What makes us change? Why is it so difficult to change our minds about things? And what is it that makes us take action and change our behavior? Medical News Today tries to answer these questions while sharing three podcasts that inspired concrete changes in their lives.

An illustration depicting a human brain in a petri dish ready to be analyzed by a scientistShare on Pinterest
Design by Andrew Nguyen

It’s not often that something we read, listen to, or see has a real lasting impact on our behavior. In fact, sparking such a fundamental change in habits—owing to the nature of the way the human brain operates—is a lot more complex than thought.

According to behavioral change models, getting a human to purposefully change their habits or behavior requires the following driving forces:

  • whether we think the behavior will be enjoyable and beneficial,
  • whether we have social support,
  • and whether or not we believe we can do it.

So, not only do we need the inspiration to change our minds or behavior, but we also need the motivation and renewed commitment to turn it into action and stick with it.

On that note, this month, Dr. Hilary Guite, Medical News Today’s Features Editor Maria Cohut, and Global News Editor Yasemin Nicola Sakay sat down to discuss the impact previous In Conversation podcast episodes had on them— specifically, the ones that got them to change their behavior, leading them to adopt new habits in their daily lives.

If you’d like to hear snippets from our daily lives and listen to our discussion on how these episodes helped spark changes in our lives and how we embraced change, listen to our podcast on your preferred streaming platform down below:

Dr. Guite chose January 2022’s blood donation special episode, for which we collaborated with the American Red Cross to encourage more people to donate blood and plasma products amid a winter marred by a blood shortage crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic. For Dr. Guite, the episode and the frank discussions we had helped her get over that initial fear of donating blood and prompted her to become a donor again after a 20–30-year break.

She said the blood donor and the recipient talking about the “gift of life” was especially inspirational, and what Dr. Baia Lasky, medical director of the American Red Cross, said next really chimed in with her life values:

“Because it’s something that is universal. [W]e are connecting people in a way that most donors never meet the patients and most patients never meet their donors. And I think it’s a really powerful testimony to how we are connected and how interdependent we are on one another, and in a very palpable way.”

For Maria, the standout podcast was January 2023’s podcast on diet and mental health, which was one of the episodes that were a part of our nutrition-dedicated series.

She said after hearing about the connection between inflammation and foods and how they can impact neurotransmitters and chemicals in the brain and affect mood, she decided to try a few tips for herself to see if she’d see any changes.

One piece of advice that stuck with Maria was the importance of variety in one’s diet.

“So, go to the supermarket and if you always buy one kind of bean, buy six kinds of beans. If you always buy one kind of flour, buy six kinds of flour. If you always buy one kind of oil to cook with buy six kinds of oil. I mean, flax oil is a good one for omega-3s— [especially] if you don’t like oily fish, which not everybody would like,” she recalled Rachel Kelly, a U.K.-based mental health campaigner who has been outspoken about how diet helped treat her own depression, saying on that episode.

Our discussion spanned from comfort foods to disordered eating before inevitably touching on the Mediterranean diet and its many benefits— not only for mental health but also for the heart and the brain.

We also talked about “happy foods” such as green leafy vegetables, oily fish, and dark chocolate. Maria shared that she had incorporated more fish into her diet and her favorite hojicha, Japanese green tea. (Also, the episode contains an impromptu recipe for a Mediterranean-inspired mung bean salad.)

For me, there were many contenders, but perhaps the first one that came to mind was September 2022’s podcast on chronic pain. In that episode, we delved into the science behind how pain becomes chronic and addressed what it means when we say “pain is the brain.” We also shared with our listeners our own experiences— led by Joel Nelson, a longtime psoriatic disease and arthritis patient and advocate, who shared his personal journey with pain.

One of the quotes that stood out to me in that episode was by Dr. Tony L. Yaksh, professor of anesthesiology and pharmacology at the University of California, San Diego:

“[W]e started out this conversation by saying pain is in the brain. So when I say pain is in the brain, I am not saying it’s any less real, in any way, shape, or form. It’s a real thing. [W]e now teach medical students that just because you don’t see the primary diagnosis as being a swollen joint doesn’t mean the patient doesn’t have something. [T]he intent is to actually validate and bring into reality, the kinds of issues that occur when you discover that stress and so forth has changed this pain condition. [M]indfulness in a way can help the individual.”

Not long after this podcast, I enrolled in a genetics-based nutrition and mindfulness program that helped me shift my views about pain and chronic inflammation, leading me to tweak my ways of managing pain. The biggest takeaway for me from that episode was that the key to managing and treating pain was lowering stress levels and inflammation and building up mental resilience. In this episode, I shared some of the steps I took to achieve that— which included a different approach to using painkillers.

One of the biggest takeaways from our discussion was that change does not happen overnight. The key is to take small steps that can be slowly integrated into one’s daily life.

Another point was the importance of showing yourself grace and being more self-compassionate when trying to turn these behavioral changes into habits.

Letting such changes fit into one’s values instead of going against them and adopting a positive attitude to alter thinking were other points that seem crucial in making a change stick. For more, we’d encourage you to tune in to the podcast.