Doodling: Insight into your Psyche


Doodling is quite common when a person is listening intently or even chatting on the phone. I remember the days of having a phone book near the phone. It always had a multitude of doodles on the cover and some of the pages.  My note books in particular tend to have doodles in corners and words turned into pictures.  In a world where we tend to type more than write, this deeper connection doesn’t get made, but it is worth dragging out a piece of paper/magazine or newspaper when you have issues and just let your hand do its thing. You may think that playing games on your phone does the same thing, and it does to a certain extent as a distraction. Games don’t have the ability to do more than distract, they don’t reduce tension or help with current situations, some games even induce tension. Doodling has the potential to help you understand yourself better, but rather than being a mindless distraction, they can direct your thoughts in a constructive way.


What does doodling actually do for you?

If you tend to eat or drink when bored, you will find that doodling alleviates boredom and also acts as a mind switch. It can reduce anxiety and ‘clear’ your head. By having a mind shift, solutions to problems can just seem to spontaneously come to mind.  We have all seen the huge promotion for colouring in, and while it is helpful, the original studies included doodling and colouring one’s own pictures rather than someone else’s.

Research shows that doodling may help in memory retention. Doodlers did better than non-doodlers when it came to recalling information, I would suggest by preoccupying the eyes and hands allowing you to hear and absorb. Particularly helpful if you are a visual type and prone to daydreaming when called on to listen.

  • Doodling helps you pay attention. Despite popular belief, doodling actually keeps you focused by creating just enough stimulation to prevent your brain from reverting to its default state, or “spacing out.”
  • Doodling gives you an emotional outlet. If you have trouble communicating or putting emotions into words, doodling can help you express your feelings, even calm you down if you’re frustrated, anxious or depressed.
  • Doodling enhances creative thought. The mental state of doodling is between awareness and daydreaming, which makes it great for new, creative ideas. It relaxes you just enough that something in the back of your mind can come to fruition naturally.

Perhaps most importantly: doodling gives you insights into your own psyche. Different people doodle different things, and even the same person will doodle different things depending on their mood. These aren’t random. Just because you’re doodling absent-mindedly doesn’t mean your mind is absent.

Drawing human figures of the same gender indicates someone with a healthy self-image who feels complete. It suggests a person who is in control of their emotions and can feels they can achieve their goals.

How realistic the doodle is (whether it’s detailed or a simple stick figure) doesn’t matter. That only shows how much artistic training the doodler has, not the meaning behind it.

Faces alone are worth a closer look. Before diving into the hidden meaning of these doodles, you first need to determine whether the doodle represents how the creator sees themselves or other people. If it is yourself it reveals how you feel about yourself. Conversely if someone you are thinking about, it describes how you feel about them. When your mind wanders and you doodle, what you are thinking about is usually the motivation for how things look to you and others involved. Doodles can reveal feelings we don’t want to admit to ourselves.

In general, beautiful and attractive faces reflect a positive and optimistic outlook. Ugly faces represent a negative or distrustful view. Pay attention to the eyes and the mouth.

Face shape and style is also telling. Cartoonish doodles can signify a warped image of yourself or another look for the areas of exaggeration, extra-long or short legs could indicate a need to feel motivated or a sense of being left behind. Wide, circular faces mean youthful innocence (think of a smiley-faced sun), and neediness. Even the direction of the face is telling; profiles tend to be popular among introverts and dishonest folks or those who trend to be easily distracted from their course.  Not being straight with others or believing someone isn’t being straight with you.

Huge eyes can represent naivety in situations. When doodling you are revealing something you already know. Always worth remembering. Flowers are the single most popular doodle.

  • Circular flowers with rounded petals — one of the most positive flower doodles. The more circular a flower is, the more amicable the drawer is.
  • Circular center with pointy leaves or thorns — the circular center represents a kind-hearted individual, but the pointy leaves indicate distrust or defensiveness. This might be the doodle of a scorned lover or those known for pushing others away.
  • Perky vs. droopy — Perky flowers point to openness and a carefree attitude. Droopy or dying flowers, however, suggest an unwillingness to open up.

See below for more references, sometimes a doodle will indicate your thought processes but when dwelling on a problem, they can provide insights into the solution.

  1. Boxes: Nothing says structure quite like squares, boxes and cubes.

This kind of doodles typically indicates a person who is efficient, analytical, and in control. If you haven’t solved your problem yet, then you’re working through it logically. This is doubly true with a checkerboard, which suggests patience and persistence as the doodler weighs every option.

Beware if your boxes form a pile or stack. Then, you may be feeling overwhelmed, in particular if the boxes on top are larger than the ones at the bottom.  If they get progressively smaller you might do well to set smaller but consistent goals. In other words, take things one step at a time. A 3-D Box can indicate the ability or need to see all sides of an issue.

  1. Bricks can indicate feeling blocked or isolated. The bigger the wall the more frustrated or disempowered you might feel. Scattered or unconnected bricks indicates a positive association with constructive desires, like planning a new home or future, or remembering past positive experiences that you feel played a role in where you are today.
  2. Triangles: one whose mind is logical/rational, desire to see things come to a head. A person with a set plan who may also be inflexible. A need for sound planning and advice. Trying to keep things together and maybe a tendency to being controlling.
  3. You already know about the birds and the bees, but what about butterflies, dragonflies and other flying creatures? While they may seem cutesy or romantic, their true meaning is really a desire to be free and not tied down. Doodles of flying animals may crop up more if you feel strained by a particularly frustrating project.
  4. Arrows: What really matters is where it’s pointing. Upward-facing arrows show ambition, optimism or motivation. Downward-facing arrows show dread, pessimism or worry. Always pay attention to what is drawn with an arrow. This will show exactly what you’re striving for. An obvious ex, or away, from what you desire.
  5. Aimless lines that form no shape or go in all directions: feeling undirected, without structure/purpose, irritated, frustrated. These can also indicate a need to change direction, let something go or shift gears, also a need to be more directive and start planning. Even simple line doodles can reflect your inner-thoughts, as long as they have some character to them.
  • Squiggly lines suggest the middle-ground between direction and exploration. You may know where you need to go, but not how to get there.
  • Angular zigzags are different. Their straight lines and sharp corners denote aggression or impatience, and are commonly associated with masculine traits.
  1. Planes, trains and automobiles (and trucks and boats and hot-air balloons…) represent mobility, moving or escape. For better or worse, these doodles reflect an urge to “go someplace new,” whether physically or psychologically. Someone who wants a new job or someone planning a wedding might find themselves both drawing cars.
  2. Circles: feeling passive rather than aggressive, circles are associated with sociable, talkative, and friendly, desire to be flexible and loving. They indicate a need to follow things through to completion, or an indication that you know things have gone full circle. A lot of connected circles can indicate a sense of everything being connected, if a messy or repetitive grouping or overlaying of circles it can reveal anger and unsatisfying patterns.
  3. Hearts: one who has love on their mind in most cases, but this can be romance, family or friends. It can also indicate other passions, such as hobbies and things that you desire in life. Not to be confused with what you want necessarily. You may think of buying a house, for example, and doodle a butterfly with hearts. This could show that you are needing freedom rather than security.
  4. Spider web doodle represents feeling trapped or stuck. But, it doesn’t always mean the doodler is the one who feels trapped. Sometimes the artist wants to ensnare someone else. They can indicate a sense of impending doom or an inability to free oneself from a difficult situation. Usually if there is a negative connotation the doodler knows very well what can happen if they don’t disengage.
  5. Houses are a common indicator of security or the lack thereof. These doodles typically represent one’s home life or sense of security, and how they’re drawn indicates the doodler’s feelings about that. For example, a nice, tidy drawing shows a healthy home life, while a messy or asymmetrical one reveals trouble and areas of imbalance. Closed curtains can indicate privacy issues or a haven. Some common details to watch out for:
  • No windows — Indicates unhappiness or feeling trapped
  • On top of a hill — Loneliness or isolation
  • Smoke from a chimney — A warm fire inside and a good sign

Bear in mind that there are cultural and architectural variations. Someone who grew up in a city apartment might not identify with the traditional “square house with a triangle roof.”

  1. Stairs indicate going up or down. Whether its career ambition, personal development or spirituality, ladder and stair doodles indicate working towards a goal. If you are thinking about nothing in particular you may have an inner desire for life improvements, it could be time to look around and see what would help you. The style of your doodle reveals your attitude about the struggle. Firmly drawn lines show confidence, while shaky or uneven lines show uncertainty.
  2. Animals: one who is sensitive to living creatures, the type of animal is a great deal about the mood of the doodler and often the type that the person wants to be (ex: tiger means desire to be courageous, snake means sneaky),
  3. Names and initials. Doodling names or initials shows who you think about the most—even if it’s yourself! This holds true regardless of whether it’s a stylistic drawing or simple lettering, although the size of the doodle can relate to how much importance you give this person. If a negative one past connection it can reveal something you might do better eliminating from your life or at least dealing with how you feel about them.
  4. Stars have a variety of meanings depending on how they’re doodled. They denote ambition, motivation, and confidence, but paying attention to the details can add even more insight. A bunch of small stars indicates optimism. One big star suggests a singular goal that stands out over others. Organized and uniform stars show focus and dedication. Chaotic and asymmetrical stars reflect an energetic free-thinker. Filling a page with stars can indicate you are aware of many potentials and possibilities or know you have many options.
  5. it’s not just what you draw, but where you draw it. On a blank page, you’re free to doodle anywhere, so your first impulse might say something more about you.
  • Center — drawing in the center can mean one of two things. The first is a need for attention or egotism (who cares about wasting paper?) and it’s typical of extroverts. The second is a desire for open spaces, creative expressions or rebellion against restrictions.
  • Top — the top of the page is the most important, so doodlers feel that their opinion is more important than whatever’s being discusses or the focus of the doodle is highest in their mind. It’s typically indicative of energetic, free-thinking and spiritual people.

The left and right sides are tricky to diagnose because they’re often decided by external factors (like whether the doodler is left- or right-handed) or how much room the bookbinding leaves. Where there is plenty of room you might find

  • Left — the doodler focuses on the past, whether nostalgia or regret, with a reluctance to move forward. Coincidentally, this is the most common area for doodling.
  • Right — the place usually reserved for notes, doodling in the right margin could indicate an urge to communicate internal feelings.

Some doodles simply represent a need to focus but some are worthy of a closer look. Take note of any repeated doodles, when and if they change.


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