The Power of Music

Music is a powerful tool. One so powerful it can even aid in our mental fitness journey.

In movies, music sets the tone (think the music that goes with Darth Vader). In sports, it’s used to increase intensity in the crowd and the athletes (think, ‘We Will Rock You’ or ‘We Are the Champions’ by Queen). It connects us (think ‘Sweet Caroline’) an arena where fans of both teams sing it together.  

It’s funny, when it comes to music, we actually instinctively know how powerful music is. How? Music often helps us with our moods and the ability to change our state of mind. My example in this week’s video of ‘Let It Be’ and mental imagery highlights that

Having a basic understanding of how your mental fitness tools work helps us to understand how to use them more effectively. As you picked up in this week’s video, music is a powerful tool for me. It is reliable, and as long as you know the song–even just a little bit — you can take it with you anywhere and access it if you need it. 

So how exactly does music fit into our mental fitness tool belt then?

Music creates a dopamine hit. Dopamine is a reward chemical and thus is associated with the reward system. It’s the same system that rewards us when we eat chocolate and experience pleasure.

The simplest explanation for the effectiveness of music from a mental fitness perspective is Hebb’s principle.  We’ve touched on this before but a quick refresher: it is neurons that fire together, wire together. Practice makes permanent. AND, the more neurons involved in activity the more likely it is to be hard wired. Numerous studies have shown music boosts cognitive performance. In simplest terms, it recruits more neurons, and more neurons make it easier for your brain to recall.  

Music activates pretty much every part of the brain and to hear it, our ears actually have to pick up the vibrations.  (Kind of like you did with Sunkist – I’m picking up good vibrations). All the parts of your brain work together to process it and make sense of it. Music keeps both sides of the brain online and acts as a consistent rebooting of the brain. 

Neurons that fire together – wire together. Music helps us to overcome the brain problem because it keeps the two sides of the brain engaged.  

We also know that our brains and our bodies create measurable rhythms — i.e . a heart rate monitor, and biofeedback. These rhythms influence our body, mood, and thoughts. A large body of research has shown that these rhythms are influenced by music. This can be seen in functional MRI’s and PET Scans of the brain. Our bodies literally feel the music and it makes us want to move. Music can impact heart rate, stress response blood pressure, and create goosebumps. It can make us cry, it can make us smile.    

Again, we instinctively know these reactions because we all have experienced it.   

This TED Talk demonstrates a lot of what I am talking about. Your brain on music | Alan Harvey | TEDxPerth

I use music that is designed to help people let go of difficult experiences. In fact, there is a whole field of music that is used to help promote specific brain activities.  

If you have an Amazon Prime account you can use this as part of it EMDR Music Therapy Bilateral Stimulation by Emdr on Amazon Music or just search EMDR Music Therapy on Amazon.  I have also used Dr Jeffrey Thompson’s music

So how can you use this information to your advantage?

You can use music to get you out of your head and back to your OPZ.   

  1. You can use it as a way to process and express your emotions.  
  2. What’s your walk up music?  Baseball players use it all the time.  Pick something that you can associate with playing in your Optimal Performance Zone. Add visualizations and imagery with it. 
  3. We all have default zones when we get stressed – too tense, too relaxed or flip flopping between the two. 

    • Too Tense: If you get too wound up, listen to music that relaxes and comforts you. Be mindful and experiment with what songs work best for you. You may want to use a song that you associate with times you have felt calm, relaxed, and safe. It might be helpful for it to have a slower rhythm to calm your nervous system. It will be a process.  

    • Too Relaxed: If you have a hard time bringing energy or getting ready to play, you may want to try using energizing music. It might be helpful to use music that energized you and helped you to perform at a high level. –music that makes you increase intensity.  Be careful to not get so worked up that you spend all your energy at the beginning of game and have nothing left at the end of the game.

    • If you flip flop, use whichever strategy is needed to change your mind state. Playlists can be created for wherever you fall and can help both when you are too tense and too relaxed
  4. Learn the words to your favorite songs – Sing them when needed. 

If you want to learn more about the Power of Music you can watch this documentary

Another good resource is ‘The Power of Music’ by Ellen Mannes.