Mind mapping … to some it may sound like the title of a Hollywood sci-fi blockbuster, but in reality this simple life-enhancement tool is a highly effective way of tapping into hidden creativity, unlocking inner potential and finding solutions to everyday problems.
Eileen Lawlor, behavioral therapist at Canyon Ranch in Lenox, says that mind mapping, first developed in the 1970s and begins by simply writing down a central idea or focal word on a sheet of paper and drawing a circle around it.
From that point, a branch with a related word is drawn, sub-branches with new words related to the previous word are then added and so on – until finally you have returned to your original thought. Then you start all over again with another series of branches and sub-branches until the theme has been exhausted.
In the end you wind up with a shape that appears somewhat similar to a child’s rendering of a sun, with a central thought surrounded by associated thoughts radiating outward.
“It is an amazingly versatile tool,” Lawlor says. “Mind mapping is probably the best way to capture what founder Tony Buzan calls brain bursts, where we have rapid bursts of ideas. It is like having creative fireworks going off in your head.”
The next step is interpreting what the map means. During this phase people often experience either clarity about their subject, direction on how to take action, or what Lawlor describes as “A-ha! The answer!”
“I have seen mind mapping work for people with a wide spectrum of issues that ranged from raising difficult teenagers, to finding a purpose after retirement, to simply becoming more creative,” Lawlor says. “A writer once came to me and said, ‘You know, every branch could be a chapter in my next book.’”
Because of the large number of associations produced, these mind maps tend to be very creative, often revealing new ideas and possibilities. Many items in a map can be used to start another map.
And, because mind maps are a way of representing thoughts with symbols rather than extraneous words, the mind forms associations almost instantaneously, allowing you to write your ideas quickly.
Give it a go
While the most successful way to develop a mind map is with the help of a trained professional, here are a few basic guidelines to try on your own:
• Where to begin. The first step in mind mapping is to decide on a focal word (a central idea or thought) you wish to analyze. Write it down in the center of the paper. If you use the paper horizontally, you will have maximum space for jotting down other ideas as they expand from the center.
• No editing. Spontaneity is crucial to successful mapping. The concept of mind mapping is to think creatively and non-linearly. There will be plenty of time for modifying the information later, but at this stage it is important to get every possibility into the mind map. Sometimes it is one of those obscure possibilities that becomes the key to your knowledge of a topic.
• Upper case. When writing your ideas and associations try to use uppercase lettering to enhance the readability of your map.
Leave room for more
Mind maps should always be flexible and dynamic. By leaving space you can add to it over time. You may also wish to highlight key areas, add information or point out questions.
Your finished mind map gives insights and wisdom that might surprise you. It can be a great help as you set goals, make changes and plan for your most fulfilling future.