We spend our lives writing, following and misplacing lists. To-do lists. Laundry lists. Grocery lists. Scraps of paper that make us anxious – not to mention bored – surround us. But there is an alternative – one that expands the possibilities instead of lining them up like good little soldiers. It’s called a mind map. Mind maps can be used for virtually anything that requires organization of ideas.
Notetaking. Planning to take any classes in the future? Need to take notes of a phone conversation with the utility company? Belong to a book club? Mind maps help organize notes into an easily assimilated and memorable form.
Recall. When we need to remember something—where we put the car keys, the name of our high school English teacher—we sometimes suffer from the mental equivalent of vapor lock. Using a mind map can help unlock the brain freeze and help memory retrieval. Mind maps allow ideas to be quickly noted as they occur, in an organized manner.
Problem solving. Whether it’s a personal problem you are experiencing or a conflict with someone else, resolution is often difficult. Mind maps help you see all the issues and how they relate to each other. They also help others quickly get an overview of how you see different aspects of the situation, and their relative importance.
Planning. While many people enjoy the process of planning—vacations, home improvement projects—others find it frustrating and overwhelming. Mind maps present all relevant information in one place and organize it easily.
What is a mind map? It’s a tool used to organize thoughts, options, possibilities. The origins are attributed to everyone from Tony Buzan (who wrote The Mind Map Book) to Edward Debono, a world-renowned psychologist and behaviorist. Most importantly, a mind map is a tool to get people thinking outside the box—or in this case, outside the list.
The mind map, or leisure tree, works the way the brain works—in clusters of ideas, not in a linear fashion as in a list. Mind maps use keywords and images, which allow for a lot more information on a page. And you won’t miss an idea while you’re laboring to put into words another one. Thanks to their visual nature, associations between ideas are readily apparent.
The brain is a very visual instrument. It responds to and remembers colorful cues and graphics more than written words. Ideas typically have thousands of links in the brain – for instance, where were you when John F. Kennedy was shot? Most people alive at that time know where they were, what they were doing, even what they were wearing when they heard. Mind maps allow these associations and links to be recorded and reinforced.
So how do we make a mind map? It’s a good idea to start with a large work surface, such as a piece of poster board – that way you’ll have plenty of room to work with. With a mind map, we start from the middle of the page as opposed to the traditional top left-hand corner, which helps us out of the box from the get-go. It also allows you to work out in all directions. This organizational structure actually reflects the way your own brain organizes ideas.
Try writing keywords on small yellow sticky notes to attach to the map to start so you won’t feel pressured to get it “right.” You’ll want to use plenty of color to help your visual memory. You can also draw pictures, attach photos, even cut pictures out of magazines to put on your map to help with the visual aspect. The possibilities are truly endless – and changeable. Don’t feel once you’ve filled the page that all is written in stone. This is a fluid, dynamic document.
On www.peterussell.com, you can find some of Tony Buzan’s pointers to make an effective mind map:
· Use just key words, or wherever possible, images.
· Start from the center of the page and work out.
· Make the center a clear and strong visual image that depicts the general theme of the map.
· Create sub-centers for sub-themes.
· Put key words on lines. This reinforces structure of notes.
· Print rather than write in script. It makes them more readable and memorable. Lower case is more visually distinctive (and better remembered) than upper case.
· Use color to depict themes, associations and to make things stand out.
· Anything that stands out on the page will stand out in your mind.
· Think three-dimensionally.
· Use arrows, icons or other visual aids to show links between different elements.
· Don't get stuck in one area. If you dry up in one area go to another branch.
· Put ideas down as they occur, wherever they fit. Don't judge or hold back.
· Break boundaries. If you run out of space, don't start a new sheet; paste more paper onto the map. (Break the 8x11 mentality.)
· Be creative. Creativity aids memory.
· Get involved. Have fun.