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Why I Rewired My Brain

Johnny Crowder, founder of a positive psychology startup, shares how he’s used technology improve his mental health.

Content Warning: mental health, depression and thoughts on dying.

I used to want to die.

I thought it was the only thing that could alleviate the pain I was facing on a daily basis 鈥 the stress, anxiety, depression, anger, exhaustion. I felt worthless, hopeless, beyond repair. Doomed to a life sentence of severe mental illness that could either continue to be terrible or gradually get worse 鈥 never improve.

Then, on the heels of more than a decade of therapy and medication, I found myself smack dab in the middle of a relapse-inducing global pandemic, glued to my screen. I remember watching The Social Dilemma, a documentary about the dangers of our collective addiction to technology, and wanting to stomp my iPhone into smithereens.

The idea that corporations, strangers and bots could magnify my mental and emotional distress with a few keystrokes sounded like an Orwellian horrorscape. However, I think one of the most foolish responses to this formidable power that technology holds, second only to worshiping it, would be to waste its inherent potential for good.

At first, I pigeonholed tech as an enemy. But after a while, I learned that I could leverage it to help myself (and others) get healthier.

It started off simple: I set screen limits for social media and reminders to check in with friends. I kept a calendar that helped me adhere to an exercise regimen. More recently, I鈥檝e asked ChatGPT for nutritious recipes and curated a calming Spotify playlist as a coping mechanism for when I鈥檓 feeling particularly unsettled. And if you catch me gazing at my phone on an airplane, I鈥檓 probably boosting my oxytocin by scrolling through a photo album filled with blurry and unflattering shots of my golden retriever, Pepperoni Pizza (yes, that is her real name).

Come to think of it, I completed half of my psychology degree online. But it took a long time for me to transform my relationship with tech 鈥 and then transform its relationship with my wellness.

I had to train my brain to think differently.

These days, training brains is my full-time job. I run a tech startup called Cope Notes that helps tens of thousands of people across the world think healthier thoughts and change their lives every single day. We deliver psychology facts, journaling prompts and exercises that teach the brain to combat all of the challenges I faced growing up.

Our tagline is 鈥淕oodbye, negative thoughts.鈥 Run that slogan by teenage Johnny, who was more likely to punch a hole in his bedroom wall than look at the bright side, and he鈥檇 laugh in your face. Back then, I didn鈥檛 think it was possible to escape the symptoms that imprisoned me. The irony of pursuing freedom through music and naming my metal band Prison is not lost on me, by the way.

I鈥檝e also given two TEDx Talks that help people better understand the good, the bad and the ugly sides of personal growth. When writing them, I had a flashback to my first attempt at gratitude journaling after years of scoffing at the science behind it.

I sat down with a pen and an 88-cent notebook, staring blankly at the page. At the time, my life was a wreck. I wasn鈥檛 grateful for anything. What was there to be grateful for? My insomnia? My eating disorders? And how was writing it down supposed to change anything?

Through sheer forced consistency, month after month, I matured from cop-out answers like 鈥淚鈥檓 thankful for the sky鈥 toward more nuanced and specific entries like 鈥淚鈥檓 thankful that the Publix cashier accepted my coupon even though it was technically expired.鈥 Gratitude eventually became my new default setting.

Now, I have a gigantic gratitude checklist tattooed across my entire left forearm, and I list 10 things I鈥檓 grateful for every night before bed. That habit, among others, has become a mainstay in my life thanks to my own Cope Notes messages, teaching me how to approach life with a permanent posture of seeking out the silver lining.

As a result of all of these compounding efforts, I can honestly say that I am fundamentally a different person. Those closest to me would enthusiastically agree.

Training my brain to be keenly attuned to the glass-half-full mindset after a lifetime of negativity bias hasn鈥檛 been quick or easy, but saying it鈥檚 been worthwhile would be the understatement of the millennium. This slow, steady process of rewiring my synapses and leveraging these everyday tools to work for me instead of against me has been frustrating, rewarding and a literal lifesaver for myself and countless others.

If you鈥檙e struggling through that process as you read this, consider me your twin. Your teammate. We鈥檙e fighting the good fight. We鈥檙e creating the new versions of ourselves.

And one day, the new you will thank the current you for not giving up.

Trust me on that.

Johnny Crowder is an entrepreneur, public speaker and CEO of Cope Notes, a positive psychology startup. He earned an associate degree from 小优视频.

If you or someone you know is struggling, please seek professional help or contact the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988.

Johnny Crowder had to improve himself to get better mentally. He is surrounded by a warm glow as he thinks positively and feels grateful for many things in life.