All of us have doodled at some point or other in our lives. In classrooms, during college lectures, while travelling and even during official meetings. More often than not, teachers, lecturers and trainers admonish those who doodle, for being distracted and inattentive. However, if studies are to be believed, doodling and so-called mindless scribbling should not be discouraged. Why? Because it actually proves that the doodler’s mind is active.
Various studies have shown that this so-called idle scribbling or doodling actually plays a significant part in helping a person concentrate and focus. So, next time you see somebody scribbling during a long meeting, understand that she/he is not bored but probably more attentive than the others in the room.
The dictionary defines doodling as the act of drawing pictures and patterns while thinking about something else, that is, while being mentally preoccupied or while one is bored. It describes doodling as ‘idle scribbling’.
I think of doodling as a bridge between the conscious and the subconscious
While doodling may appear to be a kind of unconscious act of scrawling or drawing on any surface, these days it is actually being recommended as a tool to enhance focus and concentration. There are innumerable books available to help adults doodle, to relieve stress. Today, children’s books with doodling activities are widely bought by parents for their wards as they are known to help retain memory.
Don’t we all remember our parents and grandparents advising us to write everything down while studying so that the content is easily memorised? Well, writing down all that you hear during a training session or lecture or taking down notes is not the same as doodling. There is a huge difference.
Santosh Babu, MD and chairman, OD Alternatives, discourages participants from taking down notes during his training sessions. “By taking down every word that is being uttered, or making copious notes, the participants are relying less on their mental ability to grasp. Depending more on notes for understanding means they are trusting their brains less, and that is not something I approve of,” he explains.
On the other hand, the experienced trainer does not mind if people take down a few keywords or points that capture the essence of his lecture/session. These can be scribbled as alphabets, phrases or even drawings or patterns, which the participants can refer to later, at any point of time and thus recall what they heard/learnt during the session.
Doodling and concentration: What’s the connection?
At a meeting, if an employee is doodling a particular figure, number or word he has heard, it is only getting embedded somewhere in his brain deeper and deeper. The doodling doesn’t even have to be relevant to the topic being discussed or talked about. Any doodling is said to improve recall. This is probably because while doodling, the brain remains active and alert. Therefore, it registers better whatever is heard.
By taking down every word that is being uttered, or making copious notes, the participants are relying less on their mental ability to grasp. Depending more on notes for understanding means they are trusting their brains less, and that is not something I approve of
While paying attention to a single voice or trying to focus on a specific topic, the brain gets stressed out and exhausted. In fact, it may eventually shut down. Naturally, this will affect retention. Doodling while listening prevents this stress and fatigue from setting in, hence improving recall. By doodling or scribbling randomly, the listener’s brain remains awake, and therefore, registers more of what is heard.
Many researches have been conducted to endorse this fact. About a decade ago, psychologist Jackie Andrade had conducted a study that revealed that people who were shading within a given shape while listening to an e-mail message lasting over two minutes, were found to be more attentive. They happened to remember more details from the message (29 per cent more) than those who were not shading.
According to Carol Ann Courney, there was a medical student who actually doodled every evening just so that she could organise her thoughts and assemble all that she had learnt during the day into comprehensive doodles. These comprised keywords, drawings, figures, phrases, which all came together to create a pattern that made a lot of sense to her. In fact, she relied on this daily exercise of creating doodles to reiterate and revise whatever she had learnt in class.
Of course, there are doctors, such as Dr Robert Burns, the former director of the Institute for Human Development, University of Seattle, who believe that doodles can be effectively used to diagnose the emotional issues of patients. He is of the opinion that the doodles created by a person reveal what he is unconsciously thinking.
Vandana Bist, an artist, doodle expert, and co-founder of Akka Bakka, says, “ I think of doodling as a bridge between the conscious and the subconscious. It works in two ways — one, it dips into the subconscious, and reaching pockets of peace and calm, helps deal with stress that may be caused by external factors. Two—the seemingly aimless activity of moving the pen on paper, curiously takes the doodler into deep-seated fears and complexes, and draws them out through images that are revealing and often therapeutic to her/him.”
Adults who have attended my sessions have admitted to experiencing increased focus and concentration from drawing patterns repeatedly
Doodling and the corporate world
May be India Inc. should start looking at those restless and fidgety executives and trainees, scribbling during a meeting, in a different light. If doodling helps people focus, it will ultimately also improve their productivity. A person who appears to be distractedly squiggling on his notepad may actually be taking in more from the meeting in terms of insights than those who appear to be paying undivided attention to the speaker, but actually have switched off mentally. With more focus comes higher productivity and quality. And higher productivity for any business is the ultimate goal, as it eventually translates into better profits.
“I have found doodling very helpful to myself and to all the people…adults or children whom I have introduced it to. That said, doodling is fun for anybody, anytime, anywhere,” says Bist.
Priya Sabhlok, artist and zentangle expert, confirms, “Adults who have attended my sessions have admitted to experiencing increased focus and concentration from drawing patterns repeatedly.”
So during this lockdown period, managers should probably ask their teams stressed out by being cooped up at home, to try the doodle therapy. It will probably help channelise their energy, make their creative juices flow, and have them enjoying the work-from-home situation.