I am addicted to storytelling podcasts. Way before the nation jumped on the Serial bandwagon, I had been a loyal listener and avid fan of This American Life, Radiolab, Snap Judgment, The Moth and other shows whose sole focus was sharing extraordinary stories. So after perhaps thousands of hours of listening to stories of danger, love, corruption, death, hope, tragedy and tiny awakenings, it seems like a deeply subconscious part of my brain is completely enlivened by the storytelling experience. Here are five ways that storytelling podcasts boost creativity.

1. You Become an Active Listener. Much of the time, we’re only focused on our own thoughts, our own special neuroses. But when you can sit still and listen to a beautiful 30-minute account of someone overcoming a cruel fate, for example, you don’t want to miss a word. Each sentence is an intricate point in a narrative designed to shift your senses and make you feel something. After the podcasts are over, your senses can be heightened and you learn to hear people’s stories in everyday life—stories that inspire.

2. Your Imagination is Sparked. There are hundreds if not thousands of remarkable storytellers around the world. Each podcast has the potential to unleash a completely new reality on your otherwise still psyche. Through people’s personal stories, you get a fast track into other cultures, other belief systems and you may even (if you’re lucky) have a chance to confront your own biases. Whether you’re listening to an account of lovers reuniting or how someone learned to fly an airplane, you’re invited into new parts of a very real world.

3. You Accept Your Own Stories as Meaningful Truths. As humans, it takes a lot of work to always be confident in our abilities to affect change or make a difference. Storytelling podcasts like Stranger, Criminal and The Moth remind us that we all have our stories to tell. They don’t have to be action-packed, supernatural or unbelievable. They have to be authentic and true. We get more comfortable in our own creativity by realizing that if we are interested in other people’s lives and experiences, our own experiences are valuable too—and they can deeply inform our creative process.

4. You Learn Practical New Things. As a creative, it’s important to constantly keep learning about seemingly random pastimes. Before I began regularly listening to podcasts, I didn’t know that it’s illegal in most states to take home dead wild birds. Like, you could be arrested. Also, putting a Buddha statue in the middle of a traffic island to deter people from throwing garbage there really does work. I’ve learned that blind people can naturally navigate their physical surroundings and acquire a strong sense of “sight” through an echo location system that doesn’t require canes or human assistance. Plus, you become way more interesting at parties.

5. You Internalize Great Story Structures. Storytelling is an ancient art form. Perhaps it’s the first. Once you begin to routinely listen to storytelling podcasts, you begin to understand the strong structure of a story—just like a song, a film or a book. But stories are special. They are real accounts of real people sharing moments or chapters in their lives in ways that pull you in and make you care. Most successful storytellers know structures like: describe the setting, introduce the conflict, share first anecdote with at least three important and interesting details (and repeat twice), draw a conclusion. Of course, there’s no real formula because part of the joy of storytelling is the spontaneity of the moment. They are not reading stories aloud. They are remembering stories and pushing them out.

Here’s a list of storytelling (real life) podcasts that offer stories that may ignite your own creativity (I use Stitcher to find podcasts):

· 99% Invisible
· Criminal
· Invisibilia
· RadioLab
· Risk
· Snap Judgment
· StoryCorps
· Strangers
· The Moth
· The TED Radio Hour
· This American Life


Photo: Wonders of Radio by Mike. Some rights reserved. License available here.