Always a late adopter, I’ve been listening podcasts the past six months.  I’m not one for regrets — but, I wish I started listening to them earlier.

I started with an easy transition from NPR radio to NPR podcasts. I’d follow Ira Glass anywhere.  I’ll digress for a quick Ira story. Years ago when I lived in Berkeley, I saw David Sedaris speak and read passages from his book, Dress Your Family in Courdory and Denim. I stayed for the book signing and used my 30 seconds to fire off a question about Ira. I asked, “You’re friends with Ira, right?” Sedaris replied, “Indeed.” I said, “What’s he like? David replied, “He’s got a profound capacity for humanity. He’s a genuinely good person.”  Sigh. Stick a fork in me.

Back to podcasts. I started with what I know and trust. Ira; This American Life. Serial. Then, I moved onto other people I was familiar with and respected. Politics: David Axelrod (The Axe Files). Spirituality, Krista Tippett (On Being) Inspiration: Tim Ferriss, Brain Food: Freakonomics.  My podcast list has since grown exponentially and there’s always something exciting and new to discover.

Much like “being in the mood” for a movie, I’ve learned how to consciously choose my podcasts to enhance my day.  I have a quick process to determine what my soul needs to hear.  I close my eyes and place my attention on each of the three centers: mind, heart, and gut.  I stop at each center and ask, “What needs my attention?”  Most days, I get an answer immediately.  Other days, it’s not so clear and I try a few different podcasts and then settle in on what feels right.

Yesterday, I was listening to This American Life (Ira again!) in pursuit of something to touch my heart and landed on a story about how Putin most likely created The Second Chechen War for his own political gain. I had read the story years ago and hearing it again pissed me off.  Not exactly food for the soul. So, I moved on to an episode about people who were stuck in their lives due to circumstances out of their control (think refugees). I was able to put myself in their shoes and access deep empathy. The story got me thinking outside of myself and connecting to humanity. I remember stopping during my hike and saying a prayer to God for the refugees in the story asking for a new home for them. And, a second prayer of gratitude for our home. Sigh. Stick a fork in me.

So, why do podcasts help change our mood so much? It’s all in the brain, baby. We are what we eat and, in the case of our brain, we are what we think. We build neural pathways based on what we do and think all the time.  Simply called habits. We build positive emotion doing things we enjoy. And, when we do things that we enjoy, we want to do them more and start to form a habit. Listening to podcasts makes me happy, connects me to humanity, teaches me useful things and expands my thinking. I also consciously choose my podcasts to feed the craving of my soul.  Finally, I listen to 80% of my podcasts while walking, hiking or running, so my brain and body get the benefit of the endorphins released. Hallelujah! Stick a fork in me.