The world is full of trends. Pick up a magazine and you will know that Kissell plaited coats and fisherman sweaters are quite popular for winter right now. Although I have no particular objection to Kissell, I’ve just never been a big fan of trends. Trends, to me, seem a bit mindless. Something you do because everyone else is doing it. But what if a trend can actually improve your cognition, develop your focus and creativity, and relieve you of stress thus rather promoting your overall wellbeing? Well, I’d say: Yes please – these might be trends I could live with!
It all started in France when a publisher had the bright idea to add the words “anti-stress” and “art therapy” to a colouring book. It sold like hot cakes. Now, it seems that the rest of the world is catching on to the frenzy as well. March 2015 came with the news that it wasn’t Harper Lee’s long-awaited second novel on Amazon’s bestseller list, but, in fact, it was the Scottish illustrator, Johanna Basford’s, The Secret Garden (published August 2013), a colouring book, that took centre stage and out sold Lee’s book. In March it had sold 1,4 million copies (read about it here)
Colouring in? That is something we did as kids! It disappeared probably at the same time we packed away the Barbie dolls, Lego and tea sets, having decided that it was time “to be big”. Now “playtime” meant downloading the latest tunes to show off to friends or being worried about having nothing to wear to a party your crush was also going to be at!
Gone were the days of good, clean, innocent fun and games. Since then anything remotely related to play like hobbies or engaging in some sort of creative activity moved way down our priority list. Instead, work-related tasks took the front seat. And so we forgot the benefits that play like colouring in have to offer . . .
People who have become fans of colouring-in books are particularly taken with the stress release and relaxed state the activity induces. There is something about colouring in that draws us in and engages us so deeply that time lapses and we “lose ourselves”. Being in this state means that we are actually viewing things as they are in the present moment without any judgements or beliefs filtering the experience. Things just are. We can relax while our inner critic gets a time-out for a little while.
Colouring in transports us to a time when things are simple.
A time where there are no other things that we have to do, no other responsibilities. We can focus on this one thing and this one thing only. There is a kind of beauty in this still focus. It is quite rare in our incredibly fast-paced, multitasking society where the ping of a cellphone or an incoming email easily distracts us. To boot, one of the biggest takeaways of colouring in is that we actually improve our attention span.
A friend of mine recently sent me a link to an article (Posner, M & Patoine, B, 2009) on the benefits of being creative, whether it be through painting, colouring in or dancing. It says that by being creative and engaging in creative activities we strengthen our brain’s attention systems which, in return, may improve our overall cognition. They say: “Specific brain networks underlie specific art forms. [In colouring in, it is particularly the sensory, motor, parietal and frontal lobe areas that are activated.] As we practice a task, its underlying network becomes more efficient, and connections among brain areas that perform different aspects of the task become more tightly integrated.” (Read the whole article here.) This means that by training one cognitive area we can actually improve other cognitive skills.
Could it then be that colouring in might just perhaps make us smarter and actually improve our cognitive performance in work-related tasks? Suddenly something judged as seemingly childish and insignificant gains great importance. It becomes clear that we have been depriving ourselves by removing play from our lives. Play and work might actually be much more interrelated than we think!
The study also shows that it is quite important to find what works for you. You must do whatever gets your creative and artistic juices flowing. So here are my top 5 colouring books:
Kreatiewe Inkleurboek vir Grootmense
Kreatiewe Inkleurboek vir Grootmense 2
The Mindfulness Colouring book
Colouring Mandalas 1
Outside the Lines
Don’t want to sit alone while colouring in? Join a group! Colouring groups are popping up all over. In Cape Town I am particularly fond of The play school for grown-ups group that Joy-Mari Cloete started on the social platform Meetup. Colouring in pencils and kids’ colouring books are provided. Enjoy colouring in Harry Potter while sipping coffee and commenting on your neighbours’ daring colour usage. If kids’ books are just not your thing, print out your own grown-up sketches from here.
[Main image credit: 123RF.com/Oleg Dudko]