Tune in, Turn on, & Drop out of Mental Toughness

music and mental toughness

I love music….In fact, I’m listening to music as I write.

I couldn’t imagine NOT listening to music in a class with my trainer Sean Bartram at Core Pilates & Fitness.

In fact, I love music so much, one of my future posts will be on the top 5 albums of all-time.

Again, I LOVE MUSIC!! 

The point of writing this is to clear up a big misconception about music, mental toughness, and performance. I understand if you don’t want to look behind the curtain and not read any further…I’m bearing bad, but truthful news…

By all means, let’s face it, unless you’re trying to be the best you can be, then keep the ear buds in and keep listening to music. My wife doesn’t even listen to me when it comes to this. But, she forgets that when she ran a PR in a 1/2 marathon, she dropped the dependence on music.


Music DOES NOT Build Your Mental Toughness (Sorry)

Recent news stories want to tell you otherwise- Like this one in NPR.  

1. Music ONLY helps with motivation-  The reason why we dig the sounds during any type of spin class, practice, or workout session is that it makes us feel good and we use the music! Blasting some good tunes with high RPM’s gets us moving faster (for a short period). It helps us gets the workout in! It’s distracts us…That’s motivation! Put on the arm band and get going… Motivation…

2. Music does NOT help with focus- When fatigue sets in, or we are under pressure, our focus must come naturally. What comes naturally must first be done with due diligence. Hence, we perform like we train.

We will not have the correct type of focus or even know what thoughts will enter our mind unless we have trained for it.

Only training without music will force us to focus when the pain hits or when we are under pressure.

3. Music distracts you- We are distracted all day anyways, and you want another distraction? Stay focused on focusing! Stay with your pain until your pain reveals its gift. How can you possibly try to get better physically and mentally while living up that podcast episode? Listen to music while you drive or mow the grass, not while training.

4. You’re Now an Addict- The thought of training without music scares you? Addicts can’t go without, and you can’t either. You’ve become dependent on another electrical device. If that’s the case, you don’t own the device, it owns you!

5.  Turn on, Tune in, & Drop out- We are either checking in or checking out. If we’ve got music going and we are trying to do our best, we can’t check-in appropriately because we have been checking out the whole time. That’s the lie, we think we are focusing, but not really. Don’t believe me? Riddle me this, why do you turn the music down in your car when you need to focus? 

6. When Michael Phelps does it-  Phelps and many other greats listen to music “before” they compete. Check out my post on 7 ways to crush your pre-performance routine.  However, you don’t see him donning the underwater i-pods, nor do you see those at the front of races rocking the tunes either. There’s a reason.

When reading and re-writing this article, I turned the music off. If you find an error, I probably turned my station back on. 


Dr. Rob Bell

Dr. Rob Bell is a Sport Psychology Coach. His company DRB & associates is based in Indianapolis.  Some clients have included: University of Notre Dame, Marriott, and Walgreens. Check out the most recent book on Mental Toughness- Don’t Should on Your Kids: Build Their Mental Toughness   

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