Delving into the self-help genre is a pursuit that requires a new vocabulary. “Healing modalities,” “self-actualization,” and “human design” have become commonplace terms in the category, one that has gone beyond simply helping people overcome issues like anxiety and addiction. Self-help is now about productivity, discipline, even resisting the natural process of aging. And, of course, it’s about the Morning Routine.
Future generations will likely reflect on our obsession with cold showers and intermittent fasting the same way we puzzle over the practice of human sacrifice (“the wise man told me to do it”). Often, the things that truly make us feel better can become lost beneath a capitalist framework that prioritizes efficiency and performance over pleasure and contentment. What if we renamed procrastination “imagination time?” What if the secret is to pause the podcast and sit, at least momentarily, in silence?
What advice will resonate varies wildly from person to person. Just because I don’t personally care for loud, middle-aged men yelling about bio-hacking doesn’t mean it won’t change your life. But these sorts of podcasts, the Tim Ferriss copycat shows, are already widely recommended. In the oversaturated genre of self-help podcasting, it can be hard to find show that provide space for sharing opinions, rather than establishing a single ideological platform. Here are nine self-help podcasts that will inspire you to rethink how you currently live, without requiring you to drink butter or pay $100 to enroll in an online mentorship program.
Dr. Laurie Santos, the host of The Happiness Lab, is a Professor of Psychology at Yale. Although many of her episodes focus on improving the mental health of college students, her discussions on stress are applicable to anyone participating in the rat race we call society. Occasionally reminiscent of a TED Talk, the show’s tone is similar to that of the sorely missed The Cut on Tuesdays. Dr. Santos knows how to make a compelling speech. She presents a comprehensive tool kit in a format that will appeal to those resistant to other forms of “New Age” thinking, making concepts like meditation accessible to those who need it most.
With a no-frills formula focused only on tried and true advice, NPR’s Life Kit series is essential self-help listening. The show’s topics are diverse, ranging from how to talk to kids about our turbulent news cycle, to how to find yourself a mentor or get more sleep. I stumbled across Life Kit while waiting for the right moment to tell my then manager that I was leaving my job — and also the country — in a matter of weeks. Timing was everything: too soon and I might be passed up for useful training; too late and I wouldn’t be able to smoothly transition my replacement. Some procrastination web-surfing brought Life Kit’s episode “Want to Quit Your Job? Here’s How to Do It Well” onto my radar, but the fact it had produced such a fitting episode shouldn’t be surprising. Much of the advice the podcast offers is obvious, far from the secrets of bio-hacking and “dopamine fasting.” But I’d argue this is part of its value.
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The pace and consistency at which Rich Roll releases his podcasts, many of which are over two hours long, could be viewed as a reflection of his dedication to long-distance running. At 56, Roll is a plant-based ultramarathon runner whose popular podcast has surpassed the 750-episode mark. On The Rich Roll Podcast, Roll provides a platform for scientists, athletes, and thought leaders to share their views in a conversational setting which finds a balance between relaxed and rigorous. Roll is an excellent interviewer, putting his guests at ease, yet never shying from challenging their ideas. Speaking with the likes of recovered addicts like Amy Dresner to former Navy Seal David Goggins, Roll encounters all of his guests with a believable sense of empathy. The sun-tinted vibes of California saturate his show, which are juxtaposed with Roll’s past experiences with alcoholism and addiction. For an insight into his vast archives, start with the show’s yearly highlight episodes.
Balanced Black Girl isn’t the only millennial podcast that grapples with self-care and wellness, but it’s certainly doing a better job than most. Hosted by Les Alfred, the show prioritizes a slower, more conscious approach to life, rejecting the “hustle culture” that has taken over the routines of so many urbanites. With a background in nutrition and personal coaching, Alfred has seamlessly transitioned her skills as a blogger into audio. Her clear, direct approach to advice is a delightful contrast to its hyper-aesthetic packaging. (The show’s website looks more like one for a spa than for a podcast.) But despite an ad for probiotics here and there, Alfred focuses on robust topics, taking on a “big sister” role as she’s aged. In addition to advising her listeners on knowing their worth as partners and professionals, Balanced Black Girl intersects wellness with race, adding a refreshing, nuanced lens that’s missing from many of its contemporaries.
You might know Elise Loehnen from The Goop Lab on Netflix, a show dedicated to alternative wellness therapies that ranged from cold water exposure (plausible) to communing with the dead (bizarre). Whatever you think of Gwyneth and, uh, seances, suspend your disbelief for a moment while we tell you about Pulling the Thread, Loehnen’s independent project. To say Loehnen discusses “wellness” would be reductive. Delving into texts on spiritualism, philosophy, and psychology, it would be more accurate to say that her podcast is about metaphysics. In each episode, Loehnen speaks to a writer or “thinker” about topics ranging from the role of “the ego” in our relationships to establishing boundaries with our own perfectionism — she even discusses decolonizing the wellness industry in a rather pointed episode with Chelsey Luger and Thosh Collins. With a thoughtful and studious approach that prioritizes ideas over personality, Pulling the Thread is unmatched in its field.
Mel Robbins — no relation to Tony — fits into a more conventional blueprint for a self-help guru. As you might expect, there are plenty of “rules,” “lessons,” and “life-changing conferences” in her podcast. Typically, we steer clear of any sort of advice that reminds us of Patrick Swayze’s character in Donnie Darko, but while many self-help podcasts suffer from espousing a goofy “fear vs love” dichotomy, Mel Robbins is compelling precisely because she tackles these emotions. Drawing heavily from her own life experience, Robbins gives her listeners tools to better connect with their families, feel more empowered at work, and find stability in the chaotic parts of their lives.
After the success of her “5 Second Rule” in 2017 — which, as advice goes, is as simplistic as telling someone to hold their breath before they jump in a pool but, By Jove, it works — Robbins became a staple of the podcast circuit. It was inevitable that she’d eventually launch her own, but it was encouraging that she waited until late 2022, and the extra time spent planning is evident in the quality of the show. Robbins has enough smart ideas about self-development that her podcast has amassed thousands of positive reviews. We can attribute this to her sounding less like a Tony Robbins wannabe, and more like a Brené Brown for Californians: emotionally intelligent, pragmatic, and likeable.
You won’t find test tubes or Bunsen burners in the Huberman Lab, but you’ll certainly find a microphone. That’s because Dr. Andrew Huberman, host of Huberman Lab, is a neuroscientist turned podcaster who examines the effect of our brain function on health, behavior, and relationships. For those still interested in bio-hacking and optimization, Huberman offers a scientific grounding in neuroplasticity, otherwise understood as how we can alter our brain connections to improve our quality of life. With a focus on longevity, focus and physical health, Huberman’s research is all about self-improvement, but unlike other podcasts that push ideology, this show prioritizes neuroscience over diet or spirituality. This is self-help on a biological level, yet Huberman’s advice has huge implications for our social lives, from how to deal with grief to understanding and treating addiction. Huberman Lab takes a humanistic approach, a welcome relief in a genre saturated in egotism. So if you’re going to choose a podcast to assist with your self-optimization, pick your poison wisely; at least this agent of productivity has advice grounded in science.
Fast-talking and no-nonsense, feminist writer and podcaster Florence Given is producing self-help content for a millennial audience. Her show Exactly. With Florence Given is delivering just what that demographic wants: punchy topics, funky graphics, and trending guests. If you couldn’t tell from her accent, Given is British and has been making waves in the UK since the publication of her bestselling book Women Don’t Owe You Pretty, but her social media presence has attracted a cult following for years. Each season of this self-help podcast is split into five topics: sex, social media, feminism, body image, and relationships. Listeners send in questions which Given answers alongside a selection of engaged experts who know how to talk “feels,” complete with all the buzzwords. Each topic is explored over four episodes, giving listeners the opportunity dive deep into whatever subjects are important to them. The format is clearly designed for multi-episode binging (how very millennial). Expect to hear more from Given soon. By the sounds of things, she’s just getting started.
The Atlantic’s How to Keep Time is a show that levels expectations with reality. The notion of “abundance” pervades the self-help space, making many people who fall short of fame and riches feel like they did something wrong. Spoiler: Not everyone can be famous. And yet, despite this attitude of plenty, there is one thing we never seem to have enough of: time. How do we slow down while still moving towards our goals? This is the sort of question that How to Keep Time has hashed across its multiple seasons, always with a focus on realistic self-improvement. From romance to parenting, co-hosts Becca Rashid and Ian Bogost examine formulae for happiness that focus on creating meaning, rather than constantly seeking symbols of material value.
Do you ever tell people that you’re “just fine” even though you are absolutely not fine? There isn’t much left that we can comfortably say is universal, but perhaps this deflection is the one thing that will unite us. This is the conceit behind Terrible, Thanks for Asking, the hit podcast hosted by author Nora McInerny. Championing unapologetic honesty, the show brings on guests to talk about how they are genuinely feeling, in the hope that listeners will feel less alone. With great production and a strong narrative voice, the show treads the line between sadness and comedy without fully committing to either. McInerny’s great strength is her ability to contextualize her guests’ stories, lending insight that helps the listener recognize themselves in these interviews. This isn’t traditional self-help. There are no steps to take, no morning routines to follow. Instead, Terrible, Thanks for Asking offers advice that’s told through narrative, relying on empathy, rather than TikTok soundbites, to drive its lessons home.
After listening to too many self improvement podcasts, you may find yourself disillusioned by the advice — because, let’s be real, not all of us feel will better after taking a cold shower. Help Me Be Me, a self-help podcast that doesn’t make unrealistic promises, knows how you feel. With over 200 episodes on topics like tackling shame and overcoming loneliness, Help Me Be Me believes that feeling overwhelmed by self-help advice can be alienating and risks driving you even further from the life changes you want to make. The show’s host, author Sarah May B., isn’t going to flatter your ego. In a recent episode on journaling, she tells us: “We all kind of know, deep down, when we’re resisting something, we’re resisting it because we already know the answer — and we don’t like it.” May B. pairs her opinions with tried and tested methods for dealing with feelings of sadness, stress, or lethargy. With talk of “accessing your truth” and cultivating “self-forgiveness,” Help Me Be Me might sound like those other self-help podcasts, but below the surface, the show is a toolkit of well-intentioned, gimmick-free advice.
Alice Florence Orr is a staff writer and assistant editor for Podcast Review. She is based in Edinburgh. You can connect with her on Twitter or read her work on aliceflorenceorr.com