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6 Ways Doodling Can Make You Smarter, Happier, and More Productive

According to numerous studies, doodling is a mental tool that improves concentration, memory, creativity, and even happiness. Every president doodled on the job. Below, science-backed reasons you should too.

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Gloria Tebelman/

Doodling and attention

Like a perpetually active toddler, the human brain constantly demands stimulation. When you’re in a setting that’s noticeably devoid of stimuli (say, on a long plane ride, or in an ultra-boring meeting) your brain compensates by creating its own stimulation in the form of daydreams. And while zoning out is a fine way to pass the time, it’s a dismal way to absorb information. Doodling, on the other hand, engages the brain’s planning and concentration centers just enough to keep you living in the moment—and according to some researchers, it may be even more effective for retaining information than active listening. In one study in the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology, subjects who monitored a monotonous phone message for names of party guests recalled 29 percent more information later if they were doodling during the call. Meanwhile, in a 2012 study of science students who were asked to draw what they learned during lectures and reading sessions, doodlers not only retained more information, but also reported more enjoyment and engagement with the material.

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Gloria Tebelman/

Doodling and memory

In general, multitasking lowers cognitive performance on tasks, makes you think harder than you have to, and decreases productivity. However, recent experiments out of Waterloo University suggest that doodling might be an exception. In a series of tests, subjects were given 40 seconds to either draw a word in detail or write it by hand as many times as they could. When quizzed later, doodlers recalled more than twice as many words as writers did. Give this a try in your next meeting: Don’t just write down the crucial points—draw them.

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Gloria Tebelman/

Doodling and mindfulness

So, doodlers, your pen is moving and your brain is engaged—do you feel the zen yet? According to Jesse Prinz, a philosophy professor at City University of New York Graduate Center, doodling keeps participants in a state of “pure listening” that borders on meditation. “Doodling helps hit that sweet spot between listening too much and listening too little,” Prinz says. “It keeps you in a state where your mind can’t wander, and your mind can’t also reflect or think more deeply about what you’re hearing… it’s to such a great extent that if I do not doodle, I find myself having difficulty concentrating.” With your mind so engaged, it becomes hard not to feel yourself in the present moment. And with meditation comes relaxation.

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Gloria Tebelman/

Doodling and your mood

Beyond the kindergarten wisdom that drawing is just plain fun, there may be psychological forces improving your mood when you put doodles to paper. The key: keep it positive. In a 2008 study where participants were asked to either draw something that was making them unhappy (to “vent” their emotions) or something that made them happy, those who focused on the positive showed a greater short-term elevation in mood than those who vented. So when you doodle through your next boring meeting, draw yourself on a train to your dream vacation city instead of drawing your blowhard boss tied to tracks. Here are other simple ways to boost your mood.

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Gloria Tebelman/

Doodling and creativity

This may seem like a no-brainer, but creative acts lead to creative thinking. Take this case study from a 2014 paper published at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology: An architecture student hit a creative block while designing a new kindergarten building. To ease his mind, the student began habitually doodling his own signature, larger and larger. As the doodles grew in size, the student began seeing an outline for the building in the negative spaces between the letters of his name. The doodle soon became the architectural sketch on which he based his building.

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Gloria Tebelman/

Doodling and stress

Creative activities have been proven across dozens of studies to reduce stress, decrease negative emotions, and even improve the health of people who participate in them. The end product doesn’t even have to be a masterpiece; as the great doodling philosopher Charles Schulz wrote, “the joy is in the playing.” In no form of art is this more true than doodling, a game where your brain talks to itself by using your hand as a medium. There is no concern for the end product, or who else might see it. Relax in the fact that a doodle is just a little present from you, for you.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest