What You Learn if You Quit Listening to Podcasts

Overeaters get diabetes from eating too much, too quickly, too frequently. Over-listeners get involuntary eye twitches.

At least I do.

I was gluttonously gorging on six hours worth of podcasts a day at double speed (so three hours actual listening time). Any chance I had to cram my ear canals with content, from bathroom breaks to taking out the trash to changing Zac’s diaper, I’d take it.

I knew it was too much. But I couldn’t resist. My podcast feed was too enticing. So I decided to take drastic measures:

Just as people fast to reset their metabolism and their relationship with food, I did a podfast.

I quit listening to podcasts for a month. Or, at least I tried.

Lesson #1: A Stricter Diet

Watching YouTube volleyball instead of listening to podcasts while feeding Zac
Father and son both consuming a strict diet.

These days, I spend a large chunk of my days holding a bottle in the mouth of Kim and my fresh-out-the-womb son, Zac, as he leisurely sips the milk as if it’s a Beyerskloof Diesel Pinotage. And while he binged on milk, I’d binge on podcasts…

…until it came time for my podfast.

I tried going old-school and heeding the veteran parents who frequently advised Kim and me to “cherish the experience.” But something quickly became apparent: those people haven’t had to actually feed a baby six times a day recently. As a spectator activity, watching a baby empty a bottle is barely higher than paint drying.

So I gave up on “cherishing.”

Instead, I decided to use that time to improve my beach volleyball skills.

Before each feeding, I cued up a Better at Beach or McKibbin Brothers video to learn cues and tips and fill my mental video bank with clips of pros who I could later imitate à la Inner Game of Tennis.

Now, you might ask, Isn’t replacing podcasts with YouTube videos cheating?

Kinda.

But kinda not.

Consuming podcasts is like eating from a hotel breakfast buffet. You look at what’s put in front of you and pick the most appetizing items, even it’s not the most appetizing or healthy.

Watching volleyball videos on YouTube is more like following a prescribed diet.

And it worked. My game made noticeable improvements. Nothing crazy, but I’d say the gains I made were better than whatever I’d have otherwise gotten from stuffing my brain with a smorgasbord of podcast episodes.

Arguably, you could do a single-topic diet with podcasts instead of YouTube. But I find it’s too difficult to search and filter episodes by topic. There’s no YouTube-like search engine for podcasts yet.

Until then, I’ll stick to this new YouTube information dieting strategy of mine.

Lesson #2: Reacquainting With Music

Me listening to music in kitchen instead of to podcasts
I used to love H.E.R., and now we’ve reconnected.

Bill Simmons’ sports takes were my gateway drug into podcasts back in 2008. The pleasure I got from listening to him and his buddies inspired me to dabble in other subjects. So I tried RadioLab, This American Life, Freakonomics, and so on.

By 2013, my podcast feed was so backlogged that I didn’t have time for music anymore. “Podcasts are way more informative than music,” I reasoned, so I went so far as to delete the music app on my phone to open up storage space for more podcast episodes. 

This meant that when my month of podcast abstinence came around, I had to download Spotify to be able to listen to music again.

It felt awkward, yet familiar and nostalgic, like reacquainting with a long-lost love. And like long-lost loves are wont to do, music had changed a lot in our eight years apart—and not in a good way. I used to love hip hop, but the new stuff Spotify recommended to me was all mumbly, crappy, auto-tuned trap and Drake.

Ugh.

The classic song I Used to Love H.E.R. by Common came to mind. I felt old and out of touch.

But I persevered.

Instead of trusting Spotify, I made my own playlists of what are now old-school songs from the ’90s and ’00s. It was just like old times.

And it was better than listening to podcasts in many ways:

  • More motivating: Believe it or not, it turns out that listening to MOP scream at me to Ante Up motivates me to work out harder than Tim Ferriss asking some “top-performer” what books they tend to give as gifts.
  • More fun: Making food felt slightly less tedious, and Kim didn’t mind if I played music on her speaker, which would never fly with Tyler Cowen at 1.9 speed.
  • More engaging: Zac seemed to enjoy my Biggie Smalls rap-a-longs and spontaneous freestyles a lot more than Dog Walk Snake Drafts.
  • More revitalizing: My brain didn’t feel as fried when I tried to get back to work after.

Thanks to temporarily quitting podcasts, music has become a part of my life again. Our relationship’s not the same as it used to be, but it’s good. As I write this, I’m even seriously considering getting a Spotify account of my own.

Lesson #3: Back to Actual Life

Selfie of me walking without listening to podcasts
I’m more likely to stop and smell the roses—and take selfies—on my walks without the distraction of podcasts.

There’s an implicit trade-off you make by listening to podcasts: You get other people’s ideas in your brain at the expense of coming up with your own.

In many ways, I think making this trade has paid off. Listening to podcasts has:

  • Provided me with a ton of excellent book recommendations.
  • Exposed me to tons of thought starting ideas, the best of which I share in Consider This.
  • Reignited my curiosity, which, I think, makes me more creative.

But I’ve started to wonder if I overrate these gains. It’s not like I had no books to read, no interesting ideas, and no curiosity before podcasts began invading my brainwaves back in 2008. 

What if podcasts were never invented? Would my life be any worse off? 

Probably not. 

So going into my podfast, I had high hopes for my more-bored-than-usual brain. I expected it to use the RAM I was freeing up to come up with multiple eureka moments that would take this blog, the videos I’m making, and my life in general to new levels.

But it didn’t pan out that way. Mostly, my brain seems to have used its time off from digesting double-speed podcasts the way most employees use their vacation days: resting. 

But…

(Actually, it’s a big but.)

BUT…

Temporarily quitting podcasts took me away from the vortex of pseudo and genuine intellectuals competing to convince me that their ideas are super important. And it refocused me on something more important:

Actually living life. 

Rather than listening to other people talk about their lives and others’, not listening to podcasts refocused me on experiencing cool stuff in my own life. And when there was nothing cool going on, I thought about cool things I could do in the future.

It also got me questioning the merits of some of the pie-in-the-sky philosophical stuff I’ve recently written on this blog. Maybe we’re better off thinking less and doing more.

Or maybe not. Like listening to podcasts, I suppose it’s a trade-off. You have to tinker with it to find the right balance.

Lesson #4: Controlling the Craving

Me questioning whether to listen to podcasts or not
To listen or not to listen, that is the question I ask myself more often these days after my podfast.

Despite the benefits, I failed my mission of quitting podcasts for a whole month.

Had I podfasted in February, I would have made it. But I did it in July. And maybe I’m self-justifying, but I think it was a conscious, controlled choice.

A month is an arbitrary amount of time anyway, right? Twenty-eight days was enough for me to get what I wanted out of my experiment. Plus, I had a day of city driving ahead of me and needed something to distract me from losing my cool at distracted drivers.

So, on July 29, I pressed play on NBA draft analysis from Zach Lowe.

Just like my first bite after a multi-day food fast, that first episode was extra pleasurable. Also just like after a prolonged food fast, I got my fill sooner than I thought. After only one episode, my ears and brain told me, “Enough.”

I hadn’t accumulated much of a backlog of episodes to catch up on, anyway—only fifteen episodes. The other 85 or so that I’d normally consume in a month didn’t seem as interesting anymore.

And my cravings have continued to be reduced.

It’s been a month since my podfast and I’m only listening to maybe one podcast a day. I’ve also been a lot more willing to quit a podcast five minutes in, delete it, and listen to nothing. Or music.

But I can feel the itch coming back. I bet in a few months, I’ll be back on the bandwagon, blitzing my brain again.

The difference this time is that now I know what I’m missing by listening to too many podcasts. And I know how to address it. So I envision another podfast in the future.

Probably in February.

It’s way better than podcasts:

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