When you need to be creative and get things done at work, the ideal state of mind is a “stream of consciousness” state known as flow.
Flow is a technical term from psychology for an optimal state of consciousness where you feel your best and perform your best. It is the ultimate performance enhancer. But for many of us, flow is an elusive state. That’s because the allure of multitasking and distraction is so difficult to resist in our hyperconnected age.
Since flow always follows focus, you need to set clear goals and eliminate all distractions so you can spend long periods of time working on a single task. To get in this mental zone necessary for sustained concentration, I find that listening to instrumental music using headphones is very effective.
Music is a powerful flow enhancer because it literally lights up both hemispheres of your brain and it releases a constant stream of dopamine, which increases focus and makes what you are doing feel more enjoyable.
The best kind of flow music for most people is lyric-free instrumental music with a consistent beat. The main reason instrumental music is so effective is that it engages the emotional centers of your brain while songs with lyrics also activate the verbal reasoning areas of your brain, which can interfere with your focus.
When I need to relax the chattering of my mind and get into a “stream of consciousness” flow state for doing inspired work, I turn to these instrumental albums for getting into flow:
1. Lindsey Stirling – Lindsey Stirling
Dubstep violinist Lindsey Stirling is a YouTube sensation with 1.2 billion+ views. She skipped the typical record label route and built her loyal following online by making amazing videos. Her entire self-titled album is phenomenal but the classical dubstep violin song “Crystalize” is my favorite track for getting pumped up.
2. Brian Eno – Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks
The master of ambient sounds, Brian Eno crafts sonic soundscapes that are ideal for immersing yourself in reading and studying. In particular, I find that “An Ending (Ascent)” has the peaceful beauty of a religious hymn and it inspires me every time I listen to it.
3. Mike Oldfield – Tubular Bells
This classic album has sold over 20 million copies since it was released in 1973. Tubular Bells also has the distinction of being the first release from Sir Richard Branson’s startup at the time, Virgin Records. When I’m feeling uninspired, I’ll listen to a session of Tubular Bells to reignite my creative spark.
4. Hans Zimmer – The Inception Soundtrack
Hans Zimmer is my favorite Hollywood musical composer. He has crafted brilliant soundtracks for epic films such as Inception, Gladiator, The Pirates of the Caribbean, The Lion King and Interstellar. I find the slow build and epic finale of the song “Time” from Inception to be one of his greatest sonic masterpieces.
5. Robert Miles – Dreamland
I first heard the Robert Miles song “Children” while driving home in a friend’s car from a rave when I was a teenager. Ever since then, I’ve listening to this hypnotically beautiful song when I want to relax and clear my mind. I find his whole Dreamland album is great music for getting in a creative state of mind.
6. Tycho – Awake
Tycho seamlessly blends ambient, electronica and post-rock melodies into hypnotic soundscapes that I find are great for helping me get into the zone when I’m working. The title track from his most recent album is a stroke of mellow genius.
7. Booker T. & The M.G.s – Green Onions
This instrumental album is full of guitar classics that mix R&B, soul, rock and funk. Booker T. Jones’ tuneful organ playing provides the background for each track and the guitar riffs on this album are simply legendary. The groovy organ of the title track “Green Onions” has made it one of the most memorable rock instrumentals of all time.
8. Afro Celt Sound System – Volume 1: Sound Magic
Afro Celt Sound System fuses modern dance rhythms with traditional Celtic and African music. “Dark Moon, High Tide” is one of my favorite songs by them. It’s a hauntingly beautiful fusion of Celtic bagpipes, flutes, guitar and percussion rhythms from Africa.
9. Explosions in the Sky – The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place
Explosions In The Sky are an American post-rock band with narratively styled guitar instrumentals, which they refer to as “cathartic mini-symphonies”. Their songs usually start out quietly and then slowly build in intensity to soaring climatic crescendos.
10. God Is An Astronaut – A Moment of Stillness
These guys are an Irish post-rock band that brilliantly mixes electronic music and elements of space rock. If you love guitar-infused sonic landscapes then A Moment of Stillness is sure to blow you away with its sonic guitar wizardry.
What Gets You In The Zone?
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What are your favorite instrumental album? Let everyone know in the comments.