Small changes make big differences.

Tuesdays with MOJO / Flex your brain – send a handwritten note

Marjorie Spitz Rento2 Comments

Confession: Although I achieved high grades in penmanship as a child, as an adult I have terrible handwriting. I am so envious of those with beautiful, curvy, neat handwriting. When taking notes, I’ll make a concerted effort to take my time with the intention of achieving those gorgeous brushes of the letters. It often starts out ok, but my brain starts to work faster than my hand and I rush to write down thoughts in order to capture them before leaving my head, and a mish mash results.  I’m embarrassed to share that sometimes, I cannot even decipher my own written word.

Thank goodness for keyboards!

I type fast and effortlessly, (thank you 10th grade typing teacher).  It fills Bob with envy when I nonchalantly look up in the middle of typing (mostly) flawlessly.  Even more infuriating to him is that some of the keys on my keyboard are worn off, yet I can still type away while he cannot make sense of the where the “a” or “s” is.

Given my speedy typing ability and illegible handwriting, a keyboard is my preferred mode of writing.

The downside: research indicates that physically writing by hand improves executive functions of the brain, like the ability to plan, organize and remember.  It has to do with developing and exercising motor skills when we’re young.

A NY Times article today suggests “learning to write may be the key to, well, learning to write.”

Virginia Berninger, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Washington and the lead author on the study said that this and other studies suggest “handwriting — forming letters — engages the mind, and that can help children pay attention to written language.”

The article goes on to say “For typically developing young children, typing the letters doesn’t seem to generate the same brain activation.”

In regard to laptops in classrooms, “…studies on note taking have suggested that ‘college students who are writing on a keyboard are less likely to remember and do well on the content than if writing it by hand,” Dr. Dinehart said.

That goes for adults too.

When preparing for a presentation or workshop for Balance Integration, as painful as it can be given my chicken scratch handwriting, I often forego typing notes and write out bullet points to make it stick.

Try it and see how it works for you.

In my personal life, so much communication is through email, text and Facebook, I make an effort to send cards. When I married Bob I thought a good way to get to know my new family (20+ nieces and nephews and their parents!) was to acknowledge birthdays via cards sent through the good ole Unites States Postal Service.  Remember the thrill of running to the mailbox to see if you received anything? I still cherish that and hope to bring the same to the young Rento’s.

I’m sure some of them think it silly, and given my poor handwriting cannot even read the sentiments.  I believe they enjoy the celebratory acknowledgement nonetheless.

I recently learned there is a National Handwriting Day in January 23 (the birthday of John Hancock, being he was the first person to sign the Declaration of Independence).  It was started by the Writing Instrument Manufacturers Association “to re-introduce one’s self to a pen or pencil and a piece of paper.  It is a chance for all to re-explore the purity and power of handwriting.”

I agree, the pen to paper can be powerful. Notice how the President of the U.S. ceremoniously signs bills with numerous pens?  He gifts them to those who helped create that piece of history. Powerful!

There was a couple in my building, together for many years. When she passed away, he plastered the apartment with hundreds of notes they wrote each other. Things like “those pancakes you made this morning were divine” or “I can’t wait to see you tonight.”  I felt her strong presence in that room and thought it extraordinarily beautiful.

Beyond the emotional benefits of writing by hand, lists some other striking benefits:

  • It’s better for learning.  One study found that “the brain areas associated with learning ‘lit up’ much more when kids were asked to write words like ‘spaceship’ by hand versus just studying the word closely. “  Cool!
  • It will make you a better writer.  Some very successful authors and screenwriters hand write their manuscripts.  Quentin Tarantino, Amy Tan, Tom Wolfe and George Clooney are just a few.  
  • It keeps you from getting distracted (hello pinging electronic devices!)
  • It keeps your brain sharp as you get older.  We could all use that!

So this week consider dropping the keyboard, stretch out those fingers and pick up a pen.

Surprise someone you love with a handwritten note touting all the reasons you care about him/her, or just extending gratitude for a cup of joe. Perhaps start a new tradition, and reap the benefits from your heart to your brain.


Marjorie, Chief MOJO Maker™