The Power of the Pen: How Writing by Hand Benefits the Brain
As our lives become more and more consumed by “life improving” electronic devices each day, one can easily argue that the art of handwriting is gradually becoming obsolete. Against common knowledge, the stationery and paper goods industry continues to grow year after year. Why? Maybe it’s because the craft of calligraphy is rapidly rising as an aesthetic Instagram practice, that we’re beginning to rediscover the excitement of snail mail (parisian inspired greeting cards anyone?), or Kate Spade’s glamorous line of writing materials… However, I think perhaps the more powerful reason is that the physical act of writing has a number of benefits. Not only can it improve productivity and help us achieve goals, but writing can also play a role in developing healthier mental wellness habits.
Suggestive information aside, there may not be much scientific evidence to prove writing things down has memory enhancing capabilities. But, in my opinion, the real merit of longhand writing is establishing and strengthening the connection between the hand and subconscious mind. Let us count a few of the ways why putting the pen to paper can improve your life:
It refines your thoughts
When you’re a creative entrepreneur, there is so much constantly going on in your head 24/7/365 (need a mental health check in?). Writing things down gives the opportunity to refine your thoughts and it converts the ideas in your head into something tangible and physical. Upon browsing through Tommy Newberry’s book, Success Is Not an Accident: Change Your Choices; Change Your Life, I found a very powerful sentence, “writing down your goals helps you to crystallize your thinking and gives you a physical device for focusing your attention.” Give those words a sec to sink it.
It requires focus
Grab a pen and a piece of paper. Try to write down what you had for breakfast this morning while thinking about what you wore yesterday. It’s tough. As Michael LeBoeuf, Ph.D., author of Working Smart and The Perfect Business says, “few if any of us can write one thought and think another at the same time.”
Dr. Sharon Stills, a Naturopathic Medical Doctor (NMD) and mastermind behind RED, an innovative three-pronged approach to creating real health and finding genuine happiness explains, “when we actually take the time to write, it activates our RAS (reticular activating system) which allows for us to filter and focus. This means when we are actually writing, we are more focused on the what we are writing rather than when we are typing at a keyboard and thinking about a hundred other things at the same time.”
To strengthen this effect, Dr. Stills recommends to her patients they, “continue to re-read what they have written for a continual reminder. It’s easy to be fired up in early January on making changes but when stress arises and normal patterns set in, we need to constantly be reminding ourselves of what we deeply desire.”
It activates the brain differently
From fine motor skills to visual focusing, the act of handwriting requires a number of processes to be coordinated between the hand and the brain. “Writing entails using the hand and fingers to form letters… the sequential finger movements activate multiple regions of the brain associated with processing and remembering information,” explains Learning Specialist, Patricia Ann Wade. This synchronization between mind and body can be capitalized on to help facilitate certain personal development habits to improve overall quality of life.
It can promote positivity
The power of positive thinking cannot be attained simply by wishing for a mindset shift, but by understanding the physiology behind the mind and body, you can actively work on improving your mindset. Dr. Harold Bafitis, F.A.C.O.S., who believes optimism is a habit possible to acquire, suggests to take time each day and focus on what has been good for you in your life or over the course of the day. Simply write down what comes to mind and include at least three items, but no more than five per day. “By writing these things down, you start to create the process where your brain receives gratitude and starts changing.”
RELATED: Why You Should Keep a Happy Journal
Dr. Bafitis also points out the observable, physiological relationship between mood and emotional temperament saying, “The simple act of gratitude literally releases brain-derived neurotrophic growth hormone. It starts the process of changing your brain chemistry to release more dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins. The mind-body connection is essential here. It has to be a true state of gratitude, and for that reason, it is important to write things down in your own handwriting in your own journal.”
So the next time you think about spilling your to-do list in one of the many organizing apps out there on your digital devices, taking meeting notes on your iPhone, or heading to Facebook to rant about the day’s frustrations, grab a notebook and a pen and opt for the old fashion method of logging your thoughts. Still hesitant? Here’s a section of pretty writing materials to amp up your motivation: