3:10 Series of Habit Hacks For an improved lifestyle: HANDWRITE

I extend my gratitude to every person dedicating his or her time to reading this article and joining me on our wellness journey. Finding segments of value to incorporate into our daily habits and reminding ourselves every week that it is consistency of small changes that lead to monumental transformations. 

# 3 HANDWRITE

When I was younger, I would force myself to journal and every time I fell off the wagon. I even wrote out consecutive dates on the following pages as incentive; I rediscovered these three years later. Habits out of force are not sustainable and lead to a punishment-reward cycle within us.

The relevance of handwriting appears obsolete in our age of technology. In reality, it is critical in this instant to comprehend the power writing contains. Handwriting requires sequential strokes using fingers to express a letter; on the contrary, keyboard typing displays full letters through single clicks. Is there anything we lose in this quickened process? Brain scans, as documented in conducted studies by Indiana University, reveal larger brain activity in areas related to thinking, language, and working memory when engaged in sequential strokes or handwriting. Working memory is a cognitive system responsible for temporarily housing information for later processing, highly influential in our decision-making and behavior. 

Psychologist Virginia Berninger, at the University of Washington, tracked children from grades two through five in a study observing the effect of cursive writing, printing, and typing. Each style of expression produced distinct results, for the purpose of this article I will highlight handwriting in general versus keyboard use; handwriting lead to children generating an increased amount of words faster and expressing more ideas than when typing. Students were asked to brainstorm ideas for composition implying the relationship went deeper, "the ones with better handwriting exhibited greater neural activation in areas associated with working memory- and increased overall activation in the reading and writing networks." After her research, Dr. Berninger suggested cursive writing may exercise self-control ability through techniques that other styles of writing do not. I recommend reading further on her research if this is a topic of interest. 

Paul Bloom, a Yale psychologist, is not convinced by the available data, however he states, "With handwriting the very act of putting it down forces you to focus on what's important. [pausing to think] Maybe it helps you think better." While few can debate the convenience of typing, consciously including handwriting into our lives could have a positive influence on our brain function. Understanding the impossibility of journaling for a set amount of time in the day, I urge us to take 120 seconds from our available 86,400 in a day to physically write five things we are grateful for. 

Activating our amygdala (plays primary role in processing emotions) in a negative way disrupts our cognitive system and problem-solving skills. Our brain understands negative emotions as signals of threat, which creates a domino effect in the body of raised cortisol levels, suppression of metabolism, and so on. Deliberately shifting focus to positive thoughts that create pleasurable feelings improve our brain's creative and strategic thinking as well as its executive function. Taking our action a step further by transcribing a thought onto paper helps us focus. Scheduling this exercise throughout our day improves our positivity ratio, a phenomenon Dr. Barbara Fredrickson researched in collaboration with the University of North Carolina. Ideally, she recommends a 3:1 balance between positive and negative emotions; the link to find your score is provided under the article.

Writing focuses our mind on the task at hand and elevates our mood. Implementing baby steps, writing out five reasons to be thankful and building our muscles to creative self-expression, is a gratifying process. It is all about initiating change through lasting habits; growing beyond a mini list of gratitude into intentions and goals creates a frame of reference in our minds. Engaging in the process of selecting dreams to realize increases motivation and reduces stress. We intentionally focus on what is of greatest importance to us in the long term, diminishing sweating over the small stuff that gets in the way of our daily happiness. I urge us to start with post-its by the keyboard or scribbling on a piece of recyclable paper and tossing it out- it is not about perfection but rather about progress.

References:

Bounds, Gwendolyn. "How Handwriting Trains the Brain." The Wall Street Journal.(2010) https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052748704631504575531932754922518. 

Ciotti, Gregory. "The Psychological Benefits of Writing: Why Richard Branson and Warren Buffet Write Regularly." (2014) https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/234712

Hammerness, P., MD and Moore, M. "Train Your Brain to Focus" Harvard Business Review. (2012). https://hbr.org/2012/01/train-your-brain-to-focus

Konnikova, Maria. "What's Lost as Handwriting Fades." New York Times. (2014). https://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/03/science/whats-lost-as-handwriting-fades.html

Liv Dzumaga