Attention Training

How to think fast, find your focus, and sharpen your concentration.

Using Music to Help Stick to Your Diet

Sticking to your diet on those proverbial bad days.

If you are dieting and have had a bad day at work, you may go home craving comfort food. One possible reason for this is that when your feel-good hormone levels drop (dopamine), you notice a drop in pleasure. Dopamine is associated with feelings of self-reward and euphoria and is able to reduce levels of stress by increasing the feeling of pleasure associated with certain thoughts and actions.

Above normal days can make you race to the refrigerator as soon as you get home too. This is because they can leave you looking for more of that feel-good feeling as things start winding down. Expectation alone can turn your dopamine faucet on. This tendency plays a role in addictions and compulsive behaviors, driving your focus away from your best of intentions like a pleasure seeking magnet. So if you are trying to stick to a specific diet, what can you do?

One possible way to stick to your diet is to use music’s connection to dopamine to help you re-boot and balance. Music helps reprogram our brains because the right songs can pair pleasure (dopamine release) with our successfully becoming calm. Then we are doubly rewarded as we successfully accomplish a specific goal and with calmness. Your brain gets the message that, in effect, if it calms down in this specific situation, the next time around it will get rewarded. So when the situation next presents itself, your brain anticipates the reward and sends your mind and body instructions to calm down and behave in a certain way. When it receives its reward, you feel good. Additionally, doing what is in your best interests is reinforced. So the next time and every time thereafter, it will become easier to stay calm and on track and get to that mindset more quickly.

Keep in mind that, when it comes to music, a lot depends on how much you like the song. The more you do, the greater its effect on you. So, for example, if you are looking for a song that will uplift you, the more you like it the more of an uplifting effect it will have. What works for another person, may not work for you at all. There are emotional ties, messages the song sends lyrically, memories, and even habits that are sparked by specific pieces – e.g. a song you jog to as opposed to a song that you use as a lullaby. What calms one person could repulse another. So pick songs that you like – a lot – and that you already feel can have the right effect.

You can then use your playlist(s) on your way home (but not during meals) to help you compensate if your mindset has dipped downward. I recommend fast rhythms with a BPM (beats per minute) of 130 plus. You can, however, use songs of a lower BPM that send you the right emotional feeling as well. Sometimes songs from your past, such as those you might have listened to when you traveled to your soccer games with friends can quickly shift your mindset. What’s most important is that you like the songs and feel spikes in pleasure from them.

You can play your playlists straight through, or just repeat individual tracks as needed or to match specific situations. Use songs that send the message you need to hear to get you to stick to your willpower and make you feel on top of your game. Singing and even humming along can ramp up the effect. Then, after you have taken control, reward yourself with another tune, especially if it is connected to a message and a feeling that makes you feel strong, rewarded, and happy.

Why not start today? Spend a little time to pick out a playlist that you think can work for you. Load it up on your iPod or cell phone so that you have it when you need it. Then the next time you are having one of those nerve wracking days, you’ll be all set to send the bad vibes away and keep your focus and frequencies “on track” and positive.

The following playlist compiled from the tastes of people I know can give you the idea, but remember your own favorite songs will work always best.

Sample Playlist

"No Retreat, No Surrender," Bruce Springsteen

"No Way Back," Foo Fighters

"The Power," Snap

"Eye of the Tiger," Survivor

"I Fought the Law," Green Day

"We’re An American Band," Grand Funk Railroad

"(I’ve Had) the Time of My Life," Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes (on the Dirty Dancing soundtrack)

“Respect,” Aretha Franklin

“Dance to the Music,” Sly and the Family Stone

“I Want to Take You Higher,” Ike and Tina Turner

 

Joseph Cardillo, Ph.D., is the author of Can I Have Your Attention? How to Think Fast, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Concentration.

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