Music is a powerful tool.

Humans are hard-wired to respond to music. Studies show music could help patients heal from Parkinson’s disease or stroke.

Meditation is also a powerful tool.

I’ve discussed the effect meditation has on myself. Meditation helps me focus and maintain present state awareness.

Jumping on a trend

So when Tim Ferriss wrote about how other’s use music as an external mantra, similar to Transcendental Meditation, my ears peaked up.

Tim Ferriss, host of a podcast with the same name, deconstructs leading experts and thought leaders, and provides actionable information for his listeners.

One piece of advice he has hit on with a number of his guests is the use of music as a mantra, if you will, to focus and become aware in the present moment. They do this by listening to one song or one album on repeat, while doing what they are skilled at doing.

This sort of use of music can be for anyone from Amelia Boone, three time winner of the World’s Toughest Mudder contest, to Matt Mullenweg, lead developer of WordPress.org.

Accelerating your flow state

According to Mullenweg, listening to the one song on repeat helps him get into flow states when he’s got a tough problem to tackle.

It helps him get into a state of hyper-focus and concentration. In a flow state, the sense of self is dissolved. You become immersed in your work and nothing around you seems to exist. You become one with what you are doing and nothing can get into your way.

Mullenweg says that music helps accelerate his entrance into these states of hyper-focus.

Joseph Mosby explored this idea as well. After hearing about it from Matt Mullenweg, he figured he would give it a shot for himself.

So, he got to work late one night when his brain was starting to fall asleep. He sat down to tackle some programming challenges that he had been working on.

So he put a playlist with a couple of songs on repeat to help him get into a focused state. He was shocked by the results.

It was effective. He found himself getting into flow faster than normal and cranked out his work without a second thought.

So why does this work?

It appears that repetition is the key. When you repeat something over and over, you tend to enjoy it more. This is what psychologists call the mere exposure effect.

People have a tendency to develop a preference for something just because they find it to be familiar. The repeated stimulus increase perceptual fluency, or the ease with which a stimulus is processed. This positive affect puts you into a good mood.

Not only that, but Elizabeth Margulis has done some research on music and its effects on the brain. Margulis, the author of On Repeat: How Music Plays the Mindstates that “Musical repetition gets us mentally imagining or singing through the bit we expect to come next.”

As a result of this anticipation, “A sense of shared subjectivity with the music can arise. In descriptions of their most intense experiences of music, people often talk about a sense that the boundary between the music and themselves has dissolved.”

That’s right, the boundary between music and yourself dissolves.

More on the dissolution of self

Dissolution of self is one thing that happens when you enter into a flow state. Not only does the boundary between yourself and music dissolve, but the boundary between yourself and your work dissolves when you are in flow.

Being a bit of a skeptic, I tried this out for myself last Friday at work.

“One more day until the weekend,” I thought to myself. Friday’s aren’t usually the most productive day of the week. I’m going through the motions, thinking about the weekend ahead.

I picked Debussy’s Claire De Lune as my first song, hit it up on Spotify and then went to work. I was in the zone. I listened to the song on repeat for about an hour straight.

My focus skyrocketed. I was cranking out work. Time slowed down to a crawl.

I was completing tasks more efficiently than normal. I couldn’t believe how much I got done after an hour!

After a solid hour of work, I took a short break and then got back to it.

This time I picked John Coltrane’s In a Sentimental Mood and proceeded to continue to crush it at work for the day.

I continued this cycle for the most part of work on Friday. By the time it was 2, I was only at work for 6 hours but I felt like I completed twice as much work.

This works great!

I tried this at home yesterday to motivate me to clean my room.

I had been putting off cleaning my closet for a solid month. So, I picked one song, and got to it.

I’ve also tried this while working out today at the gym. I tried it while going for a run. The results are stunning to say the least.

Not only does listening to the same song on repeat help me maintain focus and clarity, but it helps me stay present in the now. On top of that, it helps me crush my work.

More to come

While I haven’t tried this technique during meditation, I can certainly say that I have seen some positive effects in my on life in other areas by doing this.

From work to cleaning to working out to running to researching and writing this essay, these tasks were completed while listening to one song on repeat for an extended period of time.

As a matter of fact, I wrote this entire post in less than an hour, from researching to writing, on a Saturday afternoon, with the help of this technique.

Have you ever tried listening to the same song on repeat to get yourself into the zone? How did it make you feel? Would you be willing to try something like this? If so, let me know with a comment below!

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33 thoughts on “How I use music as meditation to improve clarity and focus

    1. It’s depends on what you are doing and what your preference is. Personally when I’m going something that requires more concentration I like to listen music without lyrics.

      Maybe try different genres and go with what feels right for you?

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Nice, well researched post. Timely for me as well. I often listen to podcasts when I’m working, but only when I do mindless work. Use classical for when I have to think, plan, strategize or analyze. Never tried repeat of a song for an hour though.

    Since I have to pack a whole house, it will be a good experiment. 🙂

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  2. The cell phone ring tones are a form of music mantra.Giving most users a sense of belonging when hearing it over and over again.
    Very good and interesting article.Thanks for posting.
    Max

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  3. I struggle to work when there is music playing. Perhaps if it were very predictable as it would be if I tried your experiment. Might be worth a go. I notice you chose instrumentals, I would too. Words get into my head.

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    1. I was very much the same way and I agree with your assessment. I do best when I’m listening to a song I’m very familiar with, that is also instrumental.

      This is especially true if I’m doing challenging work that requires more thinking and is less automatic. Let me know if you do end up experimenting with this 🙂

      Like

  4. Hi Justin, Great article. I just shared your article on my blog. As a Taiji instructor, some of my most successful students are musicians. They adapt very quickly to orchestrating the harmony necessary for flowing Qi. As a fellow meditator, thanks for the insights.

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  5. Thank you for netting all that out and explaining why it is I like music on repeat! All my life it’s driven others in my space crazy that I like the same song over and over. Which brings me to the one thing you did NOT mention – do you use headphones/earbuds or are you playing the music “into the room”? I often listen to the same song on repeat while driving solo, just coming from car speakers. I need to be able to hear sirens, etc. if they occur. For work, I would think it would be an advantage to have the music going directly ito the ears and blocking distractions. ??? Any data on this?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m not sure about the research, but I do prefer to use earbuds when I’m at work. It really is effective at blocking out the distractions. What do you think?

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  6. Really interesting article. I wrote my undergraduate capstone paper on the effectiveness of music therapy, so I’m definitely convinced that music has power. But I haven’t really experimented a whole lot on music for concentration, other than finding out that sometimes it helps and sometimes it doesn’t, or some types of music are better than others. I do want to try it out more now, however. I’ve found that usually instrumental music is better for concentration, but I want to try repeating one familiar song and see if it makes a difference.

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    1. That sounds like a pretty good plan. That’s similar to what I do. I like to play a few different songs (different styles too) and just roll with those that seem like they help me focus the most.

      I’d love to hear what you learn and your results are 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Thanks for the love on my blog! I also really love your article about music and meditation. I think meditation is one of the best things for mental illness or for general clarity. I have a whole series about meditation if you’d like to read those. https://theminimeditatingdragon.wordpress.com/2016/12/29/namaste-november-meditation-series-introduction/
    Anyway, thanks again for the love on my blog and I look forward to reading more of yours! Let me know if there is anything specific you would like me to write on!

    Like

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