Phil Larson is the inspiring voice behind Your Motivational High 5 (YMH5), a self-improvement podcast that is climbing the charts on iTunes. YMH5 provides wisdom and inspiration on various topics in 5-minute bite-size episodes—think of it as an espresso shot for your soul. Phil shares his personal experiences and insights about various topics including procrastination, fear, self-doubt, community and self-awareness. He’s originally from Ohio, grew up in Minnesota and currently lives with his wife in Anderson, IN.
I discovered YMH5 during my search for motivational podcasts on iTunes. After listening to Phil’s episodes about procrastination and fear, I was completely hooked and have been a fan of the show since. What I love most about Phil is his willingness to be open and vulnerable by sharing his current struggles and lessons he’s learned from his journey. Phil is an incredibly humble, kind and down-to-earth person. We had a great chat over the phone where he shared why he launched the podcast, how he finds inspiration for his topics, and how he didn’t even tell his wife about the podcast until 7 episodes were recorded.
At the time of our interview, YMH5 had only been on-air for 8 weeks but already garnered 32,000 downloads. I wanted to
include him in The Human Side because his show deeply resonated with me, and I definitely think many others would benefit
from his wisdom as well.
The Birth of Your Motivational High 5
Can you tell me about the moment you decided to pursue YMH5 and how you felt?
Phil: Sure. I had a pretty slow Android phone before and for it to do anything it took forever, so I upgraded to an iPhone the second part of last year. I thought, Now my phone is fast is enough, and I can listen to a podcast. One of the things I’d mentioned in one of the earlier episodes was this guy named Alex Barker who kind of turned me on to the idea of a podcast; his podcast is the 66 Day Experiment. I’d been wanting to make some changes in my own life, developing better habits and being more intentional with my morning routine. So, I was looking for podcasts around that line of productivity and self improvement, and I came across his podcast. I resonated with this guy so I started reaching out to him about the idea of my podcast just being short, bite-sized material. Science used to say that 21 days of doing something over and over again develops a habit. Now, they say if you’re intentional about trying something for 66 days in a row, you’re more likely to develop a habit. The 5 minute length, I was like oh, I can talk for 5 minutes—20-25 minutes made me a little nervous.
You can tell in the first few episodes that I’m timid in my voice with some of the things I have to say because it’s the first time I’ve ever done anything like this before. I’ve recorded music and people singing, but never recorded my own voice. It’s actually something that I’ve been self conscious about—my voice—and I had to get into work earlier before everyone else so I can record and not feel stupid about someone else listening in on what I’m saying.
Where did the idea of rewiring your brain come from?
Phil: A long time friend of mine, who’s a science guy, for many years had shared the idea of rewiring your brain and the latest
science behind it. So, it’s always been percolating in the back of my mind. I’d been wanting to make some life changes
especially in the last couple of years—deciding to devote some intentional time in the morning—and it led to the idea of how
we tell ourselves these stories then we start to believe them and they become true.
When Phil began recording, he didn’t even tell his wife he was launching a podcast until he had 7 episodes recorded. We talked about the psychology of not sharing one’s ideas and dreams due to the fear of not following through.
Phil: I think part of that is true. There’s a great TED talk by a guy named Derek Sivers and he says to not share your dreams
because there’s a way that your brain actually gets tricked into believing that once you’ve shared it you’ve completed it
and then you end up losing a lot of the drive to do it. So, that was part of it. I do like doing things anonymously so there was
something intriguing about that. I recorded 7 episodes before I even told my wife that I was doing this. You know how when
you come out with something and it feels like it loses a little bit of its sacredness?
What do you hope to accomplish with YMH5?
Phil: You know, when it comes down to it I just wanted to record these thoughts. I wanted to get it down in a more tangible form and if anything, it’s something I can record for my future kids. That’s the main purpose. Everything else is icing on the cake. So, I can’t go wrong and I can’t fail at this. I journaled for a year and a half, but every day I have these things that I don’t want to forget because I’m aware of my capability to forget. It’s just a reminder of the beauty of life and that we can interact and have a direct relationship with nature and other people’s stories, as well as how our stories intertwine with one another. That’s just stuff that sustains us and keeps us going.
I’m giving my future self a gift by kind of putting something in a time capsule that’s easily accessible where I can go back and say, “What was that saying about perfectionism? I need a reminder.” Maybe it’s a little weird to go back and listen to my own voice, but the bigger picture is to go back and say, “Oh yeah, I’ve already learned this lesson.” I think we can all benefit from that.
Have you received any criticism from your listeners?
Phil: Luckily I haven’t received much of that which is good. The revelations are coming from me and if it resonates with
someone that’s great, too. I want people to realize that I’m not some special guy. I don’t have any special powers or special
training. I wanna be real and realistic and that realistic part is saying that I might be wrong, but this is what I’ve gathered so
far on this subject and if someone has something to add to that, then please tell me because I want to know.
Did you ever expect that you’d garner so many downloads and reviews?
Phil: No, I didn’t expect it at all. I do feel lucky because the community that my wife and I are immersed in is astounding. Before expecting any sort of success online or on a podcast, having community has to be the foundation. What’s great is that they are the launching pad because in order to get any exposure in the New and Noteworthy on iTunes, you have to get some ratings, and as I’m watching these tutorial videos on how to launch a podcast, all of them are saying tell your friends, tell your family, tell your community, tell your church, tell all the people you know, and if they like it to rate it 5 stars. I’m just lucky to have such a supportive community where they’re like, “Yeah, I’ll listen to it.” or “For sure, I’ll rate it for you.”
Some of those ratings and reviews, I can recognize who it is and I’ll think, Oh, I think that’s my friend. But then there’s some that come up that I’m like, how did they get this? How in the world did someone in Washington and in different parts of the country find me? I think that’s so cool, and I want to know the story. As far as I know, I’m in some 6 x 8 office in the middle of nowhere, sitting in my chair, but people want to download and subscribe and keep downloading; it’s so intriguing.
What’s your process and how do you keep yourself organized with your ideas?
Phil: I have a specific notebook that is dedicated to the podcast and there are tabs that separate the notebook. Part of it, I use to keep cool quotes that I come across online. There’s a great coaching app called Coach.me and it helps me keep track of all the days like getting up on time and having good posture as I’m sitting in my chair during the day. It also sends me a daily email with my stats showing how I’m doing with these habits, and in that email they always have a quote at the top. If there’s a really good one I’ll jot it in my notebook, and I might put a letter beside it—like if it’s about success, I’ll put an ’s’—so if I’m looking for a specific topic it helps me to quickly find a quote that fits the topic. If I do have a story I want to share, I’ll write it down in one of the other sections of the notebook. Another section is for any cool books or websites that I should look into, and then the fourth section is where I create rough outlines for my topics. It’s not an exact science but it works for me.
Learning & Growing
What has been the most challenging part of building this podcast?
Phil: Before I wasn’t really on a timeframe, and whenever I felt like it or had some inspiration I’d go in and record an episode. The goal was to start of kind of strong—2 to 3 episodes a week for 8 weeks—and I’ve kind of reached the end of that so now I’m sort of on a timeframe. Now I think I need to be intentional about staying on top of it. Honestly, It’s been easier than I thought it was going to be. I expected it to be more difficult or get some criticism or think, Is this worth it? Does anyone really care? But honestly, it’s been better than I thought and it’s been great feedback, which has given me more motivation to keep going.
How do you get past self doubt?
Phil: One of my least downloaded episodes, which is actually one of my most favorite ones, is the one on community. For me, it’s having that community around to remind me of who I am. When I delve into self doubt, I forget that I have a positive voice in people’s life and that my voice already carries weight in people’s lives. So, when I remember that, I gain the confidence that I do have something to share. Community, and the individuals within that community, are the mirrors that reflect back to who I really am. They say my most real, authentic and vulnerable self has had an impact in their lives and that has weight and power.
How do you balance your full-time job as a composer while also building YMH5?
Phil: Good question. My job is kind of loosy-goosy and my office shares space in a building with a video production company and a creative marketing firm called The Story Shop. We’ve worked in close quarters since 2012 and have become really good friends. They’re video editors and I’m a composer, and my type of composing is called media composing. It’s a lot of instrumental background music for mostly YouTube videos and commercials you see on TV.
I reserve the 8-9am hour to the podcast every morning and the rest of the day is dedicated to composing music. There’s always a resistance like going on Facebook and scrolling endlessly. So, I really have to be intentional and remind myself of what I want. I want to build a future where I can provide for my family, but there’s also balance because I don’t want to be over-worked.
How do you discipline yourself to get up in the morning and to stay consistent with the podcast?
Phil: Well for one, I set my phone far away so I have to stand up to turn off the alarm. That doesn’t always work, but it works
better than it being in arms reach while I’m horizontal. It’s an on-going battle, but that’s the first step in the right direction and
after that it gets so much easier. It’s the very first alarm that I say, I’m not gonna hit snooze, I’m just gonna get up and then I’m
ready to go. If I say, one more snooze and then I’ll get up, then it’s less likely that I’ll only do one more snooze. Every time I do
another snooze it’s less and less likely that I’ll get up on time. It’s kind of the first step that’s the hardest to take, but once you
take that first step, that’s half the battle.
Life Lessons & Advice
What advice would you give to people who are thinking of starting their own podcast?
Phil: Don’t force it. Let it make sense. For me it just makes sense. It seemed like the right time to do it because I had a lot of personal insight and revelations. However, I needed a season of droughts, which I had, in order to gain more insight. I was a Youth Pastor and was laid off. My wife and I were both at this church and we were both laid off in 2011. At the time it seemed like the worst thing and I’d think, How can this be God’s plan? I look back now and I think Oh, it completely was. As I refocused on music, I went through a season of drought where I needed to do some self-discovery and I re-found my voice. Now, I think my voice is more powerful than it was then and it just made sense for me. It was time to put it back out there. I did a lot of soul-searching and a lot of intentional changes in my life. The part where I felt like I hit rock bottom, in a way, has become a gift because it was something to push off from, and I just felt ready.
So, I guess pay attention to what’s happening around you, pay attention to your life and the things that you’re learning. Maybe it’s not the time to launch anything. Maybe it’s the time to sit in silence in the droughts and listen and learn. Be willing to have your life plans rocked and trust that there will be good that comes from it. You’ll gain insight and when it’s time, you’ll absolutely know.
What life lessons have you learned through this process?
Phil: (laughs) That I’m in process. That I’m always changing and I can trust my voice, too. Giving in to what the rest of the world is saying like, “You have nothing to offer.” or “You have to be some special kind of person to be able to offer anything worthy.” is not true. There’s no loss in doing this, there’s only gain because there’s growth. Even if I go back and think, Well I didn’t use the right form of the word there—I’ve done that, I’ve critiqued myself and thought I wish I would’ve said this word instead of that word because I don’t think I used it correctly. That gets in the way because what people need is the greater message and I can trust that. I can trust things that I’m learning, and as long as I keep talking the greater message will get out and everyone can benefit from that.
How do you want to be remembered?
Phil: That I loved selflessly, I think. I’ve done a lot of selfish love and that has no sustainable value. If we love selflessly, we love others and we love ourselves. I think that’s how I’d want to be remembered.
There is always additional wisdom within the conversations of my interviews that don’t fall into the context of the question/answer format, so I usually dedicate a separate section for it.
Phil is a man who is deeply rooted in his faith but shatters the stereotype of Christians who are often depicted in our media
and politics as God-fearing and malicious. Religion is often a very touchy subject, but what I deeply appreciated was Phil’s
general perspective on religion and spirituality. He believes that one’s relationship with a higher being—God or
otherwise—should be fostered and defined within ourselves and not by anybody else.
On faith: Whether it’s Christianity or spirituality, you have a more accurate view when you experience it in a community. If you are isolated and you get your education of Christianity and spirituality from the media or any sort of big depiction of it, it’s going to be absolutely skewed. Too much of our world believe the bigger picture and the politics behind it. That is not going to help anybody’s personal experience with their faith. It’s gotta be when the cameras are turned off and the media is out of the room that you can have a true authentic personal relationship.
On purpose: For me, it’s a greater purpose. I feel like God is inside of me and so I think I have things to say that are of spiritual worth. People have conflict and disenchantment with the words—’God’ and ‘Christianity’ and ‘Church’—but I believe in a God that’s different than what they’ve experienced. It’s not a savior complex. That’s another thing that I’m afraid of when I say that and it sounds like I’m out to save the world. It’s not, but I’ve experienced spiritual growth in the things that other people have said and if I can offer that, that’s where I find fulfillment.
On how our voice matters: The world has no shortage of people looking for truth and people who need positive talk in their lives. So, if you are brave
enough to add to that, the little that’s out there, there always could be and needs to be more. If you wonder if your voice
matters, well, think about your relationships within your community. Have you ever said something, anything, that
has meant deeply and someone says, “Man, spiritually, I didn’t know that I needed that, but I needed it.” If you’ve ever done
that, if you’ve ever added to someone’s life that way, then you’re gonna be all right.