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  • Prem Sundaram

Use Both Sides of your Brain!

Updated: May 27

Many of us are trying to be innovative with one half of our brain offline.


Picture the scene — you grab a pen and your favorite notebook and start sketching out that great new idea. Ideas keep flowing as you pen your thoughts by sketching out your ideas that seem to pop up out of nowhere!


Then you change settings and continue to work on your computer — writing down your ideas using the keyboard, but you don’t feel as creative. Sure, you can type away and build out some of the ideas you had before, but now you feel more detailed, mechanical, and less creative.


What is going on here? The answer lies at the heart of fostering creativity — the ability to use the right brain and the critical hand-brain connection facilitated by using a pen- the reason why 99% of the computer software you use is doing nothing to help you be creative.



Image showing left and right brain capabilities
Left and Right brain capabilities

The Left and Right Brain


As you can see in this picture, the differences between the left and right sides of brain thinking are directly relevant to idea generation.

We need to be engaging on the right, which is intuitive, holistic, and often random. The randomness and holistic nature present themselves much better to write down your thoughts. It gives you the ability to quickly, non-logically, and non sequentially write down your ideas.


Conversely, when you are using a typical computer and notes program, you tend to be directed into a process, a sequence, and often the typed details.


Compare this image of a mind-map…



Index Card with Mind-Map (Created using NoteDex)
Example of a Mind-Map (Created using NoteDex)



…to the same information as typed out on a typical word-processor or notes program:


Big Idea and Creativity


  • 1st Idea

  • 2nd Idea

  • 3rd Idea

  • 4th Idea

See the difference with visual creativity?

If you don’t give yourself the ability to exercise right-brain thinking, you are doing yourself a disservice to your innovative process.


When working with a client or brainstorming, I almost always use a whiteboard or my pen-enabled tablet. The open nature of the interaction provides a direct brain-paper connection, which is more natural and doesn’t interrupt or slow down the flow of ideas. Using visually oriented, pen-enabled programs like NoteDex, I can sketch out and visualize my ideas. Once I have done this at a high level, I will then return to my desk to flesh out the concept in more detail using the keyboard.


So, let's go a bit deeper and learn more about the magical connection between hand-brain connection. If we allow yourself to use the proper tools during the creative process, your results will be higher quality, more creative, and more successful!

Writing by Hand


Studies reveal that the act of writing by hand trains children to think in a more creative manner. Studies show that when children write out their thoughts and ideas, they use both sides of their brain, which is related to creativity.


Researchers found children's brains could be active better when typing on computers rather than on the handwriting scale. Professor Audrey van der Meer from NTNU Oslo examined brain activity in twelve young adults and twelve children. She strongly urges government to adopt national guidelines to ensure kids receive at least a minimum level of handwriting training. The use of pen and paper gives brain hooks. Writing with hand causes a much higher intensity brain activity. It helps to improve learning and memory.


The left side of the brain controls logical thinking and speech while the right side handles our imagination and spatial awareness. When we use either hand to write we activate these two parts of the brain at once; this gives us an edge over those who only use one half. But if you don't start early enough it can be hard for people to make up for lost time, because as adults most people are already using only one half of their brains during writing sessions.


Colby Wiley PhD believes much goes on inside our brains when we write manually. The brain performs its job via activation of networked neural networks - "Signals are sent through this network that is translated into the thoughts and actions of a person", Wiley says.


These processes are tied into parts of the brain involved in learning and memory the Professor argues. For example, writing by hand activates the motor cortex of our hand for physical writing and visual planning aspects of the visual cortex are activated for visualizing the letters in our mind, as well as language networks in the central and temporal lobes.


Benefits of writing by hand:

- Improved spatial awareness.

- Increased creativity.


there are also emotional benefits too:


- Develop confidence in writing abilities.

- More expressive with letters and numbers


We know that writing by hand provides a certain sensation of connection - the art of cursive handwriting with its requirement for fine motor skills is part of early handwriting training. Writing by hand also helps in brain activity and visually presented words provide a user with a 'visual' experience of their handwriting and drawing.


When young children are learning to read and write they must first learn to hold a pen or pencil correctly in order to control it well enough to produce readable letters. Children who don't have these fine motor skills may struggle with tasks such as holding a pencil, producing legible letter formation, copying from one line to another etc... This can be problematic later on when they try to write more than just words - all reading material will be 'translated' into pictures without text!

What is cursive handwriting?


Cursive handwriting is a style of penmanship which incorporates both upper and lower case lettering. It flows freely, and includes many loops and other embellishments. It was developed during the Renaissance period by Italian educators in an effort to teach children Greek and Latin. The cursive style of writing is often linked with artistic handwriting, which can include decorative elements such as lines, loops, circles, flourishes etc...


Unfortunately cursive handwriting seems to be a bit of a lost art these days, with the advent of the keyboard and touch screens, it seems that we now even skip handwriting training altogether or delay it during early development!


Writing by hand improves the fine motor skills of young adults and grows particular brain areas. Such oscillatory neuronal activity stimulated by writing by hand leads to improved cursive handwriting and the expression that can provide. This art of writing will flow into the pen (or digital pen) and allow both young children and adults to fully express their ideas


These days it seems that very few schools focus on this - we are now focused more on using iPads and so forth, but the rise of digital learning and tablets with digital pen capabilities means that we are benefiting again from the 'analog' value of hand writing!


A study by Craig Zielinski and Ramona Cox from University of Wisconsin-Madison found that the brains of children who write by hand are better functioning. The research team studied 4th, 5th and 6th graders, and all showed a stronger connection in the left hemisphere of their brains when they were writing. In contrast, during typing exercises, there was no significant difference in brain activity between the two hemispheres.


Another study from Oxford University found that students who learned to write by hand did better on standardized exams compared with those who learned to type.

All this means that the art of writing by hand is super critical and we must not skip handwriting training altogether at a young age. It is clear that the fine motor skills developed have long term benefits.

Cursive Handwriting or Non-Cursive - Any difference?


There is no significant difference between cursive handwriting and non-cursive handwriting when it comes to brain function. However, cursive handwriting has been shown to improve fine motor skills and spatial awareness. Additionally, cursive handwriting can be more expressive than non-cursive handwriting. Today a lot of students don't write cursive.

How the left and right brain areas affect handwriting


The left brain is the side of the brain that is responsible for logical thinking, language, and math skills. When a person is writing by hand, the left brain is activated and helps to improve these skills.


The right brain is the side of the brain that is responsible for creativity, abstract thinking, and spatial awareness. When a person is writing by hand, the right brain is activated and helps to improve these skills.


There are many examples where people study brain electrical activity and the measurement of precisely controlled hand movements. The brain research shows that writing by hand creates activation patterns in different brain regions, such oscillatory neuronal activity leads to the synthesis and outcomes for what we see on the paper.


Is there any difference in creativity between left and right handed people?


There is no significant difference in creativity between left and right handed people. However, left handed people may be more creative than right handed people due to the fact that right handed people are more likely to use their left brain hemisphere, which is responsible for logical thinking.


We can all relate to some of the famous very creative artists who were also scientists- Leonardo da Vinci comes to mind!

Brainstorming and Whiteboards


Research has shown that brainstorming on a whiteboard with handwriting is more effective than just brainstorming on a digital device.


The brain is able to process information faster, when writing by hand instead of typing on a keyboard. This allows for increased creativity.


When writing by hand, the person's hand is in constant motion which in turn stimulates the creative parts of the brain. This allows for increased creativity and imagination which in turn can allow for greater creative solutions in problem-solving!


When writing by hand, the person's entire arm participates with the task by holding onto the pen or pencil. This increases spatial awareness and fine motor skills.



Brainstorming using Index Cards and a Pen


Another great way to brainstorm is by using index cards and a pen. This helps to stimulate the left brain hemisphere, which is responsible for logical thinking.


To do this, simply write down a list of ideas on some index cards. Then, start grouping the ideas together and come up with a title for each group. Once you have done this, you can start thinking about how to develop these ideas further.


This is a creative and efficient way to capture your thoughts to action - using pen to do it fast and not lose your train of thought. Compare that with typing your ideas onto a computer and losing the momentum of your creativity.


You can also use software tools like NoteDex that provide you with digital index cards that you can draw on.


Transcribing learning and converting study notes to flashcards with handwriting


One way to reduce the amount of time spent studying is to transcribe your learning. This means that you will be writing out your notes by hand instead of typing them. You can also convert your study notes to flashcards with handwriting. This will help you to learn and memorize the information more effectively.


This transcribing technique is also useful for studying on the go, since you can carry your handwritten notes with you.


Since writing out information by hand causes it to travel between short-term and long-term memory more than typing does, this method of studying is particularly effective for memorizing large amounts of material. When reviewing your handwritten


When you hear information, it is stored in your short term memory. The capacity of the short term memory is small and it can only hold a limited amount of information for a very brief period of time before it fades away into long-term memory. Only when we go over what we've heard a few times can we be sure it is stored in our long-term memory. Writing down your notes by hand causes the information to travel from short term to long term memory twice, thus making it more likely that you will remember what you have written


A survey was conducted of 61 students from the University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine to determine how many students review their notes before an exam and what methods they use. The results showed that only 9% of those surveyed feel as though they know everything after reviewing their notes once, with two-thirds (66%) admitting that they need to go over their notes multiple times to make sure they know it all. This showed that most students didn't feel as though they could accurately gauge how much they knew from a single review of their notes.


In addition, reviewing notes by hand was the most common studying method, with only 15% of students never doing this and another 27% always doing this. On average, students went over their notes 3 times before taking an exam. Of the students who always reviewed handwritten notes, this number was even lower at 2.5 times. The more often students went over their notes by hand, the less they needed to review them again on screen before an exam (R= -0.48). The reason for this correlation is that students who reviewed their notes by hand were less likely to rely on the screen. In both cases, students who didn't review their notes before an exam almost always failed that exam.


In conclusion, students don't feel as though they know everything just from reviewing their notes once and need to go over them multiple times before a test. A majority of students study by going over their notes multiple times before a test.


Tools that encourage writing by hand include :

  • NoteDex

  • OneNote

  • Samsung Notes

  • Apple Notes

  • GoodNotes

  • Notability


Image of OneNote
Image of OneNote used to take meeting notes

All of these apps encourage handwriting and drawing for digital learning using digital pen stylus accessories. In fact these use of these apps and devices can help young adults with handwriting training.


Some of these apps are designed to take long form notes writing by hand, and some people try to use the ink recognition to convert their cursive handwriting ink to text. But if your handwriting is like mine it's not worth it!


Some of the apps like NoteDex also provide an index card style interface so you can take both study notes and make flashcards with the same app.

Above all you want to find an app that helps you to take notes, be creative and store your visual ideas.



Brain exercises to boost creativity


There are many brain exercises that you can do to boost your creativity. Some of these exercises include:

  • Focusing on the big picture:

When you're working on a project, it's often helpful to take a step back and focus on the big picture. This will help you to see the overall goal and how each individual task fits into the overall plan.

  • Thinking outside the box:

When you're stuck on a problem, try thinking about it from a different perspective. This can help you to come up with new ideas and solutions.

  • Daydreaming:

Taking time for yourself to relax and daydream can help increase your creativity. Daydreaming allows your mind to wander and up with new ideas.

  • Playing a game:

It's no surprise that in Silicon Valley tech companies you see lots of play areas - the act of doing something different - playful and physical - helps the brain to think over ideas and helps creativity.


Does sport help to improve left-right brain activity?


There is a lot of research that suggests that sport can improve left-right brain activity. For example, a study published in the journal "Neuropsychology" found that regular participation in physical activity can improve cognitive function and help to protect the brain from age-related decline.


Another study, published in the journal "Frontiers in Human Neuroscience", found that active people have more grey matter in the left hemisphere of their brains, which is associated with creativity. The study also found that people who were physically active had more connections between the left and right hemispheres of their brains. This suggests that sport can help to improve communication between the two sides of the brain, which is essential for creative thinking.

Conclusion


Regardless of which app you use, we hope this article has stimulated you to look more into writing by hand, either on paper or on a digital device. The benefits of writing by hand and the improved brain activity and creativity that result will benefit your study, work and general creative life.


We encourage you to research on the web more studies about how brain activity is shaped by writing by hand and the importance of cursive handwriting. We can only hope that the art of handwriting and it's importance will not skip one or more generations, since that would lead to very unfortunate consequences for the human race and our creativity skills!

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