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The 15 best motivational podcasts

Looking for a soothing kick up the bum? Yes, such things exist. Look no further than 2022's best motivational podcasts

Andrzej Lukowski
Written by
Andrzej Lukowski

Motivation comes in many forms: for some, it’s personal stories of inspiring celebrities and business people. For others, it’s philosophical advice about coping with life in our busy world. Well, boy does the world of podcasting have some options for you. The idea of motivational podcasts might not appeal to those of a more cynical bent, but something from this wide-ranging selection should get your juices flowing – and who among us couldn’t do with a little self-improvement?

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Some podcasts focussing on the careers of entrepreneurs are overly desperate for a hit of the zeitgeist, fawning away over voguish tech bros whose achievements can seem rather nebulous. Guy Raz’s NPS podcast is the very opposite of that: each week, he chats to a business owner about their journey to success and what they learned on the way, but the key thing to ‘How I Built This’ is the range of people he speaks to, from the founders of influential indie record labels to the guy who came up with PAW Patrol. They’re not all hip, but they do all have great stories to tell.

Ah, just the sweet, sweet memory of the Obama years is all many of us need to get motivated, the ultimate #couplesgoals. But why pretend it’s 2011 forever when Michelle Obama is on hand today? A podcast that might have been a slightly naff vanity project in the hands of another public figure who found fame as a politician’s spouse is absolutely terrific in the hands of Obama: warm, optimistic words of life advice in conversation with sundry major figures, not least her husband.


Yes, sure, TED Talks have become a bit of a middlebrow cliche, as the easily digestible, 18-minutes-max lectures about basically anything have become culturally ubiquitous to the point of slight parody. They’re not all brilliant. But there is plenty of gold, the subject matter is inevitably interesting, and frankly, they’re often blessedly short. Trawl the gargantuan internet archive or sign up for this daily podcast, presented by Elaine Hu, that brings a wildly different idea to your ears every day.

Celebrating failure isn’t a very American trait: which is why it’s perhaps unsurprising that it’s the subject of one of the few British podcasts here. ‘How to Fail’ comes from successful Northern Irish author Elizabeth Day, author of the book ‘Failology’ on the very same subject. Each week a guest talk about their failures and what they learned from them. It’s inspiring to know that the likes of Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Jameela Jamil have screwed up and moved past it. But because the guests are typically British, it is also reliably amusing and distinctly lacking in humblebrags.


It’s definitely not hard to feel a regular sense of utter despair at the state of the world. But this podcast from British politician (and former leader of the Labour Party) Ed Milliband alongside radio presenter Geoff Lloyd does exactly what it says: it looks at current affairs and global events through a positive eye and points out how and why there might be hope for the world yet. That’s not to say it offers false hope, but that it’s good at explaining what hope there is, with a particular focus on climate change.

Gretchen Rubin is one of the world’s foremost experts on happiness: she’s sold over two million books on the subject. It’s not exactly hard to guess what her podcast is about, but it’s impressive how many angles she finds on the subject in Happier, which has been running for years and years and shows no sign of slowing down. Sometimes she tackles huge existential issues; often she talks about small delights, like the magic of tidying up a shelf. Not everything in it is going to 100 percent definitely bring everyone who listens joy, but you won’t want for ideas.


‘Optimal Living Daily’ is a pleasingly prosaic podcast, based around a simple and effective concept, being a daily dose of helpful lifestyle articles from around the Internet – everything from relationship advice to financial tips – read out like a sort of audio digest. It’s obviously by its nature very tonally varied, but the team put together a slick, coherent package, and if self-betterment is your general bag, you’ll find something here.  

Whether you’re actively struggling with your job, simply feel like you could be getting more out of it, or are just curious about the psychology of the workplace, therapist Esther Perel’s podcast is a really fascinating listen. It’s relatively new, meaning there aren’t vast numbers of episodes, but what there is is really meaty, with its weekly case studies ranging from discussions of the psychology of being stuck in the same job for years on end to how to deal with a sudden abrupt change of power relationship with your colleagues.


This long-running UK phenomenon presented by comic Deborah Frances-White offers a funny and non-judgemental take on feminism that acknowledges the difficulties involved in fighting the good fight while also very much encouraging listeners to keep it up. If you want to be po-facedly lectured, it’s not the place for you, but if you want a good laugh and great special guests while at least nominally keeping your own feminism in good order, you should check it out.

No beating about the bush here: every week on ‘Good Life Project’, a guest offers a full-bodied explanation of how you can indeed live a good life. Often, they’re dauntingly high-flying individuals and can be pretty long interviews, but host Jonathan Fields is a skilled interviewer good at winkling a compassionate and helpful perspective out of his subjects. His warm and human perspective on living a good life is often as helpful as that of his subjects.


Not so much overtly motivational as just damned useful, ‘Stuff You Should Know’ – aka ‘SYSK’ – is a wonderful long-lived podcast that does exactly what it says on the tin: each week’s edition sets to fill you in on some aspect of the world that is, at the very least, interesting for you to know about, from historical figures to the origins of folk myths. Hosted by Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant, week’s edition goes into explaining… something at some length: you’ll learn a lot, and their breezy, funny takes make for an easy listen.

The title sounds a bit jokey, but really you’ll want to be reaching for the hankies here. The central thesis of Nora McInerny podcast is that it’s healthy to talk about your pain and grief with strangers and casual acquaintances. To that end, ‘Terrible, Thanks for Asking’ includes a lot of details of personal tragedy, not least McInerny’s own. But the stories cross a wide spectrum (not every tale is howlingly bleak), and it feels less like grief porn than people reflecting upon their pain and how they coped with it. If you’re going through a hard time, there should be something in here for you.


If you feel like dipping your toes in more spiritual waters but aren’t looking for anything actively involving religious dogma, this award-winning public radio show hosted by Krista Tippett could well be for you. Loosely speaking, it’s a weekly conversation exploring what it is to be human, addressed via a wide variety of guests and perspectives: it’s not exactly a laugh a minute, but it’s unpretentious and accessible, with past guests running the gamut from Maya Angelou to the Dalai Lama.

The ‘Queer Eye’ guy’s weekly podcast is a quixotic odyssey through all manner of stuff that Jonathan van Ness is interested in. But rather than simply unearth drily factual trivia, he really likes to understand his subjects’ inspiration and how they work. He’s a fun host, it’s a pretty light listen, and the range of subject matter is pleasingly mercurial: subjects veer all over the shop, from the Panama Canal to ‘Bake Off’.


Okay, Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen are as much renegades as they are milkmen. But nothing offers a more inspiring glance into America’s soul and the enduring romance of the place as these two great elder statemen’s series of chats about fatherhood, music the American Dream, and much much more. It’s the definition of luxury podcasting.


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