If you’re one of those people who needs something to occupy your brain while you get your body fit, I’m assuming (hoping!) you’ve already discovered the power of podcasts to make solo workouts more tolerable, and maybe even enjoyable. Whether you’re out for a jog or clocking some time on an elliptical machine at the gym, you’ve likely done it enough to realize that whatever’s coming through those little earbuds you’re wearing has the power to fuel your workout, in a way that a protein shake simply cannot.
A great podcast can also add a desperately needed dash of stimulation to oft-procrastinated tasks like doing dishes and laundry. I know there are people out there who say housework can be meditative. To those people I say: Do you have any idea HOW many mind-numbing damn minutes await a person raising children (or just running a household) each day? Let's say we give the first 20 to mindfulness or meditation, most of us will still have way upwards of another hour—or two!—of tedious tasks to complete.
So if you’re an intellectually curious person whose days feel heavy with busywork or you’re looking for a way to run while getting educated, allow me to suggest a few ways to take in a good think piece WHILE doing those chores that bore.
— Kara Nelson
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SEVEN BRAIN-BUILDING PODCASTS
(This is not a list of the “top” or “most popular” shows. Rather, it’s a list of my own favorite finds — including a few top-notch but lesser-known shows, for your consideration.)
DISRUPT YOURSELF (WITH WHITNEY JOHNSON)
Putting the power of disruptive innovation to work
What if your comfort zone is actually a danger zone? In an age of constant change and industry disruption, “job security” is starting to sound a tad oxymoronic. Better to stay one step ahead of the game and Disrupt Yourself, says best-selling author Whitney Johnson who wrote the book on that. But don't get the wrong idea, her show is not about fear of change. It’s an exploration and celebration of disruptive innovation, featuring frank conversations with change makers from a wide variety of industries. The one constant you can rely on: Johnson always translates the stories and lessons learned into actionable ideas and tips for her listeners. How can you focus on (and maybe reframe) your strengths and find new and unexpected ways to apply those skills to the marketplace and custom carve a fulfilling career? That depends on you, but this podcast is a great place to start.
THE JAMES ALTUCHER SHOW
On the Choose Yourself Network
Whatever you do, do NOT Google (image) this guy. As those of you who could not resist now know, visually speaking, James Altucher looks like he could be a bit of an oddball. But don’t judge this man (who btw has written 21 books) by his cover. I mean, Einstein had the crazy hair, right? I’m not saying Altucher is a genius. What I am saying is that he's a whip-smart, deeply curious, uniquely interesting individual whose disarming vulnerability makes him strangely magnetic. Call it “flawsome" charisma? Whatever! If he can get guests like Arianna Huffington, Sara Blakely, Tony Robbins and Tim Ferris to take an hour out of their day to sit and talk with him for an interview, it could be worth a few minutes of yours to give it a listen. Choose Yourself the title of one of his best-selling books, is also a big part of the underlying ethos of his podcast. You’ll hear the behind-the-scenes details of how some of today’s peak performers rose up from personal and professional struggles (by taking matters into their own hands) to find success by reinventing themselves. Reinvention, the subject of another one of his most popular books, is something Altucher knows a LOT about. He's refreshingly unabashed in sharing his own story of making and losing a fortune, twice! (He sold one company for $15 million in 1998, and another for $10 million in 2007 — going broke only a few years after each sale.) Today he's back in the black, thanks in part to his popular podcast where he talks about financial freedom and different ways to live a meaningful life in interviews with guests that run the gamut: billionaires, authors, astronauts, rappers, athletes, comedians, actors and entrepreneurs. He’s legit.
AKIMBO (WITH SETH GODIN)
Go make a ruckus, change the culture
“Akimbo is an ancient word, from the bend in the river or the bend in an archer's bow. It's become a symbol for strength, a posture of possibility, the idea that when we stand tall, arms bent, looking right at it, we can make a difference. Akimbo is a podcast about our culture and about how we can change it. About seeing what's happening and choosing to do something. The culture is real, but it can be changed. You can bend it.” Yes, I took those words directly from this show’s home page — not because I'm lazy, but because I wanted to show (not tell) that no one does it better than Seth Godin. Let me preface this with a little disclaimer: This man is kind of my idol. His books—Tribes, Linchpin, Purple Cow to name a few — have been paradigm-shifting for me. (The uninitiated should Google his TED talks posthaste.) Though he comes off as low-key and relatable, Godin is an original thinker of the first order, so much so that you may have never heard of him. That's because he engineered his career that way, purposefully steering clear of big network TV interviews but regularly appearing as a guest on small fledgling vlogs and podcasts. He’s all about intention and focus, currently concentrating on The altMBA, his online leadership and management program and his uber popular daily blog — which he's been writing for upwards of 7,500 consecutive days! The Akimbo podcast is a great way to get to know Godin if you’re a newbie, or a new way to consume his genius if you’re a groupie like me. Enjoy!
CURIOUS MINDS (WITH GAYLE ALLEN)
Innovation in life and work
Are you curious about how many things you might be curious about but have never heard or read about to even consider them? Who has time for that? would be a reasonable reaction. But later, you might start to notice a dull, nagging feeling cropping up in the white space: What am I missing? Then someone like Gayle Allen comes into your life — through an app — and you begin to feel better about that. Not that you know everything, but that you’re working on it, and feeling very entertained in the process. Every week you’ll hear about a cool discovery or breakthrough from an inventor or a scientist or an entrepreneur. My favorite thing about these interviews is when a guest says something particularly juicy, and Allen, instead of trying to quip up some smart follow-up question, just says, “Say more about that.” I mean how simple and how genius is that!? And it works. Every time!
REVISIONIST HISTORY (WITH MALCOLM GLADWELL)
Because sometimes the past deserves a second chance
As much as I love Malcolm Gladwell’s writing (he had me at Blink), hearing him speak is honestly even more satisfying. It's at once deliberate and chill. Never have I ever voluntarily (and repeatedly) consumed anything sports-related. Not that the show is about sports, but he often makes references to different athletes and uses sports as a framework for thinking about other things in a way that makes all of it instantly more interesting. And that's kind of what this (highly-produced) show is about, looking at something from a new angle or a different perspective. Gladwell has made a career of that: uncovering a through line that no one else saw but that, after ten minutes of hearing him out, seems utterly incontrovertible. Whether he's talking about an event, an idea, a person or a song—it’s fascinating to listen as he masterfully stitches together points and evidence from vastly varied disciplines and eras in a way that just makes you want to stand up and shake the man’s hand. I can’t describe it, really. You just have to listen to get it. (Now he has a new podcast—co-hosted with Rick Rubin—called Broken Record. Adding that to my queue.)
ON BEING (WITH KRISTA TIPPETT)
Conversations exploring the immensity of our lives
Krista Tippett has a voice so soothing you think it'd put you to sleep. The fact that hearing her speak does the exact opposite—makes you feel so ‘woke’ that you could swear your IQ jumped a point or two — is a testament both to her interviewing skills and to the quality of the deep-dive content of On Being. In this podcast based on her groundbreaking Peabody Award-winning public radio show, Tippett explores life’s big questions — surrounding meaning, spiritual inquiry, science, social healing and the arts. With a fascinating new guest each week, she has a knack for making new discoveries “about the immensity of our lives” feel like a casual conversation, and not one bit intimidating.
TED TALKS DAILY
Ideas Worth Spreading
Are you aware that there are likely still people in your life who have never heard of TED? It’s true. About six years ago, I was one of them. It was the chair massage guy at my gym who mentioned it to me as he tried to explain fascia and chronic pain with his elbow in my neck. So I went home and Googled it. Mind! Blown! I browsed, I binged! I could not get over how much these short 20-minute TED Talks opened my eyes to worlds and ideas and sometimes entire industries I’d never known about! The only problem now? How can I keep up with and curate my queue? Enter TED Talks Daily. (It’s new!) Right in my pocket, I've got a steady stream of them, even more streamlined: the average episode is about 12 minutes. Getting my thoughts provoked in such an efficient and convenient way gives me a nice little boost whenever there’s a lull in my day. (If you’re looking for something longer or more in-depth, check out TED Radio Hour and The Ted Interview. So good.)