Music has always been an important part of my life, from singing with the Birmingham Royal Ballet for eight years before Uni, to the freedom I find dancing (badly) whether it be in my kitchen or the lab. I’m not knowledgeable, but few things hold memories and modulate my emotions is the same way as listening to music, be that classical, alternative or pop. The key moments and people in my life all have music linked to them: from the Blue Danube for my sister to Dean Martins’ Somewhere Beyond the Sea as the first dance at my wedding.
I have written dissertations, produced my PhD thesis and undertaken specific experiments, all linked to specific pieces. In fact I really struggle to do much in silence. I’m not very good at only doing one thing at once. For me,, despite it being counter-intuitive to some, music helps me focus rather than acting as a distraction. The only time I can work comfortably in silence is when I’m verbalising to support memory, i.e. revising or learning lines.
In an episode of ‘How I met your mother’ Barney (one of the main characters) introduced the idea of a ‘Get Psyched’ mix. I found this idea really useful and have since produced my own ‘Get Psyched’ playlist which I use to address particular challenges I face in work. For today’s post I thought I would share how I use them and give some example tracks for each. Warning – I enjoy cheese and angry girl music so my taste will not suit everyone. I make no apologise for the smell of fromage coming from this post.
Music to Boost my Confidence
We all have days when imposter syndrome hits. As Healthcare Scientists, we also have high stress key assessments, such as FRCPath, that need to be faced. One of the key times I have used a playlist was during my 4 days of FRCPath examinations. I listened to a set of 10 songs to train my brain to get into the right headspace. I would listen to them whilst walking to the examination centre. I would listen to them at lunchtime. I would listen to them in breaks if I felt that I was starting to go into an anxiety loop. All of them took me back to a space where I could focus on why I was doing this high-stakes exam. They helped me focus on the finish line rather than being distracted by the steps along the way. They brought me back to be able to see the big picture. In a space where I felt out of control they gave me routine. It was the same 10 songs. I didn’t need to add to my cognitive load of thinking about what I wanted to play. They freed me and, by the time I reached the end, I had my game face on and I was ready to face anything.
One Off High-Stakes Events
Music for me in this context is when I need to hit my ‘movie moment’. You can picture it: It’s that moment in a movie where it is reaching its denouement. They are about to face that crucial encounter/combat/story moment. The music comes on and (as my husband says) it’s all about the slow walk into the camera.
These are usually one or two songs that I will play in the lead up to a difficult/high-stakes moment: sometimes a meeting that I’m worried about, sometimes a presentation that’s making me nervous. It has to hit my soul fast and hard. It has to make me want to sing out loud. It needs to make me want to strut. If you ever see me walking up and down a corridor mouthing to myself, this is usually during one of these moments. So much of how individual events turn out are based on the mood and the mental space you are in when you walk through a door. I like to make sure I do it in slow-mo with presence!
Music to Reflect and/or to Boost Your Mood
Sometimes music for me is a way of allowing me to express negative as well as positive feelings. No one is up beat all the time. Working within Healthcare Science, and especially as a clinical academic, there’s a lot of failure: grant failure, paper rejection, barriers based on professional background. That’s before we even talk about being a woman in science. When I get grant rejections etc. I always say to my students that I allow myself to mourn for 48 hours. I then get myself together and get back on that horse. Music is key to this. I play my angry girl music and process my disappointment in a focussed way that allows it to be to put in a separate box from the rest of my working and home life.
Once I have spent my allotted 48 hours, I put on music that brings me back to myself. Fighting music to get my head back in the fight. It draws a line under the wallowing and brings me back to a place where I can draw on0 learning from the failure I’ve just experienced without it being tied to negative emotions. I challenge the world to ‘bring it on’. I’m ready!
We’ve all been there. It’s late and you’re still in the lab. You’re tired and you have just one more thing that you need to do before you go home: You need something with a beat to energise you, something you can sing to in order to help you keep awake as caffeine requires leaving the lab. For this I generally have my girls: Beyoncé, Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift. I have been caught by my old consultant dancing with tubes across the lab to Single Ladies and I make no apologies for it.
The other times I use this kind of music with a really defined beat is when I’m writing. It helps me keep the tempo up and my production level high. When I have a deadline the music definitely goes on. As time goes on, if needed, I tune out the words and I just type or pipette to the beat and get into a zone that means I can work for hours. Without music getting into this particular head space can take hours. By using the right music I can get there in a couple of tracks.
I’m writing this as I’ve found music such a helpful tool in terms of getting me into the head space I need to occupy in order to succeed. I also thought it might be helpful to explain to those people who don’t use music in this way and think that it’s just a distraction tool from getting things done, that the opposite may be true. We all work and focus differently. I’m at my least productive in silence. If I put my headphones in, understand that it’s not that I’m ignoring you. It’s because I’m getting into the headspace where I do my best work. Also, if you hear Freak on a Leash by Korn or Head Like a Hole by Nine Inch Nails through my office door, approach with chocolate or caffeine in hand as some significant rejection is likely to have occurred.
One final thing. This post is in honour of the fantastic She’miah. She’miah is our team PA. She’s truly amazing and she’s leaving in 2 weeks. I will miss our bathroom office disco pick me ups more than I can say This last one is for you girl!
All opinions on this blog are my own