeed.net/support there. If you pledge at the $10 level, you’ll get access to this additional exclusive content. As well as many other bonus conversations that have been recorded with our guests, we really need and appreciate your support. So we hope you’ll head over to oneyoufeed.net/support and pledge to access this additional weekly content. And now the rest of the interview with Johann Berlin. The third one is don’t lose hope, which you kind of covered sort of at the end there, which is you know, it can often feel like we’re not making a difference and we do make a difference.

 Johann Berlin

This kind of picks up on that point. One thing that I think is really passionate about and this is actually something I wrote about recently. And it goes back to this point of discerning what matters in life, this ability to discern. It’s really showing up and you’d mentioned presence. It’s showing up in the moments that matter. I think it’s such a big thing. Often we aren’t even present to what’s happening in our lives. And building cultivating this quality, to be able to show up in choosing to show up in the moments that are difficult. And also in the moments that are great. I think, if we look at attention span and like with now with electronic devices and other things, more and more where we’re very distractible creatures. These days and meanwhile, every moment is very precious, right? This ability that show up and I think the myths that we have in our culture are very counterintuitive to it. So the myths that I know of are if you want to be great, you work harder, you be better you sacrifice. And certainly all of those things are true, but I feel that it’s gone to an extreme of diminishing returns. And actually, the way one of the things that we’re really missing is this ability to restore refresh. To be able to replenish and in scientific terms to be able to switch into what they vagal tone. Or this more open, flexible way of functioning is so important. And I would be curious for you, you know, how do you show up in the moments that matter?

Interviewer

I think remembering that I want to show up is probably the first, the first piece of it is, you know, just just the remembrance like okay, bring yourself fully here. That’s the biggest challenge for me if I can do that, although I then I sometimes have to remind myself of, you know, why does the moment matter? You know, what is it about this moment that matters? Not that, you know, being present necessarily needs a justification. But sometimes it can feel that way for sure.

 Johann Berlin

Yeah, definitely and I think it goes back to this thing of honor. Like if we honor that moment, we can be there. If we don’t honor it, then we treat it, we’re looking at our phone we honor that dinner conversation, then we can show up for it. And if we’re not honoring and it’s so often it’s unconscious. It’s not a value judgment. But I think it’s very easy to in fact, I think our environment very well wired to hijack our brains from being in the moment.

Interviewer

Oh, it’s incredibly wired that way. And it just gets to be more and more that way. I think I think culturally it’s a challenge. I mean, I’m certainly not a not a Luddite and I don’t think we should move backwards technology wise. But I do think there are there are big ramifications for our near addiction to technology. It was interesting earlier, when you mentioned freedom, you know and what do people want, you know, 16 year olds want their driver’s license. Well, not so much these days. I mean, amazingly, the studies that people have been doing this for generations are realizing that 16 year olds. You know, far less, markedly less, don’t want a driver’s license, because they’re not going anywhere. Yeah, you know, they’re safer. Yeah, they’re getting less sexually transmitted diseases, drugs and alcohol use is waning. So those are all positive, but they are unhappier than ever. And it’s a lot of because I’m at home with my phone. And again, I don’t think the answer is that we just go backwards. And we get rid of things technology marches on and trying to stop it is usually a fool’s errand. But being wiser about how we use it. And being able to inform people about the impacts that using technology might have on them, I think is important.

 Johann Berlin

Yeah, no, I mean, we’re in a new industrial revolution. And with every innovation comes risks, right with nuclear energy. There’s also the risk of nuclear bombs. And so we have to I think, when we go through these major transformation and we’re just beginning. I mean, yeah, you look at machine learning, you look at AI, some people say that we’re many, many years away from, you know, sophisticated AI. I think some of the smartest and biggest brands in the world are making it their number one objective. But you know, are we looking at the ethical and the moral principles and what is the ethics in that innovation? I think this is the key because to your point you were not going to stop it. But can we live and this is important to me and understanding and valuing what makes us human is so important. And as we move into that age, how are we keeping the fabric? You know and throwing and throwing out the inefficiencies is an important discussion and debate.

Interviewer

Yeah, for sure well, Johann, thank you so much for taking the time to come on the show. This has been a fun conversation. And I you know, Emma introduced us and I’m glad that we got the chance to talk.

 Johann Berlin

Yeah me too I’m really happy and I’m and I appreciate your inquiry, that I think it’s a very beautiful thing of this. Feeding the two wolves and maybe I’ll think about this, you know, how, what am I feeding? I think there’s a lot of daily lessons even in that inquiry.

Interviewer

Yep, it’s another way of what we talked about earlier. Keeping your values in mind. Thinking about what’s important. It’s just another mechanism for that, that essential question of, you know, what matters and am I doing things that matter. You know am I spending my time in a way that lines up with what I value?

 Johann Berlin

Yeah, absolutely well, thank you so much again, thank you for the work you do. And I hope next time we talk, I have a book. So wishing you all the best okay thank you so much, bye bye.

Interviewer

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Johann Berlin

Johann Berlin is a serial entrepreneur, international keynote speaker and leadership consultant specialized in human and organizational development, mental health and well-being, and sustainable business and investing. Johann is CEO of TLEX Institute, providing over 1 million digital users with evidence-based leadership, breathwork and emotional intelligence training. His clients include top business schools like Harvard Business Schools and Fortune 500 companies like Amazon and Microsoft. A leadership writer at Harvard Business Review, Forbes, Real Leaders and Huffington Post, Johann is also Consulting Chief Learning Officer for Cooper Investors, a $13 billion private equity fund where he is integrating values-based investing principles into the firm’s culture fund. He is also Consulting Chief Learning Officer at Total Brain where he develops mental health and well-being content for clinicians, large consumer groups, and organizations. Johann is a leading voice on human-centered leadership, founding the Future of Humans at Work conference and podcast. Previously, he served as CEO and co-founder of Sustainable CitySolutions and was SVP of Sustainability and Strategy for JDI. As a board member, executive advisor and community volunteer, Johann is passionate about social ventures dedicated to resilient schools, local economy, prisoner rehabilitation, and youth leadership. Johann's TEDx talk has been viewed over 100,000 times.

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