The Science of Pep Talks: How Music Can Help Us Find Our True Identity

Almost 8 years ago, I was browsing through memes [as one does in your 20s] and stumbled upon an image that resonated with me deeply. Until that moment, I was content with my life in many ways. My band Static Era had just hit the charts in New Zealand, I was one of two ambassadors for Tough Mudder, and I had recently won a prestigious youth worker award, as well as one of four New Zealander of the Year Local Heroes awards. Life was pretty good. However, I often found myself thinking back to my 19-year-old self and wondering if I could have done more for that person - the young woman struggling with depression, the person who lost three loved ones within a year, the insecure girl who didn't like her body and often felt reduced to labels, duties, and expectations from peers, often losing a sense of who she was and who she wanted to be. I was searching for a way to break out of my comfort zone and find my true identity. Then, I saw the meme.

I know, I know... a meme. But as I keep saying, every generation is built differently. Memes were a significant part of how my generation stepped into our identity. For Gen Z, it's not memes as much as reels and TikTok. One thing that's consistent between all generations so far is music. Every social media reel has a background song, and every TikTok video or film sets the tone with music.

Music just... affects us.

In my quest to figure out how to step out of my comfort zone, I turned to music, [as I always do] which somehow led me to rediscover, and work on writing my now-latest single, "The Show."

I started writing this song when I was 12years old, and I'll be honest, much of the feedback I received at the time was confusion. People didn't seem to quite understand what I was singing about. Which, I guess, is kind of ironic, given that the song is all about finally coming to terms with that subtle shift between playing the parts that society wants us to play versus living the truth of who we are and how we actually think and feel. In other words, The Show is all about taking off our masks, and being willing to [as Joseph Campbell says]: let go of the life we've planned to have the life that is waiting for us. Or, as I badly paraphrase: in order to become the person we want, need, or are becoming, we need to be willing to kill the person we once were.

Do you know the most fascinating part of this whole process was? Sure, I'm 12 years old writing about identity, and identity shifts, and how I want to show up for myself and for the world, but what dawned on me as I was reworking the song as a 20-something year old is this: songwriting is the ULTIMATE fix when it comes to self pep talk. Whether we're speaking of or to ourselves in first person, third person, or trying to find the words to explain our situations to the outside world... songwriting gives our internal dialogue a chance to dig a little deeper than normal conversation might, and come up with some pretty beautiful self discoveries.

Especially considering how songwriting allows us the creative license to

  • use empathetic language [that we probably don't use all too often outside of music and poetry]

  • self praise [we all need a cheerleader... it may as well be us]

  • or a fun way to turn our negative self talk into positive self talk [for some reason Dr Dre and Eminem are coming to mind right now]

.... songwriting just makes sense when it comes to self talk.

So let's dig a little deeper, shall we?

The Positive Effects of Pep Talks through Songwriting

I've been inadvertently writing songs [aka musical pep talks] since I was practically an infant. "The Show" was no different. Writing "The Show" was a cathartic experience for me, as songwriting often is. Every song I've ever written has served as an anthem and a reminder of who I really am underneath the labels, expectations, and previous experiences. But this is not just my experience; research has shown that writing and sharing one's story can be a powerful form of self-expression, healing... and bonding.

According to a study by the American Psychological Association, writing and sharing personal stories can help people make sense of negative experiences, reduce their symptoms of depression, and improve their overall well-being [including one's immune system]. Another study found that writing about one's positive experiences can also lead to increased happiness and reduced symptoms of depression.

Personally: I've found this to be 100% the case - especially when it comes to taking negative circumstances or thoughts, and reframing them positively in a song. It's the heroes journey... except in a song. Your song. Because you're the hero.

Pep talks, in general, can be highly effective in boosting one's confidence and overall mood. Studies have shown that positive self-talk can lead to increased motivation, resilience, and improved performance in most areas of life. The difference between a pep talk, and a high energy, motivating song is this: music makes it memorable. Even in your darkest moments: it's easier to sing a song of success, resilience and motivation than it might be to look yourself in the mirror and repeat affirmations to yourself.

Especially for Gen Z.

Three Elements, Carefully Balanced

Effective pep talks and songs are not just about delivering a generic, one-size-fits-all message. They require a careful balance of three essential elements: empathy, motivation, and direction.

Empathy involves understanding and acknowledging the individual's feelings and perspective.

This is especially important when it comes to how we treat ourselves. It's all too easy to beat ourselves up, and feel like we are unworthy... or get swallowed up by the stress of life. But when we allow ourselves permission to take a step back, breathe and recognize our inner-coach: suddenly we realize that we are not our emotions. Feelings aren't fact. We are allowed to feel them, but then we need to love ourselves enough to recognize that we are stronger than those feelings.

Motivation involves inspiring the individual to take action and move forward.

This can be achieved through words of encouragement, such as "I believe in you," or "You've got this," which is especially helpful if you're writing a song in third person. But - again - songwriting gives us the creative license to be more... full of self. We all need to be our own inner cheerleader from time to time. To write a song that reminds us that we are important, worthy and loved? That can be an absolute game changer.

Direction involves providing clear and specific guidance on what actions the individual can take to achieve their goals.

This can include setting achievable milestones, providing resources and support, and offering constructive feedback... but when it comes to writing music: I've always found that each and every song is almost like a roadmap to self-love, -respect, and -honor.

When these three elements are carefully balanced, songwriting can be incredibly effective in boosting morale, motivation, and confidence.

"The Show" is no exception. Each lyric is one more directive towards figuring out that sweet spot between what it means to show up for the world vs how I can show up for myself.

And why that's so important.

The Effects of Negative Self-Talk

While pep talks can have a positive impact on our mental and emotional well-being, negative self-talk can have the opposite effect. Negative self-talk involves critical, self-defeating thoughts that undermine our confidence and self-esteem. This can lead to feelings of anxiety, depression, and a lack of motivation.

Negative self-talk can manifest in many ways, such as:

  • Catastrophizing: assuming the worst-case scenario in a situation

  • Personalizing: taking responsibility for things outside of our control

  • Overgeneralizing: making sweeping negative statements about ourselves based on isolated incidents

  • Filtering: focusing only on the negative aspects of a situation while ignoring the positive

When left unchecked, negative self-talk can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. We start to believe the negative thoughts, which can lead to a lack of motivation, decreased confidence, and even physical symptoms like headaches or stomach aches.

It's important to recognize and challenge negative self-talk when it arises - especially when it comes to the music we listen to... and, of course, the music we create. This can involve reframing negative thoughts into more positive or realistic ones, seeking support from friends or a mental health professional, or engaging in self-care practices like exercise, meditation, or - of course - songwriting.

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So... what's this got to do with The Show?

"The Show" is all about finally coming to terms with that subtle shift between playing the parts that society wants us to play and living the truth of who we are and how we actually think and feel. In other words, we must be willing to let go of the life we've planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us. Or, as I like to say: in order to become the person we want, need, or are becoming, we need to be willing to kill the person we once were.

We need to be willing to take those negative and disempowering thoughts and ideas and recognize the blessings in the lessons.

The song has served as an anthem - ever since I was 12, and trying to figure out how I wanted to show for the world - and a reminder of who I really am, underneath the labels, expectations, and even my previous experiences.

Each and every song we write serves as a pep-talk in our notebook, a chapter our book, and a song in the album that is our life. If you don't like the direction of your life, change the station. Change the genre. Change the song. You have the pen - don't let the world write it for you.

As a musician:

I've seen how music can help us express our deepest feelings and connect with others who may be going through similar experiences.

As a youth worker:

I've seen how pep talks can have a powerful impact on our mental and emotional well-being, helping to boost confidence, motivation, and resilience.

As an empowerment through songwriting coach, however:

I've seen firsthand how much music can help young people cope with their emotions and find their identity. With Gen Z especially, it's not so pep talks and affirmations, but TikTok and music.

So if you're feeling lost, stuck, or unsure of who you are, try turning to music. Write a song, listen to your favorite album, or even just put on some background music while you work. You might be surprised at how much it can help you find your way back to yourself. And remember, you have the power to create your own album - you're own life story. You have the pen - so start writing.

And if you'd like to learn more about what it would be like to work with a coach, I'd love to chat with you about how I can help you turn your pep talk into an empowering collection of anthems to help you rewrite the direction of your life.

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