Mind mapping is the process of taking several related ideas and connecting them together in a visual form. It can be used for brainstorming a new idea, taking notes, doing research and/or studying for a test. Lately I have been using mind mapping to synthesize notes from retreats I went to months ago as well as to brainstorm workshops I will be teaching.
Ideas Don’t have to be Linear
One of the things I appreciate most about mind mapping is how ideas can be recorded in a way that doesn’t reflect their order of importance or order of presentation. This is the way the mind tends to work anyway- I will be working on one thing and my mind will jump to an entirely different subject. Or I will have an idea that is more distantly related to the subject at hand and doesn’t immediately reveal its place in the whole picture.
Mind mapping allows us to honor this natural movement of our thoughts. While it is possible to do this with note taking, the way it gets captured on paper either looks linear or it looks messy. I.e. an idea arises much later that is connected with a former subject and it is either jammed in the margin up higher or noted several paragraphs below, (if you are writing by hand that is). But in a mind map on the other hand, there is space on the blank canvas of the page to connect a note later or earlier with whatever subheading is relevant. It simply branches off the more central area toward the edge of the page. So instead of writing from top to bottom, you are always moving from the center to the outside. And there is usually ample room to move outwardly- like the ever expanding universe.
The beauty of the visual representation of the mind map is that you can immediately see what the main idea is at the center, what are the major subideas and then the subsequent branches off of the subideas.
Mind maps ask us to describe concepts in the briefest format possible. This abbreviation allows for the capturing of many more ideas on a single page than traditional note taking. In fact, I created a single page of a mind map from over twenty pages of notes from a retreat this summer.
Taking notes is a form of learning on the spot. I have often taken copious notes at an event for the purpose of keeping my brain active, but I have rarely gone back to study the notes. For one thing, notes from events are not attractive. It isn’t easy to look at them and see a big picture. The way the notes are organized or lack thereof simply makes them appear to be a jumble of information which has apparently required more effort than I have been willing to put forth in order to process later.
So here is an upgraded version of note taking: create a mind map while I am listening to the presenter, podcast, or reading the book, etc. Then when the event or reading is completed, spend just five minutes reorganizing the map by creating a new one.
If I used a mind map to take notes, I would put the main subject of the seminar at the center of the page. Then I would create a circle of subheadings around the center as I perceive them. Whenever notes arose about a particular subheading, then those notes attach to the subheading.
If, when the seminar is over, I discover that some subheadings aren’t actually important enough to merit the position of a subheading, then when I make a new map, the subheadings are reallocated to a lower position.
The process of making connections between various subjects in a seminar causes the brain to more actively consider the connections and relevancies between presented points. Essentially it allows greater plasticity and integration than traditional note taking. Having a mind map also allows for a much easier review of the experience after the fact because it contains a visual component on top of the written component.
Variety in Artistic Expression in the Mind Map
You can make mind maps as expressive or plain as you like. The connecting lines between the main subject and the subheading can be thicker. The less significant notes connected to the subheading can be thinner. You can use different colors for different subheadings and their connected notes. There will be some notes which are relevant for two subheadings. You can use a line to join those notes to both subheadings and include both colors around those notes.
How Mind Mapping Can Make Your Life Better
In the end the real question is how is this relevant to living a more productive and fulfilling life? Well, any way we can both increase the amount of information being synthesized and reduce the amount of time it takes to synthesize it, we are freeing up energy in our lives for creativity.
The energy that is freed up is often connected to the information on the mind map. I may find that because I mapped out the information from a seminar that I do a much better job applying that information once the presentation is over. Thus I make the information embodied.
And, if like me, you also enjoy the process of learning for its own sake, it is inherently rewarding to stand back and take in the information you have learned or generated. In other words, I get a little dopamine hit every time I look at my colorful mind map.
In this day and age it is important to get dopamine hits from as many diverse places as we can. We are so acclimated to opening our facebook page and getting the hit from a new like or notification. The process of replacing those hits with something so engaging and serviceful as a mind map will increase our willpower and brain power.
Here’s a snapshot of my colorful masterpiece from a retreat this summer. And here’s a close up of my brainstorm so far for the New Year Now workshop I am teaching on Saturday.