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  • Writer's pictureNarelle

The Musical Itch you just can't scratch...and beliefs


Who has had a song stuck in their head?

If you have ever being on the “It’s a Small World” ride at Disneyland you will know what I mean. That song is played for 15 minutes on a continuous loop. It is a terrifying ride and not in an exhilarating way. It incites rage - well it did in me. And then that song gets stuck in your head!

And that is an Ear Worm - a constant loop of 15-20 seconds of music lodged in your head (until you develop an involuntary tic and end up rocking in the corner).

You never know when an ear worm will happen until it happens. One minute you are taking a shower and the next minute a tune has squirmed into your head. Then the band strikes up, the ear worm comes alive and stays alive - replaying the same piece of music over and over again.

Like a broken record on your brain.

Ear worms were first coined over 100 years ago by a German Scientist with the term “Öhr wurm” - the experience of a song stuck in your head. These ear worms have had some great names attached to them - Sticky music, Stuck Song Syndrome or Intrusive Musical Imagery. It becomes a brain itch, or a cognitive itch and its irritating. Because trying to suppress it reminds you it is there and the more you try to suppress it the more force it gains. And the more force it gains the longer and longer it goes.


Now typically these Ear worms last 10 to 30 minutes, will have a strong rhythm or melody, an upbeat tempo, big up and down leaps and the more important the music is to you, the longer it will last. Just like memory plays a large role in getting these songs stuck in your head, memory can also play a large role when we get stuck repeating the same behaviours over and over again.


Like an ear worm - if the memory is important it sets up a strong belief and that belief then ends up running our behaviours - over and over again. Like a broken record we keep sabotaging our selves.

Those beliefs set up camp and get stuck. Just like the sticky music of an ear worm, there is the sticky thinking or a limiting belief.


Oliver Sacks said of the ear worm :
“This is a special form of involuntary musical imagery which is out of control and can become quite unpleasant and intrusive”

I would say the same of our sticky thinking - it is typically out of our control and we may not even be aware of it. Plus they are unpleasant and they are intrusive and repetitive.


Beliefs are filters through which we experience the world. They determine what we perceive as possible and impossible. What’s worse is that the trouble with beliefs is we believe them We perceive them as true. However they are not true - they are just beliefs and nothing is set in stone. But they quietly shape and direct our life and our responses and our opportunities.


An itch we can’t scratch or just don’t scratch.


So if your itch is more of a musical itch then try using your feet and walking at a slower or faster pace than the beat of your worm (this disrupts the tempo), listen to the song all the way through, or chew some gum.

If your itch is more of a limiting belief itch then Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) is a tool we can use.

NLP empowers, enables and teaches us to better understand the way our brain (neuro) processes the words (linguistic) and how that impacts on our past present and future (programming). It provides practical ways in which you can change the way that you think, view past events, and approach your life.


Neither a song stuck in your head or a behaviour you have on repeat are easily ignored. You can try chewing gum but it will probably only help with one.


And just for the record, in case you don’t have an ear worm in your brain yet try these songs - The Muppets “Mah Na Mah Na” , “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”, “Who let the dogs out?” and of course (and I almost feel guilty here) “Baby Shark”.


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