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You Will Remember Information Longer if you Hand Write Notes

You Will Remember Information Longer if you Hand Write Notes

Have you written your to do list for to-day? Did you hand write it or did you use a digital post it on your desktop? The good news is that if you wrote it by hand in the good old fashioned way, you are more likely to remember it. If you used your keyboard for the digital version, this is not so effective for retention. Let us look at the scientific evidence for this and what exactly happens in the brain when we hand write.

The benefits of handwriting.

A friend of mine is learning Japanese and he patiently copies each character out hundreds of times in long columns. This helps him to remember them. Studies suggest that there are other benefits of handwriting as well.

Children can learn to write and remember the letters while doing so. This can improve their ability to form ideas which will then lead to more effective communication. It is an effective way of training the brain. Educationalists still insist that handwriting should be taught in schools. But in 2014 there are plans in 45 American states to drop the teaching of handwriting in favour of keyboard skills. Digital writing is great for our technological age but what are kids missing out on?

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This is what worries researchers such as Anne Mangen and Jean-Luc Velay who have been leading research on this at the University of Stavanger in Norway at the The National Centre for Reading Education and Research.

Because the whole process of writing involves visual perception and motor function which are inextricably linked, this activity cannot be ignored in educating children to write. Their research on fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) data showed that more areas of the brain were activated when handwriting.

One experiment done by Mangen involved two groups of adults who were given the task of learning a new alphabet which had just 20 letters. The first group was instructed in how to write these characters by hand. The second group was taught by using a keyboard. When the groups were tested after a six week period, the handwriting group were scoring much better on how they remembered the letters. This would seem to suggest that handwriting beats keyboarding for memory retention.

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What happens in the handwriting process?

“How utterly bound to the physical world of bodies is writing, one of the awesome products of the human mind.” – Haas 1998

When you start writing with a pen, a complex process starts in the brain. It has been shown that a part of the brain called the RAS (reticular activating system) is stimulated and will also act as a filter to help you focus and get the task done.

You have to learn how to hold the pen, then think of the letters and how they are formed and also how they are joined up in cursive writing. There are complex motor and visual functions at work here.

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At higher levels, you are using the brain to transfer knowledge in a meaningful fashion, not to mention how to activate the information for memory retention. Hitting two different letters on a keyboard is not activating the brain in the same way at all. You are also getting feedback on another medium, the screen, so there is a different process involved.

Taking notes in lectures.

It has been estimated that only about two-thirds of students take notes in class. This is an important memory tool for learning afterwards. When we listen to a lecture, we are likely to remember only about 10 percent of the information. Note taking by hand is laborious, whereas typing the information on a laptop keyboard is faster. As Walter Pauk, the director of the reading and study center at Cornell University suggests in his book, “How to Study in College,” you should write out your notes afterwards by hand as this will be a definite help in the learning and memory process. Study the infographic here

Using handwriting to help your memory

As we have seen, handwriting will help our memory retention more than hours of typing on a keyboard. Depending on your learning style, you may find some of the techniques useful.

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1. Write it down again and again. Repetition of the process will reinforce your learning.
2. Increase your memory by as much as 70 percent when you go through your notes within 24 hours.
3. If you are a morning person, aim to refresh difficult material early on, as your brain is less tired.
4. Reading and re-reading material is likely to result in a disappointing 20 percent retention.
5. Use mind maps if they help you to remember facts. This is an excellent way of visualizing how various bits of information fit into a concept/plan. They are also more fun to create than simple notes.

Will apps save the day?

The best news of all is that handwriting is far from finished. There are now apps for iPhones on the market to help kids and adults with their handwriting. Kids can use either a finger or stylus to practise forming letters and then words. Adults can use apps where any handwriting input, again using a finger or stylus, is accepted and then converted into email, documents or tweets.

Tell us in the comments below whether you prefer good old fashioned handwriting or do you prefer more digital input to help you remember your shopping list. Now, where did I save that digital post it?

Featured photo credit: Penmanship/ KP Werker via flickr.com

More by this author

Robert Locke

Author of Ziger the Tiger Stories, a health enthusiast specializing in relationships, life improvement and mental health.

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Last Updated on July 23, 2019

5 Steps To Move Out Of Stagnancy In Life

5 Steps To Move Out Of Stagnancy In Life

In the journey of growth, there are times when we grow and excel. We are endlessly driven and hyped up, motivated to get our goals.

Then there are times when we stagnate. We feel uninspired and unmotivated. We keep procrastinating on our plans. More often than not, we get out of a rut, only to get back into another one.

How do you know if you are stagnating? Here are some tell-tale signs:

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  • If you have been experiencing chronic procrastination on your goals
  • If you don’t ever feel like doing anything
  • If you keep turning to sleep, eating, games, mindless activities and entertainment for comfort
  • If you know you should be doing something, but yet you keep avoiding it
  • If you have not achieved anything new or significant now relative to 1 month, 2 months or 3 months ago
  • If you have a deep sense of feeling that you are living under your potential

When we face stagnation in life, it’s a sign of deeper issues. Stagnation, just like procrastination, is a symptom of a problem. It’s easy to beat ourselves over it, but this approach is not going to help. Here, I will share 5 steps to help you move out of this stagnation. They won’t magically transform your life in 1 night (such changes are never permanent because the foundations are not built), but they will help you get the momentum going and help you get back on track.

1. Realize You’re Not Alone

Everyone stagnates at some point or another. You are not alone in this and more importantly, it’s normal. In fact, it’s amazing how many of my clients actually face the same predicament, even though all of them come from different walks of life, are of different ages, and have never crossed paths. Realizing you are not alone in this will make it much easier to deal with this period. By trying to “fight it”, you’re only fighting yourself. Accept this situation, acknowledge it, and tell yourself it’s okay. That way, you can then focus on the constructive steps that will really help you.

2. Find What Inspires You

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Stagnation comes because there isn’t anything that excites you enough to take action. If you don’t have a habit of setting goals, and instead just leave yourself to daily mundanes, it’s not surprising you are experiencing stagnation. What do you want to do if there are no limitations? If you can have whatever you want, what will it be? The answers to these questions will provide the fuel that will drive you forward.

On the other hand, even if you are an experienced goal setter, there are times when the goals you set in the past lose their appeal now. It’s normal and it happens to me too. Sometimes we lose touch with our goals, since we are in a different emotional state compared to when we first set them. Sometimes our priorities change and we no longer want to work on those goals anymore. However, we don’t consciously realize this, and what happens is we procrastinate on our goals until it compounds into a serious problem. If that’s the case for you, it’s time to relook into your goals. There’s no point in pursuing goals that no longer inspire you. Trash away your old goals (or just put them aside) and ask yourself what you really want now. Then go for them.

3. Give Yourself a Break

When’s the last time you took a real break for yourself? 3 months? 6 months? 1 year? Never? Perhaps it’s time to take a time-out. Prolonged working can cause someone to become disillusioned as they lose sight of who they are and what they want.

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Go take some extended leave from work. A few days at bare minimum; a few weeks or months will be great. Some of my ex-colleagues have quit their jobs and took months out to do some self-reflection. Of course, some of us might not have that luxury, so we can stick to a few weeks of leave. Go on a trip elsewhere and get away from your work and your life. Use this chance to get a renewed perspective of life. Think about your life purpose, what you want and what you want to create for your life in the future. These are big questions that require deep thinking over them. It’s not about finding the answers at one go, but about taking the first step to finding the answers.

4. Shake up Your Routines

Being in the same environment, doing the same things over and over again and meeting the same people can make us stagnant. This is especially if the people you spend the most time with are stagnant themselves.

Change things around. Start with simple things, like taking a different route to work and eating something different for breakfast. Have your lunch with different colleagues, colleagues you never talked much with. Work in a different cubicle if your work has free and easy seating. Do something different than your usual for weekday evenings and weekends. Cultivate different habits, like exercising every day, listening to a new series of podcasts every morning to work, reading a book, etc (here’s 6 Proven Ways To Make New Habits Stick). The different contexts will give you different stimulus, which will trigger off different thoughts and actions in you.

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When I’m in a state of stagnancy, I’ll get a sense of what’s making me stagnate. Sometimes it’s the environment I’m in, sometimes it’s the people I’ve been hanging out with, sometimes it’s my lifestyle. Most of the times it’s a combination of all these. Changing them up helps to stir myself out of the stagnant mode.

5. Start with a Small Step

Stagnation also comes from being frozen in fear. Maybe you do want this certain goal, but you aren’t taking action. Are you overwhelmed by the amount of work needed? Are you afraid you will make mistakes? Is the perfectionist in you taking over and paralyzing you?

Let go of the belief that it has to be perfect. Such a belief is a bane, not a boon. It’s precisely from being open to mistakes and errors that you move forward. Break down what’s before you into very very small steps, then take those small steps, a little step at a time. I had a client who had been stagnating for a long period because he was afraid of failing. He didn’t want to make another move where he would make a mistake. However, not wanting to make a mistake has led him to do absolutely nothing for 2-3 years. On the other hand, by doing just something, you would already be making progress, whether it’s a mistake or not. Even if you make a supposed “mistake”,  you get feedback to do things differently in the next step. That’s something you would never have known if you never made a move.

More to Help You Stay Motivated

Here are some resources that will help you break out of your current phase:

Featured photo credit: Anubhav Saxena via unsplash.com

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