Change isn’t hard, it’s just doing something different.  It’s not hard, it’s just different.  We don’t like to do stuff that’s different, it’s not comfortable, it’s different, the same is comfortable.  I know what the same is.  I may not like the same, but I do know what it is. And that’s comfortable, because it’s the same.

Change is just doing something different until it becomes the same.  How do you do that?  

Do you want to know how to do that, to make changes, to become different?  I can tell you if you want know the secret to change, it’s not very complicated.  You’ll be impressed by how simple it is.  And you won’t want to do it, because then things will be different and you don’t like different because we like to be comfortable.

Do you want me to tell you?  I can.  Okay, here’s the secret to change.

Do something different.

Didn’t I tell you that you’d be impressed with its simplicity?  And didn’t I tell you that you wouldn’t want to do it?

Change is not hard, we just don’t want to do it.  For example, say you’re a couch-potato unhealthy mess.  You want to change.  What do you do?  Start doing something different.  Go to the gym.  Oooh, I hate the gym.  Who cares, just go.  So you go, and you go, and you go, and soon, what was different, and you go, and you go, becomes the same, and you go, and now, it feels good to go to the gym.  You want to go to the gym because it feels good.

Or say you want to learn the piano.  What do you do?  Start taking piano lessons.  Oh my god, you’ll be awful, absolutely awful.  Who cares, just keep plunking away… you practice, and you practice, and it’s sooo boring, and you practice and you practice, and it’s not even close to music, and you practice and you practice, and now it’s turning into music, and what was different is becoming the same, and you practice and now you’re playing the piano.

Everything works that way.  It’s not some big Freudian secret, if you want to change, do things different.  Doing things the same will not lead to change.  Doing things different is the secret to change.

But you don’t want to do it, I know. 

What you’re doing when you do things different is you’re grooving in new tracks in your brain, like little groove thingies in the circuitry wiring.  Each time you do something it lays a little grove, like a raindrop down a dirt hill, it leaves a little groove.

Other raindrops can go different ways, but if a lot of raindrops keep going down one path, that path gets deeper and deeper.  That’s how our brain works, we groove in the neural networks.  Wanna hear the ten-dollar word… long-term potentiation… ain’t that a mouthful.  That’s the term for the grooving in process.

The ten-cent word is habit.

It’s also called use-dependent development – we build what we use.  Every time we use a neural network it gets strong, faster, and more efficient.  If we use problematic networks (do stupid things and make poor decisions), these networks become stronger, faster, and more efficient.  We get better at making mistakes and getting ourselves into trouble… because we keep doing it, and… because we keep doing it… we keep doing it.

We build what we use.

So how do we change?

First… stop doing the bad thing.  Whatever the bad thing is, don’t do that anymore because you are only grooving it deeper and deeper every time.  So put a big boulder in that groove, you are NOT going down that groove.

Uh-oh.  That’s the only groove you have.  You’ve been struck in that groove since the dawn of time, it’s the Grand Canyon of grooves in your brain, all other grooves in your brain feed into that single groove.

I don’t care. Do something different.

What?

I don’t care, just so it’s different.

Ahhhh, okay, okay, ahhhh, it’s so different and I don’t know what to do.

What do you want to do?

You’re free. 

But every single time a single nerve cell lights up in your brain, it is going to head directly for that mother of all grooves, the bad one.  What do you do?  Don’t do the bad groove, that only makes it deeper, do something different?  What?  I don’t care, just so it’s different.  Ahhh, okay, well, what, what…

What do you want to do?

Is it hard to go to the gym?  Yes.  Do you want to go to the gym?  No.  Do you go to the gym?  Yes.  Why?  Because it’s different.  The same is sitting on the couch.  Do not-that.  So then what?  I’ll go to the gym.  I hate the gym.  Who cares, just go, and go… see?  Grooving in the brain circuits.

Piano, same thing.  Or how do you learn math?  Do it over-and-over, all the time, you groove in the “doing math” circuits in the brain, use-dependent development.

Two parts, 1) stop doing the bad groove, it only makes it deeper, 2) start doing something different.   What?  It doesn’t matter, as long as it’s different (don’t worry, you’re a smart human, you’ll figure out the what – what do you want to do?)

Change isn’t hard, it’s actually quite simple.  Do things different.  If you do things the same, that’s not going to be change, that’s just the same.

But change is scary (ahh-ahh, it’s not the same, it’s different?), but don’t worry, we’re smart humans, we’ll figure it out.  Once you leave the groove, you’re… free.

But we don’t want to be free, too much pressure.  It’s more comfortable in our grooves.  We may not like our grooves, but they’re ours, and they’re comfortable…. kind of a familiar suffering.

I want to give you a gift. I’m not sure you’ll take it, but maybe.

I want you to smile.

More often, a lot as a matter of fact.  Not because you feel happy.  I don’t care how you feel.  Did I say I want you to feel happy?  No.

I want you to smile.

For no reason whatsoever.  I know, amazingly silly.  I don’t care, just smile.  More.

How many times do you smile a day?  Three times?  Five times?  Zero times?  Whatever it is, I want you to smile three times as much. So if you smile zero – smile three times a day, for no reason whatsoever and yes you will look like a lunatic.  I don’t care.  Just smile, for no reason whatsoever.

If you smile twice a day, smile six, three times, smile nine… oh my god, Dr. Childress, stop, you’ll have me smiling all the time.

Exactly.  Maybe not all the time, but pretty close.  Why?  Use-dependent development, we build what we use.  I’m gifting you a brain-hack, a back-door.  There’s this little kink in the neural networks that we can take advantage of… we’re stupid.

Our brain doesn’t know how we feel.  So when we smile, our brain registers the muscle movement of the smile, but when it goes to look at emotions there’s no happy.  What’s up with that?  So the brain calls down to emotions and says, “Are you happy?”

And emotions says, “No, not really.”

“Well, we’re smiling, so we must be happy.  Give us some happy.”  So emotions produces a little pop of happy, called endorphins for the ten-buck word.  We trick the system into thinking it’s happy.  Emotions and body are linked, we just ran up the backside of the system.

We smile when we’re happy… and we’re happy when we smile, either way.

Then… we use use-dependent development, just like playing the piano, just like going to the gym.  What happens when you go to the gym over-and-over again, you get all buffed-out and strong.  What happens if you practice the piano over-and-over again, you’re playing jazz riffs at the Christmas party.  So then smile.

Smiling is a whole lot easier than going to the gym and practicing the piano, and way-way more fun.  You’ll feel silly.  I don’t care.  You’ll look silly.  Doesn’t matter.  Apologize if you look creepy, tell them “doctor’s orders.”  Doesn’t matter, just smile, for no reason at all.

Do it in the car while you’re driving to and from work.  You have all kinds of time driving.  You’re brain doesn’t care when you practice “happy” – car’s a great time.  Just smile.  “But I don’t feel happy.”  Just smile anyway.

Do it over-and-over, practice the piano over and over and what happens?

Are you terrible at the piano when you start?  Yes.  Does it matter?  No. 

It is as simple as just doing something different.  Smile.  More.  Again…. and again… and again.  I don’t care whether you feel happy, you will become happier.  Not an ecstatic find-god sort of happy.  But your brain systems for the happy emotion will become stronger, faster, and more efficient.  That’s a nice thing.

You will become happier (stronger), more often (faster), and that feeling just sort of happy feeling will become a way of life (more efficient).  That’s not a bad outcome from smiling for no reason in the car to-and-from work. 

Before going to bed, from the time you enter the bedroom to the time you crawl under the covers, I want you to smile three times – doctors orders.  Three times before bedtime

Doctor’s orders:  Patient needs to increase the long-term potentiation and synaptogenesis along the neural networks for the up-arousal and social-bonding affect systems for joy and laughter. 

You need more joy and laughter, doctor’s orders.

Craig Childress, Psy.D.
Clinical Psychologist, PSY 18857