Circles and triangles. Funny faces. Flowers and bugs. Your standard anytime doodle images. According to psychologist Jackie Andrade from the University of Plymouth, those simple pictures on the sides of your office memos and meeting notes have a specific purpose for your brain you shouldn't ignore.

A brain conundrum

As Andrade explains, your brain's whole job is to process information on a constant basis. From the evolutionary perspective, doing that literally helps you keep your head on straight--with greater awareness of what's happening or present around you, you can flee a charging tiger (or at least, today, not trip off the escalator). Your brain, trying to protect you, starts hunting for something--anything!--to keep busy.

And guess what it turns to. Your kooky, wonderfully beautiful subconscious. Whatever you're daydreaming about, be it how the T-Rex finally grabs its TV remote with stubby arms or a talking piece of cheesecake eating a cookie, it all comes to the foreground. The only problem is, turning to your daydreams also burns up a ton of energy, so it's not exactly a good thing for your brain to run off too far into LaLa Land.

Doodling to the rescue

So then your brain basically says, "OK, if it's dangerous for me to totally check out and use up all my fuel daydreaming, I need to find a way to focus and stay engaged in reality." Doodling offers your brain the extra little bit of stimulation it's looking for when everything else is painfully mundane. That stimulation actually helps you concentrate, preventing your brain from turning to those fuel-burning daydreams for action.

The tactic works surprisingly well. In a test Andrade conducted, people who doodled while listening to a tape remembered 29 percent more information than those who listened but didn't doodle.

A signal to switch things up (and your secret get-ahead tool)

There are two big implications from Andrade's doodling explanation and findings. The first is that, understanding that doodling is a signal from your brain that there's not enough stimulation, if you've got enough doodles to fill an art exhibit, you probably need to change your environment or general situation. Maybe that means you need to talk to your boss or team member about the pace of presentations, for example. Or it could mean approaching your supervisor about tasks that push you more. It might even mean switching careers or starting a business all of your own.

Alternately, if you're in a situation that's drier than the burned goop at the bottom of your oven, doodling can be an effective way to purposefully stay present. When your thoughts start to wander away from your task or what someone else is saying, consciously draw in between taking notes. If you really want to hone in, try identifying a key concept or statistic provided to you and using the word, phrase or number as a basis for the doodle.

Doodling isn't just mindless thumb twiddling. It serves a real purpose that's good for you. Pay attention to when you find yourself doing it to figure out where to make positive change in your life, and where it's appropriate, pull it out of your strategy belt to make sure you stay on top of your day.

Published on: Mar 21, 2017
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