TWEAKS 2 MYC #19: MUSIC

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It’s safe to say that most of us have experienced the power of music. I’m sure that everyone who listens to music can think of at least one song that has shaped them into the person they are today. This is because music can make you feel a vast array of emotions. It can inspire you. It can make you smile, cry, love, hate, relax, or dance!

Music can therefore be a powerful tool that can help you “master your craft”. When used thoughtfully, it can have a tremendous positive impact on your mind and body! Music can optimise arousal, reduce perceived exertion during submaximal exercise, increase positive emotions, and improve energy efficiency (Karageorghis & Priest, 2012).

More specifically, you can listen to music before a competition or during a training session to get yourself into “the zone” (i.e., increase or decrease your arousal). In addition, you can listen to it during a hard training session to dissociate yourself from the fatigue that you are experiencing (e.g., focus on the lyrics and/or beat rather than your “burning muscles”).

Below are the basic instructions on how to create your own personalized playlist:

  • Give yourself 30 minutes to complete this exercise
  • Determine exactly how you would like to feel before a competition or during a training session
    • Do you want to increase or decrease your arousal?
  • Select songs that will help you feel the way you want to feel
    • Increase arousal (>120 bpm)
    • Decrease arousal (<80 bpm)
    • Consider the lyrical content
  • To create a cohesive music mix, think about
    • Beat matching
    • Style matching
    • Artist matching
    • Era matching

Although music is associated with an increase in physical and mental performance, not everyone should listen to it before a competition or during a training session. You should avoid listening to music when learning a new motor task or during high-intensity exercises that require your full attention. Furthermore, some people are better able to get themselves into “the zone” by not listening to music. For instance, Matthias Steiner, gold medalist in weightlifting at the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing, stated in an interview: “A lot of other guys listen to music, but I intentionally don’t. I leave it all at home, because I want to feel the atmosphere, if I listen to music I’ll be distracted”.

The important point here is that you must figure out what works best for you! If music helps you feel the way you want to feel then create your own personalized playlist!

Set goals. Do just one thing at a time. Keep it simple and smart. Do it consistently. Reflect on the process.

Reference

Karageorghis, C. I., & Priest, D.-L. (2012). Music in the exercise domain: A review and synthesis (Part II). International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 5, 67-84.

TWEAKS 2 MYC #18: BODY SCAN

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Eastern philosophers have always stressed the importance of living in the “present moment”. For example, Thich Nhat Hanh wrote in his book, Touching Peace: Practicing the Art of Mindful Living, that “to live in the present moment is a miracle. The miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on the green Earth in the present moment, to appreciate the peace and beauty that are available now”.

Being in the “present moment” is a state of mind that enables you to be fully immersed in the activity you’re doing. You are in tune with all your senses, you don’t think about the past or the future, and you don’t use your mind to describe what is happening to you in the “present moment”.

Although most of us can understand the importance of living in the “present moment” from an intellectual standpoint, only a handful of people seem to have the ability to experience this state of mind on a daily basis. So what can we possibly do to be more “present”?

An easy way to become more “present” and stop being in our “heads” all the time is to do what we call a “body scan”. A “body scan” is a form a meditation where you focus your awareness on the sensations in your body. This type of meditation exercise has been linked to improvements in the tendency to describe one’s experience, rumination (repetitive thinking), self-compassion, and psychological well-being (Sauer-Zavala et al., 2013). Moreover, Kaufman and colleagues (2009) found that a mindfulness training program, which included “body scan” exercises, enhanced athletes’ flow, mindfulness, and aspects of sport confidence.

Below are the basic instructions on how to properly perform a “body scan”:

  • Practice this exercise every day
  • Set your timer for 5 minutes
  • Sit down in an armless chair
  • Place your feet firmly on the ground with your knees at 90 degrees
  • Keep your back straight
  • Place your hands on your thighs
  • Relax your arms, shoulders, neck, and jaw
  • Close your eyes
  • Take 3 deep breaths
  • Focus your awareness on the “sensations” in your body (e.g., sensations in your muscles, tendons, ligaments, and organs such as tightness, suppleness, pain, spasms, energy levels, pressure, vibration, heat, and weight)
  • If your mind wanders (e.g., you are thinking about the past or future, you feel anger or boredom, you label your sensations), simply recognize it (you can tell yourself, “my mind is wandering”), and then bring your awareness back to the “sensations” in your body
  • Scan your body parts in the following order: toes, feet, calves, thighs, pelvis, glutes, lower back, stomach, chest, upper back, shoulder, arms, forearms, hands, fingers, traps, neck, jaw, mouth, nose, eyes, top of the head
  • Once you are done going through each body part, focus your awareness on the sensations in your “whole” body.

To be effective, meditation needs to be practiced consistently. For instance, you will reap many more health benefits if you do a 5-minute “body scan” 7 days per week, rather than a 60-minute “body scan” once in a while. Therefore, make sure that you pencil in your meditation sessions into your schedule!

Once you feel comfortable with a 5-minute “body scan”, you can increase your total time by 2 minutes and 30 seconds if you desire. However, if increasing your total time means increasing your chances of not doing it, then keep your sessions short (around 5 minutes). If you have the time and enjoy this meditation exercise, try going all the way up to 20 minutes!

A “body scan” is a great introduction to the world of meditation. There are many other types of meditation exercises out there, as well as important concepts to keep in mind. However, you don’t need to worry about that right now. I will cover these different exercises and concepts in future blog posts. Just stay tuned!

Set goals. Do just one thing at a time. Keep it simple and smart. Do it consistently. Reflect on the process.

References

Kaufman, K. A., Glass, C. R., & Arnkoff, D. B. (2009). Evaluation of mindful sport performance enhancement (MSPE): A new approach to promote flow in athletes. Journal of Clinical Sport Psychology3, 334-356.

Sauer-Zavala, S. E., Walsh, E. C., Eisenlohr-Moul, T. A., & Lykins, E. L. B. (2013). Comparing mindfulness-based intervention strategies: Differential effects of sitting meditation, body scan, and mindful yoga. Mindfulness, 4, 383-388.

TWEAKS 2 MYC #17: WORK AS PLAY

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How you perceive life can have a tremendous impact on your performance and overall well-being. Perception refers to the way you see, think, and interact with the world around you. Think of it as the pair of sunglasses that filters every experience that you have. Do you wear Aviator sunglasses with a yellow tint or small and opaque Ray-Bans?

Most people see their daily activities as monotonous chores. They only do them because they have to! For instance, they go to work for the money, workout because it’s good for their health, and do groceries to stay alive. However, having this type of perception will prevent them from “mastering their craft”.

Incorporating elements of fun, enjoyment, and intrinsic motivation into your daily activities is necessary, if you want to “master your craft”. Therefore, you need to make sure that your pair of sunglasses enables you to see the world in a positive light. If your current sunglasses are dark and foggy, throw them away and look for another pair. Try to find your first pair of sunglasses. The rose-colored one you wore as a kid, which enabled you to view life in an unbiased, cheerful, and optimistic way.

Once again, you need to see how magnificent life is. More specifically, you need to start seeing “work as play”. For example, let’s say that you’re a salesperson for a large multinational corporation. You have a choice to either perceive your work as just cold-calling people to sell them a product or as a dance where you skillfully use your words and emotions to persuade clients to buy a product that will improve their lives. Can you see and feel the difference between these two scenarios? One scenario is dark and impersonal, while the other one is fun and positive. The situation is exactly the same for both, but the perception is what makes the difference!

It’s now time for us to make this switch for all activities in our lives. Let’s stop perceiving those activities as “work” and start seeing them as “play”.

Listen to Alan Watts, a very influential British philosopher from the 20th century, talk about the delight of seeing “work as play”:

Set aside quality time to complete this exercise. Give yourself a minimum of 20 minutes. Find a quiet place to sit comfortably and focus only on the task at hand. Take 3 deep breaths and relax (close your eyes if you need to). In your journal, make a list of the activities in your life that seem like “work” to you. Describe each activity in the most positive way possible. First, look at the small and simple parts and/or actions that make up this activity. This is usually where the “wonder” resides. Second, incorporate these parts and/or actions into your description.

Afterwards, develop a game for each activity (you can include consequences and rewards to make them more fun). For instance, if you are studying for an exam, try to challenge yourself to see if you can learn all the material in 2 days. If you’re able to do so, buy yourself your favorite chocolate bar. If you’re lifting weights in the gym, try to see if you can do every rep with perfect form and total control. If you succeed, end your workout with your favorite exercise. If not, finish your workout with an exercise that you find very challenging. These are just two examples. Make up your own game!

We must all come to the realization that life is already beautiful, exciting, and rewarding! You have five senses that enable you to see, hear, touch, taste, and smell amazing things. In addition, you have the unique ability to think of abstract ideas, engage in wonderful conversations with family, friends, and strangers, feel a vast array of emotions, and accomplish challenging physical and mental tasks. Stay positive, playful, and sincere. Your inner child will thank you!

Set goals. Do just one thing at a time. Keep it simple and smart. Do it consistently. Reflect on the process.

TWEAKS 2 MYC #16: POWER BREATHS

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In one of my previous blog posts (TWEAK 2 MYC #6), I talked about how you can use your breath to achieve a state of deep relaxation. I will now discuss how you can use your breath as a way to “psych” yourself up.

Everyone feels slightly tired at some point during the day, whether it be after sitting down and working for several hours in your office or between heavy sets in the gym. Although this is normal, it’s far from ideal!

Since we live in a very competitive environment, we need to have the ability to perform at an optimal level even when we’re tired. However, drinking too much coffee (or energy drinks) is unhealthy and sometimes we don’t have the luxury to find a quiet place to nap for 20 minutes. Therefore, we need to find a healthy and quick alternative to boost our energy levels.

“Power breaths” is an effective strategy that you can use anywhere and at any time to “psych” yourself up and increase your overall alertness. “Power breaths” are a controlled and voluntary form of hyperventilation.

Taking short, hard, deep breaths will create respiratory alkalosis. Respiratory alkalosis is characterized by an increase in blood pH level (more alkaline). Sakamoto and colleagues (2013) found that participants who used “power breaths” during recovery intervals of repeated sprint pedaling improved their performance because it decreased their levels of metabolic acidosis.

Moreover, these types of powerful breaths will trick your body into activating your sympathetic nervous system (fight-or-flight response). Your pupils, lungs, and blood vessels will dilate and your heart rate will increase so you can better deal with the situation that you find yourself in.

Stand up with your feet shoulder-width apart. Keep your back straight. Place your hands on your hips. Open your mouth as wide as possible. Take 10 short, hard, deep breaths. Make sure that when you inhale, you push your abdomen out fully so you can get in as much air as possible. When you exhale, simply allow your abdomen and chest to naturally relax. Do not exhale forcefully!

You may feel slightly dizzy and have a tingling sensation in your limbs. This is normal. However, if you do not enjoy this feeling or do not feel comfortable, then stop immediately. In addition, do not do this breathing exercise if you have an anxiety disorder or a respiratory problem.

Once you feel comfortable with 10 breaths, then you can increase the number of “power breaths” that you take during each session. Make sure that you constantly monitor how well you feel after doing this breathing exercise.

Use “power breaths” to increase your alertness at work, school, or when you are doing physical activity (before or during training/competition).

Set goals. Do just one thing at a time. Keep it simple and smart. Do it consistently. Reflect on the process.

Reference

Sakamoto, A., Naito, H., & Chow, C.-M. (2014). Hyperventilation as a strategy for improved repeated sprint performance. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 28, 1119-1126.

TWEAKS 2 MYC #15: DRIVE

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The road to “mastery” is long, arduous, and sometimes painful. Although many people think about embarking on this journey, only some of them actually start, and very few end up “mastering their craft”. But why is that? Why do some people quit along the way, while others persevere and succeed? What is the key factor that sets them apart?

Truly successful people are different because they have an inner urge to achieve their goals. In other words, they are driven!

Whether you are an athlete, musician, businessman, or scholar, your career will be filled with challenges, obstacles, and setbacks. However, the way you respond to these difficult situations will ultimately determine your level of success. It’s your choice. Are you going to give up or keep moving forward when things get hard?

If you decide to keep moving forward, no matter what happens, then you will substantially increase your chances of “mastering your craft”. But what exactly is going to help you stay motivated in the face of adversity?

The answer comes in the form of a question: why? More specifically, you need to figure out why you’re doing what you’re doing? For example, if you are a musician, are you playing music to receive accolades, challenge yourself, make others happy, or be a positive role model for the younger generations?

Ideally, your “why” should not be based on extrinsic rewards. Extrinsic rewards such as money and praise are the by-products of success. They only come after the execution of great performances. They are fleeting and not fully under your control. Therefore, you need to find a “why” that is enduring. Something that comes from within. I truly believe that the strongest sources of intrinsic motivation involve “becoming the best version of yourself” and “positively impacting the lives of others” (or a slight variation of these two sources).

Listen to Eric Thomas, also known as the Hip Hop Preacher, talk about the “why” to players from the Miami Dolphins:

Set aside quality time to complete this exercise. Give yourself a minimum of 20 minutes. Find a quiet place to sit comfortably and focus only on the task at hand. Take 3 deep breaths and relax (close your eyes if you need to).

In your journal, write down why you’re doing what you’re doing. Write down as many “whys” as possible and evaluate each one of them. Close your eyes and imagine yourself in a challenging situation that may occur in the near future. Repeat that “why” to yourself a few times. Does it motivate you to keep moving forward? If so, great! If not, look deeper. Try to find something that is more meaningful to you.

Once you come up with your “why”, write it down in your journal in a short, positive, and clear form. Repeat this “why” to yourself whenever you are faced with a challenge, obstacle, or setback. It will help keep your inner fire burning!

Set goals. Do just one thing at a time. Keep it simple and smart. Do it consistently. Reflect on the process.