How to become a better person, from 75 podcasts in 10 days

At the start of 2017, when researching my book on the wellness industry, I signed up for a heap of podcasts, including one that dropped three self-development, wellness and lifehack-themed shows into my feed each week.

Sadly, I had a busy year and listened to none of them - until recently. While holidaying between Christmas and New Year, I decided to cram in as many as I could.

What wisdom did they hold for the new year? And if you try to listen to 75 self-development podcasts in 10 days, could you actually become a better person?

These are the lessons I learnt from my well-being podcast binge:

We are being controlled by our dopamine centres. Many of the podcasts touched on how our bad habits are derailing us from our intentions - including social media addiction, sugar, alcohol and drugs.

What all these things have in common is that they trigger the production of dopamine in the brain and, much like laboratory rats on cocaine, we just keep pushing the buttons that will give us another dose of pleasure.

This can be caused by constantly checking Facebook for likes or finishing a whole pack of Doritos chips even when we are not hungry.

In The Upgrade by Lifehacker podcast, Dr Robert Lustig, a professor and author, was helpful when talking about how habit-forming products are made.

"They give you an itch, they give you the scratch," he said.

He advises a range of solutions, all starting with a C.

Connect in person - go off Facebook. Contribute something that helps the world. Cope by getting enough sleep (get rid of screens in the room while sleeping) and exercise (great in alleviating depression). Cook so you can see what is going into your food.

Discipline equals freedom - there is something vaguely fascist about this slogan, but does it hold the key to succeeding in New Year's resolutions - such as getting fit and losing weight?

Guest-presenting a podcast, former United States Navy Seal Jocko Willink speaks at normal volume and tempo until partway, when he starts screaming and sounding very tough.

"Here's the reality," he shrieks. "That idea isn't going to execute itself, that book isn't going to write itself, those weights out in the gym aren't going to move themselves... Stop researching every aspect and debating the pros and cons - do it now. Get after it. Here. And now."

But how?

"Put your workout clothes out the night before. Set your alarm for 4.30 and when the alarm goes off - get upppppp."

Yes, you have to get up at 4.30am every day to exercise.

The advantage is that you will have more time in the day to do other things and, psychologically, you will feel proud because hardly anyone else is up.

Also, you are less likely to want doughnuts for breakfast. Instead, says Willink, you'll be craving "clean fuel" such as "bacon and eggs".

Further exercise advice on the podcast feed comes from basketballer LeBron James. He gets up at 5am and exercises a minimum of five times a week (as well as playing actual games). Sometimes, he works out at home; sometimes, he goes to pilates; sometimes, he does a spin class. He mixes it up.

Author Tim Ferriss says the three habits common to a lot of successful people he interviewed in his book, Tribe Of Mentors, were meditation, walking and keeping a journal.

It is hardly Ironman stuff, but it is where ideas and innovative thinking come from, apparently.

The Asian Efficiency podcast devoted more than an hour to journalling. If you do it consistently, it can have a major social and psychological impact, it says.

Whether in a real book or via an app, writing in a journal can help you identify the habits you want to create and track your progress.

It helps you understand what is going on in your life so the flight or fight response is not triggered. Instead, journalling gives you distance and perspective on things that are happening in your life.

On another podcast, relationship expert Esther Perel talks about why people cheat. It is often not the infidelity per se that is the problem, but the issues that caused the person to cheat.

So what did I learn?

Get up at 4.30am, exercise at least five times a week, go off social media, be aware how food companies want to control your brain and know that cheating may be instructive, not destructive.


•Brigid Delaney is a Guardian Australia columnist.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 14, 2018, with the headline 'How to become a better person, from 75 podcasts in 10 days'. Print Edition | Subscribe