With climate change all around us, the relevance of sustainability is more important than ever before. As we power down to minimise our carbon footprints, why not dust off those long forgotten notebooks and write in analogue? Although picking up a pen again can be a strange sensation, what if we told you that there are psychological benefits to handwriting? Read on to find out more…
Activating your mind and memory
There’s no denying that a keyboard and word processing software let us crank out words quickly, but have you ever wondered why we seem to forget some of the stuff we’ve written mere moments later? Comparing this with our days in university when handwritten notes were the norm, our memories just seemed stickier! While we may attribute this to our younger selves having better memories, there’s far more to it than simply a difference in writing mediums.
Whether our preferred way of writing is in print or in cursive, studies from Psychology Today show that handwriting is an effective way to exercise our minds – activating more regions of the brain versus simply looking at words or typing on a keyboard. On a keyboard, a simple button press allows us to create a full fleshed character immediately. Comparatively when we handwrite, our haptic needs become much greater – requiring us to have fine motor control over our arms, hands and fingers.
According to Professor Edouard Gentaz of the University of Geneva’s developmental psychology department, our alleged increases in memory from handwriting can be attributed to “body memory” – a concept that is similar to learning by doing. It’s the reason why we have a tendency to paraphrase and summarise what we hear during meetings and lectures.
“You can’t possibly write everything [the lecturer is saying], you have to write in a style that allows you to get maximum information from minimum output,” explains Jared Horvath from the University of Melbourne’s Science of Learning Research Center. Furthermore, the slower speed of handwriting (compared to typing) allows our minds to better process each word and the meaning behind it – creating the impression of an improved memory!
Taking a load off for self-improvement
We’ve all had moments where things didn’t go exactly according to plan – be it a poor performance review, receiving harsh criticism or when Bob in accounting poured himself the last cup of coffee without making more. Meditation is said to be able to keep our minds focused on constructive next steps and help us destress, but did you know that writing has similar therapeutic properties as well?
“The act of typing [and writing] serves as a hand rail on our thoughts, and occupies a certain part of the brain that generally gets restless and looks for something to do,” says Buster Benson, the founder of 750 Words. Our minds treat meditative writing as a process of inquiry – allowing us to better track our thoughts with tangible evidence while “loosening attachments and habitual states of mind.” Here’s how HuffPost suggests it be done:
Settle into a contemplative space of silence– like in regular meditation, you need to control your breathing first and sit in stillness for several moments. Notice the “atmosphere” in your head and be intent on changing it into an atmosphere of “warmth and openness toward yourself and your experience” – thus achieving a mindful state.
Set a time for 10 minutes and write freely without stopping – don’t make edits, don’t pause to think. “Be willing to let the words surprise you, the idea is to relax your mind so that you can source the layer under your discursive thoughts.” There are no wrong words!
Afterwards, take a deep breath and read aloud – by making your words audible, you’ll develop a better understanding of the expectations, fears, pleasures and judgements that arise, and better accept them into your atmosphere of warmth and openness.
Underline anything that strikes you as “alive” or intriguing – these fragments are useful as prompts that you can address now or in future sessions.
Share the benefits – at the end of the session, “make the wish that whatever insight you gained produce positive effects for yourself and the beings touched by you.”
If meditative writing doesn’t work for you, a daily journal offers a handy alternative too. According to Dan Ciampa (a contributor for Harvard Business Review and a renowned advisor and coach for Fortune500 CEOs), replaying past events in our brains is a crucial element to learning. “While the brain records and holds what takes place in the moment, the learning from what one has gone through – that is, determining what is important and what lessons should be learned – happens after during periods of quiet reflection.” For Ciampa, a good journal (best written by hand) is composed of four elements:
A headline that best captures the primary outcome – what keywords or phrases best describe what happened that day?
Reasons behind that outcome – ask “why?” five times to peel back each layer of reasoning for further context and to discover the “always-subtle” root cause.
Recall the emotions – how did these emotions affect decision making and what triggered them?
Identify key takeaways – what can you learn from this experience to make it avoidable or repeatable in the future?
Once you’ve built up a good collection of journal entries, you can go back and see if you still feel and think the same way over time. By having a clear trail of your previous thoughts, you can construct solutions more rationally and logically. “Journal entries should provide not only a record of what happened, but how we reacted emotionally; writing it down brings a certain clarity that puts things in perspective,” explains Ciampa.
You don’t need to be an expert copywriter to write a good journal or meditative piece – it’s all about learning from past experiences and giving your mind a good workout. So the next time you’re stressed out (or simply need an excuse to get away from your computer), grab a pen and paper and beef up your braincells!