Stuck in a creative rut? Here’s how doodling can help you unlock new ideas
Some of the most creative people I know are avid doodlers, scribbling in their free time and during conversations, classes, and meetings.
It appears science agrees with me — these people really are more creative.
Instead of being distracted, like many might assume, doodling apparently is super beneficial.
According to studies in neuroscience, psychology and design, those who doodle typically are better able to grasp new concepts, stay focused, and refine creative ideas.
Ultimately, doodling is a thinking tool; you can use it to hone your creative mind.
Why should I draw?
Expert Sunni Brown, who explored all of this in-depth in her book The Doodle Revolution, explains there’s a ton of science dedicated to this concept.
Studies have shown that doodling frees up short- and long-term memory, improves retention, and increases attention span. A 2011 Lancet Journal study describes doodling as a way to engage “default networks” in your brain that otherwise lie fairly dormant. This stimuli allows them to become active, and it allows more networks to fire at once.
Another study demonstrates that doodling even helps with memory recall — and showed that those who kept their brain firing by drawing had a 29 percent better recall in the experiment. Yet another experiment demonstrated that doodling creates an external way to visualize the connections you’re making while thinking, turning it into a simple way to convey messages.
Essentially, scribbling in the margins gets your neurons to fire more and expands your mind.
Furthermore, doodling lets you be more creative — because you’re visually engaging with information rather than just linguistically.
Our minds are habit forming, so to break your typical thinking habits, you must think in an unfamiliar medium (visual!). This will unlock previously inaccessible neurological access.
What are the benefits?
Focus. Doodlers explain that scribbling during that long meeting or conference call can help anchor you to the task at hand. This keeps you focused. Drawing designs that reflect what you hear helps to keep your attention and improves recall of the conversations.
Find solutions. The act of doodling stimulates areas of your brain that allow you to analyze information. You’re engaging different networks (the visual ones, instead of just the aural or linguistic ones), which undoubtedly will change the way you think about a problem.
Figure out challenges. When we’re faced with a challenge, it often elicits an emotional response — rather than a logical one. Taking the time to doodle your thoughts and emotions can get rid of that noise, allowing you to clearly articulate the problem and deal with it.
Feel more creative. A 2014 study by Gabriela Goldschmidt looked into how the appearance of a doodle can stimulate new ideas — specifically for improvement — that you otherwise might’ve missed. Goldschmidt posits that the picture can spark a “dialogue between the mind, the hand … and the eyes,” crafting a new perspective and new line of thought.
Further your education. For some people, doodling provides a new way of learning information. When you’re forced to translate ideas and concepts into images, it alters the way you think about them, sparking ideas and improving communication.
Ok, so doodling helps … but what should I draw?
To truly harbor this skill in a helpful way, Sunni Brown recommends a few different exercises.
- “Atomization” allows you to take something and visually deconstruct it into its smallest parts. Think of the elements that go into the object, instead of simply approaching it as a whole.
- “Game-storming” allows you to think of two completely unrelated things and then draw them together with mixed and matched bits. This technique can help a unique angle emerge.
- “Process map” allows you to craft a visual illustration of a sequence of events. Think cause and effect. Looking at pictures can help your brain process a complex system in a new way.
Other types of doodles can be helpful, too, including abstract drawings and info-doodles.
The power of the doodle is tremendous — so keep drawing and monitor how it helps you get creative. Perhaps scribbling will help you solve problems, formulate new ideas, and see things you didn’t realize were there.