How I use music as meditation to improve clarity and focus

How I use music as meditation to improve clarity and focus

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!

Why I don’t tell people what to do anymore

Why I don’t tell people what to do anymore

As you know, I ran a personal finance blog for two years. I created the blog for three reasons: (1) to help people with their finances, (2) to reinforce what I was learning, and (3) to make a living from blogging.

At the start of this blog, I absorbed everything I could on personal finance. I read the classics, Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki. I read The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham, followed up by Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill.

I read numerous other books in the following months and had a good grasp on personal finance. I gave advice to anyone who was willing to listen to me.

I would also write 2 posts per week about personal finance topics that I conjured up during the slow work day.

Do THIS, not that

In these posts I would pick an area people struggle with. Then I would tell them what to do.

Save 10% of your income. Open an IRA account. Don’t go into debt. You get the idea…

I felt like an authority. I believed as an authority it was up to me to tell people what to do.

It was all out of the goodness of my heart. Honestly. I didn’t think I was better than anyone. But I expressed what I thought people should do.

This began to trickle into my personal life

I would give advice to my girlfriend. “Do this instead.”

I would give advice to my sister. “Why are you doing it that way? Do it this way.”

I would have arguments with family members. I told them why they were wrong and why they should think about a particular situation differently. I’m not proud of those moments.

I had my view of the world and wanted everyone to conform to that view. Not necessarily in a negative way. It was just how I believed the world should be.

This changed last year

A year ago I became interested Buddhist concepts and philosophies. As I was reading, I came across a quote that stuck with me:

“Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.”

The Buddha himself essentially told people not to blindly follow what he said. It was his way of saying, try this yourself. If you like it, continue to use it. If not, move on.

And this idea struck a chord. All this time I was telling people what to do, what to think, what to believe.

I had my view of the world and what the right thing to do was. But that wasn’t the right thing to do.

The fault in giving advice

Derek Sivers was interviewed last month on the James Altucher Show. In this podcast, he asked James about how he deals with giving advice.

Derek went on to say that he never knew what to tell someone who came to him seeking advice.

For example, one person wanted to know if they should quit their job to pursue an entrepreneurial venture full-time.

Derek said he wasn’t sure what to tell this person. Should he tell them to quit? Or should he tell them to stick with their current job?

The dilemma caused him to think about the fault in giving advice.

Advice is a double-edged sword

Any advice we give to others is based 100% off our personal life experiences. It’s based off the knowledge and actions we have taken throughout our lives. And it may not always be the best advice.

That’s why it’s not useful to tell someone what to do in their life. Especially if you get into a position where people trust your opinion and will do whatever you tell them.

That’s where I could see Derek’s problem. What if he told them to quit their job and dive in full-time and they failed. Would it be his fault? Not really. But I’m sure he would feel pretty bad.

But what if he told them not to quit, and they never get that fire under their ass to turn their venture into something big. Is that also his fault?

I don’t tell anyone what to do, just what I’ve done

From these experiences, I’ve learned that it’s not my place to tell people what to do.

Even in their articles, I do my best to present to you things that I do that work for me, and encourage you to try them out for yourself. But I refrain from telling you what to do.

And this is where I leave it. “This is what I did in this situation. This is the end result. This is how I feel. Try it out yourself.”

I feel better now, not telling others what to do. I merely make suggestions based off my life experience.

Try this out yourself and see how it makes you feel. If you like it, great! If not, that’s okay too.

Do you ever find yourself telling others what to do? Or do you have others in your life who always seem to have advice for every thing? How does it make you feel?

Delayed Gratification Doesn’t Mean Delaying Your Happiness

Delayed Gratification Doesn’t Mean Delaying Your Happiness

Imagine that you’re four years old again. You’re in some strange building that you’ve never seen before.

A researcher leads you down a long hall. Finally, you reach a door, and the researchers sits you down. In front of you is a table with a plate on it. On that plate is a single marshmallow.

The researcher looks at you and says, “I’m going to give you one marshmallow right now and leave for a few minutes. If you don’t eat that marshmallow by the time I get back, I’ll give you a second marshmallow. If you do eat that marshmallow before I get back, you won’t get a second one. Do you understand?”

You nod your head.

What would four year old you do? Would you eat the marshmallow immediately or would you wait until the researcher got back?

Stanford Marshmallow Experiment

In 1970 Walter Mischel and Ebbe B. Ebbesen of Stanford University conducted their now famous marshmallow test. The purpose of this study was to understand how and when children develop and control deferred gratification.

In order to conduct their experiment, they studied children from ages 4 to 6. One by one, researchers led these young children into the testing room and offered them a single marshmallow, with a caveat: if they waited, they would be rewarded with a second marshmallow.

Some children were unable to resist the urge and popped the marshmallow in their mouths immediately. Other children attempted to control themselves, but gave into their temptations after just a few minutes. A few children showed remarkable constraint and resisted the urge of eating the first marshmallow.

Some kids would cover their eyes with their hands. Others turned around so they couldn’t see the marshmallow staring back at them. One kicked the desk in an effort of self-control. One kid gently stroked the marshmallow, but didn’t eat it, and was rewarded for his patience.

After an excruciating 15 minutes, researchers came back and rewarded the children with a second marshmallow. Roughly one-third of the children studied were able to delay gratification long enough to receive their reward.

At the time the experiment wasn’t revolutionary. The study simply showed that some kids had a preference for delayed gratification. It wasn’t until years later that researchers really understood the circumstances of their study.

In follow-up studies, researchers found that those children who deferred eating the marshmallow ended up with better life outcomes. Using SAT scores, educational attainment, body mass index, and other measures as a benchmark, researchers found that those who delayed gratification ended up being more successful 20 years later.

Is Delayed Gratification a Good Thing?

This study implies that delayed gratification is a good thing. It shows that those with patience are ultimately rewarded in the end. But I believe there are some flaws.

I am going to argue against delayed gratification. I don’t believe it’s the “great thing” that some make it out to be. As a matter of fact, I believe delayed gratification is actually a bad thing.

I have become aware that my peers, millennials, are putting off happiness today so they can achieve more success later in life. All this in an attempt to attain higher job status and receive a higher income.

What if we are only chasing the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow?

We’re told at a young age to do well in school so we can get into a good college. That way we can get a respected degree which will help us land a well-paying, prestigious job. Then we can marry our soulmate, buy a home, have 2.5 children, and live the American dream.

Only after we do all of that will we feel fulfilled and have a great life. Except this isn’t true. This dream is only an illusion we’ve been fed most of our young adult lives. And many of us are only now figuring this out.

Chasing a False Dream

My friends are going to school longer and getting more degrees in order to fulfill this false dream. They’re caught chasing the carrot of finding a job they love that will (hopefully) land them a fat paycheck.

But this isn’t what happens. Here’s the truth: we’ll go to school, then we’ll get a job in our respectful fields. We’ll become unhappy with that job, so we’ll go back to school. We’ll hope that our new job pays better and is more respectable. Then maybe, just maybe, we’ll be happy.

When we finally achieve all this, we realize we aren’t any happier than we were before. As a matter of fact, we’re more stressed and unhappy.

We’ve been told that delaying gratification is going to make us happy. We’re going to make more money so we can buy a bigger home and send our kids to the best schools. But once we reach these predetermined goals, we’re going to find that we’re still waiting on that promised feeling of happiness and accomplishment.

The Vicious Cycle of “Success”

Many people hate their jobs or have horrible bosses. Their work doesn’t fulfill them. They’re not respected. They’re not rich and powerful like they thought they would be. They haven’t changed the world yet.

Many people try to escape this rut. How do they do this? By chasing more degrees, getting advanced certifications, and clawing for promotions at work.

Too often we end up chasing the next level of success. Nothing ends up being good enough. We become so fixated on trying to reach the next level in hopes it will bring us satisfaction.

We sacrifice today for hopes of a brighter tomorrow. We forget to take a moment to live in the here and now because we are always fixated on the future, striving for more.

Let’s look at college students. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of American, 80% of college students frequently or sometimes experience daily stress. 34% of students had felt depressed at some point in the past 3 months.

In addition to the stress, millennials don’t get away from work. 9 out of 10 millennials can access work info at any time. 73% are expected to be contactable by their employer at any point.

Our elders are telling us to work hard to achieve happiness. We’ve been taught that to be successful you must live out the prescribed dream, and to do so you must always be future-focused.

What happened to enjoying the ride of life? We’re pushed by our parents to do this, be that, and get this. Our parents have the best intentions, but the results are undesirable.

Students are stressed from school and finals. They are trying to get into the best medical schools or the best MBA programs. We have this drive to be the best and to make a difference. Then when we don’t make that huge impact on the world, we feel insignificant. We come to the realization that a longer journey awaits with more stress and anxiety.

What’s the solution? How do we solve this problem? If we’re constantly chasing the carrot, and happiness is always out of our reach, what should we do?

The answer is nothing novel. We need to be happy now with where and who we are.

What Really Matters?

If you were to die tomorrow, would your degrees matter? Would your job title matter? Of course not.

If you’re trying to live out some fantasy, and you’re hoping to find the light at the end of the tunnel, is it really worth it?

Quit racing to be the success that everyone wants you to be. Don’t stress yourself out on a daily basis trying to achieve a dream that somebody else planned for you.

Learn how to be happy today and enjoy the progress that you’re making. Hang on for a ride.

Continue to strive and reach for the stars. But don’t put your happiness and sanity on the line today in hopes that you’ll end up being happy tomorrow.

Learn because you enjoy learning. Don’t learn just so you can get a piece of paper that tells everyone the knowledge you’ve gained.

Don’t wait until tomorrow to try and make a difference in the world. Help someone out today. Go out of your way to be nice to others.

You don’t need to be rich to help people. You don’t need to be rich to be happy.

Live in the present. Become more mindful and conscious of what’s going on around you.

Continue to move forward and grow and make progress. Work hard and make a difference in somebody’s life, starting with your own.

Stop trying to chase the elusive dream of making a big paycheck and having your happiness hinge on your wealth and income.

You can still be successful with this new mindset. Quit delaying your life for tomorrow and enjoy today. It could be your last.

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