April 10, 2023

Can music help you focus?

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As coaches, Ofosu and Leah are well-versed in meditation for focus and have an impressive list of other tips to help themselves focus. So they compare notes, as well as talk about how meditation music can be a useful tool to deepen concentration. They also celebrate the launch of Flow State, the Balance app's first meditation music track clinically proven to increase focus, by talking with Adam Hewett, the founder of Evoked Response.

▶️ You can watch the latest episode on YouTube here: https://youtu.be/0Pg2Spuvjrg

📣 Update on our show: We’re moving to a new release schedule. So from now on, we'll release new episodes every other Monday. Our next full episode will be out on April 24.

📚 About Adam Hewett: Adam is the founder and team leader of Evoked Response, and a pioneer in the neuroscience of music. You can learn more about his work and Evoked Response here:


🎧 What's in this episode:

  • (00:00) A sneak peek of Flow State, new science-backed meditation music for focus in the Balance app
  • (00:47) Why is it so hard to focus?
  • (02:52) What helps Ofosu get focused
  • (03:43) Leah's hack to make tasks more interesting
  • (06:39) Juggling parenthood, partnership, and other obligations
  • (07:39) Challenges to our ability to focus
  • (09:32) How meditation music can help us focus
  • (10:22) Adam Hewett on Flow State
  • (12:03) The clinical studies (and results) on Flow State
  • (13:09) Meditation for focus and how mindfulness can improve focus

🧘 About Balance: Well Balanced is co-hosted by Ofosu and Leah, Balance’s Co-Heads of Meditation. Balance is a highly personalized meditation and sleep app that's been named Google's App of the Year and Apple's App of the Day. Completely free for the entire first year, Balance is helping 5 million+ people around the world improve their stress, sleep, focus, and mood. Unlock your free year of Balance today by downloading it from the App Store or Play Store: https://balanceapp.sng.link/Arat1/z704/izn0


Ofosu: So what we are listening to right now is new music that is clinically proven to help you focus, and we just added it to the Balance app. So we're gonna talk about how we find and struggle to focus and also we're gonna chat with the guy behind this music and hear a bit about how it works.

Hey y'all. I'm Ofosu Jones Quartey. 

Leah: And I'm Leah Santa Cruz. 

Ofosu: And we're the meditation coaches on the Balance app.

Leah: And this is our weekly show Well-Balanced, where we explore ways to live a healthier and a happier life. 

Ofosu: I think that there are so many challenges that we face just in the way the world is set up right now to being able to focus.

Um, for me, just this morning, driving my kids to school, my mind is like trying to plan my day and just going all kinds of different directions and, um, realizing that I just wasn't being present, you know, with, with my kids. Before their day started and um, all that static in my head made it hard to be present.

I don't know. Do you ever go through anything like that? 

Leah: Yeah, I can relate to that. There's periods of time when I'll go through waves of feeling like, what was I just doing? You know? Like I, I walk into the kitchen and I had every intention to grab something, and then I get there and I'm like, what am I doing here?

And then I go, Leah, get it together, like, what's going on? And that's when I know I've got too much unfinished business that needs to be sorted in process, that it's sort of taking up a lot of mental space and it makes it harder to be present in the moment. Yeah, it's sort of related to the question of like, why is it hard to focus because, I can think about a lot of tasks that are hard for me to focus on. And then yet, like you get, you get a movie that I like or a show in front of me, no problem focusing on that thing. Nobody has to teach me how to focus when it's something I enjoy or when it's something I love doing cause then it's like, it's just so much easier.

Or if it's something I'm really good at. But when it's something that overwhelms me because I, I don't, it's sort of not in my wheelhouse. Um, or it's something that I don't particularly enjoy so much, then it's a lot harder for me to be focused on it. Like, there's the pleasure centers in my brain that would like to feel some immediate feedback of like, ooh, this feels good, cause I'm, I'm enjoying it somehow.

So what do you do when you need to focus more?

Ofosu: Going for a walk for like 15, 20 minutes is super helpful. Again, I've, I've mentioned uh, this quote in Latin before solvitur ambulando, it is solved by walking. Yeah, like, it just, my mind just finds a way to like get back in, in its own groove when I'm going for a walk.

Listening to Lofi, hiphop music has helped me out a lot too, you know, and just practicing mindfulness, just like, just being aware of the next breath. Noticing like, if I'm driving like this morning, like one, one thing I said to myself is none of what you're stressing over is happening right now. You know, the only thing that's really happening is your hands are on the steering wheel.

Your, your body's in your seat, your foot's on the gas and the brake. You know, just coming back to the present moment is always helpful for me. What about you? 

Leah: I feel like I can trick my brain into the say, like, enjoying something more by taking a different attitude towards it. So, for example, this is funny, right.

As a meditation teacher, I used to not enjoy breath meditations that much. Personally, I found them boring. Maybe if 

Ofosu: Just, just which, which kind? Just like watching your breathing, you mean? 

Leah: Yes. Yes. Yeah. I was like, I'm incredibly bored by this. It is so hard to stay focused on my breath.

I don't enjoy this, but everything changed for me when a teacher, my mentor said, what do you enjoy about your breath? Instead of just watch your breath. Notice your breath. In and out, in and out, in and out. It just felt what? But then he is like, do you notice how your body loves breathing? Do you notice how there's like this sense of fullness as you breathe and there's always enough air for you?

Do you notice how good it feels to release the breath and how relaxed your body is? Or do you notice how interesting it is at the bottom of the breath? Where does it come from? And, and then, you know, in the balance of how we talk about breath and the ways of like creating color around it or, yeah, just so many other ways of exploring the breath that make it interesting.

Instead of just in out, in, out. 

Ofosu: You hacked it.

Leah: I did. So how can you make something more interesting? And sometimes that's just been about asking myself like, how is this gonna improve my life? How is this gonna improve my skills? How am I gonna be better off because I'm doing this thing? And then the motivation behind that can be enough effort to make, make it more interesting.

Or I can get even more subtle, like, oh, I notice how good the sensation in my body feels to type on this computer and how that's a weird, that's a weird random thing out there, but I, uh, I, I love typing. 

Ofosu: Do you really? Is that, is typing a thing of yours? I had no idea. 

Leah: It's a weird thing of mine, but I used to type like a hundred words a minute and I was pretty proud of it.

Ofosu: That's amazing. I learned something new about you.

Leah: If a teacher knows how to make something fun, it's like so much easier to stay focused on something and yeah, when it's done in that way. But I also feel in my long-winded answer, uh, that getting out of my house sometimes really helps me because if I'm at home, I'm thinking about a lot of other things that need to get done around my house.

Ofosu: Well, yeah, I mean, right now the, the, my studio space like looks out into my bedroom and my, my bedroom's kind of a mess right now, so I'm just, so, I'm like, all right, I need to clean this space just to like, help me focus more, you know? So, I don't know if I'm just trying to escape my space or what, but I really, really know that I need to take a walk today just to, just to clear my head and get in touch with the present moment, and maybe while I'm walking I can think about how to make some of the stuff that I have to do more interesting. So you are a parent, we're both parents now. And you're also, you're also a like a furry parent.

Leah: Oh boy, to have fur babies. 

Ofosu: And um, and then we have, we have our partners and we have our businesses.

You're an artist. I'm an artist. You're a teacher. I'm a teacher. There's so much static happening in, in, in our subconscious minds. And, you know, the subconscious is always trying to solve problems that the, that the super conscious wasn't able to solve in, you know, immediately. And there's all kinds of problem solving that goes into taking care of other people, being an entrepreneur or just, you know, just being a human being.

Leah: Yeah. And if you living in the world and you have a job and you have bills to pay and you have family or relationships where you're a parent, you have a lot of stuff to think about. That's why I think it's so common to have um, those things pop up while we're meditating and going, where did that come from?

Ofosu: Yeah. One thing that I've heard a lot is from people is that like, I can't meditate because it's impossible for me to focus, or I just can't focus because I have too much stuff on my mind, or I have to, I have too much happening in my life, I think. It's important to normalize that is pretty much what's going on for everybody.

Then you have like social media, which is designed to keep your focus, to dismantle your focus 

Leah: Your, your pleasure centers are going off like crazy every time you just get a like.

Ofosu: Every three seconds that's it, you know? Yeah. So I think we're, I think the, the, the bottom line is we're bombarded by, by challenges to our ability to focus.

But I also, the good news is there are all sorts of ways that we can kind of get our, get our power back when it comes to being able to focus. And they don't, they don't have to be. I love what you were saying about like, turning the thing that you have to focus on into, into a game. Whether it's taking big pleasure in typing or, uh, turning or, or just, or finding a different way to incentivize you.

Like, I'm working on this song right now, nine times out of 10, I, I will, I will be able to write a feature verse or something like that, send it back and it's approved immediately. But I have had to go back to the drawing board on this particular song. It's hard to want to bring myself to it and focus on it because I've been getting negative feedback about it.

So like now, you know, it's, it's just like, I don't really, I don't want to do it, you know, and it's, it's like top of mind today. And so like, how do I bring myself to focus about it? I mean, I could tell myself that like, you know, by the time you're done with this process, you'll be a better songwriter.

Leah: You're gonna be much better at handling rejection.

Ofosu: Gosh. Yeah. But, you know, just, just to find some way to incentivize my way, myself to focus on, uh, on a challenging task, you know, that, that there's a reward that will come. Uh, and there's like some embedded goodness. On the music note, one thing that does help me focus is listening to, um, so I love listening to Alice Coltrane.

I love listening to like, certain kinds of jazz music to help me kind of drop into a focused place. Music is definitely something that helps me. And this new focus music on the Balance app, maybe I'll put that on in the morning and just drop me into focus mode. 

Leah: Yeah. And they've done some clinical studies about it to say that it improves people's focus.

We talked to the creator of this new music in the Balance app. And his name's Adam Hewitt. He's the CEO of Evokedd response. It's a company where they study how music affects the brain. And they compose music based on that. So here's what he said. The music makes him feel like.

Adam: The thing is about our technology is that it's not subtle.

Honestly it feels like you're on Adderall, you know, and I've, I've been on Adderall before and, uh, so I know the feeling and you feel good. Your mood lifts, distractions go away. You feel like whatever you're doing, as boring as it may be, is the most important thing in the world to you at the mall. That's the key to the flow state.

Getting it anywhere, anytime you need it. 

Ofosu: Audio Adderall. That is a lot from just music. Uh, yeah. Uh, yeah, it's a big statement. Okay, well, here's how he explains what it's actually doing to your brain. 

Adam: So, um, we compose music from the ground up with neuroscience based principle. And using all the studies that we've done, we, uh, create a track that affects the brain the way we want it to.

Every single note that you play elicits what's called, um, a, an Evokedd response, and we've identified around 12 different variables in music that actually affect cognition. And, and we've got to a point where we can even target areas of the brain. Uh, a good example of targeting an area would be Staying Alive, but, you know, everybody knows Staying Alive, right?

Uh, Staying Alive starts playing at the mall. You just watch everybody. Everybody starts stepping to Staying Alive, they start moving. It's just out subconsciously, cause that means it's actually affecting the motor areas of your brain more than other music would. So that's a very simple example of how we can target areas of the brain with just one of these variables.

Leah: Yeah. So this is a lot to take in. I mean it's a, like you said, it's a big statement cause it is like what a piece of music can make me focus. It looks like there are some studies about this and here's what they found in a, in summary. Basically there is an FMRI study done where they hooked people up, hooked their brains up, it was a double blind study.

They had 800 people participating it in it. And they were able to, uh, see that people were able to focus on a hard task much longer when they were listening to this music versus just being in silence or listening to some other style of music. Uh, so it actually showed that they could improve their focus and speed of work and their overall performance by 40% after 20 minutes of listening. 

Ofosu: Makes me think that I should put this on when my kids are doing homework and flipping and flopping all over the place because they don't want to do it.

Like, let's just pop this on, get it done, and keep it moving. 

Leah: Will you report back on that? I wanna hear how it goes. 

Ofosu: Some takeaways from our conversation about focus are for me, it's just to, I, I, I love your suggestion, Leah, to try to reframe your thinking about whatever it is that you've got to focus on.

If it doesn't feel juicy, if it doesn't feel fun. You know, how can you incentivize yourself, you know, how can you shift your way of thinking about it to, to make it more interesting? And to appreciate it more. I know something that I definitely want to do actually is to, you know, clean up my space a little bit, just to feel more at ease in it.

Um, and then of course, practicing. Simple acts of mindfulness, like noticing um, just right now, you know, the position your body's in noticing uh, the sounds that are happening around you, the, the feeling of the air on your skin. So, those are my takeaways that we can find little mind hacks or, um, or something physical to do, um, or simply using the power of mindfulness to bring us into focus and maybe, and, and perhaps this music will help us too.

So yeah, certainly, certainly seems to have helped a lot of people. 

Leah: So to hear the focus music that Adam talked about, you can go to the Balance app and look for Flow State and let us know if helped you focus. 

Ofosu: And huge thank you to Adam Shaa Hewitt, the CEO of Evokedd Response for his time. And we'll be back next week or another conversation.

So until then, don't forget to be kind to yourself. Take care and peace. 

Leah: Have a beautiful week. 

Okay, offshoot in high school. I took a typing class. I don't know if they still do that in high schools probably, but, um, I got so into it that really when people would talk to me, you would see my fingers moving because I would try to type out what they were saying as fast as they were saying it.

And I would try to type out what I was saying as fast as I was saying it to see if like my fingers could move and like type what I was saying. That is a weird thing about me.