Music In Recovery: Hitting the Creativity Gym

The Problem

They sat the kids down in front of a math problem with a timer. “Hit the timer when you either quit, or solve the problem,” were the instructions, but none of the researchers told the kids that they were staring at an unsolvable problem (such is often the way with psychological research studies). The kids were divided into two groups. One group played music regularly and one did not.

The results? The kids with music training stuck with the problem 11 TIMES longer than the kids who had no training before quitting. 

When I read this story in “Change Anything; the New Science of Personal Success” by Kerry Patterson et al, I was amazed. What was going on here? How could the kids tolerate struggling with a problem THAT much longer?  How did MUSIC give them the ability to hang in there and persist in the face of obvious frustration?

For the past 12 years, I’ve treated thousands of clients with music as a board-certified music therapist.  What I’ve found is that there are five ways music helps a person in recovery that go way beyond simply elevating our mood. In this blog post, we look at hitting the Creativity Gym and look at how engaging in music makes us more creative, and why that matters to a person in recovery.

BTW – In case you missed last week’s blog post about safely escaping stress, you can read it HERE.

Why is Creativity Important?

Turns out that music learning builds what is called ‘frustration tolerance’ in clinical terms, but in recovery language, it helps us avoid ‘the f*ck-its!’ Anyone in recovery has faced these before; that moment when you are out of patience, out of will power, and frustrated by having to deal with life on life’s terms.

The problem is, The Promises don’t promise us a life free from problems. The Promises tell us that we’ll be able to handle situations that used to baffle us. Let me offer that one of the key muscles we all use to solve those problems… is creativity. Most of us think of creativity as it relates to the arts, but we are all creative, regardless of whether we consider ourselves artistic.

In fact, the act of recovery is in itself an act of creativity. We are creating new ways to deal with old ‘hurts, habits, and hangups’ as they say in Celebrate Recovery. Our lifestyle, our clothes, how we wear our hair are all acts of creativity. Our medium is life itself. Creativity is the muscle we use to solve problems.  When we are faced with a roadblock in life, we are tasked with thinking differently about the problem.  If insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting different results, sanity is knowing that if you want a different result, you need to do something different. You need to get creative.  

One way of hitting the creativity gym is by engaging in music-making, especially music learning. Learning music is solving a problem.  If I play guitar, the problem is how and where do I move my fingers on my left hand while strumming or picking with my right hand at the same time to produce the melody or chords my ears recognize? That’s a problem!

How Does Music Help?

Because music stimulates every region of the brain, the brain harnesses all its focus, patience, and creativity to solve the problem called playing chords.  When we do this, the same part of the brain that is responsible for frustration tolerance develops and gets stronger.  We become better able to think differently about a person in our life because problems often come in the form of people.  Since we can’t change them, all we can do is get creative with how we’re going to think and what we’re going to do differently to better live in harmony… no pun intended.

Want to Learn More?

Speaking of hitting the creativity gym, one of the speakers in our upcoming Stress Elimination Summit: Recovery Edition, is going to talk about art and creativity and how it can help in recovery. You can register HERE. The best part? It’s totally FREE!

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