Music: The Strongest Motivator

STOP!!! Before you start reading, stop what you are doing! Sit up wherever you are with some good posture but remaining relaxed. Now, press PLAY on the video above and shut your eyes! Open them up when the vid stops playing! 

Now if you’ve done as I requested, my bet is that you feel ALIVE after hearing that tune. You see Daft Punk are unmatched at capturing the true power of music’s ability to influence your mood. If you are familiar with their newest album Random Access Memories, you’ll know what I mean about being taken down an incredible journey of musical emotion. I am certainly no Richard Wilkins (not sure I’d want to be) but this sets the tone for the topic I want to discuss here… the power of music! Old mate Bono once said “music can change the world because it can change people” and I recon he’s spot on. Music is a powerful force that has the potential to evoke crazy motivation and even completely change our mood. So how is this possible?

Process of Hearing

The gift of hearing is one based on an incredibly intricate and delicate system. When the outer ear (the visible part) collects sounds from our environment, these sound waves are turned into vibrations with the help of the ear drum, a thin piece of skin stretched tight like a drum. These vibrations then enter the inner ear through a small curled tube called the cochlea. Lining the surface of the cochlea are tiny cells covered in thousands of even tinier hairs that move when the vibrations reach them. This movement triggers the electrical nerve signals that the brain perceives as sound.

So How Are Music and Mood Linked?

Now that you have a basic understanding of process of hearing, you would have got that music exerts its influence by directly engaging the listener’s nervous system. Different styles of music evoke different responses in the brain due to the variances in the qualities of the music. Yet regardless of the musical style, the nerve cells firing at an increased rate raises our alertness and mental arousal. This experience is similar to the ‘fight or flight’ response – when music kicks in, our heart rate rises, the airways open, blood flow to the brain increases and we awaken!

We can in fact use music to purposely bring about these physiological changes to improve mood or performance. Anyone that’s ever felt emotionally crappy (that’s everyone) knows that their mood can often be changed instantly by playing their favourite band’s biggest song. The athletes among us would point out how they have used music to either psych them up or narrow their focus before training or competition. What’s interesting is that certain musical styles or bands will produce a totally different mental state in the listener than others.

Music with a fast pace or irregular beats (think Skrillex) can actually trigger a greater level of alertness. This may be the perfect accompaniment to your shot of espresso whilst pushing through a monotonous task. If you caught my last post on ‘How I Start My Day’(, you’d probably bet that this is the exact type of music I blast on my way to the gym at 5:30am. You’d be bang on!

When I am going for a walk or a run, I find music with a repetitive beat to be perfect for getting in the zone. The synchronisation between the beat and my footsteps helps me find my rhythm faster than if I were to listen to a more irregular tune. If you are looking to improve your pace, I’d recommend choosing a tempo that is a little quicker than you would normally listen to. Your natural response (conscious or not) will be to lift your pace to match the faster beat.

Yet if I were sitting down to concentrate on a task that requires mental focus (such as writing this post), I’d choose a playlist that is slower in tempo and with a more relaxing feel. This puts me in the right headspace to write! I find chill out or meditative music on very low volume the perfect anecdote for a great night sleep. I like to dial up a play list on YouTube that goes for 40-60mins and let it play out as I doze off. Try searching ‘meditation music’ and you’ll get an endless list of options to choose from.

Be mindful that music played at high volume can definitely detract from a task that requires focus and concentration. Under such circumstances, low-volume ambient or background noise like a whirring fan or an air-conditioner can actually be a helpful sweet spot for creativity.

The Perfect Song?

Have you got a ‘go-to’ song that never fails to get you pumped? This is most likely because you link that track to an incredible moment in your life that comes flooding back to you when the song kicks in. Similar to sex, food and drugs, music that triggers an emotional response like this works partially by stimulating the release of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a feel-good chemical that acts on the reward centres of your brain to encourage the continuation of that stimulus.

It makes sense then that the ‘perfect’ song cannot be generalised other than to say it is the song that invokes the deepest emotional response in that specific individual. Any bloke that knows his parent’s music taste will understand that some tunes seem like they have been made to appeal to only that one person! Cheers dad!

Tips To Max Out Your Musical Motivation

– Randomness Rules – Predictability can blunt the emotional response of even your greatest tunes leading to boredom and predictability. For a kick-arse dopamine hit, shake up the shuffle on music services like Spotify and Pandora. Not only will you discover new favourites using artist radio but your anticipation will be heightened as you await that banger track!

– Stay inside your head – Not only will headphones protect the world from discovering that you’re banging to Bieber, they heighten the experience. Trash the crappy stock phones provided with your iPhone and spend $50-$100 on a quality, lightweight pair. I go for the Skullcandy brand because the sound quality is epic for a decent price. Further, traditional headphones are better than ear-buds that jiggle around whilst you are working out. Also, don’t go overboard on the volume. Those tiny hairs in your ears that are responsible for triggering the nerve signal are extremely delicate and can be irreparably damaged by prolonged high-volume exposure.

– Don’t over-think it, just do it – Because music competes for the brain’s attention, just having music on during exercise or boring tasks helps us to push through the pain or monotony. Be proactive and get your power songs on and dance. Such mindfulness can actually make the most boring of tasks like vacuuming, enjoyable!

If you are not yet convinced of the awesome power music has on the brain, check out the video below. I was both startled and emotionally touched when I first viewed it and I bet you’ll be the same! Enjoy! Turn up the music! JS