Finding Your Power Song

Hello dear friends!

We all know that music has transformative power- the power to pep us up, calm us down, shift our mental state into a new place, or take us back to an old one. It can help to soothe use when we are feeling especially down, and can even help bolster our healing process.

I know that I have relied on certain songs to

* prepare me for scary medical tests (MRI claustrophobia anyone?)

* distract me from uncomfortable situations (long flights)

* shift me out of my depressive funk

* give me perspective when things seemed bleak

* pump me up before something new (change can be extra hard for the chronically ill)

And the best things is, regardless of your music tastes and favorite genres, I guarantee that there are albums, songs, or artists that you can rely on to change any one mood to another. Even those of us who tend to sway towards the electronic/instrumental side- you don’t need a singer singing words in order to be moved!

I think it’s important that every one of us finds our power song (or songs) that we can pull up on our iPods or phones at a moment’s notice, when we desperately need a change of mindset. I always keep a short playlist downloaded on my phone and tablet, that way I can have them wherever I go and whenever I desire. It’s amazing how 3-4 minutes can have such a dramatic effect, and I highly recommend you harness that power for your own wellbeing!

However, there are a few things to keep in mind when finding or choosing your unique power song. Because the sensory parts of our lives are so entwined with our emotions and experiences, you want to be extra careful to find something without any negative “baggage”. What do I mean by that? Well, let me explain.

Our brains are so darn good at combining all our sensory inputs at any given moment in time, and filing them away as a group. For example, if you were to get a whiff of the perfume you wore on your prom night, it would undoubtedly take you back to that moment in time. You’d remember what you were wearing, who your date was, and any strong emotions you had felt that night- good or bad (although our memories tend to slant towards the negative, as those experiences tend to be more psychologically powerful). And while scent may be the strongest memory connection that we currently know about, music can also work the same way in its ability to conjure recollections, emotions, and past joys and pains.

The song you were listening to when you got married, or the song that was on the radio at the time of your diagnosis can each have dramatically different effects on our moods. Even if you weren’t consciously listening to the music, it can weave its melody into your memories and pull them out of storage at the most surprising of times!

With that being said, my first tip to solidifying your own power song is to identify songs with any bad memories attached to them. Even if you really like the song (it has a great beat, meaningful lyrics, and a wonderful message), if it takes you back to a bad place in your life, do not repeat that pattern! Click through your music library and really pay attention to the visions and feelings that arise- be honest with yourself and trust your first instincts here. Even if a piece of music doesn’t immediately take you back to a horrible trauma (please delete these pronto!), it may create a more subtle feeling of sadness, apathy, or tension. These songs have no place in your arsenal of positivity, and you may just want to get rid of them altogether. Or at the very least, section them off into a folder/list where you won’t happen upon them randomly.

Once that’s done, start looking for songs that make you feel absolutely positively great- these shouldn’t be too hard to find, as we tend to remember them and play them regularly. These should be songs with strong positive memories and should create a consistent feeling of joy or contentment when you hear them. Pick out at least a handful of these and tuck them away in a playlist for later! If you don’t have very many, you can always browse the music store for similar styles, or make a Pandora (or other internet radio) station based on one of your favorites. I cannot tell you how much amazing music I’ve found just by forming an entire station around one of my most loved power songs!

Okay- so that’s the easy part. Most of us can listen through our libraries and identify how each song makes us feel. But have you ever deliberately entrained your brain to feel joy when listening to a certain song? I’m sure I’m not the only one, but I do get the feeling that it isn’t a very popular pastime! Here’s how it works:

Drawing from your brain’s incredible association-making abilities, you can forge new memories by combining brand new songs (free of any previous memories or feelings) with experiences that are joyful and positive. It’s relatively basic Pavlovian psychology: your brain will make a connection between this new song and whatever you’re feeling/seeing/smelling at that moment. So here’s your challenge!

·      Pick out a few new songs that you’ve only heard maybe once or twice- there’s no use in using a song that you randomly picked and loathe! These should be pleasing to your ear and preferably not super long.

·      Section them off into a separate playlist, or if you prefer to only entrain with one song- put it on repeat. Just make sure that no other music infringes on your positive association time!

·      Arrange to do something you love to do. Go to your favorite park. Sunbathe on the deck. Take a bubble bath. Do some yoga. Anything that makes you absolutely happy, grateful, connected, and alive!

·      Play your selected music during these activities. But only this music. I know it may get annoying depending on how long your activity is, so perhaps start with something short.

·      Repeat with new great activities or on days when you’re feeling your best. The wider the variety of good feelings you can associate with a song, the stronger it gets!

Sounds kinda strange and science-fiction-y right? But it really isn’t! Here are some extra tips for creating your new power music:

·      Don’t attempt your music entrainment on days when you feel horrible- whether you’re experiencing a flare up, a lot of stress, or are in more pain than usual. Your brain will remember these things whether you want it to or not!

·      If you accidentally make a negative association with a song early on, it may be very hard to reverse it depending on the strength of the emotion. Just keep this in mind and try not to get too bummed if this happens. 

·      It generally takes 4-5 “sessions” before your brain can solidify your positive associations. Just listening to a song once while you’re basking in a beautiful vista isn’t going to be enough to pull you through the next round of chemo. Only use your strongest songs in your darkest moments.

·      Be open to changing your music over time. I’ve re-created new power songs repeatedly over the years and it’s nice to keep things fresh!

Well my friends, I wish you the best of luck in making your own kick-butt uplifting playlist! I hope it serves you well in the times you need it the most! 

~ Hoping you feel as well as possible ~


My latest power song, brought to you by First Aid Kit:

What's your latest power song?