There is power in writing. Pen to paper writing. A heart and brain connection that goes beyond just pondering, meditating, or reading, or even typing. I started keeping a practicing journal when I was working on my Master of Music degree, scrambling to capture the wisdom shared during my private and group lessons, and trying to document the process and journey of practicing at home. I didn’t have any reason to, other than that I knew my brain was jumbled running a household and taking care of babies at home, and I didn’t want to forget anything important.
In the years since then, my journaling has been more sporadic, but I have learned so much more of the science behind writing and learning. A study has shown that the fact that you have to be slower when you take notes by hand is what makes it more useful in the long run. It forces your brain to pause on the concept or step you are recording which creates a neural pathway that is more permanent, stronger. When I want to enforce my foundation of thirds or octaves or tenths, I might write down that my fourth finger has a tendency to be flat shifting in whole steps. This seemingly small thing to record makes my brain sit up and take notice. As I review my notes before practicing the next day, it is reinforced and my technique progresses much more quickly. Sometimes it feels like magic! Sometimes, I can see that the same problem keeps reappearing and I need to practice it in a different way.
And here is the really cool thing! Writing can enhance anything you are trying to improve, learn, become. Seeing how much more I am able to accomplish in my violin practice with pausing to write down something I have observed makes me think that other parts of my life can be helped by recording the things I observe.
If I want to be a better mother, it will help me to pause to write down what went well in the morning routine, and where I can improve in how I interact with my kids and fostering peace in our home. There is a greater likelihood that I won’t make the same mistakes over and over again if I am taking the time to really notice where things went awry so I can recognize it more quickly the next time.
There are two hypotheses as to why note-taking is beneficial. The first idea is called the encoding hypothesis, which says that when a person is taking notes, the “processing that occurs” will improve “learning and retention”. The second, called external-storage hypothesis, is that you learn by being able to look back at your notes. (From a study published in Psychological Science by Pam A. Mueller of Princeton University and Daniel M. Oppenheimer of the University of California.)
In this new year, when everyone is focused on making goals and thinking about making positive changes in their life, the science behind the power of writing is even more compelling:
There’s some impressive science to back up goal setting…A Harvard Business Study found that the 3% of graduates from their MBA program who had their goals written down ended up earning ten times as much as the other 97% put together, just ten years after graduation. (Forbes Magazine)
While not all of our goals are tied to revenue and income, the statistics are remarkable when considering the how writing down our intentions and desires leads to completion and accomplishment in such a powerful way.
I’m a big believer in keeping a record and journaling, but I admit, I have been sheepish when it comes to writing down goals. I think I’ve always been so afraid to commit and so afraid of failure that subconsciously I am thinking that I’m protecting myself. If I never write down the goal of performing that concerto, it’s no problem when it doesn’t happen. If I never write down that I want to wake and exercise at 5am, then it’s literally no sweat if it doesn’t always happen.
It’s something I am changing now, and perhaps years down the road I’ll look back on my journal and see the bazillion things I didn’t finish, but I know I’ll be so proud of the ones that I do accomplish. I want to prove the statistics are true.
Start keeping a journal. Write down your goals and the things you observe, obstacles and accomplishments in working towards that goal and start to see your days change, your eyes open, and your heart connect.