068: How Music Gets You in the Zone (+ A Call for Questions!)

068: How Music Gets You in the Zone (+ A Call for Questions!)


🖼 Office Perks (Scotch & Bean) + 👉 Shang Chi—The Legend of the Ten Rings

This is the 68th edition of Cultivating Resilience, a weekly newsletter how we build, adapt, and lead in times of change—brought to you by Jason Shen, a 1st gen immigrant, retired gymnast, and 3x startup founder turned Facebook PM.

Hey friends,

Hope you’re enjoying a lovely Labor Day weekend (for those state-side) and that you and your families are safe from any extreme weather events over the last week or so. Today I want to pose a question:

Are you facing a major change, challenge, or hardship that you'd like advice on? What is your situation / question?

I want to experiment with turning the next few issues into a bit of an advice column. So reply back with your problems and maybe I’ll give you (and our readers here) my thoughts. Obviously you can stay anonymous if you’d like.


🧠 How Music Gets You in the Zone (+ some personal rec’s)

Most of us intuitively understand the power of music to enhance emotions (joy at a party, sadness in a breakup, romance at a wedding). Today I thought I might share some of scientific proof of music’s power under various scenarios and share some of my own favorite hype songs.

Alleviating Choking: The Sounds of Distraction Journal of Applied Sport Psychology: Vol 21, No 2, Apr 2009

  • Found that basketball players who were considered “choke-prone”, meaning they typically did worse under pressure, shot free throws more accurately with music than with silence while under pressure.
  • Researchers hypothesize that it’s due to reduced levels of self-awareness (feeling like all eyes are on you)

Passing the time when in pain: Investigating the role of musical valence. Psychomusicology: Music, Mind, and Brain, Vol 26(1), Mar 2016

  • Had people stick their hands in ice cold water (painful) while listening to silence, happy, sad, or relaxing music then rated the experience.
  • Any music was better than nothing, happy+relaxing music pain tolerance and altered time perception, and only relaxing music also reduced anxiety and pain intensity.
  • PS - even people who have brain damage to their auditory processing areas still can distinguish between happy and sad songs

Effect of music tempo on exercise performance and heart rate among young adults International Journal of Physiology, Pathophysiology and Pharmacology 2017 Apr

  • 50 college students (half men / half women) were asked to run as long as they could (stopping when they felt breathless or tired), while listening to either silence or self-selected music.
  • Both groups ran for a way longer amount of time (+68%) from 22 to 37 mins.
  • Researchers hypothesize music plays a performance-enhancing and distractive effect during exercise.

Effect of Pre-Exercise Music on Bench Press Power, Velocity, and Repetition Volume Perceptual and Motor Skills. 2021 Jun

  • College-aged men did 2 bench press tests 48 hrs apart: reps till failure of 75% of their 1 rep max.
  • Before each test they either listened to their favorite music for 3 minutes, or listened to silence. During the actual exercise though they didn’t listen to anything.
  • Pre-exercise music had statistically significant improvements on # of reps, barbell explosiveness, and motivation to work out more.

I think that last study is interesting in that you don’t have to listen to music during the workout to get benefits. Even listening right beforehand makes a difference.

This leads to my next part: my favorite hype music for different situations. This is just a personal list that I thought I’d share—would love to hear what your favorite hype songs are!

Summon The Heroes: John Williams

When I was a young gymnast, they would open play this music after warmups had finished at bigger competitions (Regionals and Nationals). We would warm up all our events, then walk out with our club. The MC would announce each club and all its athletes would salute the audience. I really loved how the orchestra and brass elevated the music—no surprise when you’re dealing with the legendary John Willianms. it made me feel like we were all gathered to perform to our absolute best, rather than against each other to get to the top of the pile.