Your personal soundtrack comes from childhood—and it can keep you going.
Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck observed something important about child behavior. In a series of now famous studies in the late 1990s, she divided schoolchildren into two groups. One group was told they did very well on a challenging test because they worked so hard. The other group was also told they did very well, only it was because they were smart.
The children who were told they’re hard workers ended up being more resilient, worked harder on the next test, enjoyed studying, and valued the process of preparation for its own sake, rather than for a grade. The opposite occurred in the other group. They assumed being smart was enough. Why needlessly study? They often chose not to take another test of equal challenge, feeling they had proven themselves the first time around.
It’s well documented that practice makes … well, perfect doesn’t really exist. But practice makes us continually better. Sure, some of us might be inclined toward certain occupations more than others, but it’s the process of repetition that makes us great. None of us are inherently amazing at anything, even though, over time, it might feel that way. We just forgot all the hard work that got us where we are.
Turning autopilot off
Our childhood experiences greatly affect our adult lives. Of course, this isn’t always the case. Since our brains are malleable, we can change the narrative of our lives at any moment. The problem is, the longer we wait, the harder that becomes.
In his book “This Is Your Brain on Music,” neuroscientist Daniel Levitin writes that if a student hasn’t studied math or music by age 20, he or she can be proficient only with increasing difficulty. The prefrontal cortex is still being formed until our mid-20s. Synapses are still making new connections. After that, the brain shifts gears, focusing on pruning unneeded connections rather than wiring new ones. We get stuck in our patterns.
All humans are pursuers. We are motivated to seek food, shelter and partners for survival. To keep pursuing, we need perseverance. Such motivation usually lasts until our 20s. After that, it becomes easy to hit cruise control and let autopilot take over. We become content with what has gotten us by until that point. We don’t persevere as much as coast.
An ode to rhythm
Music is an essential key to perseverance, especially in the context of fitness. As Levitin writes, “Rhythm stirs our bodies. Tonality and melody stir our brains. The coming together of rhythm and melody bridges our cerebellum (the motor control, primitive little brain) and our cerebral cortex (the most evolved, most human part of our brain).”
If you’ve exercised your entire life, you probably can’t imagine a life without movement. And music likely provides a necessary soundtrack for your sessions. If you’re newer to fitness, or just getting back into form, a little motivational boost is called for. This month’s playlist bridges the gap Levitin cites above to get you into the pursuit and help you to persevere.
I chose a few remixes of well-known artists for this reason, songs familiar and emotionally stimulating in new contexts. As Levitin puts it, “Music, or any art form for that matter, has to strike the right balance between simplicity and complexity in order for us to like it. Simplicity and complexity relate to familiarity, and familiarity is just another word for a schema.”
Never stop growing
This month’s schema is based on house tempos, driving four-on-the-floor beats to get your heart pumping and body moving. You’ll hear new takes on The Jackson 5, Nina Simone, Aretha Franklin and Panjabi MC. A few gospel tracks take the familiar to a new level. I was going to look for a remix of Deee-Lite’s “Groove Is in the Heart,” but the original is so perfect there’s no reason to mess with it.
Discovery is equally important. As Levitin notes, most of our musical tastes are formed by age 20. Spotify data reveals that most people stop searching for new music after age 33. That’s a shame as so much incredible music is being made. For those unfamiliar with house, I’ve included inspiring tracks by incredible producers, such as Siege, Claptone, Mexican Dubweiser, Mason and others to get you moving. The set ends with a remix of Tuareg desert rock band Imarhan that’s been lighting up my classes for months.
Perseverance is an art as much as a skill. I hope this soundtrack to your month keeps you pushing on.
Photo credit: gzorgz, Thinkstock; Rawpixel Ltd, Thinkstock; Txema_Gerardo, Thinkstock; Studio-Fl, Adobe Stock