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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

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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 March 21, 2019

11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

Most gurus talk about habits in a way that doesn’t help you:

You need to push yourself more. You can’t be lazy. You need to wake up at 5 am. You need more motivation. You can never fail…blah blah “insert more gibberish here.”

But let me share with you the unconventional truths I found out:

To build and change habits, you don’t need motivation or wake up at 5 am. Heck, you can fail multiple times, be lazy, have no motivation and still pull it off with ease.

It’s quite simple and easy to do, especially with the following list I’m going to show to you. But remember, Jim Rohn used to say,

“What is simple and easy to do is also simple and easy not to do.”

The important things to remember when changing your habits are both simple and easy, just don’t think that they don’t make any difference because they do.

In fact, they are the only things that make a difference.

Let’s see what those small things are, shall we?

1. Start Small

The biggest mistake I see people doing with habits is by going big. You don’t go big…ever. You start small with your habits.

Want to grow a book reading habit? Don’t start reading a book a day. Start with 10 pages a day.

Want to become a writer? Don’t start writing 10,000 words a day. Start with 300 words.

Want to lose weight? Don’t stop eating ice cream. Eat one less ball of it.

Whatever it is, you need to start small. Starting big always leads to failure. It has to, because it’s not sustainable.

Start small. How small? The amount needs to be in your comfort zone. So if you think that reading 20 pages of a book is a bit too much, start with 10 or 5.

It needs to appear easy and be easy to do.

Do less today to do more in a year.

2. Stay Small

There is a notion of Kaizen which means continuous improvement. They use this notion in habits where they tell you to start with reading 1 page of a book a day and then gradually increase the amount you do over time.

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But the problem with this approach is the end line — where the “improvement” stops.

If I go from reading 1 page of a book a day and gradually reach 75 and 100, when do I stop? When I reach 1 book a day? That is just absurd.

When you start a habit, stay at it in the intensity you have decided. Don’t push yourself for more.

I started reading 20 pages of a book a day. It’s been more than 2 years now and I’ve read 101 books in that period. There is no way I will increase the number in the future.

Why?

Because reading 40 to 50 books a year is enough.

The same thing applies to every other habit out there.

Pick a (small) number and stay at it.

3. Bad Days Are 100 Percent Occurrence

No matter how great you are, you will have bad days where you won’t do your habit. Period.

There is no way of going around this. So it’s better to prepare yourself for when that happens instead of thinking that it won’t ever happen.

What I do when I miss a day of my habit(s) is that I try to bounce back the next day while trying to do habits for both of those days.

Example for that is if I read 20 pages of a book a day and I miss a day, the next day I will have to read 40 pages of a book. If I miss writing 500 words, the next day I need to write 1000.

This is a really important point we will discuss later on rewards and punishments.

This is how I prepare for the bad days when I skip my habit(s) and it’s a model you should take as well.

4. Those Who Track It, Hack It

When you track an activity, you can objectively tell what you did in the past days, weeks, months, and years. If you don’t track, you will for sure forget everything you did.

There are many different ways you can track your activities today, from Habitica to a simple Excel sheet that I use, to even a Whatsapp Tracker.

Peter Drucker said,

“What you track is what you do.”

So track it to do it — it really helps.

But tracking is accompanied by one more easy activity — measuring.

5. Measure Once, Do Twice

Peter Drucker also said,

“What you measure is what you improve.”

So alongside my tracker, I have numbers with which I measure doses of daily activities:

For reading, it’s 20 pages.
For writing, it’s 500 words.
For the gym, it’s 1 (I went) or 0 (didn’t go).
For budgeting, it’s writing down the incomes and expenses.

Tracking and measuring go hand in hand, they take less than 20 seconds a day but they create so much momentum that it’s unbelievable.

6. All Days Make a Difference

Will one day in the gym make you fit? It won’t.

Will two? They won’t.

Will three? They won’t.

Which means that a single gym session won’t make you fit. But after 100 gym sessions, you will look and feel fit.

What happened? Which one made you fit?

The answer to this (Sorites paradox)[1] is that no single gym session made you fit, they all did.

No single day makes a difference, but when combined, they all do. So trust the process and keep on going (small).

7. They Are Never Fully Automated

Gurus tell you that habits become automatic. And yes, some of them do, like showering a certain way of brushing your teeth.

But some habits don’t become automatic, they become a lifestyle.

What I mean by that is that you won’t automatically “wake up” in the gym and wonder how you got there.

It will just become a part of your lifestyle.

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The difference is that you do the first one automatically, without conscious thought, while the other is a part of how you live your life.

It’s not automatic, but it’s a decision you don’t ponder on or think about — you simply do it.

It will become easy at a certain point, but they will never become fully automated.

8. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

Marshall Goldsmith has a great book with the same title to it. The phrase means that sometimes, you will need to ditch certain habits to make room for other ones which will bring you to the next step.

Don’t be afraid to evolve your habits when you sense that they don’t bring you where you want to go.

When I started reading, it was about reading business and tactic books. But two years into it, I switched to philosophy books which don’t teach me anything “applicable,” but instead teach me how to think.

The most important ability of the 21st century is the ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn. The strongest tree is the willow tree – not because it has the strongest root or biggest trunk, but because it is flexible enough to endure and sustain anything.

Be like a willow, adapting to the new ways of doing things.

9. Set a Goal and Then Forget It

The most successful of us know what they want to achieve, but they don’t focus on it.

Sounds paradoxical? You’re right, it does. But here is the logic behind it.

You need to have a goal of doing something – “I want to become a healthy individual” – and then, you need to reverse engineer how to get there with your habits- “I will go to the gym four times a week.”

But once you have your goal, you need to “forget” about it and only focus on the process. Because you are working on the process of becoming healthy and it’s always in the making. You will only be as healthy as you take care of your body.

So you have a goal which isn’t static but keeps on moving.

If you went to the gym 150 times year and you hit your goal, what would you do then? You would stop going to the gym.

This is why goal-oriented people experience yo-yo effect[2] and why process-oriented people don’t.

The difference between process-oriented and goal-oriented people is that the first focus on daily actions while others only focus on the reward at the finish line.

Set a goal but then forget about it and reap massive awards.

10. Punish Yourself

Last two sections are pure Pavlovian – you need to punish bad behavior and reward good behavior. You are the only person who decides what is good and what is bad for you, but when you do, you need to rigorously follow that.

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I’ve told you in point #3 about bad days and how after one occurs, I do double the work on the next day. That is one of my forms of punishments.

It’s the need to tell your brain that certain behaviors are unacceptable and that they lead to bad outcomes. That’s what punishments are for.

You want to tell your brain that there are real consequences to missing your daily habits.[3]

No favorite food to eat or favorite show to watch or going to the cinema for a new Marvel movie- none, zero, zilch.

The brain will remember these bad feelings and will try to avoid the behaviors that led to them as much as possible.

But don’t forget the other side of the same coin.

11. Reward Yourself

When you follow and execute on your plan, reward yourself. It’s how the brain knows that you did something good.

Whenever I finish one of my habits for the day, I open my tracker (who am I kidding, I always keep it open on my desktop) and fill it with a number. As soon as I finish reading 20 pages of a book a day (or a bit more), I open the tracker and write the number down.

The cell becomes green and gives me an instant boost of endorphin – a great success for the day. Then, it becomes all about not breaking the chain and having as many green fields as possible.

After 100 days, I crunch some numbers and see how I did.

If I have less than 10 cheat days, I reward myself with a great meal in a restaurant. You can create your own rewards and they can be daily, weekly, monthly or any arbitrary time table that you create.

Primoz Bozic, a productivity coach, has gold, silver, and bronze medals as his reward system.[4]

If you’re having problems creating a system which works for you, contact me via email and we can discuss specifics.

In the End, It Matters

What you do matters not only to you but to the people around you.

When you increase the quality of your life, you indirectly increase the quality of life of people around you. And sometimes, that is all the “motivation” we need to start.

And that’s the best quote for the end of this article:

“Motivation gets you started, but habits keep you going.”

Keep going.

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More Resources to Help You Build Habits

Featured photo credit: Anete Lūsiņa via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Sorites paradox
[2] Muscle Zone: What causes yo-yo effect and how to avoid it?
[3] Growth Habits: 5 Missteps That Cause You To Quit Building A Habit
[4] Primoz Bozic: The Lean Review: How to Plan Your 2019 in 20 Minutes

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