This morning I woke after only a few hours of sleep. I’d run from one engagement into the hotel restroom to change quickly, jump in the car and head to the airport in time to catch the last flight out for another city. That flight took off late due to weather at our destination, and by the time I arrived at my hotel, bedraggled and exhausted, hung up my clothes and set my alarm, there wasn’t much time before I was on again. It was a new client, a new set of needs, a new objective, and I had to be on. I had to be at 100%, even if my body — and mind — was nowhere near that.

On the speaking circuit, presenting to audiences of 50 to 1500 people, energy is always critical. As a speaker my job is succinct and focused. There is no room to show fatigue or lack of anything but focus and complete commitment.

My background is in the world of military aviation as one of the first women to fly the Apache in the U.S. Army after the lifting of combat exclusion. I served eight years on three continents, and transitioned through an MBA and an MFA to work in the corporate world, and ultimately began writing and speaking about leadership, story and grit. In the military, I fought fatigue by virtue of being in my 20s (it really is easier then), something we called “crew rest,” or a requirement for rest between missions, even if that didn’t always translate to sleep, and a laser-focus on the mission. Twenty years later, I have to show the same focus for different reasons, and I need new techniques.

Polson in front of her Apache helicopter in Korea

In addition to preparation, rehearsal and routines, my secret has nothing to do with the military, or even flying. It harkens back instead to my college dorm. I remember getting ready to go out with my roommate some nights and cranking the music. It was all about getting in the mood to party, and for me AC/DC did the trick. After a long week of studying and not enough sleep, I often enjoyed more low key time, but if we were going out, I needed to find my energy. I found it with music.

Why? Science shows that art activates our brains more than any other activity, and music more than any form of art. Participating in music has the biggest effect, but even listening makes a tremendous difference.

This video gives you visuals: music releases a chemical in our brains called dopamine, which you all know of as a feel good chemical, heightening pleasure and reducing anxiety.

In The Globe and Mail, professor of neuroscience Mark Penske reports that “One of music’s energizing effects comes from its ability to engage the body’s sympathetic nervous system. The activation of this system readies the body for action whenever we face a challenge in our environment.” He continues, “Music also affects the co-ordination of activity within and across different parts of the brain. Studies examining patterns of electrical activity across the brain suggest that synchronization of brain signals is important for linking perceptual, cognitive and motor processes.”

How does music do all of this? Dr. Nina Kraus of Northwestern University suggests that “Our bodies are made to be moved by music and move to it.” In this video she shows how it is that music enters our consciousness through “bottom up processing,” or thorough our brain stem, which some neuroscientists believe to be the seat of sentience.

Convinced yet? Undoubtedly you have your own anecdotal examples. When did you use music to get ready for something? Have you used it to help motivate yourself in physical activities?

So what’s my song? Laugh if you must, but before I walk out of my hotel room, dressed for success and ready to rock it, I play Kenny Loggins’ The Danger Zone (AC/DC is still on my gym mix though). Top Gun, anyone? I press play and feel it immediately. It’s both the music and the routine. My energy levels, regardless of lack of sleep or other stressors, skyrocket. I’m in the zone. I’m focused, and ready to go.

My husband has another favorite, a recent find: I Was Born, by Hanson. I’m loving it, too (who says you have to have only one?)

What’s your fight song? Pick one today, and turn up the volume!

Call to action:

Join The Grit Project private Facebook Page and share what you use to get motivated. What propels you into the challenges of your day? Stay tuned for the Spotify list!

Get updates from The Grit Project (and an invitation to Grit: The Challenge!) at shannonpolson.com.

LEADERSHIP. CREATIVITY. GRIT. The Grit Factor AVAILABLE NOW: https://amzn.to/2GJOnJw Founder: thegritinstitute.com