Confession: At any given waking moment, my thoughts are probably racing.
I’m thinking about what my family is going to have for dinner. I’m thinking about pitches for longer-form assignments. I’m thinking about a recently departed family member, and the long, full life they lived. I’m thinking about how, while discussing some less-than-ideal playground behavior, my son replied that he is “Lord of Gods” before demanding to go back. I’m thinking about scheduling well visits, and back-to-school shopping, and a coffee meet-up with that friend I’ve been trying to see for over a month, if only our schedules could align. (And then, I’m likely circling back to that “Lord of Gods” moment.)
These thoughts, swirling around one another in my head (along with numerous others), make it genuinely tough to focus my mind long enough to tackle any of the questions or tasks I need to address.
Thankfully, music can help, by grounding me in the present moment and turning down the volume on everything else. But if I then need to accomplish something beyond rocking out to what I’m listening to, I need to deviate from my norm.
Below, I’ve put together a list of musical alternatives that can help center a person – without becoming a distraction of their own.
Nature sounds are a go-to white-noise classic alternative. (And, they are study-proven to increase attention and decrease heart rates.) Free samples and playlists abound on the internet, offering soothing sounds of quiet woodland afternoons or gentle, lapping waters to calm and center you – sans cost concerns. (Suggestion: 10-Hour Spiritual Rain Meditation)
Like the first entry on this list, the focus-promoting effects of classical music have also been tested in scientific settings. Numerous studies have found that it can improve focus and motivation while reducing stress. For some, it can even aid memorization – perfect for students of any age who are cramming for exams. (Suggestion: A lengthy mix by greats like Mozart and Mendelssohn)
I don’t have research to link to here – just anecdotal reporting from myself and others on the effectiveness of playing something well-known to you to center your mind. In this case, familiarity breeds comfort, and instrumental film scores strike a balance of being known, without any singing to pull your mind away. (Suggestion: The “Inception” score by Hans Zimmer)
This suggestion won’t be for everybody. Some may find the beats too infectious – or the selections, too loud. But electronic dance music, or EDM, can be an energizing alternative to the dulcet tones of rainwater or violin strings. And, the faster pace could promote positive thinking – great for pushing through dreaded chores. (Suggestion: A mix of music by Wolfgang Gartner)
If your tastes are simultaneously more modern and more sedate, scores of instrumentalists and acoustic artists are on offer to ground you in the assignment you’re trying to finish writing, or filing those papers that have been piling up on your desk for a length of time that we absolutely do not have to discuss. (Suggestion: “Self-Titled” by Lyle Brewer)
My introduction to Binaural Beats came in the form of sleep music for my then-infant child. (I can still hear the gentle bell tones of the melodies that soothed him at that age.) But these ambient music makers also offer a mix for helping your mind stay sharp. If they’re not your “thing,” there are other engineered options out there. (Suggestion: Focus Music by Binaural Beats)
Something … with Lyrics?
Should you somehow possess the ability to focus while listening to someone sing … first, please teach me your magical secrets. Once you’re done, try popping on something soft, that can fade into the background of your work time. Or, if you’re like me, save the sing-along songs as a reward for a task well completed. (Suggestion: “I Am Not There Anymore” by The Clientele)