Go behind the scenes of one of this year’s hottest podcasts, Nothing Much Happens-Bedtime Stories for Grown-Ups. Molly and Angela talk with creator, writer and narrator Kathryn Nicolai about the inspiration behind Nothing Much Happens.Born from the stories Kathryn told herself as a child and combined with her training as a yoga instructor, the podcast has launched with amazing results. Kathryn talks about being a bit overwhelmed by the success, and feeling responsible to the many listeners who now really depend on her to help them sleep.Her soothing voice and “sloth energy” are delightful to hear and learn from.
00:00 You’re listening to the live happier, longer podcast, episode 10.
00:14 Welcome to the live happier, longer podcast. We’re your hosts, Molly Watts, and Angela McDade. We’re here to help you build the habits of the happier, longer life. Starting now.
00:27 So Molly, how did you sleep last night? Well, Angela, I actually woke up in the middle of the night, got to sleep ok, but needed to help getting back to sleep. This happens to me fairly often, but I recently found a new trick that is helping me. Lovely, and what is said new trick? You have. It’s actually a podcast I know, which isn’t your what you would go to normal. Usually. I actually listened to audio books. That’s what I’ve always done, but the problem is is that I keep wanting to listen to the story and then my mind stays engaged or you know, whatever. This podcast is called, nothing much happens. Bedtime stories for grownups. And what’s funny is that really nothing much happens and it’s very lulling soothing, soothing. And the podcaster and author of this podcast is Kathyne Nikolai, and it just so happens that I believe we’re going to be talking to her.
01:28 We are indeed and besides, her podcasting, she is also a yoga instructor and meditation instructor, so her whole soothing appeal comes through in these podcasts and it is just. It’s so lovely. Yeah, she says she, she started this whole thing like from the age of four, telling herself stories and so that’s kind of where the idea started or grew from and yeah, the podcast is fantastic and I know not only myself but many other of our audience members suffer with not being able to get good sleep. We know how important it is just from our earlier conversations about preventing Alzheimer’s disease and things of that nature. It’s, it’s critically important to get good sleep. So I was super excited to get to talk to Kathryn. Yep. So let’s go ahead and speak with Kathryn Nicolai.
02:25 Hey Kathryn. Hey Kathryn.
02:27 Hi. Thanks so much for having me.
02:29 Oh my gosh. We are so excited to talk to you. Well, I guess I shouldn’t say excited, right? I should be more relaxed about it.
02:34 Very calm.
02:37 I’m very calmly happy to speak with you today. Your podcast is something that I found. It’s just such an awesome idea. The podcast is called nothing, which I think is funny. Kind of nothing much happens.
02:53 Meant to be a little bit of a joke.
02:55 Yeah, but that’s great. That time. Stories for adults,
02:59 for grownups.
03:00 Yeah. So talk to us a little bit about where this notion of doing a podcast, bedtime stories for adults came from.
03:09 It came from sort of two different areas. One is that I have seriously always used this technique of relaxing narrative to put myself to sleep since I was a little girl. Like it was one of my earliest memories, maybe being four years old or so and telling myself a story to fall asleep. And I’ve used it my whole life. If I wake up in the middle of the night, I can think my way through a story, I’ll go right back to sleep. And of course those stories have evolved over the years. But, um, I realized I had in my hands this technique that I thought that other people could use. So that was sort of one side of the idea. And the other idea was just looking at the world that we’re living in right now, or we’re sort of seeing so much stress, so much nervous system burnout, so much anxiety and justified justifiable. That’s the world we’re living in. And then trying to turn all of that off and go to sleep, especially when so many of us are carrying that right up until the moment that we fall asleep. Our devices are in our hands until the very moment that we’re trying to fall asleep. And I thought there needs to be like this bridge that connects us into slumber that is really soft and kind and relaxing. And as a yoga teacher and meditation teacher, I’m sort of thinking about all that stuff all the time. So then I just thought, well, let’s put this together. Let’s use this idea of narrative, um, and combine it with relaxation. And that’s how I came up with the idea for the podcast.
04:39 It’s so great. I know when you and I first connected, I told you that we had done a, an episode on the science behind for preventing the actual disease progress for Alzheimer’s and that sleep is actually has been shown to actually prevent the buildup of plaque in the brain. And it’s something that happens physiologically in our brains when we sleep. The brain gets washed in spinal fluid and it actually just removes toxins from the brain that can cause those plaque buildup. So it’s fundamentally sleep is so important to people and I think it’s, you know,
05:18 People don’t give it, don’t give it nearly as much importance as they need to. We even kind of brag about not getting sleep, you know, we kind of as if it were, you know, something to wear on your sleeve. Like, Oh, I’m getting by with four and a half hours, you know, in the way that we have sort of this cult of dizziness and cult of being overbooked. And I’m overextended that we highly value that. You know, I always sort of joke in my yoga classes that I have what I call sloth energy. Like a lot of, a lot of natural laziness and I think it is a real gift in the world that we live in. So a lot of times I’ll, I’ll say to my students, you know, hey, if you’re buzzing around on hummingbird steps today, have some of my sloth stuff just lay there for a minute, just be still because I think that rest quiet and obviously deep sleep are like basic forms of medicine that we’re just not paying any attention to.
06:16 Well yeah, and it’s, it’s actually science has proven that. I love that. The hummingbird, the sloth and you can feel yourself, right? I mean I know when I’m in hummingbird state. You get that frantic feeling. I do get a little like buzzing, you know, we talk about our daily action number five being let go and it’s really about that release of stress. And I guess even more so I’m thinking about it now. It’s, it’s also a release, just like you said, if kind of that energy because you know that stress and anxiety and business leads to kind of a pent up energy inside of you
06:55 Okay. I think that translates to attention and just feeling unsettled. And then how do you find rest and sleep? You know, I feel like that’s the thing that we need that bridge for us. Like it’s not a switch that you can just flip. We need a progressive way to get there.
07:11 Yeah. I, yes. 100 percent. And I, I have traditionally, and I told, I’ve said this before with you, I have traditionally used audio books which there are benefits. I mean the voices and things like that are similar, but one of the problems with audio books is that I want to keep listening or I want to know what happens next. I’m compelled to keep listening. So what made you decide? I want to write stories and tell stories that people just don’t care if they hear the ending to. two. It’s ok if they don’t listen. That seems counterintuitive for most writers.
07:48 It does, but you know, I realized even as a reader and a voracious audio book listener myself, a lot of times I’d be reading books or listening to things and they would get to some part where they would just have like a list of things somebody bought at the store or often like the very first part of the first chapter of a book is when somebody’s life is normal before something big happens. And I love that part. I remember even hearing on NPR a, the story about when the girl with the Dragon Tattoo books had first come out and how there were these long lists and one of the books of stuff she bought at Ikea. I was like, I loved that part. And people were responding to that. They’re like, why do we like lists and why do we like these things? And actually if you notice, I don’t know if you’ve ever been awake for it, but for, in lots of my stories are long lists where I’ll be at the farmer’s market and I’m listing all the kinds of vegetables or something like that. Um, so I’ve always been kind of drawn to the quotidian aspects, the everyday stuff that just made me feel really safe and comfortable and relaxed. And I was, I remember, um, I was taking a novel writing class a couple of maybe a year or so ago and I was writing to the professor, can I write a book about nothing? Please say yes and you know, and they were like, we get this question a lot, but they’re, you know, that’s not a book. And I was like, okay, well maybe it’s not a book, but maybe it’s something else. It’s something else. So that’s really why we right away tell you nothing much is going to happen. And I tell my listeners right away, I’m going to read it twice. So that gives you permission to kind of drift and relaxed because you know, you’ll hear it twice. So even the part of your brain that wants to stay awake and here it already knows that can actually relax because it’ll come around again. And so we trick everybody into falling straight to sleep.
09:48 I thought that was really a stroke of genius actually to do, to read it twice because I. At first I was like, well that’s interesting, but the more I listened to it, I also really appreciate you give a lot of instructions for you even start the story, which I think is important for people because it’s amazing how many people just don’t think through like, oh, I need to do this. I need to do that first. Or really to get the most out of it. It’s almost as if they’re asleep before you even start the story because you’re just so relaxed, you know, before we begin.
10:27 It’s all habit building, right? Every part of it. So a lot of people tell me that the longer they use it, the faster they fall asleep. Some people have told me they fall asleep by the time I say my name, which is like 15 seconds in and I’m like putting myself out of a job here. But really that’s what it is. It’s conditioning yourself and I guess I approached it in the way that I would as a yoga teacher, which is every time you start a yoga class, you’re trying to figure out how can I center people, how can I bring them into their bodies and introduce them to their breath and then tell them how to breath, than have been and help them into their body. It’s a progressive thing. So I realized that the approach to this was the same. Let me approach and it’s a pattern right where I introduced and I kind of explained how it’s gonna work and then I’d tell you to turn your light off and then I even just tell you a little bit about what you’re going to hear and then the story starts all of that because it’s the same every time, allows you to just drop right into that place of relaxation. So I do think the longer you use it, the faster it works.
11:27 And I do love the. I am. I mean, I’m a reader writer for all my life too and I really enjoy the voice you have in your writing in terms of just the attention to detail, which is what really then whether it’s a list or anything else, it gives you a visual, right? It’s a visual image in your brain you’re able to visualize, but the things that you’re talking about are very comfortable and warm and you it or familiar I guess is a good way of putting it. Familiar or not. I mean even though I don’t live in Michigan, I can appreciate aspects of the windows being open in the storm coming or the farmer’s market, those things and so it just is a great. Is a great. This smell of the most recent one was the sheets hanging on the washing line that that smell of freshly folded sheets that have been outside and a dry from fresh air. That’s just. That’s just such a comfortable smell.
12:25 It is and I hope that it’s always like, like you were saying, relatable and that’s why my stories usually don’t have any gender markers in them. They can sometimes be sort of timeless, like not have a real specific idea of what year this might’ve happened or, and that’s because I kind of hope that there are sort of familiar enough for everybody to kind of put it on like this is my coat, this is me, you know, so that you can resize it a little bit in your head to the things that really calm and comfort you.
12:53 Yeah. So let’s talk about your stories and where they come from and where are they going, I guess is also a good question.
13:02 Mostly they come from, I have like a regular habit of just paying attention to good things wherever I can see them because we have this negativity bias in our brain, right? Things that are scary and upsetting. They get stuck in our brain like velcro, but good stuff just slips right through. So in order to perceive the world with any kind of reality, you actually have to go and look more closely at good things and try to realign the balance. So it’s a habit of mine that can be as simple as you step outside and it smells good and you think that’s nice and you just take a moment to feel that it was good or you’re thirsty and there’s a glass of cold water and you drink it and it feels good and you think, hey, that’s nice. So I have this habit of doing that as much as I can every day. And so then once I start looking for that stuff, I see it everywhere. I already have this season completely outlined second season and about half written, but the other day I was out for a walk and it’s like the best pot part of autumn right now. It’s 55 degrees and it smells wonderful and the trees are turning and I’m outside. And I thought I could write a dozen more stories right now. So I, I never worry that I’m going to run out of stories to tell, although they’ll probably be a little repetitive as the time goes on. But today I’m recording our Halloween story and we have lots of great cold weather stories coming up.
14:32 Yay. Oh, I’d love that. I grew up in the Midwest and being out here in Oregon, I miss the full four seasons. The real cold. Yeah. I’m not complaining right now. We are enjoying ourselves a very epic right now. Yeah. Two weeks of. We’ve had basically two weeks of 70 degree weather and just absolutely gorgeous. So we have that plus we have the gorgeous trees and you know, you do get still have the crisp cold mornings and cool evenings, but during the day it’s, it’s pleasantly warm. It’s stunning right now, but it’s the rain’s coming here. We’re soaking it in. It’s unavoidable. So. But I loved it. I loved that. What you said about the negative sticks like velcro and, and, and the positive slides off we talked about with someone recently about kind of the science behind that too. That’s a defense mechanism, right? It’s all, it all goes back to evolution and when we were, you know.
15:31 Right, I mean if our ancestors had been running across the plains and it hadn’t stopped to smell a flower, that wouldn’t be okay. No big deal. But if they hadn’t watched out for the mountain lion, they probably didn’t get their genes into the next generation. That’s why I always tell my yoga students, worrywarts just had more kids. So you know, that’s built into your brain. But I think as soon as you know more about how your brain works, then you can start to circumvents a little bit and intentionally indulge yourself in these moments to help bring a little bit of balance.
16:01 Oh, with, without question and I. But I think it’s just like you said, it’s, it’s the realization and understanding that focusing on positive things is a mindful decision. You know, it’s something that you do as a habit that you, you know, you’ve developed that habit out of continually doing it right, and that’s one of our basic tenets is, you know, we’re, we’re all about aging with optimism and wanting to create those longevity habits for a longer, happier life. Because the bottom line is you don’t just get to 85 and go, hey, this was awesome. If you don’t take, you know, and you have to take those actions. You have to build a on an optimistic outlook and positive outlook, especially as you age. Similar in terms of mindful, intentional. Definitely. So obviously with your, your yoga studio, that was probably pretty integral in helping you figure out that there was a need for this message.
17:02 I guess so, but I, you know, I think I’m just aware too of just my friends and family, just not sleeping well and even seeing it in myself, you know, even in the wonderful work that I get to do every day, I am still coming home sometimes just brokenhearted by the world and going, Gosh, if I get to see the best in people every day and you know, do something that feels really satisfying and I come home worn out and like I can’t figure out where I’m going to put my brain to get some sleep than probably a lot of people are in much worse shape than me feeling. So, um, I think it’s just getting. No, it’s just where we are as people right now.
17:41 You mentioned it, it was an ongoing, I mean long, longterm storytelling, kind of just part of your nature and part of what you’ve done kind of your whole life. Did you talk with experts on the ways to help people get to sleep or was it just, again, more kind of a natural solution to a problem that you, you saw that existed?
18:00 You know, it’s just basically some. Because I knew that it worked for me. I felt like I had like this secret and I was like, I would try to explain it to people, you know, I have a good friend who lives in France and I remember one night she was posting that she couldn’t sleep and I’m writing or this long message about, uh, you know, walk yourself through the room of your rooms of your house and your mind and close every drawer and close every window. You know what? I’m trying to explain it to her and I thought it would be really nice if I could just tell her the story. Like I tell my Yoga students, you know, and kind of ease them into a place of relaxation. Yoga doesn’t have that much narrative, but, but I just felt like, you know, and when you’re a teacher and you have a technique, you gotta teach it, it drives you nuts if you can’t share it with people. So I’m really, it just came out of that understanding of I feel like I know how to fix this and and apparently I’m right because thousands, tens of thousands of people listen every night.
18:57 Yeah, I mean it’s a very fresh new idea for a podcast obviously, like our podcast is usually interviewed for. It’s designed to help people create action. Right. And strategies and things that. Were you concerned at all about whether it was successful or how did you go about trying to. Did you, did you think about it?
19:17 I really didn’t think about it that much. It was at the beginning more almost about me expressing something creative and just putting something out there and not having any attachment to what happened to it and I thought I’ll create it and then nothing will happen and I’ll be proud that I created it and I’ll move onto my next project and that was okay with me. I didn’t expect anything, you know, so now that I realized, you know, that I really have fulfilled a need for people, it feels a little bit different because I get so many messages from people every day who have really serious issues and, and have difficult lives and I have told me that I’ve provided them some bit of respite, I feel a lot of responsibility, you know, to continue to provide that and totally grateful responsibility. So glad to be of service, but um, but it’s definitely a different feeling writing season two than it was writing season one. I just, um, I try to remember that I wrote season one for my, for me, for my tastes and what I thought would work and apparently I was right for a lot of people. So to just continue to trust those instincts and just keep writing.
20:26 I completely hear what you’re saying. I love what you said about, you know, when you have, when you’re a teacher, when you have something to teach, you mean you feel like you have to do it right?
20:34 Yeah, for sure.
20:35 And I can appreciate that from our perspective, our whole thing really it’s not about the success of the podcast, it’s really about just sharing information and the message and really wanting to help people and how that just forms. But I think as you have grown and the podcast has been, you know, how people found you, has it just been like, do you know,
20:59 I don’t totally know. I know we were on new and noteworthy podcasts within like 10 days of our release and that’s just a great stroke of luck. But even saying that we have way more listeners on spotify than we do on apple. So, um, where did those people find us? I have no idea, but we are often the top third or fourth podcast in our section on spotify. So I think if you’re looking through it there, you’re going to find it right away. You know, I was kind of joking a couple of weeks ago like, um, because Oprah’s podcast was number two and I was number four. Well, days later I was number three and oprah was number four and I was like, don’t give up Oprah, we love you. You can still make it happen, but say that tongue and cheek just because it just blows my mind all the time to be recognized in these places, but I think a lot of it is people just saying, hey, this worked for me. I’ll send it to you on your phone and you can listen tonight. We’ll share it that way.
21:57 Well, people maybe up in the middle of the night looking for something to put them back to sleep. Right. That’s a natural advantage when people are looking right for something, for an answer, which is awesome. So I think that I’ve read or something on your website that initially you thought you were going to write a book.
22:18 I thought in my head that it would be a book because I was thinking about how as kids we had these big beautiful storybooks and full of illustrations and they told sweet stories and why don’t adults have that? Like I feel like we deserve it too. So, um, and I had a friend who was an illustrator. We were working on it together, but at a certain point I just kind of realized it was so far from happening. Um, it’s an expensive book. It wouldn’t be an Ebook, it would be a paper book, it would be full of color illustrations and nobody really wants to print that. So I was like on the shelf for a couple of months and then strangely I was up in the middle of the night because my dog was sick and so it was up with her while she was pacing around and I thought, it’s a podcast. I thought let go of thinking. It’s a book. It’s blocking you, just, it’s a podcast, make it happen. And I was up, I bought a microphone at like 3:00 in the morning.
23:10 That’s fantastic, I love that.
23:11 From like from that moment, until the moment that it released was like five weeks.
23:17 Wow. That’s fabulous. That’s incredible.
23:19 We just decided to go for it.
23:20 You know, it’s weird. I mean, you do kind of, right? You have to just go for it. I mean, when we were trying to figure out how we were gonna continuously get our message out, it was one of those things too where like how, which way? And then ultimately the podcast idea, you know. This was the one that we landed on. I love, I mean of course you have a, you have a fantastic voice. So I’m sure that helps. Especially when reading your own work, it’s a very soothing voice that does put people to sleep, which, you know. That’s the goal! Not always, but sometimes that’s just listening to that, you know, you get those ideas right and you go, okay, right. Yep. No more.
24:01 Just, do it. I mean I’ve had a lot of people, especially other podcasters, write me lately and tell me, you know, all their concerns about starting and I’m not going to minimize their concerns, you know? Luckily for me, I have another job. I didn’t, not my whole life hinged on this, you know, but I keep saying to them like, nobody’s going to hear it if you don’t make it. So you’re afraid that nobody might hear it after you make it. I can guarantee you, no one will hear it if you don’t know. At a certain point, you just have to put things out there, you’re not always going to be in control of what happens after that, but you are in control of the part where you create something.
24:40 Yeah. Our goal was really just to have an opportunity for the audience that we’re building and we’ve created. We’ve actually created this physical planner, which is a part of, you know, to help people, guide them through these five daily actions to create these habits and so the podcast really was just more for us, a way of engaging with our audience, being able to engage with them anytime, anywhere, which is great. Yeah. Plus enhancing part of our message, by speaking to people who are experts on the various, subjects and it just. It’s another way of looking at the same thing and hearing it from a different angle. It’s like you were saying, people might not resonate with every single thing you say, but your most recent podcast, it was. You mentioned slicing tomato and putting salt and pepper on it, and if it’s that one thing that resonates with you, then you go, oh, I love that. You know, you know, so if somebody hears something and one of the guest speakers who, who says something, they go, oh, and it just, it sticks with them. Then you know, it’s just another way of hearing the same thing, which in back to that habit creating and it, it just instills the importance of it even more. I’m still back on tomato. That’s a tomato.
26:07 I adore it.
26:09 I know. So do I. So I get to, you know.
26:11 I could listen all day.
26:13 I poke fun at her, but yeah, I’m still back there and then you can make it even nicer, by adding oregano. Oh really!
26:17 Put a bit of oregano on your tomato.
26:17 I didn’t know you said it that way. You know. Interesting. It’s funny, I was watering my plants this morning. Can you smell the rosemary?I can just smell it, I brushed by the rosemary and I keep getting wafts of rosemary.
26:41 Lucky you!.
26:42 Yes, we. There we go. Like we said, we digress. We off off. We on another little little segway anyway, so talking to people like you is just one of the really great bonuses of doing our podcast and it is, I mean, I can’t wait to share your podcast with our audience and share just the background and, and really the. Yeah, the benefits. Yeah. What a great benefits. The benefit for them to sit themselves because we’ve both. I mean I’ve, you know, I’ve listened to all of season one and I haven’t listened to season two yet, but I’m starting a, you know, it’s just, it’s so delightful. You are a great inspiration for helping people not only get better sleep, which is obviously very important, but the whole notion of just letting go and taking notice and taking notice of positive things I think is just inherent in your storytelling.
27:38 Oh, thank you so much. You know, I really feel passionate about this technique and about mindfulness in general, so whenever I get to talk about it, I’m really happy.
27:48 Yeah. So tell us where people can find you if they want to learn more about nothing much happens and anything else where, what you’re, what you’re up to.
27:59 So I have an instagram and a facebook, which I populate with very cozy, pretty photos and illustrations every day. Um, and you can just look for it there. And then I also have www.nothingmuchhappens.com. We’re on every major podcaster. Um so just do a quick google or search through your favorite podcatcher and um, you’ll find us.
28:23 Awesome. Well Catherine, it has been really a great fun to talk with you today. We really appreciate you taking the time and enjoy that beautiful fall weather out Michigan way.
28:36 I will.
28:36 And thanks again for joining live happier longer.
28:42 It’s been my pleasure. Thanks ladies.
28:43 Thanks so much. Thanks for listening to the live happier, longer podcast. Now it’s time to move, learn, share, and let go. Five daily actions to make the rest of your life the best of your life. See you next week.