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The Science-Backed Ways Music Affects Your Brain and Productivity

Why tunes help you focus, tunes to help you focus, and news you’ll want to tune into.

“After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.” ― Aldous Huxley

Dear Reader,

There you sit again: browser open in front of you, the hum of your office in the background, your to-do list sprawled out on your notepad.

And… you don’t feel like doing anything.

Faced with this lack of motivation, you start to experiment:

You try working offline. You try the pomodoro method. You take that walk around the block, as suggested by everyone. No major improvements. You’re not being as productive as you should, and you need to fix that… fast.

So you put on your headphones, pull up your favorite pop song or ambient rain mix and listen. Instantly, you can focus on those boring tasks on your to-do list (looking at you, email).

And now you got one of them done. Then another. Now you’re bobbing your head and in the zone.

When nothing else seems to help make us productive, the right music can supercharge us. But in terms of our brain and work, what does music do and why does it help us?

Over the next few newsletters, we will share why music affects our brains, explain how it boosts our thinking, and link up some of our favorite tunes that help us focus. We hope you enjoy!

(Continue the conversation. Share your favorite jams by replying to this email or hitting us up on social @TheMissionHQ.) 🎶🎶

Science, Music, and Your Brain

Studies about how music affects our brains and emotions have been ongoing since the 1950s, when physicians began to notice the benefits of music therapy in European and U.S. hospital patients. However, humans have been using music to communicate thoughts and feelings to one another for centuries.

Today, research suggests that music can help relieve negative emotions like stress, anxiety, and depression. It can even decrease instances of confusion and delirium in elderly medical patients recovering from surgery. Furthermore, research says that listening to happy or sad music can make us perceive others as being happy or sad, respectively. All of these findings make it clear that, for better or worse, music’s impact on our emotions is very real.

In terms of how music affects the brain, we can turn to a specific niche of research called neuromusicology, which explores how our nervous systems react to music. Basically, music enters the inner ear and engages many different areas of our brains, some of which are used for other cognitive functions, as well. (If you want to know the specifics of this detailed process, Dawn Kent explains it neatly in her thesis.)

Somewhat surprisingly, the number of brain areas activated by music varies from person to person, depending on your musical training and your personal experiences with music. Therefore, how music impacts your ability to concentrate or feel a certain emotion can be expected to vary from person to person, too.

However, there are some general brain and mood patterns that modern music research reveals, and these can help us decide what kinds of music to listen to at work. In tomorrow’s letter, we will explain exactly what those are and share more of the science behind music. Stay tuned!

Hot Off The Press 💪

New on Mission Daily. Jacob Weisberg is the CEO of Pushkin Industries, a company he co-founded with Malcolm Gladwell. He predicts that the media of the future will continue to become a more audio-focused experience and sees podcasting playing a vital role in that future. But, that vision won’t happen on its own; it takes growing and experimenting with the current market to find what works. On this episode, Jacob and Steph discuss audio storytelling, what’s in store for the future of the podcast industry, and their tips for cultivating creativity.

Mission News 🗞

This section features the best of what the team at The Mission HQ is reading, watching, listening to, playing, doing, and meditating on. 🤗

Reading 📚

🌍 If you enjoyed yesterday’s and last week’s newsletters on the miracles of mathematics, then you’ll probably like this article, too: The Universal Law That Aims Time’s Arrow

“Over the last few years, Berges and a network of colleagues have uncovered a surprising answer. The researchers have discovered simple, so-called “universal” laws governing the initial stages of change in a variety of systems consisting of many particles that are far from thermal equilibrium. Their calculations indicate that these systems — examples include the hottest plasma ever produced on Earth and the coldest gas, and perhaps also the field of energy that theoretically filled the universe in its first split-second — begin to evolve in time in a way described by the same handful of universal numbers, no matter what the systems consist of.”

📈 In more physics news, a debate about the rate of the universe’s expansionis creating what scientists are calling a “crisis.”

🏢 A skyscraper that acts as a movable farm… fact or fiction? Like something out of a sci-fi novel, architects have developed the Mashambas Skyscraperwhich could help bring modern farming techniques to rural populations.

Food For Thought 🤔

📉 Should “progress” be its own field of study? From The Atlantic:

“Progress itself is understudied. By ‘progress,’ we mean the combination of economic, technological, scientific, cultural, and organizational advancement that has transformed our lives and raised standards of living over the past couple of centuries. For a number of reasons, there is no broad-based intellectual movement focused on understanding the dynamics of progress, or targeting the deeper goal of speeding it up. We believe that it deserves a dedicated field of study. We suggest inaugurating the discipline of ‘Progress Studies.’

“Before digging into what Progress Studies would entail, it’s worth noting that we still need a lot of progress. We haven’t yet cured all diseases; we don’t yet know how to solve climate change; we’re still a very long way from enabling most of the world’s population to live as comfortably as the wealthiest people do today; we don’t yet understand how best to predict or mitigate all kinds of natural disasters; we aren’t yet able to travel as cheaply and quickly as we’d like; we could be far better than we are at educating young people. The list of opportunities for improvement is still extremely long.”

Listening 🎧

🎺 For funky and relaxing music that’s great to jam to while working, check out the TrailHeads. Start with “Backflips And Explosions.”


🙊 In need of a good laugh? We’ve got just the show. Recommended by two of Mission’s Comedians in Residence, watch Derry Girls on Netflix.

“Amidst the political conflict of Northern Ireland in the 1990s, five high school students square off with the universal challenges of being a teenager.”

Sign Off 📚

Thanks for reading! 🤗

Over the past few weeks, we’ve been using newsletter series to dive deep into a topic. Have you been enjoying them? Let us know by replying to this email or hitting us up on socials @TheMissionHQ!

Thanks for tuning into the August 13, 2019 edition of Mission Daily Newsletter! Like what you’ve been reading (or hearing)? Get jammin’ with us.



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