You might find yourself drawing random pictures as you listen to a presentation or writing your name multiple times as you are on hold on the phone. One word covers both actions: doodling. And, it’s also more common than you might think. At least 26 of our American presidents doodled, including Theodore Roosevelt (animals and children), Ronald Reagan (football players and cowboys) and John F. Kennedy (dominos). Fortunately, doodling isn’t just a meaningless action we take when we’re bored or distracted. In fact, there is evidence that doodling benefits our brains.
Doodling and Memory
A Harvard publication discusses a 2009 study where 40 people listened to a “dull and rambling” voice mail message that lasted two and a half minutes. Half of them doodled, shading in a shape, while the others did not. At the end, both groups were asked to recall information from the call (something they did not know they’d be asked) and doodlers recalled 29 percent more information.
Although experts can’t yet say with certainty why doodling helped, they suspect that doodling may be a “last-ditch attempt at staying awake and attentive.” This may keep you from staring blankly or even falling asleep, with this style of free drawing keeping “your brain online just a little while longer.” Plus, having to pay intense attention to something for too long strains the brain, and doodling may give the brain a break.
Stress Relief and Improved Focus
Doodling can provide relief to psychological distress and help to make sense of “lost puzzle piece of memories, bringing them to the present, and making the picture of our lives more whole again.” These benefits will help people to feel more relaxed, which makes it easier to concentrate.
Although doodling has the reputation of being random scribblings, what we doodle probably isn’t as random as we think. In fact, the former director of the Institute for Human Development uses doodles as a doorway to the unconscious and a tool to diagnose emotional issues.
Doodling and Creativity
“When you draw an object, the mind becomes deeply, intensely attentive . . . allows you to really grasp something, to become fully conscious of it.” (The Atlantic)
Perhaps, the article in The Atlantic speculates, the resurgence of adult coloring and sketching products on the market is a kind of “artistic rebellion” against computers. Whether or not that’s true, drawing — which includes doodling — is a topic of interest these days, perhaps in part because virtually anyone can doodle, regardless of the degree of artistic ability.
Insight can be gained from doodles because they create a tangible representation of something from our brains, which is a first step in triggering insights through the process. A picture that is “utterly hideous,” an expert is quoted as saying, “may still have taught the creator something significant.”
Doodling can even change a person’s state of mind, to help him or her go from frazzled to more focused. This means doodling can be a powerful tool to “change your physical and neurological experience, in that moment.”
If this topic intrigues you, consider reading The Doodle Revolution by Sunni Brown. Check your local library or order it from Amazon.com. Described as a “fearless guide to awakening your mind using simple visual language,” the book’s description notes the following “heavy-hitting thinkers” who used doodling: Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Richard Feynman, Henry Ford and John F. Kennedy. “The instinctive and universal act of doodling,” the description also states, “need only be unleashed in order to innovate, solve problems, and elevate cognitive performance instantly.”