MINDSET – Raise My Game

The Change Master: John Berardi’s Second Act Will Help You, Too

By Carey Rossi

Change has always been a central theme for John Berardi, Ph.D. As a boy, debilitating asthma and allergies—plus a small, frail, born-premature body—kept him home reading books. Looking for things that could make him stronger and less sick, he discovered the power of well-planned exercise and good food choices.

However, it took a huge wake-up call—a car accident that he was certain would kill him—to push him away from the drugs and alcohol he was using to cope with self-confidence issues and toward the gym. “In the absence of having any coping mechanisms or friends to hang out with, I started going to the gym, and I found my first, and my greatest, mentor there,” Berardi says. “He showed me what a well-lived life could look like. He helped me train my body and my mind. He even gave me a job at his gym. That’s how I landed in health and fitness as my career.”

Berardi went on to earn a master’s degree in exercise science and a Ph.D. in nutritional biochemistry and built his life around coaching others. This led him to starting Precision Nutrition, now the world’s largest nutrition coaching, education and software company. He hopes to mentor other health and fitness professionals with his new book “Change Maker: Turn Your Passion for Health and Fitness Into a Powerful Purpose and a Wildly Successful Career” (BenBella Books, 2019).

What is a change maker?

“People working in health and fitness have defined themselves by the mechanics of what they do—like personal trainer, nutritionist, strength coach, massage therapist. Yet we’re not going to think differently about what we do until we think more broadly about our work,” Berardi says.

“Personal trainers, nutritionists, functional medicine doctors … they help people make important changes in their lives. Thus, we share that common bond. We’re change makers.”

Berardi says in the health and fitness industry, practitioners provide the environment and the platform for people to make meaningful changes in their movement, nutrition, sleep and stress management. They create a space where people can start to feel different, feel positive, feel empowered. But, he says, practitioners can create their own change—whether that’s in their own health and fitness or in their mindset, business or career.

The Change-Maker mindset

Today, Berardi identifies a host of lessons that have propelled him to the top of the field.

You are your brand

When Berardi talks about brand, he talks about professionalism and reputation. And in some ways, they’re linked. “If you show up as a real professional and deliver remarkable results, it demonstrates your excellence to the world. But it also helps keep your passion alive. You can’t show up, phone it in, and expect to be proud of what you’re doing or expect others to become raving fans,” he says.

Professionalism also does something else—build your reputation. “Your reputation is probably the most important professional asset that you can carry with you. When your reputation precedes you, people will go to bat for you even before they know what you’ve done. That’s because they’ve seen what you’ve done before,” he says. “And more important, they know who you are as a person. That’s the cornerstone of your brand.”

You do you

Balancing a public persona and a private one, being authentic and vulnerable but also being a leader, can create a fine line. But Berardi doesn’t seem to struggle with that. For one thing, he shares everything and does so honestly.

“From a really young age, I loved the concept of integrity. I wanted to understand what it meant,” he says. “Sadly, nowadays, people often use it as a way to, what some people call, ‘virtue signal.’ To show how ‘good’ you are. But that’s not what integrity is. Integrity is being who you are in all contexts. It’s being true to that thing.”

Berardi says when you’re true to who you are, people know what to expect. They know what they’re getting. They can rely on it. That’s good for life and good for business.

Claim Thinking Fridays

Carving time aside from your week to think is one of the most important things you can do, according to Berardi. If you don’t do that, then decision-making becomes markedly more difficult. You’ll struggle to identify your purpose, your unique abilities, your values, what integrity means to you, how much to share about your life, how much not to share, etc.

“All these things have to be decided by clear-thinking you,” he says. “Clear thinking isn’t there every moment of every day. There’s a lot going on in our lives. Most of us are parents, professionals, have hobbies, etc. There are a lot of moments in my week where my head is muddled, unclear, confused even.”

So Berardi takes a half day on Friday, books it out and calls it “thinking Friday.” That’s when he does mental exercises, thinks through problems, challenges and opportunities, and when he writes things down that he’d like to remember when he next becomes muddled.

“And then I post them, the things that I’m working on most, so I can see them every day,” he says. “People often talk about the value of coaching, as in finding an external coach. I think it’s also important to have an internal coach. By claiming thinking time, you capture clear-thinking advice that lucid you can give to muddle-headed you.”

Plan your days, not your years

The notion that life is either well-planned or fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants feels too polar to Berardi. So he lives by planning his days but not his years.

“Having a five-year plan doesn’t make a lot of sense to me for two reasons,” he says. “One, many of us get so focused on the plan that we miss all the great opportunities that come along the way, opportunities that might be better than the plan.”

Also, how much do you really know before you have experience, reps and wisdom? Why be so steadfast toward an immature idea? So, instead, he recommends planning and structuring each day so you can get meaningful, important work done on a daily basis. This way you can move toward your purpose, using your unique abilities while also allowing the path to unfold before you.

“I realize none of what I’m doing right now—writing, parenting and living in Canada—would have been part of the plan. And it’s worked out pretty great,” he says. “They were all these beautiful detours that came up along the way. So structure your day, and possibly your week, but be flexible to the big picture.”

John Berardi’s 3 Steps to Succeed in Business

Whether you’re solopreneur or you’re a big company, no one can avoid doing these three things. Here’s what Berardi has to say about each step.

1. Know what people want and are willing to spend money on.

No matter what people buy or hire, no matter what service or product, there is a job they’re hiring that thing for. Take a chair. People hire the chair to do a specific job. And if we figure out what that job is, as a company, we can sell more chairs. We can improve the chairs when they’re not doing the job, etc. So if you’re starting out new, you have to figure out what the job is. And it’s not often what you think.

Looking better naked is what Precision Nutrition coaches used to think their clients wanted. But I’ve seen time and time again, if you deliver that result, the client still may not recommend your service. So there’s more to the job. At Precision Nutrition, we really leaned into figuring out what that was and creating products and services that offered them what they really wanted, not what we thought they wanted.

2. Deliver that thing in the most special, unique, awesome way possible.

Once you know that, it’s time to get to product creation. Of course, it’s important to create something remarkable. But it’s tough to know what’s remarkable, especially at the beginning of your career. So you have to go out and ask people. There’s a process for this. I call it “thinking aloud.” Once I have the first draft of something, I bring in a bunch of people with divergent skill sets and from different industries. I ask them to just tell me aloud their thinking—reacting in real time—as they go through whatever I’ve created.

We do this with websites, we do this with products, and I even do it with content. I don’t want to know what people think I should hear to make it better. I want to know what they’re thinking while they read it. It’s the purest kind of feedback.

I recommend everyone do that with their first drafts of anything: products, services, articles, etc.

3. Tell everyone about it.

Once you have something remarkable that you know people will pay for, don’t be shy. Go tell everyone about it. Shout it from the rooftops. (Of course, if you’re paying for that shouting, make sure it’s the target market you’re shouting to.)

I think things have to go in this order: Know what people are willing to pay for, create something remarkable and then tell everyone about it. If you go in the opposite order, which a lot of folks are doing nowadays because they’re seduced by the promise of social media, it never works out as well.

6 Things You Should Know About John Berardi

Curiosity drives him. “I’m super curious. I’ve always been interested in how things work, in particular about how other people’s thinking works.”

His balanced life isn’t always calm. “Sometimes I do feel a little anxiety and frazzle. But that’s when I look back to my purpose, unique abilities and values. Consistently returning to them— which is a skill you have to build—helps you prioritize your time, spend it in the most effective ways, and rest assured that you’re on track.”

The first five minutes of his day is spent cuddling with his children. “There’s a book that changed my life: ‘Hold On to Your Kids’ by Gordon Neufeld. In it, I learned the value of this kind of time to reaffirm the physical and emotional connection I have with our children. It’s this daily reconnection that allows real parenting to happen.”

Last thing before he goes to sleep is usually reading. “The Boys in the Boat” is the last book he read. “It’s about this rowing crew, often considered one of the greatest ever, that went to the [1936 Summer] Olympics [in Germany] and, against all odds, defeated the world’s best rowers. It’s an A+ story, from an A+ writer, about an A+ group of young people, during a critical period in American history, within a critical period in world history. Can’t recommend it enough.”

He’s a classic rock guy. “I have an epic Led Zeppelin playlist on Spotify that I work out to every day. They have so many great songs I never get sick of it.”

He cannot live without ice cream. “Dairy-free, though, because I’m lactose intolerant. But I eat dairy-free ice cream five days a week as it fits into my calorie allotment and tastes really yummy.” Salted caramel by So Delicious is his favorite.

Video credit: monkeybusinessimages, Getty Images
Photo credit: courtesy of John Berardi


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Carey Rossi

Carey Rossi is a journalist specializing in health, fitness, nutrition and mind-body topics. Her career has run the gamut of working in an immunology lab to launching a women’s fitness magazine, to being the news editor at health website. Her work has appeared in Fitness, Fit Pregnancy, Glamour, Health, Oxygen, Prevention, Self, Shape, plus a dozen more publications and websites. Currently, she blogs at HealthMakestheGirl.com.