Making friends with CHANGE

Habits, Brain Changes & Brain Aging
Why your brain resists change
and how you can make it do what’s good for it – Part I

© Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
from the Brain-Based Series
Collaboration with
Jodie’s Touch of Style

“A mind equipped with a wide range of
previously formed
pattern recognition devices
can withstand the effects of neuroerosion
for a long time.”

~ Dr. Elkhonon Goldberg, PhD, from
The Wisdom Paradox 

About the Brain that Changes Itself

It took science a long time to agree that an old idea was not only obsolete, but completely WRONG.

Until 1970, it was generally believed that the brain might as well be carved in stone after a certain childhood window of a great deal of change.

What is practically universally accepted these days is that our brains change and grow throughout our lives.

In fact, learning anything new after a certain age would be impossible unless the brain were capable of forming new pathways, which also involves the ongoing creation of brand new brain cells (neurons) and connections (synapses).

Another way to say it

Dr. Norman Doidge, author of The Brain’s Way of Healing and the New York Times best-seller The Brain that Changes Itself (the all-time bestselling science book in Australia) puts it this way:

Plasticity simply means that the brain can change its structure and its function depending on what it does.

And that means, depending on what we react to when we’re sensing and perceiving, our brains will “rewire” depending on the actions that we commit ourselves to, and most intriguingly, depending on what we think and imagine.

ALL of these things can change the structure of the brain.

More about Doidge here: The Brain Science Podcast Turns TEN!

HOWEVER, since the brain is, essentially, a pattern-recognition organ, most human beings kick and scream when we are forced to change. Many of us who would like to change – maybe even those of us who are eager to change – struggle still.

Change is not easy

Change requires our conscious attention to doing things differently. Consciousness is a resource-intensive process. Your brain REALLY doesn’t want to burn up those resources dealing with the same information and making the same decisions over and over again.

Brains like the easy-to-pattern-match same ole/same ole, despite the fact that it’s not particularly good for them long term.

Even though it’s a huge help to put what I like to call the treadmill tasks on autopilot (like laundry, dishes and dusting) – a practice I highly recommend – that old saw about variety turns out to be an understatement where moving through the rest of life is concerned.

Unless spices are the main ingredients in the meals at your house, you are underestimating the importance of change to healthy brain functioning over your entire lifetime.

And still, we resist

Almost ALL of us, ADD/EFD or not, have a small – perfectly “normal” – part of our personalities that balks unless a new idea or different manner of approaching a change in something familiar is totally appealing in the moment we are “supposed” to take it on.  Why?

As I began in an earlier article, Change, Growth and Decision Dilemmas, it is essential to understand a fundamental, psychological truth about all human beings, ADD/EFD or not.

We are conflicted about growth and change.

At bottom, most of us crave safety as strongly as we crave freedom and adventure, although not in equal measure at all times and about all things.

The fact remains that there is a conflicted relationship between making choices at all – and new choices in particular – and preserving the freedom to do whatever we want.  To escape the discomfort of the conflict, it is all too tempting to fall back on “the devil we know” – and so we usually do.

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Biology is NOT destiny

Not where your brain is concerned it isn’t, anyway.

All of your thoughts, behaviors and actions were set in motion by the genes you inherited from your parents, which determined to a large extent how your brain was “wired” from birth.  But it turns out that a most important predictor of how you function throughout life and as you grow old is how your brain re-wires as you age

How you are “wired” initially isn’t what you’re stuck with – or blessed with – forever. That’s what is meant when scientists and science bloggers say that “genes are expressed in environment.”

Genes are merely blueprints,
and plasticity is like the engineers who make on-site changes.

It is important to note that plasticity is a two way process — it can improve or degrade any ability. We know now that outside influences can, metaphorically, “turn genes on and off,” changing pathways in your brain — for better or for worse!

For example, influences like the following:

  • nutrition and diet – before and after birth
  • substance abuse, especially exposure in the womb
  • home environment growing up
  • physical or emotional trauma
  • our various social environments as we age
  • education – early and throughout life
  • good and bad partnerships
  • and more

Epigenetics – changing how genes are expressed

Epigenetics is the scientific term for the study of how your internal and external environments change the expression of your genes. In addition, all of these influences combine to determine how individuals interpret incoming and new influences going forward.

A study published in the Journal of Behavioral Ecology highlights dozens of studies showing epigenetics guides rapid adaptation. But, but, but . . .

To effect change you must embrace change

I’m sure you have heard this one: If you do what you’ve always done you will get what you’ve always gotten.  Would that it were always true – especially if you like what you’ve always gotten.

For most of us, however, doing what we’ve always done is a recipe for functional backsliding – unless we are very, very lucky.

Imagine a town with a fixed number of interconnecting roads – a limited number of ways to get from where you are to where you want to go.

If anything happened to make any part of the route you normally travel inaccessible, you’re pretty much stuck.

As annoying as those detour signs can be, aren’t you also grateful that there IS a detour?

So it is with your brain.  Change forces the brain to create new “roads” it can use when its usual pathway is damaged by any one of a number of things: stroke, concussion, medication, chronic stress – whatever.

But don’t take MY word for it

The famous Nun Study has shown us that healthy brain aging doesn’t happen by accident.  To repeat some text from an earlier article [You don’t HAVE to lose it as you age: Moving Past Mind-Blips and “Senior Moments”]:

Upon autopsy, even some of the nuns discovered to have what used to be accepted as “positive Alzheimer’s identifiers” (senile plaques and neurofibrillary tangles), managed to escape the behavioral devastation of the disease.

Others had only recently begun to exhibit signs of mental decline in the year or two before their deaths (at 80 and beyond), despite brains that would have predicted a significantly earlier onset of dementia.

The nuns who remained vital and cognitively nimble remained intellectually and physically active, intentionally exposing themselves to new learning opportunities throughout their lives.  Their brains had built a great many pathways they could use to get them where they wanted to go, behaviorally.

Embracing Change


Over the next week, I will be collaborating with on a series of articles over at Jodie’s Touch of Style.

Together we will demonstrate how playing with what we choose to wear – recombining items we already own or adding something inexpensive to alter the look – can be a terrific way of making friends with change.

Jodie blogs with her mom, Charlotte (the 70’s model on her posts) and her stepmom, Nancy (the 60’s model), while she models similar looks for those in their 50s. We even plan to include some looks that adapt ideas from a younger fashion blogger to add to the fun.

I hope you will join us as she experiments with different styles, demonstrating that style is ageless – while I explain how forcing yourself to try on new looks is actually good for your brain!

On other posts her husband Rob contributes a few fun looks from his closet too, illustrating that wardrobe change isn’t only something for the females on the planet!  So stay tuned.

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About Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC
Award-winning ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching field co-founder; [life] Coaching pioneer -- Neurodiversity Advocate, Coach, Mentor & Poster Girl -- Multi-Certified -- 25 years working with EFD [Executive Functioning disorders] and struggles in hundreds of people from all walks of life. I developed and delivered the world's first ADD-specific coach training curriculum: multi-year, brain-based, and ICF Certification tracked. In addition to my expertise in ADD/EF Systems Development Coaching, I am known for training and mentoring globally well-informed ADD Coach LEADERS with the vision to innovate, many of the most visible, knowledgeable and successful ADD Coaches in the field today (several of whom now deliver highly visible ADD coach trainings themselves). For almost a decade, I personally sponsored and facilitated seven monthly, virtual and global, no-charge support and information groups The ADD Hours™ - including The ADD Expert Speakers Series, hosting well-known ADD Professionals who were generous with their information and expertise, joining me in my belief that "It takes a village to educate a world." I am committed to being a thorn in the side of ADD-ignorance in service of changing the way neurodiversity is thought about and treated - seeing "a world that works for everyone" in my lifetime. Get in touch when you're ready to have a life that works BECAUSE of who you are, building on strengths to step off that frustrating treadmill "when 'wanting to' just doesn't get it DONE!"

121 Responses to Making friends with CHANGE

  1. Pingback: Overcoming Bad: Get To The GOOD – The Militant Negro™

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  4. It is so fascinating to learn valuable information that changes perspectives and brings myths and obsolete beliefs crashing down…in this fast-paced, instant gratification, society of ours, it is a gift have a resource such as yours, Madelyn (BTW…so sorry for spelling your name wrong in my blog…it’s been corrected). Also, given your gracious invitation, I’m including a link to the post I wrote today….a bit on the lighter side and makes reference to resisting change.
    Thanks for sharing your brilliance 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • There are so many different ways to spell Madelyn I’m usually surprised when anyone picks the one my mother decided on (so if I hated it I could truncate to Lyn) – which tried at one “new girl” school and hated it but – SURPRISE – we didn’t move again at the end of the year like always, so I was stuck with it until I left for college and could change it back.

      I always preferred the French spelling – Madeleine – but you know how it is with your name, changes feel “not you.” My FB friends from that time still call me Lyn, which feels REALLY “not me.” I’m surprised they friended ‘MGH’ when ‘LG’ was how they knew me. THEY found me, but blog-buddies keep asking me if I’m on FB because they cannot. Just as well, because I visit FB about as often as I visit the North Pole.

      Lucky you – not too many ways to spell Truly, but I’ll bet you get tired of saying, “Yes, that really is my name.” .

      Hopped over to read your “Why do we resist change” post and left a message there. Try the glasses – but wait until they go on sale because they always do.

      Thanks for the glowing words aimed my way – that ‘b’ word aimed my way makes me blush!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sometimes people spell my name Truely…I think they figure it must be spelled a bit differently when it’s a name…and, a good number of people “auto correct” when the see it in writing, and think it’s supposed to say Trudy…and, yes, I get lots of Truly “puns”….you truly are wonderful, Truly….etc….not complaining though, a compliment always follows, never something like “You are truly weird, Truly!” 🙂


        • You are Truly wonderful to respond – lol. 🙂 Have you blogged about your name – I mean, why your parents chose it, etc.?

          My grandmother knew the Aldrins (Buzz Aldrin the 2nd man on the moon’s parents). My mother always liked his mother’s name, which is why she chose it for her firstborn (ME!) but she got creative with the spelling.


  5. Madelyn after reading this post, I was imagining as to if the Brain did not allow us for a Change. How life life would have been without the required change.
    So here we must understand that the Brain welcomes and encourages the change rather helps too.
    I have always found a lot of change in my life every now and then, so I have thank my Brain for that. Hahaha….
    Change is the way of Life
    Brain is support of Life

    Playing with words has been my new change and I feel my Brain was always ready to give the change.
    The Brain now wants a Change so shall discuss about it another time… lol.
    While sending full of Prana to the Brain I also send good wishes to You.

    Liked by 1 person

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  7. Change is something we resist–on occasion. But one area I don’t think I’ll ever bore of is food. I love trying new recipes and I can’t imagine eating the same foods all the time! I’m hoping my toddler will soon embrace the change. Lol.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Pingback: Friday Fun: Fashion and Shopping | ADD . . . and-so-much-more

  9. dgkaye says:

    Lol, gotta laugh. I left a link on Senior Salon and clicked yours, not knowing it was you. 🙂 🙂 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Pingback: What’s my Style? | ADD . . . and-so-much-more

  11. Soon after I retired from teaching and walked away to a lifestyle I wanted, I made friends with change by giving all my button down shirts, ties, dress belts, and slacks to charity and buying a variety of short-and-long sleeve t-shirts, jeans, and other clothing and gear from Duluth Trading Company. I have even learned to enjoy wearing sweats almost all the time I’m at home – and I buy my sweats and undergarments from Duluth Trading Company because they are designed to be comfortable.

    All I had to do to “make friends with change” was work in a variety of paid, time-slave jobs with bosses (too many of them worse than dung) for 45 years and that earned me the lifestyle I now refuse to give up. I’d rather die first before I returned to the world of paid, time-slave work with an autocratic boss.

    I kept one suit with shirt and tie that I’ve worn once since I left teaching in 2005 and that one time was for my daughter’s wedding. And I almost didn’t go because I don’t want to party where there are crowds, booze, and bad (unhealthy) food that tastes good.


    To earn the retirement income I now have, I had to put up with all kinds of abuse as a public school teacher for thirty years. My end goal is to live on that monthly CalSTRS check that I earned by staying healthy and enjoying this last stage of life for thirty years or more and with a smile that doesn’t want to change.

    Unless the Malignant Narcissist in the White House and his racist, hating, deplorable followers destroy the CalSTRS retirement system, I’m financially free from the world where I was often forced to make changes I didn’t want to make. I hated wearing ties and button down shirts.

    More smiles!!!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Put a comma between “racist, hating”. Thank you. Still smiling and laughing.

      Liked by 1 person

    • GOOD for you, Lloyd. I gave away what I called my “corporate drag” suits as soon as I began working for myself 100%. I didn’t hate them, I just knew I’d never dress that way again – not by choice, anyway. Like you, I kept something from that “life” – and also, like you, they hang in my closet barely worn in 20 years! (Interesting that biz suit styles don’t really change much, huh?)

      You think ties are hateful — try being forced to wear panty hose (even in the summer!) NEVER again!

      You planned well, made your changes when the time was right, and are thrilled with your current lifestyle, including the clothes on your body. How many of us can say THAT?


  12. Pingback: Change your Clothes, Change your Brain? | ADD . . . and-so-much-more

  13. dgkaye says:

    Fascinating post Madelyn, and I will be staying tuned for sure. I’m right there with style girlfriend! 🙂 x

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Excellent post, as always. A pleasure to read.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. John Fioravanti says:

    A very interesting article, Madelyn – more scientific evidence that a healthy mind and body is no accident – especially as we age. Since I retired from teaching 9 years ago, my brain has been very active and learning new skills. Now I need to force my body to catch up!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know what you mean. When I was acting I was in *super* shape: worked out every other day, danced, did Yoga, etc. Now that my career is more {ahem!} cerebral? – the only parts of my body that get a really good & regular workout are my bum and my fingers — unless you want to count my mouth and my ears 🙂


  16. A really thoughtful post, lots to digest here, Madelyn, especially the idea that we can rewire that brain, and maybe even defy genetics. I’ve always believed that to be true.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Neuroplasticity only makes sense – even way back in the day when most of the science crowd was still making fun of Merzenich & Taub.

      If the brain could NOT change in adulthood, nobody would ever recover from strokes, etc. (tho’ they did try to come up with an explanation for that, it wasn’t all that solid, IMHO, and seems especially silly now that it is proven not to be the case that the adult brain is “fixed.”)

      We CAN rewire, but we can’t actually “defy” genetics (i.e., “think” our eyes and ears to change places on our skulls for example – it’s not just “belief” that sets the placement), but we can recruit areas of the brain to overcome genetics (i.e., “hearing” and/or “seeing” through vibrations through a tongue device, “seeing” through echo-location, etc.).

      Some of the work examining the way various areas of the brain long thought to be “dedicated” can be recruited for other tasks is absolutely fascinating.

      AND it all starts with making friends with change!

      Liked by 1 person

  17. I’ve read more than once that real change requires a long-term commitment because it takes 6 months to a year to bring about those changes. Have you read or heard of “What To Say When You Talk to Yourself”, by Shad Helmsteter?

    I read this book back in the early 1980s and then.following what I learned, I set about to make drastic changes in my behavior, thinking and lifestyle.

    What Amazon says about Helmstetter’s book: “Each of us is programmed from birth on, and as much as 75% or more of our programming may be negative or working against us. In this newly updated and revised eBook edition, Shad Helmstetter shows the reader how to erase and replace past mental programs with healthy, new programs that can be positively life-changing. Considered by many to be one of the most important and helpful personal growth books ever written.”

    Following the advice in his book, I wrote a script and then recorded it on a cassette that I listened to every day for an entire year on the drive to work. I also write specific goals, printed them out, framed them and ever morning I’d get up and stand in front of those goals hanging on the wall and read them to myself. I repeated the process before I went to sleep to program my mind’s activity at night while I slept.

    I’ve also read some of Oliver Sacks work.

    My interest in how the brain learns started early in my career as a teacher back in the late 1970s and I continued reading on the topic for decades often using what I learned to plan how I taught my students using teaching tactics to reach as many children as possible since we do not all learn the same way. A lesson that focuses on one method of teaching often misses many students who have difficulty learning that way.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I’ve read the same thing, Lloyd, but I’ve also read about some amazing results in less than a week – measurable changes in the brain that corresponded to observable skills and behaviors (mostly when things were set up to enforce the change and make repeating the old impossible).

      I have come to believe that it is developing the HABIT of doing things differently that takes the time – and often MUCH longer than most of us have heard.

      If we think about our brain as freshly fallen snow and our thoughts and activities as footprints, the more we follow what’s gone before, the deeper those grooves become and the easier it is to take the path well-traveled (which wears it even deeper, making change all the more difficult and less likely).

      I am not familiar with Helmsteter’s book but, after reading its effect on you, it sounds like something I would love. Thanks for the link. SO smart of you to “program” yourself. I did something similar when I first began coaching.

      Interesting that you came to your interest in neuroscience thru “learning styles” – that was one of the first places I looked at as well – only I referred to them as “modalities.” Not only do all people have a different mix through which they learn best (and different still for learning different types of tasks), I think it is important for the folks they are learning FROM to understand their own modalities preferences to be effective with as many learners as possible.

      Can’t help but wonder if our current Sec. of Ed. has ever heard of learning any way but HER way – which is, of course, as little as possible. 🙂

      btw- ADORE Sacks – have all his books, I believe, and was so sad never to have met him.


  18. robjodiefilogomo says:

    I can’t tell you how enjoying this was, Madelyn. Because even though I love styling clothing and think it’s beneficial…I didn’t realize how good it was for us!! I feel so emboldened!!
    ps…I received your input & link for the 3rd post (friday’s)—thanks!!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hello Jodie!

      I hope everybody is primed and looking forward to Monday – to see what you guys came up with in response to Challenge #1! It would be so cool if people would play along and send you photos – does that ever happen?

      I know you sometimes collaborate with your readers who blog, but do they ever join in and send photos on their own?
      PS – thanks for letting me know about Friday. After 12 solid hours of sleep, I am feeling a lot less fuzzy (although not exactly like the sharpest tack in the box). I’m almost afraid to take a look at what I came up with when I was wheezing and a bit feverish. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  19. This is another great article Madelyn. We always are amazed at the human body. The brain is so incredible and often we get lost when thinking how it does what it does. The topic of change is always on the burner of our daily routines and has become one of our mantras, why are we doing this. Our hopes are always to embrace change to grow and become and not just hide behind rationalization. You have put into words thoughts that we couldn’t find the words for. Thank you for making the time to write this article. P.S. am also fighting the sinus thing.

    Liked by 2 people

    • You guys are the Poster Kids for change! I wonder at seeing the words “daily” and “routine” in the same sentence, even.

      I am so SORRY to hear you are battling a sinus foe of your own. Miserable, ain’t it? Like trying to blow up a football – cough/hack!

      It does make me truly appreciate how physically healthy I have been for most of my life – and feel a tad less impatient with myself for all the time I’ve been spending in bed during the last few days (even tho’ I’d rather be bopping around the web).

      I hope you have managed to beat back the infection portion and are “merely” waiting for the drips and hacks to subside. I finally learned to take sinusitis seriously from the beginning and haven’t had a raging sinus infection for many years now.

      Good thing I’m not researching Naps right now – my time in bed would surely bias my reasearch. lol


      • Thanks Madelyn, we look at change as good and stimulates us to look at the same ole in a new way. Yes, sinus issues seem to happen a lot in this regions where one minute its 70 degrees and the next 33 degrees. My head is a giant wet bulb thermometer, lol. Oh well it helps me appreciate the majority of days when I can smell all the wonderful scents wafting in from a distance. Rest is important but I know it can be difficult to acquiesce to it when one is use to traveling at 110 mph, lol.

        Liked by 1 person

  20. -Eugenia says:

    Superb read, Madelyn. Change is an important part of stirring up our creative senses. Complacency dulls the mind and dulls the senses.

    Liked by 2 people

  21. I found this a most interesting read, Madelyn. I have thought for a while now that the brain is like a muscle – the more you use it the more it grows. I never majored in economics at University but I have been studying it for the past four or five years and have learned so much that most people assume I am an economist.

    Liked by 3 people

    • In many ways that’s an apt analogy, Robbie — in both directions. When we stop exercising (our brain or our body), the areas we built up begin to shrink – and other areas that rely on them begin to struggle as well.

      Many of us now understand the importance of a strong core, for example, to back health. Fewer understand the importance of “a strong hippocampus” to learning and memory (very loose analogy, but I’m sure you get the idea).

      I still wonder how you were attracted to economics in the first place, Robbie – since you are SO empathetic and creative, I can only assume I’m missing something fascinating in that field! It has always seemed so linear and rule-bound to me – and practically willing to throw poor people under the bus if the metrics were right for the more affluent.

      Can you recommend a primer for somebody like me? Since I know so little about it, it would probably be GREAT for my brain to take it on. lol 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      • I am not an economist by trade, I am a chartered accountant which is even more black and white. It is really quite funny because when people meet me they never guess that I am an accountant and my colleagues call me the “multi-coloured pin-stripe” [I call accountant’s pin-stripes because of the suits they all wear]. I find economics very interesting and strive to find ways where economics could help uplift and educate the less fortunate. You might like to read some of the World Economic Forum documents – they are very interesting about what we [read as the world] needs to do for the benefit of all mankind – there is a website if you are ever interested in some heavy, but fascinating, reading.

        Liked by 2 people

  22. I like it very much what you wrote about biology is NOT destiny… and I see some things now different than beore… thanks!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • VERY encouraging news, yes? That does not mean that we can change EVERYTHING about our biology with our thoughts and actions (as some mistakenly believe and pass along in an almost “blame the victim” fashion) – but we can change quite a bit where gene expression is concerned — sort of “turning genes on and off.”

      That is GREAT news for many people who have been worried about falling victim to genetic conditions that have taken family members.

      Liked by 1 person

  23. Madelyn very nice and so well written article. Our brain and its two sides is very well explained by Deepak Chopra and you too have further informed it so well. Great post.

    Liked by 3 people

  24. mistermuse says:

    “Playing with what we choose to wear” might be a hard sell in a nudist colony. I’d bet my bottom dollar you can barely get your foot in the door.

    Liked by 2 people

    • lol – I can always count on you to think way outside the box, betting your bottom dollar etc. I’m fighting a sinus infection, so my fuzzy brain and I are off to bed early tonight – happy to see a comment I can approve first, under this article that auto-posted just a bit ago. Thank you.


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