Why I listened to only classical music for a month

Headphones on a bed

Image: Daniel Gaffey

By Eric Koelma | Dare List Dad

I'm the kind of person who always has a song going around in my head. As a musician in my (very) spare time, I find myself inadvertently tapping or whistling along to anything. This often leads to one song being stuck in my head for hours or even days at a time.

I also listen to a lot of music (while driving, building websites for clients or just generally around the house). In fact, I struggle to recall a time when there hasn't been a song in my head (like right now it's a Jason Mraz song).

I had been listening to a 'Pop Hits' album on Spotify for a good week or so straight. I noticed myself rattling off some rubbish pop song lyrics that were now in my head - a lot of which are overtly over-sexualised and/or promiscuous in nature.

Not something I wanted in my subconscious or inadvertedly coming out of my mouth.

When I took a step back, I noticed that this music had a more widespread effect:

  • It made me irritable
  • It put certain images in my head (that I didn't want); and
  • I found myself generally feeling snappier and short with people.

And so, in the nature of the dare list, I decided to do a bit of an experiment on myself. If pop music could stick those things in my head, what would changing it do?

​And so, for an entire month I decided to listen only to classical music. Some days I wanted to poke my eyes with a fork at listening to more classical! But I stuck it out and found 5 really interesting results:

1. The overwhelming calmness

Oh my gosh, it was like unlocking the secret to calmness! By removing a droning beat from my musical diet, I no longer had a tempo to my everyday movements. Rather, I felt like life was more free flowing in a 'rise and fall' kind of way.

Sounds kind of hippy, right? But for someone who's always tapping out a beat with my hands or feet (or both), not having music trigger the tapping meant that I was no longer on "go go go" mode all the time.

Classical music has a calming aura to it anyway. I I often played it quietly in the background as I did other things - like reading, cooking and eating dinner. Eating with classical music in the background feels more romantic and restaurant-y too.

I didn't tell Grace about this dare, but she thought it was nice that I was suddenly listening to classical the few times I put music on. ​

2. So much clarity

Like I said, the pop music made me feel like I had rubbish in my head​ from the lyrics. Cutting that out and playing only instrumental music meant that the crap lyrics were no longer in my head. Beautiful!

The clearer (and cleaner) mind allowed me to do better critical thinking, brainstorming and - with added calmness - feel like I reduced the stress around decision making.​

I spent a lot more time with classical music and a cup of tea, reflecting on purpose, drive and motivation.

3. Classical music is intense and kinda psycho

Yep, that's a bit different hey! Taking a leap into a music genre for an entire month meant that I listened to songs I've never heard before. I realised that Beethoven's an absolute shredder. Seriously, just listen to the first 1 minute of Sonata No.21 in C Major.

I found that classical music is really dramatic - I'd always considered it background peaceful music, but there were songs in there that woke our sleeping baby!

Beethoven's Sonate No.21 in C Major - epic piano piece - just listen to the first minute at least.

4. The biggest breakthroughs came when I was sick of classical music

At times throughout the month, I questioned why I made the decision to even do this. There were times - like driving on the freeway in the rain on a Friday afternoon - where the last thing I wanted to do was listen to classical for fear of falling asleep.

Other times, I just wanted a beat back in my life.

I persevered though and these turned out to be great breakthroughs in clarity and calmness, and more generally, when I put the same kind of logic into a wider perspective, it gave me clarity on my life purpose.

See, sometimes things aren't comfortable after taking a leap. But perseverence is so valuable to growth.

It was having the tangible goal to reach that made the result both quantifiable and purpose-driven. Though this wasn't a massive commitment, I dared myself to a month. And so when you're in the deep end, cursing at that moment, that's when you need to stop, get some perspective, and realign to 'WHY' you're doing it.

5. Not telling anyone was the best motivation

I'm all for accountability, but sometimes it can be mistaken for either false humility (that kind of subtle brag about what you're up to) or false promises. When it comes to smaller, not-so-newsworthy challenges for myself I find it's better to just get in there and do it. By not seeking the reaction of people until you can tell them the result, it also magnifies the personal aspect of the journey. You're not doing it for anyone else. Just you.

Where to from here? - An actionable exercise

So there you go, 5 things I learned. Will I continue to listen to only classic then?

No, I like a bit of variety.

But it'll stay on my 'to play' list. I really enjoyed the calming nature of the songs (except when they were dramatic!) and I know now that it seems to be better for me mentally.

It does make me question though, if music can subconsciously influence my behaviour and mindset, what else in life holds us back or pollutes our minds from having clarity in vision and purpose?​

What assumptions are you making?

Let's question some right now.​

Ask yourself this question: What are some of the embedded assumptions in my life?

Take 5 minutes with a piece of paper and a pen (yes, old school - no distractions like on the device you're reading this from) and write down 10 things you currently take for granted but don't necessarily need to.

I took my own advice and did it too. And because I like being open and transparent with you guys, here's my 10:

  • My family and friends aren't my target market for my business so therefore I shouldn't talk to them about my business/es
  • It takes our whole family eating healthier for me to eat healthier
  • I don't exercise mush at the moment because I don't have time
  • I should be fitter than I am
  • I need more regular clients before I hire a bigger team in my business (instead, I should do it and force myself to get more business)
  • I need to fully validate an idea before it can be launched
  • I need to have all the skills to be able to even teach the basics
  • If I'm home more I'll be a better dad
  • Watching football is limiting my ability to get stuff done (not true - sometimes it can just be for the enjoyment of it!)
  • I'm logically creative and not very arty

These are the limiting beliefs holding me back right now. I'm daring myself to go and change them, one at a time.

What are your top 10? Comment below. Why the heck not?

Eric Koelma

Eric is husband to Grace and Dad to Leo, exploring the world and doing everything he can to align the travel itinerary with world sporting events (hello Tour de France!). He's all logical precision and epic decision-making. Eric's also a rare kind of super-human who works best between 9pm and 2am, and still manages to get up early and chase that wilful toddler, WITHOUT coffee (he hates the stuff!)

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