As a lifelong doodler, it gives me great satisfaction to write this. Scribbling half-baked nonsense on a napkin isn’t a sign that someone’s immature, not paying attention or narcissistic. Instead, it’s an efficient way for your brain to process information by engaging multiple sensory inputs.
The Benefits of Doodling
Here’s a TED video on why we like to doodle and how it’s healthy for our brain:
In the video she emphasizes that doodling enhances our learning but the act has always been framed negatively. She also talks about how kids always like to doodle and the practice is out of vogue by the time you reach adulthood. And apparently the negative perception of doodling is a cultural constant.
My best explanation would be that when you communicate, listening is important, but looking like you’re listening is just as important, if not more. The sorts of visual cues we give to one another to signal that we care like eye contact, brief touch, and affirmations that we understand the other person are inconsistent with doodling. Little kids aren’t attuned to these nuances and so they doodle away. Nerds often lack social awareness and empathy, and so they doodle a lot too.
Helping the Brain Think Through Problems
As a personal habit I’ve gotten accustomed to doodling as a way to help me understand things. Whenever I mull over new situations, doodling over the possibilities usually gives me a greater sense of clarity. I think lots of people have the impression that understanding comes in broad strokes and is accompanied by sudden feelings of enlightenment. I think that’s nonsense and very detrimental. Learning comes by gently stumbling over new wrinkles in information, and the process of getting from point A to point B is often imperceptible.
I’ve met lots of people who short circuit their progress because they get discouraged mid-journey after not feeling like they “get it.” Most of the time there’s nothing wrong with them, they’re just mistaken about what it’s like to become competent at something. Whereas most of the people who have an expertise are keenly aware of how important it is to be incompetent as a means to becoming an expert.
I also think lay people think acquiring expertise is accompanied by a sense of security in how much they know about their subject. Whereas most experts I know revel in how much they don’t know about their fields.