Hello everyone, my name is Jaakko Tapaninen, and I am a recovering audio addict. It all started when I began running for exercise but found it boring without something to listen to. So first, it was music, then podcasts, then audiobooks. Then my listening habit spread from running to other information-starved moments in my life: driving, train rides, ironing shirts, waiting for sleep to come. I also learned to self-medicate with podcasts, pumping up my resilience with Jocko Willink, falling asleep with Sam Harris, getting a jolt of energy from Tim Ferriss. Sometimes, when I woke up in the middle of the night, I’d put on my headphones and fall asleep, and the podcast hosts would penetrate my dreams. Sometimes it got bizarre when my subconscious would react to what I was hearing with action-packed hallucinations.
For the most part, it was great. I learned so much from the podcasts during the time that would otherwise have gone to waste. I found fantastic experts, books, ideas, websites, travel destinations and learned new skills. When I heard about an interesting book, I’d first test drive it on audio, and if it turned out to be great, then I would get the printed book. I even started my own podcast, first 10X Finland, then Hybrid Times, and have been doing a bunch of podcasts for my clients. Podcasting has been a wonderful excuse to meet interesting people and ask them everything I ever wanted to.
But as with all good things in life, it is easy to overdose. I started filling most of my downtime with podcasts and while I tried to limit my habit to the best that’s on offer, the number of quality podcasts has been growing exponentially. Only listening to the best is like trying to control a drinking habit by only drinking the best wine. There’s just too much of it.
Slowly, I started seeing problems with my habit. Cranking up the sound level when in noisy environments has not been good for my hearing (I use in-ear pods because I think big headphones are socially offensive). And most of the audio books’ contents get wasted because I’m doing something else, or my mind starts drifting, or I doze off. Something people have only recently started talking about, in the midst of the audio-craze, is how much thought and nuance is lost when we listen – and do other things at the same time. My personal estimate is that 70% of a book I listen to is lost due to distractions. You can’t think– or boast – that you’ve read a book if all you did was hear 30% of it. You might as well say you have heard about it.
I did not want to go cold turkey to beat my listening habit.
But the worst realization was that all this audio was crowding out my own thinking. It is human to let someone else do your thinking for you. It is easy, it’s comfortable, and you can make a million excuses for it. But it is the same as watching other people do sports and think that it will make you stronger, faster and healthier. The magic is, of course, in the combo: doing both listening and thinking or doing a sport yourself and learning from how others do it. As with most things, the truth isn’t either-or. It is a dance in between.
I did not want to go cold turkey to beat my listening habit. So I decided to do intermittent fasting instead. It is popular these days to regularly skip a meal or two or occasionally fast for a day. I’ve tried it, and there are plenty of evidence-based reasons to do it. But now I applied the idea to audio content by picking particular situations I usually spend listening to stuff and committed myself to think instead. For example: “Next time I drive to town, on the way in, I will think about the website redesign problem we have, and not listen to anything.” “This evening, before I go to bed, I will start thinking about the blog I’m supposed to write. If I do that, the morning will bring me the answer.” “Next Saturday, when I go for a run, I will try to observe my surroundings and see what that does to me instead of flooding my head with Joe Rogan.”
It feels like it’s working. My love for podcasts is as live as before, but exercising some restraint makes the affair even better than inflating it with too much of the good thing. And boy, do I also love my thinking moments.