Johnny Crowder is an accomplished musician, advocate, creative writer, entrepreneur, and motivational speaker. In 2018, he founded Cope Notes, a mental health service that uses daily text messages to train the brain to develop healthier thought patterns. Join Tangible Movement Editor-in-Chief Jessica Hutt in discovering Crowder’s motivation, journey, and aspirations.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. What led you to this work?
I’m a 26-year-old touring musician, mental health advocate, and the founder of Cope Notes. I grew up in an abusive home, where I battled all sorts of mental health issues. I always had this feeling that I’d never improve, that I’d never get better or start to climb out of the hole I was in. Once I finally started taking initiative and responsibility, when I finally started growing in the right direction, I was so frustrated at how difficult it was for me to get started down that path. I couldn’t find many resources that actually helped, so I knew I had to do something about it. I wanted to help people who were just as frustrated as I was when it came to self-improvement and self-care, so here I am.
How did you come up with the idea of Cope Notes? Once you had the idea, how did you bring your vision to life?
I used to write myself these little notes and leave them scattered throughout my house – in my bathroom mirror, on my nightstand, inside of my shoes, etc. But after seeing them once or twice, they started to blend into the background, and they didn’t have the type of effect I was hoping for. I wished someone could just randomly ping me with these messages so that I wouldn’t see them coming and accidentally tune them out. Then, one day, I sent a positive text to 30 or so of my friends, and I couldn’t believe the response. Everyone interpreted the text differently, but the common sentiment was, “How did you know I needed to hear that right now?” The secret was that I didn’t – it was their brain that did all the heavy lifting. The power of the human brain to interpret stimulus is downright astounding, and the proof was right there in front of me. That was when I knew I might be onto something.
How does your background in music intersect with your work in mental health?
I think a lot of people wind up in music – specifically in heavy music – because of frustration or discontentment in other areas of their life. The music scene is filled to the brim with misfits; people who don’t feel like they can be themselves at work, at school, or with their families. They feel too weird to fit in anywhere else. When I think of the audience that Cope Notes serves, the audience that Prison (my band) serves, and the audience that I serve when do public speaking and mental health advocacy, they all fall into this gigantic, messy melting pot of beautiful, misunderstood people, and I love them all to death. We’re not so different at the end of the day.
How do you come up with the messages you send to subscribers?
The messages are inspired by all sorts of things, but they all have to align with the reality of lived experience. Whether the initial concept comes from a TED Talk, a psychology textbook, a university lecture, or a conversation with someone at a concert, every text we send gets filtered through the lens of real-life experience with mental illness. That’s how we can ensure the authenticity that is so important when it comes to peer support. Then, of course, all of the texts are reviewed by mental health professionals to verify that they’re appropriate, valid, and actually helpful.
Have you heard back from users who have benefited from Cope Notes? How have they told you your service has helped them?
Absolutely – on days when I feel overworked and understaffed, this is the best kind of fuel. We’ve had users tell us they’ve applied to their dream colleges, gone on mission trips, moved across the country, quit their unhealthy jobs, leave abusive relationships, and even step down from the ledge of suicide, all because of a simple text message we sent them. Whenever I become discouraged or overwhelmed (every entrepreneur can relate to this), I turn to messages like these to remember why I do what I do, and what it is that makes all of this hard work so important.
Why do you randomly stagger the texts? What is the reason for the timing?
This goes back to what I mentioned before. Our brains are very, very skilled at tuning out information that it finds repetitive or unimportant. Without you consciously realizing it, your brain will selectively ignore things like the hum of your air conditioner, along with all sorts of other types of stimulus. This phenomenon, called habituation, is what allows you to sleep through your alarm or dismiss the smell of your own apartment. As long as we keep the texts totally random, from timing to content to sentiment, and even vary them from user to user, we’re combating your brain’s tendency to ignore something that can genuinely help it.
Is there anything else about yourself, your story, your music, or Cope Notes that you would like to share with us?
I’d just like to say this: No one ever showed up at my doorstep and gave me permission to do what I do. My band isn’t signed, but we’re touring all over the country. I didn’t go out and raise $10M from investors to launch Cope Notes, but we’re texting thousands of people every day from all over the world.
My point is that you don’t need that permission, either. You can go out there and make the difference you want to make in the lives of people you want to impact. You can do it right now. You don’t have to wait around for someone to tell you that your idea is good. If you believe in it, and you know it can help people, go do it. Today.
By: Jessica Hutt