“Musical activities are an engaging form of cognitive brain training and we are now seeing robust evidence of brain plasticity from musical training not just in younger brains, but in older brains too”.
—Gavin Bidelman, Assistant professor, University of Memphis
With the use of modern technology, scientists have uncovered surprising evidence that playing a musical instrument holds a great deal more benefits than we have ever imagined.
Scientists are now able to monitor brain activity in real-time using FMRI (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging). These machines monitor activity in different parts of the brain. Researchers found that listening to music triggered ‘fireworks’ within the brain, suggesting activity in multiple parts of the brain simultaneously.Advertising
Playing music is described by Anita Collins in a TED Ed video: ‘how playing an instrument benefits your brain’ as the brain’s version of a ‘full-body workout’.
“The neuroscientists saw multiple areas of the brain light up simultaneously, processing different information in intricate, interrelated and astonishingly fast sequences.”
—Anita Collins, TED Ed
Neuroscientists found that the aesthetic and artistic factors of learning to play a musical instrument are unique when compared with any other activity studied, including other arts and sports.Advertising
Making music triggers activity in virtually every part of the brain at once, particularly the visual, auditory and motor cortices, and disciplined practice strengthens these areas. We can apply that strength to benefit other functions in day-to-day life.
Playing a musical instrument involves the mathematical and linguistic capacities of the left hemisphere of the brain in addition to the creative capacity of the right hemisphere. This strengthens the bridge between the two, allowing better communication between them. As a result, it is suggested that people who play musical instruments hone better problem-solving skills in both social and academic situations. Musicians are also known to demonstrate heightened memory functions in regard to storing, creating and retrieving memories more efficiently.
The ability to comprehend speech has been shown to be one of the cognitive factors affected by aging. The brain’s central auditory system weakens in later years, diminishing its ability to analyze, sequence, and identify acoustic features of speech.
New studies led by the Canadian Rotman Research Institute (RRI) suggest that older adults who begin playing musical instruments at a young age identify speech sounds 20% faster than their non-musical peers.Advertising
“Starting formal lessons on a musical instrument prior to age 14 and continuing intense training for up to a decade appears to enhance key areas in the brain that support speech recognition”.
—- Baycrest Center for Geriatric Care
The study consisted of 20 healthy adults between the ages of 55 and 75, half of whom were musicians and the other half non-musicians. They were asked to identify sounds ranging from random speech sounds, to simple single vowel sounds, to a more challenging and complex combination of the two.
With the use of EEG (Electroencephalography) imaging, scientists were able to measure the precise timing of electrical activity in the brain in response to the given stimuli. It was then identified that older musicians showed double or triple brain-behavior response compared to their non-musical counterparts.Advertising
Musical training commenced before the age of fourteen and carried out into adulthood offers a cognitive boost to developing brains. Additionally, the new findings suggest that these boosts carry on into old age, when the brain needs the added help most.
Whether you are a parent considering introducing your child to their first musical instrument at a young age or an older adult who may have begun playing music as a young person, the benefits of a musical lifestyle are endless. Starting musical training early is the key to an even brighter future.
Last Updated on July 21, 2021
The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.
Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”
A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.
Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.
In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.
Table of Contents
From Creating Reminders to Building Habits
A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.
For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.
This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.
The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.
That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.
Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!
The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.
Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.
But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?
The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.
The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders
A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.
For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.
But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)
If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.
For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself) can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.
These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.
For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.
How to Make a Reminder Works for You
Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.
Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.
Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.
My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.
Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.
I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.
More on Building Habits
- 16 Everyday Habits of Highly Productive People
- How Long Does It Take to Break a Habit? Science Will Tell You
- How to Break Bad Habits: I Broke 3 Bad Habits in Less Than 2 Months
- How to Break a Habit and Hack the Habit Loop
Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com
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