Why podcasts are awesome, and which ones you should listen to

I was quite skeptical about listening to podcasts as I liked listening to music better than people talking. The idea of listening to podcast was something I heard at my internship at an insurance company, where self-help/salesmanship genre is very vital in developing their sales force. I remember that one of the top salesmen said that his boss advised him to listen to talks by Brian Tracy in the car, because why should he listen to music? He’s a salesman not a musician. The reason was absurd to me. He said he doesn’t necessarily pay attention to every word said by Brian Tracy, but it probably affects his subconscious.
Two years later, I discovered Tim Ferriss’ podcasts as he posted a new episode with one of my favourite bloggers, Maria Popova (brainpickings.org). I listened to that episode and instantly got hooked. There’s so much information and insight in that one episode. Now I’d go “Why would anyone not listen to podcast?” and the answer is often “I would lose focus if it’s just audio.” You’ll get used to it, and it’ll be worth it.
I downloaded one podcast app on Android but that one isn’t as good as the one that I’m using right now which is Podcast Addict. I started listening to podcast when commuting, and realized that was one of the life tweaks I made this year.
Why I love listening to podcasts (or maybe audiobooks)
  1. It’s my best discovery in utilization of time so far
    Commuting takes time. You’ll be on your smartphone scrolling through Facebook or Instagram. That is if the train or the bus is not jam packed and you can hardly move let alone hold a phone in front of you without taking other people’s space. Listening to quality podcast is like reading a book where you get quality information (as opposed to the info on your news feed) without having to stare on the phone and get distracted from things you should be watching.
  2. You can do it while doing tasks that can’t be done simultaneously with reading
    When you’re walking or cleaning your house or showering or doing menial labour or using a computer software for a work that doesn’t involve words (like 3D CAD), you can listen to podcast and they don’t interfere with each other due to the different parts of brain used to process the two activities.
  3. Listening gives you a different experience from reading or watching a movie
    When reading an interview, sometimes you miss the tone of speech that gives nuances to things that people say, or gives a hint of the interviewee’s personality like the intensity and conviction in the answers he/she gives.
    When it’s a narrative, you probably miss the visual representation of the story, but it gives you the space to imagine. When the narrator is particularly good, it’s a whole new experience.
    If you’re an audio kind of learner, you’ll remember things better when it’s narrated rather than written.
  4. These podcasters often have good public speaking skills you can learn from
    Some podcasters rely only on their voice to capture and sustain audience’s attention. Good content matters but delivery quality is particularly crucial when you don’t have visual crutches.
  5. It’s one way to learn foreign languages
    Listening is one of the main parts of learning a language and you can find many language learning podcast. Even if during your commute you don’t focus to listen to every single word and try to transcribe it, you’ll get accustomed to the way the language is spoken by a native speaker and it helps in the long term if you listen to it regularly.
  6. The contents are good if you find the right ones and sometimes they’re only available in the audio format if not transcribed.
Here are a few of my favourite podcasts, and my personal favourite episodes of each podcasts for those who are not sure where to start:
  1. The Tim Ferriss Show
    Tim Ferriss started his podcast as a fun project before he got serious and now he has more than 100 episodes. He has an impressive list of guests from various domains of expertise: Rick Rubin, Peter Thiel, General Stanley McChrystal, Jamie Foxx, Tony Robbins among others. common theme is to deconstruct how the top performers achieve what they’ve achieved; their habits, routines, the book they read, etc. He asks specific questions and he doesn’t waste the audience’s time by cracking jokes the audience don’t want to hear (which other podcasters do).
    Favourite episodes: Jocko Willink, Jamie Foxx, Naval Ravikant.
  2. Jocko Podcast
    When Jocko Willink appeared as a guest on Tim Ferriss’ podcast and Joe Rogan’s podcast, both hosts suggested eagerly that he start his own podcast. He did, despite barely knowing how to navigate the interwebz (this is how he refers to the internet), and the result has so far been awesome.
    During the first half of each episode Jocko discusses a book, usually on military and war, and how some passages are related to life, business, or his own experiences in Iraq. During the second half, he and Echo Charles answer “questions from the interwebz”, usually about general life advice and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (Jocko is a black belt, training in Dean Lister’s gym in San Diego). I’m not sure which I like more, the book discussion or the Q&A. Both will widen your perspective and motivate you like nothing else (especially Jocko’s answer to the last question of the Q&A).
    Listen to this podcast with an open mind, because otherwise probably you would find it too intense. Follow his Twitter too.
    Favourite episodes: Episode 5, Episode 6, Episode 13, Episode 23.
  3. Hardcore History with Dan Carlin
    Dan Carlin is an amateur historian and an excellent narrator. According to Tim Ferriss, he did a research before starting his podcast and asked people about their favourite podcasts, and found that Dan Carlin’s always gets mentioned in the top 5. His episodes are as long as 4 hours and they look daunting at first, but give one episode a try, and you’ll understand why.
    I look for an historian’s opinion on his podcast and found one on Quora. They may not be pleased about his academic rigour, but no one can dispute his narrating prowess.
    Favourite episodes: Wrath of the Khans I – V (no longer free, but worth buying), Blueprint for Armageddon I – VI (on World War I)
  4. The Joe Rogan Experience
    Joe Rogan is the ex-host of Fear Factor, a UFC color commentator, a stand-up comedian, a Taekwondo and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt, a fitness enthusiast, a psychoactive experimentation advocate, a hunter, and a few other things. He reads books and watches documentaries. These make him a very interesting and funny podcast host. His guests are quite diverse, although there are a considerable number of stand-comedians and fighters among them. He has had Neil deGrasse Tyson, Aerosmith’s Joe Perry, Buck Angel, Ronda Rousey, and Steve Maxwell among his many guests (almost 800 episodes in 6 years, with some repeat guests).
    Favourite episodes: Miesha Tate, Buck Angel, Steve Maxwell
  5. Common Sense with Dan Carlin
    Besides Hardcore History, Mr Carlin has a political podcast. I like how he asks good (and polemical) questions, tries to view the problem in a non-partisan manner (he likens himself as an observer from outer space, although sometimes he admits to disliking some public figures), and explains terms and policies to enlighten others about what’s going on.
  6. Martyrmade Podcast
    I found out about this podcast from Jocko Willink’s tweet that recommended this podcast if you like Hardcore History. I was skeptical. Who can narrate as well as Dan Carlin? Daryl Cooper has a different style and is clearly highly dedicated in his research. He tries to understand the problem from all perspectives he can think of, and I really appreciate that. But what I admire the most is his guts in choosing the extremely difficult and controversial topic for the first few episodes: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
    Favourite episodes: Fear and Loathing in New Jerusalem series
  7. On Being
    Krista Tippett asks profound questions: “What does it mean to be human, and how do we want to live?” The podcast is has a spiritual theme nuanced with each of the diverse guests. I listened to one particularly eye-opening episode featuring two Jesuit Vatican astrophysicists talking about their Catholic faiths and the science they devote their lives for, and how they reconcile the two seemingly incompatible continua.
    Favourite episodes: Indigo Girls, Brother Guy Consolmagno and Father George Coyne.
  8. Inside Quest
    Tom Bilyeu, the co-founder of the second fastest-growing U.S. company, Quest Nutrition, hosts a show that features top-level people in various fields too, with a different style, different set of guests, and shorter duration.
    Favourite episodes: Firas Zahabi, 10 Things Tom Bilyeu Learned from IQ This Year, Carol Dweck.
  9. Slowed down foreign language podcasts: Slow German with Annik Rubens and Slow Chinese (满足中文)
    I’m learning these two languages and have pledged to listen to at least one episode of each every day just to expose myself to these languages spoken at a pace where I can catch the words.
  10. Recently I have just subscribed to a few other podcasts and listened to a few of their episodes, which so far have been great too:
    1. The Freakonomics Radio
    2. The Engineering Commons
    3. The Tony Robbins Podcast
    4. Philosophize This
I hope this list gets you jumping into the rabbit hole I wish I had entered earlier. Have fun!
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