NPR’s Invisibilia & the power of thought

NPR's Invisibilia & the power of thought

Yesterday I was consumed by my thoughts—and not the good kind.

By 6 p.m. I felt so blah that all I wanted to do was go lie down and wallow in self-pity. (Productive, right?)

But then I remembered I’d been wanting to check out NPR’s newest podcast, Invisibilia, and decided if I was going to go hang out in bed, I might as well learn something. The first episode couldn’t have been more appropriate for my crappy mood. It was all about the power of our thoughts—particularly the negative ones—and how they affect us.

Invisibilia is Latin for “all the invisible things,” which is exactly what this podcast is about: the intangible forces that shape who we are and how we walk through life. Co-hosted by Lulu Miller and Alix Spiegel, the first episode kicked off with responses from dozens of strangers on the street about what they were just thinking. And if you’ve ever caught yourself thinking something totally bizarre, self-destructive or morbid, you might find comfort in knowing just how common that really is.

Anyone who’s ever been consumed by dark thoughts has wondered, “Why can’t I stop thinking this way? What’s wrong with me?” And this first episode of Invisibilia shed some light on that by explaining three phases in the history of psychotherapy:

There’s the traditional Freudian thinking, which is that all of our thoughts have meaning and are tied to some deeper part of us. Which can be helpful if you never made a connection between a recurring thought and something from your past. But if there’s no obvious link, it can only exacerbate the “what’s wrong with me?” kind of thinking. (Which is what happened to one man profiled in the podcast when he began having seriously violent thoughts out of nowhere.)

Then cognitive behavioral therapy began to displace Freudian therapy by directly challenging negative thoughts—not accepting them at face value or taking them so seriously. Therapists who use this method don’t necessarily believe our thoughts are linked to who we are, and for anyone who is especially hard on themselves, this way of thinking can be a huge relief.

Mindful meditation is the most recent form of therapy of all. Instead of challenging negative thoughts, those who practice mindful meditation acknowledge the thoughts but don’t engage them. The idea is not to fight the bad thoughts but to simply let them float away.

It’s easy to see why, except for certain cases, Freudian therapy has slowly been replaced over time. Maybe those of us who are occasionally tortured by our thoughts place too much emphasis on them in the first place. Cognitive behavior therapy seems like a good and direct approach to addressing thoughts that are near the point of all-consuming, while mindful meditation seems like good practice to build into our everyday lives. After all, we can’t block out all the bad images that enter our minds, but we can decide to let them go.

Whether you’re a podcast listener or not (and until recently, I wasn’t), I highly recommend checking out Invisibilia. Not only does it cover the above, but it weaves in storytelling that’s totally addictive. My occasionally recurring sad thoughts were put into perspective big time when I learned the story of Martin Pistorius, a man who was trapped inside his own body for more than a dozen years and had only his thoughts to keep him company—or drive him to the brink of insanity. Pistorius—who went on to attend school for computer science, start a web design company and get married—wrote a book that I will be checking out very soon. And you can be sure I’m tuning in to the next episode of Invisibilia.

Have you listened to Invisibilia? What are some of you other favorite podcasts? (I’m looking for recommendations!)

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  1. Sorry to hear you’ve been experiencing these kinds of thoughts.. It’s definitely concerning when the root cause isn’t clearly obvious. I’ve never heard of or heard this podcast and don’t listen to any but maybe in the future I will actually tune in. 🙂 Glad the podcast was enlightening and helpful! I am definitely a fan of cognitive behavioral therapy and find it’s approach to be very beneficial to the treatment of mental health disorders. Hope you continue to have positive thoughts and take it easy Cassie! Take Care -Iva

  2. I never thought about the concept of thought to that extent because I like thinking about other things such as understanding behavioral patterns. I’ll give Invisibilia a listen once I get the time.

    As for my favorite podcasts, I don’t really have much. I’m trying to learn a bit about real estate investment, so I just search up some of the top finds and listen to some related podcasts that cover that topic. Becoming financially intelligent is one of my goals this year, so this is definitely a good start. 🙂

    • Cassie Paton says:

      Thanks, Iva! It would be nice to get to the root of the cause to figure out how to make those pesky negative thoughts go away, but there is definitely some freedom in just deciding that they don’t reflect your true self.

  3. What a wonderfully honest post. I am always on the look out for something along the lines of this podcast, sounds fascinating and incredibly thought provoking.

    Hope you’re feeling a little brighter xx


  4. Wow. That sounds so interesting! I have never given any thought to the negative feelings and emotions that just randomly pop up in my day and whether they might be connected to a reason behind them, and especially have not considered just letting “them float away.” I absolutely loved this post.

    I’m not a podcast person (where do you even listen to them??) but every one recently has been making me want to jump on this bandwagon.

    • Cassie Paton says:

      I definitely want to start listening to more podcasts. I listened to Cheryl Strayed’s Dear Sugar podcast and really enjoyed that, too. I think they’re especially popular among Angelenos… we spend so much damn time in the car. 🙂

  5. Yes! I just listened to this a couple of days ago. So, SO good. I also like that it’s hosted by two females; it’s kinda like Radio Lab, but girl powered. It was so interesting…I’m really excited to listen to the next episode, which is about fear.

  6. I just downloaded this. I’m not generally a podcast listener, but I really like Elise Gets Crafty. She’s a blogger and crafter, but she talks to a variety of people who are creatives, run small businesses, etc. It’s pretty interesting.

  7. Wow, thank you so much for posting this. I actually struggle a LOT with very dark thoughts- I get angry very easily and my anger over even small things leads me to some really extreme thoughts that I know, if I look at them honestly, I don’t really mean but that it FEELS like I mean in the moment. I have been thinking recently that mindfulness meditation is something that might be able to help me, and this made me even more convinced of that. Much appreciated!

    • Cassie Paton says:

      So glad you found this helpful, Katie! It was very illuminating for me, so I’m curious to hear what you think. I’m sorry you struggle with dark thoughts, too, and hope you find something that helps.

  8. This was a great post and I will definitely be checking out the podcast after reading this. I have only become a fan of podcasts recently, after I took a job a few months ago that increased my daily commute, but some of my recommendations are:
    1. This American Life – this presents an interesting perspective on different topics. I don’t choose to listen to every single one, but after reading the descriptions I would say I listen to about 50% of them.
    2. Freakonomics – kind of similar to This American Life in terms of the podcast layout, but still good!
    3. Living Your Passion – 20-30 minute shows about everyday people doing things they love
    4. Call Your Girlfriend – I’ve only been introduced to this one recently but it seems good so far. Two long-distance friends catch up about pop culture topics.

    • Cassie Paton says:

      Thanks so much for the recommendations! I finally subscribed to This American Life and will be adding the others to my list shortly. They sound right up my alley.

  9. Hahaha, oh my gosh, I was going to write a podcast along these exact same lines!! I just listened to Invisibilia this weekend for the first time, and I was so incredibly struck by their exploration of the power of thoughts. I love how they pointed out that our thoughts don’t have to rule us, and we have control over our own narrative and the story we tell ourselves in our head. Extremely powerful stuff.


  10. Sometimes staying in and chilling out with yourself is exactly what you need, and then sometimes it helps to get out there and go do something with someone. That said, if you ever want to do frands stuff around LA, or go to a bar and Lucille Bluth the crap out of a beer or a cocktail, I’m so down.

    I want to second CALL YOUR GIRLFRIEND. Great podcast. And then I want to suggest “The Read” for a number of reasons, but mostly because I had no idea that “bird” was being used as a term to describe someone until I listened to it.

  11. This is the 2nd time today I’ve heard of Invisibilia and I’m now convinced it’s a sign I need to listen to it. Im a psychology nerd and learning about human behavior is my jam. This sounds right up my alley, and I’m excited to listen to it! I’ve just started getting into podcasts, but I’m sure you’ve heard that Serial is amazing. This American Life is also pretty good too. Also, I’m sorry you’ve been dealing with some negative thoughts. I struggle with negative thinking daily. If you ever need someone to vent to- I’m all ears 😉

    • Cassie Paton says:

      Thanks, girl! Yeah, I really need to listen to Serial, especially since I’m from outside Baltimore. (I’m so far behind the bandwagon at this point.)

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