Self-improvement has been a concept for thousands of years. As long as humans have existed, there have been teachers and works that guide people on how they should act and improve themselves as individuals functioning in a successful society.
In the 20th century, groundbreaking books like Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People and Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People led the genre with inspiring and attainable advice for almost anyone looking to improve themselves. Today, major thought leaders and authors in the self-improvement realm include Brené Brown, Mark Manson, Tony Robbins, Esther Perel, Jen Sincero, Marie Kondo, Marianne Williamson, and a whole lot more.
People will always strive to improve themselves, whether it’s changing how they work, their daily routine, their financial habits, their physical appearance, their physical health, or their mental well-being. It’s part of the human condition to seek happiness and improve our day-to-day lives. That’s why the self-improvement industry is worth billions of dollars. Popular terms in today’s culture like “self-care” have furthered the success of self-help literature, and the COVID-19 pandemic only increased the desire for personal guidance and development for many Americans.
Today’s audiences are increasingly turning to podcasts to get their doses of self-improvement advice. There were over 75.9 million podcast listeners in 2020, and that number is expected to reach 100 million listeners by 2024. Podcasts are an easy, convenient way for people to get guidance on how to improve themselves when they’re driving to work, commuting on a train, working out, or taking a shower. And the top thought leaders in self-improvement have noticed—many run their own successful podcasts to support their overall brand.
When you’re looking for the right self-improvement podcast for you, there are plenty of great options out there, which can be overwhelming. Many are fairly general and can apply to anyone, no matter your age or gender. Some focus on a specific audience and may provide the most relevant, engaging content. Where do you start? This guide walks through nine of the best podcasts for self-improvement to pay attention to—several of which are particularly apt for women.
Read more: 15 Self-Help Podcasts for Women That Motivate & Inspire
1. The Rachel Hollis Podcast
Texas-based author, blogger, and speaker Rachel Hollis rose to fame with the 2018 #1 New York Times bestseller Girl, Wash Your Face, and the follow-up Girl, Stop Apologizing in 2019. Hollis’ books help readers question their beliefs and assumptions that hold them back, providing guidance to turn things around and live a life with more purpose and joy.
The Rachel Hollis Podcast focuses on these same topics, as Hollis provides more life lessons to listeners. She regularly interviews experts in lifestyle, media, and business, and recent themes include unlocking the creative process, setting goals for high achievers, reducing stress, improving well-being, getting over the fear of failure, improving sleep, finding fulfillment, and being a better parent.
2. Cultivating H.E.R. Space
Cultivating H.E.R. Space is a podcast created by and for women of color. Professor and psychologist Dr. Dominique Broussard and motivational speaker Terri Lomax have created a safe space for Black women to have conversations about self-improvement and life challenges through H.E.R., standing for Healing, Empowerment, and Resilience.
The two hosts both have unique perspectives to contribute to Cultivating H.E.R. Space. Lomax brings her experience from founding the Mocha Girls Pit Stop blog for women of color and empowering entrepreneurs, and Dr. Broussard brings in her counseling experience and psychology studies. The podcast is focused on ensuring Black women have somewhere to turn to hear stories they can relate to, and topics like finding purpose in life are analyzed from the hosts’ unique experiences as women of color.
Other recent topics include holding gaslighters accountable, navigating life’s most embarrassing moments, rules Black women should live by, and tips for living on your own for the first time.
3. The Happiness Lab with Dr. Laurie Santos
Happiness is often what we’re seeking when we turn to self-help and self-improvement mentors or literature. That’s exactly what Dr. Laurie Santos aims to discuss and analyze in her podcast, The Happiness Lab.
Dr. Santos is a scientist and professor of psychology at Yale University, where she teaches the most popular class in the school’s history: Psychology and the Good Life. She has researched human cognition and happiness extensively, and was named as a Leading Campus Celebrity by Time Magazine and one of Popular Science Magazine’s Brilliant 10 Young Minds.
The Happiness Lab is a top-three podcast on Apple, and Dr. Santos dives into how what most of us think we should be doing to be happy is actually the opposite of what will really improve our lives. The podcast is derived from her popular Yale course, and she talks extensively about the latest research on happiness and integrates stories from the field. Recent episodes have focused on the happiness of silence, why you shouldn’t try to find the perfect job, eating intuitively, and tackling self-criticism.
4. Unlocking Us with Brené Brown
Brené Brown is a speaker, professor, researcher, and author who specializes in discussing shame and vulnerability, among many other themes within the psychology realm. She is a research professor at the University of Houston and a visiting professor at the University of Texas at Austin McCombs School of Business. Brown has written six #1 New York Times bestsellers, including Daring Greatly, The Gifts of Imperfection, and You Are Your Best Thing.
Brown’s podcast Unlocking Us consists of a series of conversations that help readers ruminate on issues surrounding themes like courage, love, purpose, and connection. She talks through what it means to be human and brings in many cultural references like movies, books, and music, as well as many expert and celebrity guests. Recent topics include facing life’s shadows, responding to pain and hurt, surrendering to creativity and faith, and being vulnerable.
5. How to Fail
English novelist and journalist Elizabeth Day authored the nonfiction books Failosophy: A Handbook for When Things Go Wrong and How to Fail. Day got her start as a journalist, writing for The Sunday Telegraph, Elle, and The Observer, and went on to write five novels in addition to her nonfiction books.
Day’s podcast How to Fail, which started in 2018, showcases everything that doesn’t go right in our lives and celebrates those moments. She interviews someone new each week and asks them to share their failures and what they learned from them, reminding listeners that everyone makes mistakes, even the most successful people out there. The podcast won the Rising Star Award from the British Podcast Awards in 2019 and has more than 35 million downloads.
Recent interviewees on the podcast include Margaret Atwood, Greg James, Joan Bakewell, Munroe Bergdorf, and Rick Edwards, who’ve debated everything from confidence to life transitions to rebellion. Talking about failure instead of feeling shameful about it can help listeners learn from mistakes and move forward.
Read more: The Art of Positive Self-Talk: How to Shift Your Thinking & Build Resilience
6. Life Kit
NPR released the popular podcast Life Kit, hosted by reporter Marielle Segarra, to provide straightforward life advice that’s relevant to a variety of listeners. The podcast is categorized under NPR’s “health and fitness” category, but it covers much more than that. Life Kit topics span everything from getting better sleep to improving financial habits, to being a better parent to quitting your job. The podcast won the Innovator Award at the 2020 iHeart Radio Podcast Awards.
Recent themes include dealing with quarter-life crises, understanding the truth about caffeine, ensuring dental health with better habits, preparing for tax season in 2023, and preparing for an earthquake.
7. Exactly. with Florence Given
British illustrator, feminist, and activist Florence Given knows how to appeal to younger audiences, bringing a unique, modern form of feminism to her writing and activism. She’s written the books Women Don’t Owe You Pretty and Girlcrush, both of which discuss feminist themes. She talks through how social media impacts young people and relationships and highlights issues related to body image in much of her work.
Exactly. with Florence Given focuses on five topics—sex, relationships, feminism, body image, and social media. She fields questions from listeners for each episode, alongside the likes of Jameela Jamil, Sofie Hagen, and Munroe Bergdorf. Given also brings in doctors, psychologists, and celebrities in the areas she explores.
Exactly won the gold award for Best Marketing Campaign at the British Podcast Awards in 2022, and recent topics on the podcast include creating moments of joy and defiance, trusting your gut, fat shaming, victim blaming, and creating boundaries.
8. Routines & Ruts
Writer and interviewer Madeleine Dore created the now-finished project Extraordinary Routines, in which she held interviews and conducted experiments about “how people cope with the ebb and flow of daily life.” In this project, Dore took on personal experiments and asked others about habits and routines to provide lessons and guidance to her audience. She wrote I Didn’t Do the Thing Today: Letting Go of Productivity Guilt and continues to send out her newsletter, “Madeleine Dore—On Things.”
In her work, Dore questions how we define having a good day and brings in all kinds of creatives to contribute their thoughts. She has contributed her writing on these topics to a range of publications, including BBC WorkLife, ArtsHub, and Womankind.
Dore started the podcast Routines & Ruts to discuss how we have both “on” and “off” days throughout our lives, and she explores how to effectively deal with both. While the podcast ended in 2022, listeners can still access Dore’s engaging episodes that span everything from shame, facing self-doubt, perfectionism, self-sabotage, and being intentional each day.
9. Help Me Be Me
Creative professional Sarah May started the podcast Help Me Be Me, which she says is “self-help for people who hate self-help.” May started a self-help blog before earning her M.A. in marriage and family therapy and runs the brand Yay With Me. She’s now a life coach, helping her clients navigate relationships and foster self-love, and has been featured on the Huffington Post, The New York Times, the Chalk Board, and elsewhere.
In each Help Me Be Me episode, May breaks down the what, why, and how of topics to provide everyday tools to help people with their emotional challenges. Recent episodes cover topics like self-regulating anxiety, untraining unhelpful thought patterns, getting out of your own way, breaking through codependent relationships, and letting go of shame.
These nine podcasts provide a variety of self-improvement content to check out when you’re looking to feel inspired. The genre continues to dominate book sales and podcast listens, showing just how important it is to people to keep growing and developing their thinking.
For more great self-improvement podcasts, think about the topics you’re most interested in and browse the platforms where you get your podcasts. There are hundreds of thousands of new podcasts being launched each year, so there will always be relevant, accessible self-improvement content to listen to.