Many of history’s greatest thinkers like Julian of Norwich, Galileo, Hypatia, Aristotle, Plato, Teresa of Avila, Shakespeare, and Kepler were dedicated writers. They are remembered in part, because they wrote their ideas down. Over 30,000 pages of Da Vinci’s personal notes were found in his home after his death. Thomas Edison filled 3,000 notebooks of 280 pages each documenting his experiments and ideas.
The Lost Art of Writing
In a recent workshop, we discussed the idea of writing as a method for developing insights and getting more Aha! Moments. A twenty-two-year-old in the class rejected the idea of carrying a journal wherever he went. He said the idea simply wouldn’t work for most people his age. Holding up his phone, he said he could text anything more quickly than writing it out. We agreed with him regarding speed. Watching how quickly and effortlessly most people navigate their phones, we know his observation is accurate.
But speed is not the goal when trying to capture and develop complex thoughts and ideas. Writing about an idea, pen to paper, actually creates neural connections that lead to big ideas. The creative part of the brain does its best work when it slows down, which is one of the reasons handwriting is vital to creativity and innovation.
Advancements in technology tie us closer together than ever before, revolutionizing what it means to communicate. We call our loved ones from thousands of miles away. We use FaceTime and Skype. We text and email each other at the push of a button. While these advancements have undoubtedly improved our lives, they also greatly inhibit our ability to think and create.
We need to think on a deeper level than in a text laced with emojis, acronyms, and abbreviations. As handy as it is, the smart phone has its limits as a tool for elevated thinking.
Handwriting vs. Typing
Research indicates that handwriting is vastly more beneficial to learning and innovative thinking than typing or keyboarding. Handwriting slows down the brain, and when you’re in alpha mode, you accelerate cerebral connections and increase the likelihood of inspired ideas.
Research by Virginia Berninger, a professor at the University of Washington, shows that writing in cursive activates massive regions in the brain involved in thinking, language, and working memory, the systems for temporarily storing and managing information. Keyboarding only activates a single region of the brain.
Recent research on college courses shows that taking notes by hand is better than taking notes on a laptop, particularly for capturing and remembering conceptual information. The very act of using a pen or pencil helps you better retain information. People capture and recall up to 30 percent more information when they’ve taken handwritten notes rather than typed ones.
Handwriting requires more effort than keyboarding, and the mental effort helps the brain make critical connections. The more effort you put into understanding something, the stronger signal you’re giving your brain of its importance, which enhances the inspiration process.
“When we write, a unique neural circuit is automatically activated,” says psychologist Daniel M. Oppenheimer. “There is a core recognition of the gesture in the written word, a sort of recognition by mental simulation in your brain, it seems that this circuit is contributing in unique ways we didn’t realize.” The result? Learning is easier, connections occur, and inspired ideas flow.