When I first learned more about my personality type (INFP) and how my brain receives and processes information, my mind was officially blown.
Seeing the big picture has always been one of my biggest strengths, so mind mapping is something that I’ve been doing for years without realizing that it had a name.
I doodled out mind maps in old diaries and notebooks, and eventually even used it for planning a college essay or two. I’ve always mind mapped on paper but have recently been experimenting with some free online mind mapping tools as well, and while I enjoy both methods, paper wins out for me.
What is Mind Mapping?
I define it as a tool for decluttering your brain. Some people would describe its function as more of a brainstorming or organizing tool. Really though, it’s both. It’s a highly effective method for getting thoughts onto paper in a way that makes sense for you.
Because the fine details of your mind mapping process and results are always unique, it’s pretty much universally helpful, whatever your personality type.
The amazing thing about mind mapping is that it uses both the creative and the logical sides of your brain, and brings them into harmony!
- When my brain starts to feel frenetic and I’m feeling overloaded with bits and pieces of information, I mind map so that I don’t forget things.
- When the copious conglomerate of things in my head feels like a dish of marbles that is overflowing and spilling everywhere, I mind map to organize my thoughts.
- When I feel that indicative tug of discontent in a particular area of my life (like parenting, wellness, or my writing), I mind map to make a plan.
(Note: I later re-wrote this mind map to have “wellness” as the center topic. This is an example of how I saw connections after the fact, like I mention below, and then scratched out the title at the top.)
How do you mind map?
Let’s assume we’re starting on paper. I think it’s best to start there to get a feel for the flow of mind mapping without having to mess around with (or get distracted by!) technology.
- Start in the middle of your paper and write your topic, and circle it.
- Then, without thinking too hard or deeply – start branching out.
- Add categories and sub-categories as you go, mapping everything out.
- Use the page freely – it doesn’t have to be perfectly neat and tidy!
- Don’t worry too much about putting things in the exact correct position – as you go on, patterns will begin to emerge and sequential thoughts will become apparent.
- You can erase and adjust lines and bubbles as you go. (I recommend using pencil, or just being okay with scribble marks.)
- I will sometimes even do a mind map as a rough draft, then re-draw it when I have my thoughts collected. These are the ones that I keep referring back to for months as I work on certain things. (Like my “wellness” mind map.)
Here’s a close-up of one of the branches in the wellness map that I made months ago in my bullet journal, and keep referring back to. (I highlight what I’m currently working on, then check it off when it’s done. You can see which item I’ve left until very last, ha!)
The most important thing is that if you have a thought in your mind related to your topic, be sure to write it down somewhere in the map so that it’s not crowding your mind anymore.
Every mind map is unique, but each one starts in the center, and radiates out like the branches of a tree. If you feel like you have more than one central topic on your mind, feel free to do more than one map!
Oftentimes, though, I find that when I get everything down on paper, I see things connecting that I hadn’t realized before.
For example: I mind mapped on the topic of “diet” and then I mind mapped on the topic of “home organization + routine”.
I subsequently realized that both of those topics, for me, fall under the umbrella of “overall wellness” because they contribute to a calm/peaceful mind, and a strong body – both of which are major components of my overall sense of wellness. And, there are other topics that I’d place under “wellness” too, so a new mind map with “wellness” at the centre was super helpful to me.
What Happens in Your Brain When You Do Mind Mapping?
As you create your mind map, the left and the right hemispheres of your brain are working in tandem. A 20th century scientific researcher named Roger Sperry (who later won a nobel prize for his neuroscience work) became famous for his research on the “left brain” and “right brain” concept.
Mind mapping uses a wide spectrum of brain functions, from both the left and right sides, including emotion management, imagination, lines and color, logic, memory, listing and numbers, words/expression, big picture thinking, and future planning.
Because of this, mind mapping is excellent exercise for the brain – a great bonus to an already helpful activity.
To amp up the effectiveness of your mind map, you can add illustrations. You don’t have to be an artist – any rudimentary sketch will do to assist your brain in mapping and in re-reading, later.
A coffee cup next to your “quit caffeine” bubble, or a stick figure next to the “yoga” bubble? Maybe a TV next to the “limit television” bubble. No need to go crazy with these if it ends up being more of a distraction than a help.
Whatever your style, getting your thoughts out onto paper in a non-linear free-style fashion will help declutter your brain so you can think more clearly.
This is the power of mind mapping: plotting out a framework on which to hang your thoughts. Just like the power of tidying and decluttering your house, mind mapping feels incredibly satisfying and freeing.
Have you ever tried mind mapping?
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