There are a lot of apps that try to leverage mindfulness, music and nature sounds so as to improve focus, productivity, help with healthy sleep as well as alleviate anxiety and help to overcome depression. Here are my picks:
Brain.fm is music designed for the brain to enhance focus, relaxation, meditation, naps and sleep within 10 – 15 minutes of use.
I am a big fan of house music. Brain.fm is kind of like house music without the bass drops.
In my experience, brain.fm does help to focus.
I wouldn’t call it pleasant – and it has given me a headache once or twice. The music isn’t composed by a human, instead an AI engine does the creative work. An interesting and scary thought.
Artificial intelligence is an expectedly dystopian composer. Listening to it, I get visions of abandoned Soviet steel factories at twilight – potentially infested with zombies. It does help with focus though!
Perhaps this sort of music makes the thing you’re meant to be focusing on more attractive – and that’s the real reason it helps to focus! I am sure the guys at brain.fm will figure out how to cheer that algorithm up with time.
Their research isn’t very useful at present as there is conflict of interest. All the same, they were able to show some promising results:
In short, brain.fm claims that brains like rhythmic things, attention is rhythmic and they try to align this so as to increase focus.
Here is some background neuroscience.
The dynamic attending theory is the idea is that attention is modulated dynamically to optimise sensory processing at expected intervals set by a rhythm.
Many natural stimuli and actions are rhythmically organised, such as speech, walking – and music. The brain is able to predict the occurrence of subsequent events of interest and optimise their processing. When a rhythm is present in the environment, neuronal oscillations can synchronise to this external rhythmic stream. Again, no real conclusive research is currently available to back up their findings, but here is what they’ve been able to show:
The science part is a work in progress, but it looks good at the moment. Brain.fm is available as an app or you can try it for free on the website, however, you do have to give your email address.
Pause claims to pause the active mind and lower the mental workload, release stress and regain focus. It is inspired by the practice of Tai Chi, and it is all about the here and now.
You need keep moving your finger on the screen following a little circle in a lava lamp-like environment – and it provides feedback. If you’re good at following the circle, it tells you “Good”, “Continue at a slow pace”, etc. There are different difficulty levels. It also plays soothing sounds. The sounds aren’t dystopian, rather they are futuristic.
If you’ve seen the film Her, about a guy who fell love with an operating system (a very fancy Siri), it’s kind of like that – pleasant, full of light, but also a bit eery.
There are birds singing in the background. It is relaxing for sure, but it’s also kind of.. lonely or something. If you enjoy futuristic things, it’s for you. It’s 1.99 to get on the AppStore.
3. White Noise
White Noise is free and a pretty unassuming useful app. It’s recordings of things like the Amazon jungle, a fireplace, rain, thunder… It does exactly what it says on the tin and does it well. I know it’s not technically music, but it serves a similar purpose.
Pro tip: there are few things as calming as the sound of a fireplace. We’ve been conditioned for millennia to feel safe and connected while hearing that sound.
Another pro tip: the sound of barking induces anxiety. Again, conditioning plays its role.
Having said that, Calm does it all too and much much more. You may want to read about the best guided meditations for beginners to find out more.
4. Get work done music
Get work done music is a little indie gem of a page (you have to open it in a browser, it’s not an app per se). Again, it is missing the veneer of the apps listed at the top. It is basically a set of curated electronic dance music tracks from Soundcloud. I thought Spotify was great, but whoever chooses these tracks really knows what it takes to focus – or get into a full on trance. I would especially recommend this to anyone who likes mindful exercise.
Running, spinning or HIIT to this is a completely different experience to your normal playlist. This little app will fill you with energy better than any amount of caffeine. Unadulterated bass drops ahead.
Focus.fm tells us it is beats for work, productivity, flow. In reality, it is sweet old house, gentle EDM with mellow bass and generally pleasant vibes.
Some tracks are painfully 1990s. I can just see a girl in a glittery tank top and platforms.
It is beautifully simple, it doesn’t make any scientific claims. It didn’t really help me focus as such, but it’s a nice blast from the past.
6. The piano
OK, I know this is cheating, but really, none of these beat Frederick Chopin.
Have a mindful Monday all 😉
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