o-KIDSLIPSYNCKORN-facebookMusic is part of us in every way. From our biological ancestors grunting while stomping in the dirt to Bible passages to current celebrations, music plays an important role in every aspect of our lives. Interestingly, music has a profound effect on each of us regardless of our musical abilities or talents.

Even at the atomic level music affects us. The auditory neurons in our brains are directly connected to our motor neurons, which helps explain the startle response we have when somebody pops a balloon unexpectedly. That is, when we hear a noise we did not anticipate, we jump before we even have a chance to cognitively process what caused the noise. We also know that when we hear a song our physiology changes to try to be in sync with the speed of the song. Our very mood and physiology changes according to the music we listen to, and that change is a reaction to the experience we have had with that particular piece of music.

Knowing we have a connection to music is a no-brainer. But what I am writing about here is our ability to use these connections in our brain to help us be… better. You see, a certain piece of music can elicit feelings of being able to conquer the world, or it can bring you to your knees in sorrow and tears. Creating a playlist, or soundtrack, if you will, of music that will change the way you feel could be just the boost you have been in need of.

I use music in my practice as a psychotherapist. I have had success helping certain individuals create a “soundtrack” to their lives to augment treatment for various situations or mental health needs. With thousands of pieces of music in my library I sample songs with my clients as we process through their various experiences and interpretations. We choose music based on what motivates them to achieve their goals and then I burn it to disc for them. This CD is then the soundtrack for a certain scene they want to see play out in their lives, such as psyching themselves up before a test, or to get them up and going out the door when they do not feel like exercising. One soundtrack I created with a man helped him come to terms with his recent divorce, seeing it for what it was, thanks to a host of country songs that were eerily similar to his situation.

How effective might a soundtrack in your life be? Think of the experience you have when watching a movie. In the movie Jaws a woman treads water in the ocean, bobbing up and down, feeling safe and having a good time. Imagine if there was no music to accompany her oceanic swim. In the movie, after bobbing up and down in the water, for no apparent reason her body disappears downward into the water for a moment, and then she resurfaces. Without the music we are ignorant to what is going on. Did she get a cramp? Did she stub her toe on the coral below? Does she have a really bad hangnail that needs cut? We are left without answers and our interest wanes. Add two little notes of music into the scene and our heart immediately begins to race as the most obvious conclusion is that she is about to be eaten by a shark. This illustrates how just two simple notes, E and F played over and over in a certain way can make such a powerful impact on your emotions. Now imagine what a well thought out song or playlist could do for you as you get ready for an important moment.

When you find a song that strikes a chord with you (no pun intended) you may have found a tool that could make the difference between mediocrity at work and that huge promotion you have been striving for. The right song will help your brain produce feel-good neurochemicals that can put you in the right mood to be excellent, if even for a short time, which may motivate someone to leave an abusive relationship, or initiate a sense of hope in situations he or she thought was hopeless. A carefully chosen set of songs can create a sense of peace and warmth that pushes away feelings of uncertainty and despair, or can open the door to really feel the loss of a loved one who recently passed away instead of suppressing those feelings of grief.

No matter what your problems are, what you are working toward, or how great your life is, the right set of songs played at the right time is just what the doctor ordered.

I suggest these ways to create the perfect soundtrack to your success:

  1. Identify the mood you want and then audition songs in your collection or on the internet that help you feel that way. Do not feel embarrassment with the song choice. Even if New Kids on the Block sang it, or Justin Bieber covered it, if it creates that perfect emotion in you then put it on your list.
  2. Before adding a song to your soundtrack ask yourself if the song makes you feel positive, or like you can be better. If not, throw it out. Even if you are going through a breakup, the song should not make you feel like a turd. If the song makes you feel sadness, and you need to feel sadness at that stage of your breakup, and it does not have a detrimental effect on your self-concept or self-esteem, then put it on your list. Say Something by Great Big World comes to mind as a good break-up song that has helped people really experience those emotions in a truthful way. To each his/her own, though.
  3. Studies show that placing your playlist on “Random Play” can increase the production of dopamine in your system, which is a “feel good chemical”. This is like gambling, but on your playlist every song is a jackpot. You just aren’t sure which jackpot is coming up next. However, if your playlist songs tell a story in sequence, keep it off the random setting and let your brain absorb the story each time it plays.
  4. Get better headphones: Low quality earphones can fatigue the ears and make your experience less enjoyable. If you are not happy with the sound quality you are less likely to listen, and you just took one of your tools out of your tool box. Good headphones do not have to be expensive, but the $3.99 earbud set will likely provide a very different experience than a $49 set of headphones.
  5. When working out, studies suggest that songs with a beat count between 145 and 160 beats per minute (BPM) are effective in competing for your brains consciousness and keeping runners in a more positive emotional state (google this if you want to know how to calculate a song’s BPM). This means workouts can go longer using less oxygen, will help you feel better, and in the end you get better results.

What are some of the songs on Dr. Service’s playlist? When I want to get excited about my day and feel like I can do anything and will not take anything less than the best,  I play my “GO GET ‘EM” playlist in my truck on my way to work:

Eye of the Tiger – Survivor

We Will Rock You – Queen

Mama Said Knock You Out – LL Cool J

Lose Yourself – Eminem

Simply The Best – Tina Turner

It’s My Life – Bon Jovi

Not Afraid – Eminem

…and more.