Doodling can be a stress reliever, enhance memory and heighten attention.

I doodle during classes, lectures and meetings. I fill the space in and around my notes with lines and shapes. I find that doodling helps me mentallyprocess what the speaker is imparting.

Doodling requires no talent, skill or special training. It is aimless. A doodle has no real purpose but to keep a person occupied. It doesn’t need to depict anything. There’s no pressure to perform and create a meaningful, accurate drawing that communicates well. A doodle is simply a mark or series of marks. They can be playful, geometric, linear, shaded… whatever.

So, what is the difference between doodling and drawing?

Drawing is the result of focused thinking and attentive observation. Drawing is meaningful. It communicates something, whether form, space, likeness, action, or ideas. Doodles are often the result of thinking, but they’re not a depiction of thinking in the way a drawing is. Because doodles are aimless in nature, they don’t need to communicate. Both Doodling and Drawing have a therapeutic effect.

Doodles are not critiqued as drawing often is. Neither are they coveted, as drawing is. I’ve never met anyone who was jealous that another person could doodle better. In fact, we’re all at about the same level when it comes to doodling. We don’t study others’ doodles to become a better doodler. But we do study others’ drawings to build our own ability.

Doodling and attention

Like an active toddler, the human brain constantly demands stimulation. When you’re in a setting where the act of sitting becomes too much, your brain compensates by creating its own stimulation. And while zoning out is a fine way to pass the time, it is not the ideal way to absorb information. Doodling, on the other hand, engages the brain’s planning and concentration centers just enough to keep you living in the moment. According to a study published in the Journal of Applied Cognitive Psychology, doodlers find it easier to recall dull information (even 29 percent more) than non-doodlers, because the latter are more likely to daydream.

Meanwhile, in another study of science students who were asked to draw what they learned during lectures and reading sessions, doodlers not only retained more information, but they also reported more enjoyment and engagement with the material.

As a general rule, multi-tasking lowers cognitive performance on tasks, makes you think harder than you have to, and decreases productivity. However, experiments out of Waterloo University suggest that doodling might be an exception. In a series of tests, subjects were given 40 seconds to either draw a word in detail or write it by hand as many times as they could. When quizzed later, doodlers recalled more than twice as many words as writers did. You might this a try in your next meeting. Rather than just writing down the crucial points—draw them.

Doodling and mindfulness

According to Jesse Prinz, a professor at City University of New York Graduate Center, doodling keeps us in a state of “pure listening” which borders on meditation. Doodling helps create the balance between listening too much and listening too little. It can keep you in a state where your mind can’t wander, allowing your mind to reflect or think more deeply about what you’re hearing. With your mind so engaged, it becomes difficult not to feel yourself in the present moment. And with meditation comes relaxation.

Doodling and creativity

Creative acts lead to creative thinking. In a paper published at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, an architecture student hit a creative block while designing a new kindergarten building. To ease his mind, the student began habitually doodling his own signature, larger and larger. As the doodles grew in size, the student began seeing an outline for the building in the negative spaces between the letters of his name. The doodle soon became the architectural sketch which he based his building on.

Doodling and stress

We know that activities reduce stress, decrease negative emotions, and improve health. The end product doesn’t even have to be a masterpiece; as the great doodling philosopher Charles Schulz wrote,the joy is in the playing.” Doodling can be a game where your brain talks to itself by using your hand as a medium. There is no concern for the end product, or who else might see it. Relax in the fact that a doodle is just a little present from you, for you.

Doodling can be made up of:

Lines and Marks: Experiment with different pen or pencil strokes and you may find yourself putting together mesmerizing forms and shapes. Combine patches of hatching, cross-hatching and waves and bring them together on your page.

Lettering: You have probably doodled words or letters at some point in your life, like the name of a childhood hero or your own name. Doodling words or letters can be an easy way to get started.

Geometic Shapes: Stars, Circles, Cubes, Hearts. Geometric shapes are great for doodling, since they are simple to make and easy to recognize. You can combine shapes or play with different sizes, combined. Geometric shapes can be lined up or layered to create mazes or 3D effects.

Doodling can actually change one’s state of mind. This calming activity can reduce stress, enhance your ability to concentrate and help with memory. It can help you go from a frazzled state to a more focused one. As stated by Sunni Brown, author of The Doodle Revolution, “You can use doodling as a tool… to change your physical and neurological experience”