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  • Writer's pictureMaureen Kenney, Art Nomad

Undo Your Doodle Lobotomy

When did you have your doodle lobotomy?  Mine occurred in English class during my senior year of high school. 

"Are we boring you, Ms. Kenney?"

Sneaking a quick side glance as I raise my head, I find myself looking into the stern grimace of my English teacher.  A searing embarrassment sets in as I realize my classmates are snickering. I set my pen down in a nonchalant gesture, and with a fluid motion lay my forearm across my doodles. 

"No, ma'am. I'm listening." 

"Then please repeat for the class what we are discussing."

To her shocked amazement, I recount the mind-numbing discussion about the alliterative structure of Beowulf, the epic poem written in Old English sometime between the 8th and 11th centuries.   Haha! I was listening to your lecture AND doodling. Yet, for many years after, I resist the temptation to doodle in public, fearing a repeat of the gut wrenching shame of being called out in front of my classmates or colleagues.

Even as a high school student I understood the power of THE DOODLE.  Imagine my delight when I ran across an authoritative 2009 academic study on the subject published in the journal of Applied Cognitive Psychology.  Based on her findings, the researcher Jackie Andrade lends supporting evidence to the hypothesis that doodlers have better recall of boring materials than non-doodlers!  I am vindicated times two, first in 1981 by my Beowulf-recall prowess, and once again in 2012 as I read this gem of a research article!

Why is doodling effective at improving recall? According to the journal article, doodling requires very few executive resources but just enough cognitive effort to keep you from day dreaming. How cool is that? So next time you find yourself in a "blah blah blah" meeting, allow yourself the advantage of doodling, in public, unashamed. Doodle about the meeting topic, doodle a caricature of the presenter, doodle straight exacting lines to see how close you can get without touching two lines together. Just doodle!  And, if you happen to be called on it, you now have the force of academia behind you.  

I started using structured doodles to cultivate my creativity. Mind blocks happen to us all, and I decided to tackle a particularly persistent spell with half inch doodle drawings.  I figured if I could fill in a half inch square, creating something from nothing, I must have a reserve of creativity somewhere inside me just waiting to be tapped. Blank pages are scary, whether you are drawing, painting, or writing.  BLANK PAGES are so BLANK! My first step was to create a 5 inch by 5 inch grid, with dots marking every half inch, thus filling my BLANK page with 100 half inch squares.  Every time I sat down at my desk to write, my first exercise was to see how many doodle squares I could fill in.  Some days my efforts only resulted in one simplistic square, yet others resulted in a thematic free association that hopped from one square to the next to the next.  

How to break through a creative dry spell ... 1/2" doodles!

I found myself scanning my desk, book case, lawn, memories, photographs, flowers, searching for an interesting idea to doodle into that tiny little half inch square. No matter how many squares I completed, the result was amazingly the same. My sense of achievement magnified my energy, ideas, and excitement, all of which transferred into whatever I set about doing next.  Creativity is an energy multiplier, and this "thumbnail therapy" helped me tap into my hidden energy source!  

Let your doodler doodle. Use free association as a means of tapping into your own hidden energy reserve.  Exercise your mind to push through whatever your own block may be. Whether you doodle as a memory strategy to get through a tedious blah blah meeting or to tap into your own creativity, find your DOODLE.  Don't let the doodle lobotomist win … get your DOODLE back and have some fun!

- Originally published 27 December 2012

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