Pick Your Music Carefully: Your Performance Depends On It

Over the last 6 months of daily training I’ve changed a lot of little daily habits. This month I made one new change that surpasses all of my other experiments. The new addition? Music.

Play Music that Triggers a Performance Mindset  (Photo: Fe Llya)

Simple things like arriving to my ballet class 15 minutes early to mentally prepare have made a huge difference in my ability to perform at a high level. Now that I have seen the impact of small changes, I’ve begun looking elsewhere for practices that will expedite efficiency in other aspects of my life. Here are a few that I’ve experimented with:

  • How I get out of bed in the morning
  • First activity upon rising
  • Last thing I do before sleep
  • Exact times I eat meals
  • Drawing daily
  • Mindfulness Meditation

Earlier this month, by happenstance, I played one song on repeat for my 10 minutes drive to the dance studio, and as I walk from my car. The result was immediate. By hearing the same, energizing song over and over I arrived at ballet ready to perform. I had one of my best ballet classes ever. After this singular experience, I questioned what made it so impactful. Here’s the song that I originally used to trigger my performance:

Throughout my experimentations, I have been giving a lot of thought to mindset: the most useful mindset for parents with kids with special needs, an athlete about the start performing, or the CEO of a company in the midst of a heated meeting. Today I’ll be detailing how I’ve begun using music to effectively trigger a performance-ready mindset.

Your Mindset Matters

A few words about mindset: it matters! When I am entering ballet or my office, if I’m in any way distracted or distraught it can take me minutes to acclimatize to the new environment. In professional dance those minutes can mean the difference between being warm and lose, and getting injured. In business that can mean the difference between closing a sale, and going bankrupt. I have discussed the mindset necessary to perform well but I’ll spend a moment specifically on the idea of presence.

Get Present

Research has demonstrated that our periods of greatest learning come when they are relaxed and simultaneously attending closely to our work. A student who is intrinsically motivated and enjoying her work is substantially more productive. With enough different disciples and philosophies advocating quieting the mind and focusing awareness, it is clear that practicing presence is a useful way to conduct oneself through many different aspects of life. By playing a song on repeat in combination with mentally preparing myself for the physical activity and focus ahead, I’ve built a trigger. Now, just hearing the first few notes of my current song sends me straight into a level of concentration that pervious I might have reached by mid-training, or not at all.

Ritual Preparation

Every human society is filled with rituals. Even in affluent countries we have patterns and daily practices that shape our lives. I drink tea ever morning and have eaten the same breakfast for the last ten years. In San Francisco we are very particular about our coffee. Whether it is a specific television show, the daily news, or driving the same route to work – we all have daily rituals. These things might seem simple but they are fundamental to how we live our lives. Music in preparation for an intense period of learning and performance is just one ritual I’ve begun to implement to harness the power of my brain to radically change my state.

By harnessing the capacity to trigger a specific mental state, we have the potential to improve very quickly. In my study of ballet I’ve been taking the first 45 minutes of class just to get warmed up. Now that I have a full 90 minutes of intense learning, how much more effective can I be?

Minor Changes Make a Big Difference

 There is a further component to consider, which is that the things that make the biggest difference are often smaller than we think. Playing music before ballet seems like a minor component of my day and so easy to overlook: too lazy to pick the song, forgot my headphones, whatever! But now that I’ve recognized the value, there’s no comparison and I’ll never go back. I wonder what other little changes each of us can make, that will have exponential and long-lasting impacts on our success.


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