How Music Can Help You Get Ahead, The Right Way

“Eye of the tiger”

“Ain’t no mountain high enough”

“We are the champions”

Whether you like these songs or not, they all share a central trait – motivation. Music has been shown to be a motivator not only for exercise and athletic performance, but also for work productivity and efficiency.

An expert in the psychology of exercise, Costas Karageorghis, PhD, refers to music as a “type of legal performance-enhancing drug” for its potent abilities to increase productivity as well as power and strength.

But how can we maximize the motivational effects of music? For both work and exercise, studies have shown that specific music choices can enhance performance more than others. And more importantly, in some cases music can be distracting or even counterproductive in completing the task at hand. Here are a few guidelines on how to maximize the benefits of music for both work and sports:

Music at work

Music has been shown to increase work productivity as well as performance for a range of professions, from surgeons to technology specialists. One way music facilitates these improvements is through its regulation of mood. Not only does music elevate positive feelings and suppress negative emotions like depression and anger, it can also calm or heighten anxious feelings – creating the optimal work mindset.

Best for: Moderately skilled workers were shown to benefit the most from music by research that explored the effects of music on technology specialists. They completed assignments more quickly and generated better ideas. Whereas, experts were not affected t all by the music and some novices even found the music distracting.

Worst for: Music was shown to be distracting for tasks that required more cognitive attention and was counterproductive to absorbing and remembering new information.

Music in exercise and sport

Music’s effects on exercise were first observed in 1911 by educator and statistician, Leonard Ayres, who found that cyclists pedaled faster when a band was playing. More recent studies have explored how music motivates exercisers and found that it can distract the brain’s attention from physiological feedback of fatigue. This can lower perceptions of effort being exerted.

Best for: Multiple studies have shown that self-paced sports such as cycling or running can be exponentially enhanced by music with higher tempos since they tend to increase speed.

Worst for: Music is less likely to serve as a motivator for high-intensity sports/exercises since the body’s physiological responses become too strong to ignore.

While the advantages of music are clear, there is still room to optimize  its motivating effects. For both work and athletic environments, the selection of music is crucial. For work, a study focusing on surgeons, found that people completed tasks more accurately when they enjoyed the music that was playing. For sports,on the other hand, Dr. Karageorghis suggests a more specific method for choosing the most effective music. He developed the Brunel Music Rating Inventory, which after asking participants to rate motivational qualities of music in relation to sport and exercise, showed the importance of music tempo, pointing to an ideal tempo between 120 and 140 beats per minute. Dr. Karageorghis accordingly suggests “Push It” by Salt-N-Pepa, “Drop It Like It’s Hot” by Snoop Dogg and the dance remix of “Umbrella” by Rihanna for maximal effect.

When music is used strategically, it holds the power to increase productivity, accuracy and efficiency for anyone from gym-goers to surgeons. And if we think of it as a “drug”, as Dr. Karageorghis refers to it, music is one that can be used to our benefit.

What I Learned as a Sport Psychologist at the World Series

In 2015 I had the immense privilege of being the sport psychologist working with the New York Mets. This was tremendously exciting for me as I had been working with the team for nine years and also because I grew up in New York City with a New Yorker dad that was a Mets fan.

It was a incredible season full of exciting moments and a team that was full of enthusiasm. Surprisingly though, there were moments where I found myself struggling to enjoy it. In fact, I remember being on the field before one of the early games in the series and feeling like my mind was a swirl about all the things I had to do, my obligations and my stress about helping each player be their best. This experience taught me something. It is a lesson that I have applied to my work in many ways. Often we get so caught up with the outcome of things that we do not focus on the process. In sport psychology we talk about “controlling the controllables”. One way to do this is to really understand what you control in any one moment. Your attitude, your preparation and your effort. In sport and performance psychology we use the acronym APE for this. APE stands for your:

Attitude – Preparation – Effort.

You don’t actually control the outcome or results directly. You control your mindset and preparation. There are many sport and performance psychology techniques that apply to everyday life and help me in those moments.  But it’s not just me , in fact in this years exciting world series, one of the critical performers, Jose Altuve uses them too. In addition to being known for his incredible play on the field, Altuve is loved in the clubhouse for his preparation, and the energy he brings on a daily basis. It didn’t always look like it was going to be a happy ending for Altuve, however. When he was a young player and trying out for multiple MLB teams, he was consistently getting cut after each opportunity. Altuve, who is listed at just 5′ 6” did not let this get the best of him, and instead showed incredible grit and determination.

After getting cut the first day of a two day tryout with the Houston Astros, Altuve did  not take no for an answer. He went back to the Astros’ tryout the next day, hoping that the scouts who had cut him the previous day would not remember doing so. While they were suprised to see him, they allowed Altuve to try out again and eventually offered him a $15,000 contract. Now that Altuve is a leading candidate for the 2017 MVP award and playing in the World Series I would say that the Astros made a good decision. We can all learn from the tremendous grit, perseverance and positive mindset of Jose Altuve. He just never gave up on himself or his goals and that is the only way to overcome obstacles and reach your full potential.

Altuve is known to use the sport psychology skill I mentioned before called imagery/visualization, or “mental reps”.  This technique allows you to practice your performance mentally. Mental reps give a player a clear advantage over his opponents as he is able to place himself in a batters box an unlimited number of times and place himself in an unlimited number of situations.  Most MLB starting players get about 3-5 at bats per game, but including mental reps into your routine can help you to see more pitches from more pitchers in more scenarios.

The 2017 World Series has been incredible so far, and I am so honored to have had my own World Series experience with the Mets in 2015. I am a believer that life is a sport. In fact, so much so that I wrote a book about it! The lessons that we teach athletes in situations like Game Seven of the World Series can be applied to the meeting room, on a first date, and yes, even to my life as a sport and performance psychologist. Im lucky to continue to work with high performing athletes and other performers. By utilizing the same sport psychology techniques I coach athletes on, I can enjoy these precious moments more… and so can you.

 

 

Playoff Season: The Winning Strategy

Photo by Stuart Seeger

Athletes tend to calm themselves down before a high stakes match by practicing self-talk, stating, “It’s fine, it’s just like any other game.” In some ways, of course, this is true. The rules are the same and the players that have been beside you all season are still right there. However, don’t be fooled because it is a different game. The challenge of a playoff game is that it may seem like any other game, but it is an entirely new playing field.

These games hold much more importance for each individual player, the team as a unit, the coaching staff, and the fans. The heightened stress of these games for everyone involved raises the stakes and changes the environment in the stadium or arena. The challenge for teams, or for any high-level performer, is simple: Take the focus off the result and put it on the  process or the things you control.

In order to do this, you need to prepare for changes in environment and how you are going to adapt. Some teams do this by practicing in similar temperatures to what they will be facing or by replicating loud crowd noises. This commitment to total preparation is what gives a team the edge that it needs to come out on top. The focus on details during preparation may seem unimportant, but these are the factors that allow players to perform at their best, despite the pressure of their surroundings. The next step is to make sure that you have a solid mental preparation. By working on your mindset, your level of relaxation and your ability to focus, you will play the best you are capable of, playoffs or not.

 

The Psychology of Responding to Injury: The Birthday Complex

A common psychological response to injury is what I like to call the “Birthday Syndrome.”

Photo by Akadruid

As kids, our birthdays were the single greatest day of the year. I remember I would start counting down the days about a month before my big day. In fact, I would think so much about my birthday that while I was waiting for it to arrive, I would practically forget to focus on experiencing day to day life! The same is true for athletes when they are faced with an injury that prevents them from participating in their chosen sport for any extended period of time.

Daily rehabilitation is not a priority because their focus is on the day they can return, and getting back to their optimal level of performance.  To prevent this from happening, I recommend being process-focused, which means to engage with each moment. The way that we think impacts how we recover, and there are many simple mental techniques that one can utilize to foster engagement. It’s important to encourage the mentality to focus on what you can control, such as sticking to your rehab schedule, staying positive, and improving meaningful relationships. For instance, working to find ways to better support your teammates is a huge part of sports! A process-focused mentality will improve recovery time and develop mental strength, which will in turn enhance your game in the future. Make every day your “Birthday” and you will find that before you know it, you’re playing again!

Sport Psychology of Injuries: The Break Up

Photo by Michael Pollack

An easy way to understand how a sports injury affects a person is to compare it to a romantic break-up. The connection that one develops to their sport becomes a key part of their life and it can be very difficult when an injury causes that relationship take a break or end. This is both a loss of identity, and of the physiological benefits that come with sports participation. Exercise releases endorphins, which are chemicals that reduce perception of pain and trigger positive feelings in the bodyWhether you are a professional athlete or just play for fun, not being about to participate can be devastating. But there are things you can do to lessen the blow while you are sitting on the sidelines. Here are some of my favorite suggestions:

1. Don’t ignore or try to suppress what you are feeling. Be aware of how the injury changes your daily living.

2. Build a routine that helps compensate for this change. It could include modified workouts, getting support from friends and family, and using mental tools such as meditation, imagery and visualization to help with both physical healing and keeping your sports skills sharp.

​If you want to learn more about new mental skills to optimize your performance, please check out my book: Life as Sport