Chapter 2.3—Cognitive Anchoring
Last week I ended our post with this rhetorical question:
What is crafting if not a training course in both kinds of mindfulness?
Shortly after the post went live I started getting emails and comments happy and gratified to find that there is a “mindfulness” link between deliberate, focused practice (like what is needed to Zentangle or knit or crochet lace) and habitual, automatic hand movements (like doodling, knitting stockinette, or crocheting a simple granny square). I wasn’t terribly surprised. We’re good at recognizing the first as having value, right? Lace is complex, beautiful, and shows that you used your time productively.
Zentangles are amazing to look at and show off your skill at mindful pen-work.
But doodling like this:
That’s just doing something to pass the time because you’re bored, right?
Not even sort of.
It’s our brain trying desperately to keep paying attention—it’s our brain being really, really smart.
More on that in a sec. First I want to give you some research on the benefits of both kinds of mindfulness.
Professor Richard Davidson of Wisconsin University has shown that practicing just eight weeks of daily Mindfulness can have a positive effects
Dr Herbert Benson, Director of the Institute for Mind, Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, who has found that mindfulness can:
- Improve your immune system
- bring down blood pressure,
- lower your heart rate and
- help to prevent stress related illnesses.
Dr Barry Jacobs of Princeton University who has found that repetitive movements enhance the release of serotonin.
- lower depression,
- act as an analgesic
- increase pain tolerance.
Which starts to make Erica’s story and the World War I stories make a lot more sense.
Because if mindfulness can do all those physiological things and can help put you in a state of mind where you’re not mulling over the past or fretting about the future, then knitting, crocheting, doodling, and the like, is doing the same thing for you.
* * *
From Malcolm Gladwell the terms Deep Practice or Deliberate Practice have entered the mainstream. That’s great and it certainly helps us when we talk about lace knitting or crochet or Zentangling or embroidery or lace tatting (or anything you have to watch and attend to while you’re doing it). But there isn’t a term for what our brains do when they doodle or knit and crochet automatically. No one else has come up with a name for this benefit it, so—*ahem* modestly—I did.
I call it COGNITIVE ANCHORING.
Cognitive Anchoring is the term I use to describe that thing that happens to you when you knit while you’re listening to something else—and find that you’re focusing better than you would without your needles, pen, or hook in hand.
For those of you who have experienced this, have you noticed that you knit what you hear into your memory?
Sometimes it’s something boring like a staff meeting.
Sometimes it’s TV.
Sometimes it’s an
And this is where the research gets really interesting
—because there isn’t any.
Even though there are over three million knitters on Ravelry and even though we’ve all experienced this marvelous side-effect of our habitual hand-movements, no one has researched this (yet).
Well…that’s not exactly true.
There’s one study.
This study identifies what’s happening in our brain when we let our minds get to this state of Cognitive Anchoring by doing a repetitive activity with our hands.
The importance of that last bit cannot be over-stressed.
A Repetitive Activity With Our Hands will anchor us cognitively to the present and knit new information together with previous knowledge to create a whole.
Because minds knit.
And knitting matters.