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How Music Can Help You Create Healthy Habits

Leadership, Mental Health, Resilience | 0 comments

Did you know that music can help you create and maintain healthy habits?

Even if you are experiencing grief, trauma or sudden, unexpected life transitions, you can use music to help you get some relief while you sneak in and maintain healthy habits.


Our brains love and seek out familiar patterns. Music brings us patterns that interact with our own human patterns.

Music is full of patterns and so are we. We’re like walking music boxes without even realizing it. Here are some of the patterns in music and how they interact with some of the patterns of our bodies and our lives, to help us create and maintain healthy habits.


Music can affect your human rhythms, like your heartbeat, breaths per minute, walking gait, Circadian rhythms and even your daily routines. Why do you think guided meditations set to relaxing music can work so well to calm you down and get you to sleep?

Want to calm your nerves while maintaining a new habit? Listen to music that has a slower beat than your heartbeat, or slower than your anger. Want to feel more energized or maybe your new habit has to do with movement? Listen to music that makes you want to tap your foot or get up and move.


You want to remember your new habit? Make a little affirmation or reminder song, or pick a song with lyrics about whatever habit you’re focusing on. Sing along! Or just say the words out loud to yourself. One of my clients was able to change her life and she swore by just singing one of my songs and playing it over and over. “Be Here Now” is one of the lyrics and it’s the title of the song she used. You might just find some new or old favourite music if you go hunting for appropriate rhyming lyrics to help you.


Of course, in order to form and maintain a habit, you need to practice it. That takes repetition. Music repeats itself in many ways, often including a chorus, so if you pick the right song, you will have the best “earworm” of all: music that keeps on reminding you to stick to your new habit! Here’s a lovely example of using repetition in music to help yourself develop a new habit: If you want to “fix your sleep,” as my daughter calls it, try waking up to Bob Marley’s “3 Little Birds,” or even better, make it your alarm. “Rise up this morning, smile at the rising sun” and “every little thing is gonna be all right” could be your earworm for the whole day. Now your brain is rewiring itself to get up early and also to trust that it will be okay. Much better than repeating old habits by deffault, right? Create your own body memory defaults.


The melody is the core of any song. It’s what makes you want to sing along (or not). Indigenous hand drum songs are like one big chorus on repeat. While not all Indigenous hand drum songs have words, most have a melody that is repeated, usually 4 or 7 times.

Think of one of your favourite songs of any genre right now and see if you can sing or hum the melody. I’ll bet you’ve got it but if you haven’t, go listen to it! Sing along! The melody carries the song. Without it, there is no song. The melody keeps us listening because again, it repeats. It also takes us on a musical and emotional journey. My song “Medicine Song” starts off in the past with me dealing with grief but by the end of the song, there is a sense of peace. Why? The medicine that helped me most with my grief after losing my dad was my medicine songs.


If some part of a song is off key, how does it feel in your body? How does your body respond? We are wired to recognize harmony as well as dissonance. Unfortunately, your brain might look at your “comfort zone” and your old habits as harmony, and treat your new healthier habits as dissonance because remember, the brain loves its familiar patterns.

We are living through a time of a lot of cognitive dissonance and disharmony worldwide, in service to the economy over people. Colonization has taken not only Indigenous peoples but everyone out of harmony and forced us to live in a song full of dissonance for hundreds of years. It’s why we crave comfort. We’ve been sold a lie and now that the lie is falling apart and our planet is struggling along with us, we need to get back to being in harmony with the parts of ourselves, each other and Mother Earth.

No matter your background, we need to find our own sources of harmony within and around us, or healthy habits will be broken far too easily, while unhealthy habits can have free reign and take over.

When you’re in harmony with yourself, you’re going to feel aligned. If you’re grieving or in pain, it’s almost like the part(s) of you feeling the pain are experiencing dissonance. They are out of harmony with the rest of the body. What if that new healthy habit is simply a cool new harmony to help your body remember its song?

After I found out my son had died, I couldn’t do anything at all except sit through the shock and waves of grief. To get myself out of the shock, I tried doing things I loved, but the one thing that worked to bring me out of the shock and back to my body was listening to music. I put on some of my favourite music and my body responded. Maybe that’s why I made a whole album for grief called Picking Up the Pieces after losing my son.

Brain Hack for Resistance

Passively listening to music is still helpful, as it can change your energy very quickly and easily, but if you pair music with mindfulness practices, you will have far better results. Guess what? Singing, dancing, saying rhymes, moving your body to music, or even actively listening to a song – these are all mindfulness practices!

That’s why music is so awesome. You can bypass the parts of your brain that like to talk you out of new things and get you back in your (dis)comfort zone. Your brain is in love with (and full of) patterns. Music is chock full of patterns and if you give your brain a favourite song that resonates with it and with you, it’s going to let you sing, hum or dance along, even if the words are about your new habit. Meanwhile, your brain will literally rewire itself to include that new habit as long as you keep playing that song until you “get it.”

Once your body responds to this new harmony/habit, your brain will accept it (because it feels good and safe) and your body memory will remember it for you. You just have to keep playing that song along with whatever mindfulness practice works for you.

Developing new habits means rewiring the brain and body and your connection to both. Music is loaded with elements that help you to do exactly that.

All right, enough reading, now go put on some music and sing!

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About Brenda MacIntyre

About Brenda MacIntyre

Known by her indigenous name Medicine Song Woman, Brenda MacIntyre has shared her evocative melodic voice and fusion of reggae, rap and indigenous hand drum healing music with appreciative audiences of 30 to 3,000 across North America. The Toronto-based Juno Award-winning singer has been featured nationally on MuchMusic, CTV, CP24, APTN and most recently, Global and the front page of the Toronto Star.

Powered by her grief from losing her son to murder in 2016, Brenda MacIntyre pours her soulful voice over a confluence of indigenous hand drum healing, soft rap and conscious roots reggae in her album “Picking Up the Pieces,” released in September 2019.

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