Some of you might remember one of my articles for CXP Edge from a few months ago – Exploring Limits with Nootropics – Bio-Hacks for Brain Function. Well, recently I have been experimenting with Sounds and Music in a bid to enhance Cognitive Function – either to Relax, or to gain laser-like Focus!
Right now, I’m in the process of selling one house, and moving into a new home; so needless to say, my stress levels are slightly elevated; and this month I’ve got just two of my awesome Clients missing their Training (one for Business, the other for Leisure), so having an extra few hours per week to “decompress” midway through my day has actually been much-needed.
These ‘experiments’, however, have all been taking place at home. In the earlier part of my day, I’m using various Sounds and Music to get myself more motivated, boost productivity and stay amped and ready. At the end of my day – when it comes time to hit the hay – I’m seeing what works to help me wind down, relax and achieve that Zen-like state.
So, you may have heard of Music Therapy before? Or even ‘Sound-Healing’? Their origins stem back to Ancient Civilisations ranging from Greece to Tibet. Now, I won’t delve into the back-history here, but instead, let’s look at this through a more “modern lens”.
Fact is, most Athletes out there will tell you that they have their favourite music that they listen to when they want to get pumped up and ready – either for Training or for Competition. It helps them get in the zone. Heck, look online and you’ll find the [supposed] Playlists that big name Bodybuilders, Athletes and Celebs like to listen to ahead of / during their workouts (for example).
Of course, different people will have different genres that illicit the emotional and mental responses that one desires to get into the right mindset; for some, it may be cranking up some Thrash Metal… Or maybe busting out some Hip Hop does it for you? Electro-dance? I remember a bit of Darude – Sandstorm would quickly up the pace of any Group X Class way back when – still does, to be fair. But what others? Maybe some Trap? Garage? Jungle?
Zipping down to the other – less… intense? – end of the line: perhaps Classical or Jazz just gets you into that perfect place [mentally]?
In my case, I have fairly eclectic taste in music, but I’ll tell you four songs that I absolutely LOVE that help boost my mood:
AC/DC – Back in Black
Pharell – Happy
Keala Settle – This Is Me
Macklemore – Can’t Hold Us
These are what I will call ‘Incidental and Intentional Mood Enhancers’; “incidental” because if they randomly come on the radio, I can be in some kind of negative mood (upset/angry/stressed) and they can almost instantly change that… and “intentional” because I can *choose* to listen to them to alter my mood also. Their lyrics are empowering and uplifting. The instrumental music itself is powerful enough to trigger a switch.
And that’s where I want to switch over to Sounds – specifically – for a moment. See, what I have personally discovered is that while various songs might lift me up and get me into a better “headspace”, they actually don’t help me focus much… See, I convert from negative to positive – emotionally – but then I end up paying more attention to the words in the song, and singing along rather than concentrating on the task at hand.
Although, to be fair, this does depend on said task. If it is one that requires creativity and a literal “thought-process”, then it is quite difficult because my brain is processing what I’m hearing. However, if I’m trying to focus on something purely physical, then there’s no issue. Whether I’m doing a workout or chores around the house, plugging in some of my favourite tunes is always helpful.
But when I have to write content, design graphics or create videos, the lyrics of the song kind of interrupt my thoughts and I get distracted. This is where instrumental music comes into play; but I don’t mean downloading the versions of those songs simply without lyrics. No. That just leads to my mind filling in the vocal-void with the lyrics I know should be there.
Fortunately, if you go on Sound Cloud or download an App like Calm, they have a massive variety of lyric-less music to listen to.
The other week, I had to clean the entire house by myself ahead of our Realtor hosting an Open House, and there was easily 3hrs of work to be done. But I also needed to whip up the Blog Graphic for the article I published that same week – Celebrity Backed, NSF-Certified… Ladder!
So, I put on my headphones and listened to a couple of tracks on the Calm App that are in their “Focus” section; these tracks are generally a little faster paced, slightly more “intense”, and actually seriously helped get me honed in and get everything done with zero procrastination, distraction or any other mishap.
When it comes to Focus – we want to listen to music that is going to resonate with us at a level that makes our hearts beat just that bit faster, that sharpens our senses, and gets us dialled in.
For simply physical tasks, then slapping on some of your favourite jams will do the trick. But if you’re studying for something, writing something or have to process some kind of information that – by itself – is mentally taxing, then “au natural” (sans lyrics) may help better.
Now, at the other end of the spectrum, there’s the relaxation side of things…
While there are plenty of songs out there that are perfectly soothing to the soul, I am again finding that the lyric-free option seems to work best. Let me reiterate – this is all an experiment using myself as the “test subject”, so you may find that lyrics are no problem for getting you psyched up or mellowed out.
In fact, the whole idea for this experiment came about while I was online shopping! See, there’s a [relatively] new company that makes ‘advanced sportswear’ – their name is Vollebak – and their stuff is freakin’ legit! I own about half a dozen articles of their clothing ranging from half-zips to t-shirts, and it all feels downright bulletproof!
If you’ve ever watched Jimmy Fallon, you might have seen the episode where Vollebak’s Relaxation Hoodies were featured; now granted, they look like something out of an S&M catalog, but actually, they’re far from it. There’s a ton of science that goes into them – you should look ‘em up if you’re interested in finding out more – but essentially, they can help create a wearable ‘isolation tank’ of sorts, which can be used to induce a state of calm and zen.
So, I was looking at this hoodie the other week (though I first saw them on [Jimmy Fallon] The Tonight Show almost exactly two years ago from now); and anyway, I noticed that on Vollebak’s site they actually have a link to their Sound Cloud profile where you can listen to one of two tracks:
They’re both so… “other-worldly” – for lack of a better way of expressing it! And I definitely prefer the Baker Miller Pink track, but they kind of just transport your mind to a place that is so gloriously… disconnected…
*You might do well to read up on the Condition Black clothing selection to better gauge/understand WHY the track sounds like it does. (Long story short: it’s the term that Special Ops units use to refer to a state where you’re basically surviving for dear life; hence it sounds a tad… ‘bleak’?). I am fairly certain that 99% of people will naturally prefer the sound of the “Pink” Vollebak track instead!
Thinking about it, I actually can’t help but remember this video I saw on YouTube of a man called Mark Gungor who talks about the difference between how men’s brains and women’s brains work; and the one unique thing about Men is that we apparently have this thing called ‘The Nothing Box’ – a part of our psyche that we can access that allows us to just think about absolutely NOTHING!
Having grown up around women all my life – with my Mum being single, my older sisters having been single mothers while I was growing up, having only nieces from when I was 6 right through to my teens, then going to university and being in a cohort that was 95% girls… I’m not sure I’ve ever quite had the chance to find my “Nothing Box”… until now!
Not gonna lie, my mind goes a million miles an hour sometimes, and I’ve always got something that I’m thinking of: Work; my Clients/Colleagues/Schedule. The house(s). My apartment back in Spain. The realtors here. My realtors in Spain. My tenants in Segovia. Money. The blog. The podcasts. My fitness routine. My nutrition. My relationship. My friends. My family. The bloody dog! The adorable cats. The next level on whatever PS4 game I’ve recently been sucked into. The next episode of Survivor. When I’ll next get to go on vacation. WHERE I’ll go next. My upcoming YouTube channel. Why people Follow then Unfollow on Instagram. When I’m going to get back into my Martial Arts on a serious level again. How badly I’d love to be on the new upcoming show – Titan Games! And the list goes on………
But listening to those Vollebak tracks just somehow calmed the humming buzz of the high voltage that runs through my neurons! I finally discovered that infamous “Nothing Box” – better late than never, I suppose!
I’ve also found that some ‘soundscapes’ on the Calm App worked quite well too. For example, there’s the Thunderstorm and the Campfire – both are sounds that are surprisingly easy to relax to. Funny enough, back at boarding school I had a good friend – Sean – who just *loved* thunderstorms – he always said he found them calming, and I never quite understood why… Now I do.
But there we go. While I could book a holiday to some hillside getaway and be lulled by someone playing Tibetan ‘singing bowls’, I think I’ll save the cash and listen to some equally soothing tunes from Calm and/or Sound Cloud.
So guys, this article was really more a whimsical musing of how Sound & Music can impact our mood, make us more productive, aid in creative thinking, and relax the mind so that stress just disappears – if only for a while.
There’s plenty more science and ancient tradition behind it all, so you should definitely do a little research if this has peaked your curiosity.
As it’s not exactly within my wheelhouse, so to speak, I really just wanted to skim the surface and help you glean a little something from my own personal experience dipping a toe in the waters.
I hope you’ve enjoyed it, and more importantly, I hope it gets you thinking about how you can best USE music or “soundscapes” to manipulate your mental state and enhance it.
The mind is a powerful thing, and so is sound – after all, virtually the entire universe ‘vibrates’ under a myriad of different frequencies. Choose what vibrations you let enter your mind, and you can gain some modicum of control over the world around you. Just think: they’re called good (and bad) ‘vibes’ for a reason.
Guys, have a good one, and I’ll catch you next time!
Until then, remember: Love life, and love yourself!
Yours in Training,
Chris Atkinson | Master Personal Trainer, SDO