Actions Speak Louder Than Thoughts
Ok, people! Places for act two of Animating Languages, as ACTION plays the lead role and directs. You’re producing this production, so pay attention! Animating your language cuts out the middleman and allows for instant action. When my language is animated, thoughts can’t linger long enough to interrupt the flow of actions. I am the action. For this to become a habit, it takes focused practice and a little cross-braining. Yep, that’s cross-training for your brain. In part one of Animating Languages, we found that we all have a language nobody else shares completely. A language that has evolved all our lives through our experiences. Nobody understands your language like you do, and understanding your language takes no thought. If you’re animating your language, you stay in the moment, and your actions flow instantly.
It is easy to fall asleep to our thinking and lose time for a few seconds. Tension starts, and everything stops while we think. Habits of thinking about what to say or daydreaming can hinder the flow of our musical performance and our conversations. Learning to flow in a fast chess game helps build habits of moving on and dealing with the consequences. Learning to let go of thinking helps me keep in the flow. Animating my language keeps me in the moment, and my actions don’t react. They act without hesitation or second-guessing. Languages like music, poetry, and chess move with rhyme, rhythm, and fluidity as patterns pass with a flow. Animating languages sparks the action to move fluidly and let the poetry flow, music sing, or the tactics fly in real time.
Building Trust In Your Brain
Though sometimes it may feel like you have two brains, only one organ in your skull works for you day and night. Its function is keeping up with your world. That brain in your head constantly sends and receives signals to navigate your inside and outside worlds. It is constantly learning too, and most of its learning comes subconsciously. Our brain never forgets what it has learned, and you know where your keys are. You’re just blocking that memory somehow.
Problem-solving and communication can happen subconsciously, like avoiding that hot stove when trained. If we trust our training, don’t think, but just act, our actions can stay in the flow. Our conscious mind can get into habits of rethinking and overthinking that only slow down the flow. Playing fast chess has shown me that I don’t need to know the whole story. I can trust my instincts and move. Good move or bad, I move on in the flow and see what happens.
Knowing The Future Is Boring
Knowing the future when you think of it might seem like a relief. Sure, you could win the lotto and have lots of money, but maybe a big part of our reason for living is the thrill of seeing what will happen next. Why would we want to spoil the surprise? Win or lose. We can wait to know what will happen. When we let go of the need to control an outcome, we reach a new level of freedom in our playing, whether playing chess or music. We are present and in the moment and can tap into the power of this type of presence.
I don’t have to think too many moves ahead because only my conscious mind is unaware of the big picture. Instincts that I’ve trained will drive me to the correct move. If it’s a bad one, I’ll deal with it. Either way, I am moving on. With this habit in place, my music won’t stop for thought. The experience of playing fast chess has crossed over to my music, adding a great fluidity to my playing. I imagine I am on a need-to-know basis and don’t need to know. If I stopped to think about it, the path might be apparent and is likely the same path I took, trusting myself, only quicker. We don’t have time to think. The chess clock is ticking, and the music keeps moving on.
Differences in how the brain processes and responds to reading or speaking Italian versus reading or playing music are subtle. When reading, the brain’s language processing centers, such as Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas, are engaged in decoding and understanding the written words. When speaking, the brain’s motor cortex and speech-related areas coordinate the movements of your vocal apparatus to produce the desired sounds and words. Italian has its own grammar rules and sentence structures. The brain’s left hemisphere, particularly the regions in the frontal and temporal lobes, plays a crucial role in processing grammar and syntax. Learning and recalling Italian vocabulary engage memory-related brain regions. The hippocampus helps encode and retrieve new words and their meanings.
Reading and playing music also involves visual and auditory processing and pattern recognition. The brain’s visual and auditory cortices are involved in decoding the musical notation and interpreting the symbols into meaningful sounds. Additionally, areas responsible for motor coordination and timing come into play as you translate the notes into physical movements when playing an instrument. When these processes become more automatic and fluent, you express yourself without translating each phrase in your mind.
Chess, like music and language, requires pattern recognition. Expert chess players can quickly recognize familiar patterns and evaluate positions. The brain’s visual cortex and frontal lobes analyze and recognize chess patterns. Chess involves strategic thinking, planning, decision-making, and problem-solving. These mental processes engage various brain areas, including the prefrontal cortex responsible for executive functions like reasoning and planning.
Chess players must remember past moves, openings, and endgame strategies. The brain’s hippocampus and temporal lobes, associated with memory formation and retrieval, play a crucial role in encoding and recalling chess-related information. Maybe this is why identifying chess openings seems like remembering a song.
This is Your Brain on Music
Music and language can evoke emotional responses in individuals. Research suggests that the brain’s emotional processing centers, such as the amygdala and prefrontal cortex, are involved in perceiving and responding to music’s emotional qualities. Music relies on pattern recognition. The brain’s auditory cortex processes musical patterns and structures, similar to how it analyzes linguistic structures. This cognitive aspect involves neural networks responsible for memory, attention, and auditory perception. Playing a musical instrument requires motor skills, coordination, and agility. The brain’s motor cortex and cerebellum are crucial in learning and executing precise necessary movements in music performance.
Music, chess, and language have unique characteristics and engage different brain regions, and exploring their connections can provide insights into how the brain processes and responds to complex cognitive activities. Still, if we can’t think of the body when we play, we can’t think of what part of the brain we use. With many games and puzzles under your belt and tons of hours on your instrument, the next thing is to learn to trust in the process to let the magic happen, and it will.
A Fluid Mind is More Flexible
Overthinking can hinder performance in various activities. Trying to control every move or analyze every decision consciously will lead to a slow response time and decreased performance. Letting go of overthinking allows your brain to tap into the skills and knowledge you’ve developed more intuitively.
Engaging in different activities, such as chess or learning a new language, can enhance cognitive flexibility and help us grow as musicians. This ability allows you to adapt your thinking and behavior to different situations, switch between tasks, and find creative solutions. When engaging in these activities, you exercise your cognitive flexibility, adapting to the unique demands of each domain. The similar mental experiences I notice across these activities highlight the interconnectedness of the cognitive processes. Cross-braining has helped me develop the ability to access a more intuitive and fluid functioning state.
The cognitive processes we use for speaking Italian, playing music, or blitz chess can complement and reinforce each other, enhancing proficiency and a more holistic understanding. The ability to trust your knowledge and intuition without overthinking is a valuable skill that can be cultivated through cross-braining. As you become more familiar with the patterns, structures, and vocabulary of Italian, music, and chess, your brain can quickly recognize and process relevant information without conscious effort.
By cross-braining between these disciplines, you create a cognitive synergy where skills and insights from one domain can inform and enhance your abilities in the others. This can lead to improved problem-solving skills, increased creativity, and a more flexible mindset. Engaging with multiple disciplines can foster a sense of intellectual curiosity and a broader perspective. The mental interplay between Italian, music, and chess can stimulate different brain areas and promote cognitive flexibility, positively impacting overall learning and performance.
Jazzin’ Through Blitz Chess
The typical time for a blitz chess game is three to five mins. This forces the players to rely more on their intuition and instinctual responses than deep analytical thinking. You’ll learn to manage your time while you test your ability to make quick decisions. Trusting your instincts and allowing yourself to see tactics results from the knowledge and patterns you’ve internalized through practice and experience. The brain recognizes these patterns and positions to guide your intuition. Trusting your instincts in blitz chess allows you to make rapid decisions based on your acquired knowledge and pattern recognition skills. As you encounter similar positions or tactical motifs during a game, you can quickly retrieve this information to make good moves.
Like music and language, where the brain can enter a flow state, chess can also elicit a similar experience. It manifests the brain’s subconscious ability to process complex information and make intuitive connections. Exposing yourself to various chess positions, you enhance your pattern recognition abilities and develop a more intuitive understanding of the game. Trusting your instincts is a valuable skill in blitz chess, allowing you to tap into your acquired knowledge and make swift, accurate decisions. Your brain fully engages in the interplay of intuition, tactics, and pattern recognition, and decisions seem to happen effortlessly.
Blitzin’ Through A Jazz Solo
You may make a “bad” move. It happens. But you haven’t the time to lament your current situation, your time is ticking down, and you must make a move and look for your next opportunity. No living in the past. Stay in the moment, don’t think, play. The game can be won if your opponent runs out of time or blunders mate in one. It happens. They also feel the time pressure. Maybe their “bad” move is right around the corner. Fighting the urge to give up or play a perfect game is terrific training for getting out of the hole you’ve gotten into during the last few “bad” decisions in your jazz solo or moving on after a missed note during a Mozart Horn Concerto.
And just like you may still win that chess game, some of the most magical moments in a jazz solo come when the player plays out of their head. Like music and language, where the brain can enter a flow state, chess can also elicit a similar experience. It manifests the brain’s ability to process complex information and make intuitive connections. By continually practicing and exposing yourself to various chess positions, lots of jazzy licks in many keys, and Italian phrases and stories, you will enhance your pattern recognition abilities and develop a more intuitive understanding of the game, the song, and the sounds and meaning of Italian, all without the translator. Trusting your instincts becomes a valuable skill allowing you to tap into your acquired knowledge and make swift, accurate decisions.
Aminating Music With Your Mind
I play a mental game while playing any instrument or using my body to sing. I try to have the same mental process as I do when singing. When I think as if I’m singing, my body knows what I want it to do, whether I’m playing horn, trumpet, trombone, or tuba. I don’t have to think of what buttons to push. My inner musician knows what instrument I’m holding. I focus on the music and my singing, which tells my body what to do.
It can be challenging to ignore the body when you are a singer. I have little tricks I play with students to remind them to sing in their imagination when using the body as the instrument. Ignoring your instrument is easy. It has no intelligence and is already full of air. You put the sound into that mindless tube. For a singer, the mindless tube is you—at least your body. If you can treat the body like an instrument and ignore it, your body will find the most efficient way to give you the desired sounds when singing. If you can hear the beautiful sounds you want in your aural imagination, you’re on the way to making them.
Your Aural Imagination
When a song gets stuck in your head, your aural imagination has a little dream. If you can make the song in your head the one you are playing, you have a total focus that gives clear signals to the parts of the body that perform the actions. Playing an instrument with the idea of thinking the way we do when we sing also puts all the parts of the brain that need to work together on the same page.
As you become more proficient in music reading, your brain can directly comprehend and interpret the musical symbols as sounds without relying on the translator or conscious analysis. Still, old habits can die hard. Animating the languages you use allows for a more fluid and intuitive musical performance. You’re just singing, and the body knows what you want.
Your World, Your Interests
I spend time every morning tinkering with one of my languages. If my enthusiasm wanes, I don’t force it, but I don’t quit entirely. Watching Italian movies and children’s shows has been great fun! Even when tired, my brain is easily amused and relaxed with impromptu music or chess puzzles. My carefree play always keeps me engaged during the day. Standing in a line, I’m never bored, playing a song, going over a chess opening, or looking around and seeing the world in Italian. There is no need to rush. I’m busy learning and letting my imagination grow in a valuable way.
Don’t expect everyone else to be like you and understand your interest. Your responsibility is to delve deeply into the languages that interest you independently. I don’t get obsessed with what I don’t know or stuck on looping thoughts like I won’t be good. Whatever I’m learning, I do because I enjoy doing it, not with a future goal of being good. That will happen without me thinking about it. Thought equals tension, and I’m pretty good at whatever I try to do when I’m stress-free and relaxed. My thoughts don’t cling, and I have no fear. I don’t care if I’m good, so fear of failure won’t keep me from learning.
Smell That A Fresh Cup of Music
The brain’s neuroplasticity allows it to form new neural connections and adapt to new skills and knowledge. These connections strengthen with consistent practice and exposure, enabling more fluid and intuitive processing. Habits of translating are developed naturally, and it takes mental awareness to be free of the middleman. Cutting out the Italian translator helped me cut out the musical one, and teaching the chess thinker not to linger unlocked a new level of flow in my horn playing. Situations where I am forced to think fast, like blitz chess, help me build good habits of letting thoughts go, relaxing, and not second-guessing.
If I notice thoughts, they’re like shadows of passing clouds. If I show no interest, they don’t cling, and I stick with the music’s rhythm or the chess game’s flow. Trusting your instincts and training gets easier. Play games. Make learning fun. Keep engaged in your interest and fearlessly find new ones. Cross-braining will only strengthen your cognitive flexibility. Once you begin to get a handle on a new language, be fluid and let your thoughts go. Allow your new language to flow as you start to learn it. Animating a new language will help you flow in all of your languages. Animating languages means keeping thoughts out of the way while we play. Stay tuned as we explore more thoughtless methods in our next episode, “Don’t Think, Just Play!”