November 14, 2013

Show of Hands: Who wants to Feel Good? ~ Dana Gornall & Catherine Catherine Monkman

It seems that when the school year starts, my family and I go on automatic pilot and stay there throughout the year.

Every weekday is the same thing. Every weekend is almost the same. While routine can be comfortable and efficient, it can also be, well, boring. Like the adage goes: If you always do the same thing, you will always get the same thing. Why not kick it up a notch?

Cat and I are working together again on an experiment, but this time we tried something new every day for a week. Changing up routine and trying something different can not only boost creativity but can lessen depression. When we constantly perform the same activities day after day, our brains become bored and dull and this seemed like a great challenge to counteract the monotony.

For my week of trying something new every day, I first made breakfast for dinner. My kids were pretty surprised and to be honest, a little put off. The responses I heard were “Mom! I wanted real dinner!” “Why are we eating pancakes?” “Are we out of real food?” I explained we were trying something new for fun and they went along but requested a traditional dinner for the next day. Apparently, not everyone likes their routine switched, and I guess I can understand. I know I get frustrated when my day takes a surprise turn unexpectedly.

My next adventure was to get up really early. I know there are a ton of people who get up early and I am one of them. My oldest daughter goes to a school that is a half-hour drive away so she takes a school van to get there. Every day she gets up at 5:45 to get ready and I get up around 6:15 to take her to the van. I usually get home, put on some coffee and start waking up my other children which is one chaotic moment after another.

By the time I get everyone to school, take the dog out, eat and get myself ready, I’m ready to lay back down. It seems from the minute my feet hit the floor in the morning I’m running and never have a second of peace. So this time I set my alarm to get up at 5:00. This was tough, because I really didn’t want to get out of bed. I forced myself anyway and was really happy that I did because I was able to put on some soft music, light a few candles, drink some coffee and quietly fold laundry without any interruption. I liked it so much that I’ve done that again a few times.

The following day I chose to drive a different way to work. This was much simpler, but still changed my day a little nonetheless. It also made me realize how we can become more mindful of our surroundings when we change our routines. How many times do we drive to work and don’t even realize how quickly we got there because we are so lost in our heads? By changing my route, I was a little more focused which not only benefitted me but everyone around me because I was probably driving more safely.

After this I took on a tough one. I pledged to not utter one single negative comment the entire day. I couldn’t complain about the weather, or that my son was taking too long to get ready for school, or that the traffic was bad–-nothing. Surprisingly, I did fairly well by paying attention and being mindful of what I said before I spoke. This wasn’t easy, but I found that I listened better to people and chose my words carefully.

I think this is great to practice any time—we all know the positive effects of a simple smile from a stranger or a kind word from a friend.

I do have to admit that I messed up, though. At the very end of the night, an announcement was made on our editing page for elephant journal that we were changing the way we would be doing something. It wasn’t a huge change, but it meant there would be extra work in the beginning of the change and the whole thing would take some getting used to.

I responded with a half-hearted joking complaint and when I closed out of the page and walked away, I realized what I had done and felt terrible. I not only felt bad for messing up my positive streak for the day, but by being mindful all day, I realized the harshness of a complaint and how it can reverberate. This was quite a lesson and I was glad I chose this one.

Finally, on my last day, two of my children were off from school. Instead of going shopping, seeing a movie or staying home, we decided to go to the Art Museum. It’s been a long time since I had been there and it was a 45 minute drive so I used my GPS. Once we arrived in the area, I noticed there was a lot of construction and I wasn’t able to find the parking garage. After circling the area, I quickly pulled into the Botanical Gardens instead. “Oh well, kids, we are doing something different.” I told them.

This turned out to be a happy mistake because we had the opportunity to see a butterfly release, an amazing group of ants that carry leaves to their home, and I ran into an old friend of mine!

Not only did I find I was less bored this past week, but I feel like I acted more positively.

Try it out for yourself. Do something different, sleep on the other side of the bed, let the kids make dinner; whatever you can think of, try. Life is short, so why not make the best of it! (And have fun in the process!)


I love my brain.

I mean, I am thoroughly and unapologetically in love with my grey matter. It’s a machine like no other, but more than that—it’s the place where who I am lives. It’s a majestic universe of universes inside flesh and bone.

With speed and precision, my brain uses tiny impulses to let me know something’s wrong and by contrast, my brain can also send me on a fantastic journey of wonder and awareness, merely by interpreting light particles.

What do we do, when we love something? We care for it! We care for our bodies with nourishment and physical movement. We care for our own well-being and that of our families and friends with love and compassion. Why shouldn’t we treat our brains the same way?

Consider new experiences to be a type of uber-healthy, organic brain food.

When we experience something new, our brains create neural pathways by sending and receiving chemical messengers along a new “walkway” which in turn creates memories.

Based on a study done by researchers Bunzeck and Düzel, our brains are wired to activate and stimulate our hippocampus (where we learn) and amygdala (where we feel emotion) when something completely novel comes our way.

Dopamine levels rise (those happy reward chemicals) and we feel good.


Show of hands: who loves to feel good?

Novelty makes us more courageous—another benefit of new experiences.

Each new encounter helps us feel more capable of trying larger and scarier things. Taking smaller steps to try something new is a huge motivational tool towards tackling those life-changing events later on. We can ask ourselves, “What is an ultimate goal,” and then start with the first, smallest step to build our courage.

The other super cool benefit is that we alter our perception of time. In fact, we slow it down.

Time manipulation? I’m so into this.

I’m sure I’m not the only one to notice that as we get older, time flies by faster. (Many of our elderly relatives have talked about it, but until recently, I hadn’t really given it much thought.) Does anyone remember our childhood summer vacations from school? They felt like eternities. Now, a season seems to last as long as it takes me to do a load of laundry.

So, how does learning new things slow us down?

When we’re engaged in something brand new, we’re more present and experiencing a multitude of unfamiliar moments. While we do this, many different parts of our brain are working together to process this new information, which takes more time than when we process familiar bits of information (like the same route to work every day).

As a child, we had many more new experiences than we do as adults, simply because we hadn’t yet been alive long enough to experience everything. So, summers seemed long. By choosing new things more often, we slow down our lives, or at least, our perception of how long it takes to live, just like when we were kids.

Life’s short enough as it is, so now that I’ve learned this, I plan on slowing it down every chance I get. More time, new experiences and a stronger, more courageous brain—this is a win, all around, isn’t it?

What did I do to love my brain during this challenge with Dana?

Zumba! I’ve never been a sporty type of person, which was fine when I had a teenager’s metabolism and often chose a cigarette over a meal. Now, in my 30s, I am in desperate need of a health overhaul for a number of various reasons. My friend Carole has been asking me to join her at Zumba and each time, I told her, “Yes, I should. I will,” when my thoughts instead muttered, “Not a chance in hell.”

I was terrified, but she promised me that my fear of walking into a classroom full of tiny, athletic, fat-people-haters would not come true. So, this time, I took her up on the offer. She was right. The class was a refreshing mix of many types of people. I lasted the entire class, didn’t face-plant once and felt physically and mentally energized afterward. I’m signing up for another 10 classes (at least). I’ve gained courage.

I’ve dined alone, which was a new experience for me because I’ve always felt too self conscious to sit in a restaurant alone with nobody to talk to. I’ve strengthened my brain by learning to make sushi! I went to two different grocery stores in a different part of town to find fresh ingredients and now, on top of a stronger brain, I’ve got one more healthy and quick meal to add to the roster.

I’ve gotten myself around a strange city on my own for the past two days while traveling, which has drastically slowed down time for me. It feels like I’ve been away at least a week, but today is only the second full day. I’ve had a great time exploring new places!

This challenge has been full of rewarding experiences. There’s surely more to life than the mundane and all it takes is a little imagination mixed with a tiny bit of effort to make it happen.

I’m on a mission, now: a quest for neural pathways and the pursuit of, not happiness, but novelty.

Relephant Bonus: Watch this Ted talk by Matt Cutts on trying something new for 30 days:


Want 15 free additional reads weekly, just our best?

Get our weekly newsletter.

{Photos: Wikimedia Commons, Flickr, Pixoto}

Read 8 Comments and Reply

Read 8 comments and reply

Top Contributors Latest

Dana Gornall & Catherine Monkman